Thursday, October 11, 2018

Holiday Midwest, Chicago, Milwaukee, maybe Michigan and Ohio

Hey friends, I think I'm going to try to be in Milwaukee, Chicago, and maybe other places in Michigan and Ohio during the holiday week between Christmas and New Years and in the first week of January. Let me know if you would like to meet up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Dachau and the problem of "evil"

I've spent a total of like 14 hours in the Copenhagen airport in the last 24 hours with delayed and then cancelled flights, but I wanted to write some quick thoughts about Dachau and evil while I wait for yet another European connecting flight before going home. I'll write more about the trip later.

Dachau is an interesting example of what people would call "evil". Dachau is a city in Bavaria and Dachau the prison and then concentration camp was the first of its kind and often used as a model for the construction of others. It began in the 1930s to house primarily all of the political prisoners that were occurring as Nazism had gained control over the German government and had gotten permission to protect the fatherland by eliminating or isolating potential threats. Interestingly, when they first obtained this permission through what was mostly still a legit democratically elected government, the pretense they gave for the need for such power was to protect their political rivals from the harm that might happen to the political rivals. In other words, they argued that their political rivals were so endangered by the political fury the Nazis themselves had worked so hard to foment via well placed propaganda preying upon the banal fears to which empaths in particular are susceptible. I sort of vaguely remember this being one of the given purposes for the establishment of Jewish ghettos as well -- that they were so hated that they needed to be separated for their own protection.

I went there with my German friend, which was interesting for me not so much because of who she is (sociopathic identifying, although that was also a little hilarious to sort of see the different ways she approached things than a more neurotypical person might), but because of how I reacted to her presence. I still have very low maybe non-existent affective empathy even post therapy, but one thing that I have always done particularly at the height of my manipulative ways is to be very aware of my audience and adjust my conversation and behavior to please. I still do this. I don't think it's bad, it's just being responsive to the context in which you find yourself, and the people around you are also part of that context. What I mean is that because she was German, I thought much more of the German perspective of what it would be like to live in Dachau -- a city that is still thriving but probably for a lot of the world will always be associated with the camp. Or what it might be like to just generally be German, especially a young German and be both so far removed from any connection to these events, but still inextricably entangled in them. And she had some very interesting thoughts about how the connection continues to affect the German sense of their national identity, like maybe they are less likely to be waving German flags in foreign places or making other overt shows of national pride, particularly while abroad.

So I found myself chatting with her about how the Germans have done a good job accepting responsibility for the things that their nation had done. They do and continue to do reparations, they have all of these memorial sites that are well attended and well maintained, and my German friend told me that the vast majority of her history lessons focused on WWII and with this idea of trying not to repeat past mistakes.

I also found myself saying things like despite the sheer magnitude of this particular path of human cruelty, the German example is not so singular. I had just been to Russia and seen a gulag, spoke at length with a local whose grandfather disappeared into a gulag long ago for the smallest of jokes about Stalin, and saw the affect that such a repressive regime still had. I had just spoken with new polish friend about some of the Russian slaughters of polish political prisoners. I also mentioned to new German friend that when I was in Russia and told people that I was visiting gulags that the U.S. has its own gulags -- the private prisons and terrible legal system that imprisons such a large proportion of its population, particularly its traditionally disadvantaged classes of people. I told her about how there has long been a Russian tu quoque response to American complaints about Russian civil rights violations -- "And you are lynching Negroes".

It was so easy to come up with examples of evil, not just of other nations both historical and contemporary, but personal examples and examples of very common brands of human cruelty -- the failure of common people to understand their fellows as being dynamic and capable of redemption, no matter what past misdeeds, the modern day stoning of public shaming done mostly via social media, the tribalism that has led to polarization and justification for violence and other "ends justify the minds" reasoning among such a broad swath of the population to a level I wouldn't have thought possible ten years ago.

The Germans have done a good job acknowledging the problem of evil, the fact that they as a nation fell susceptible to it generations ago, and trying to learn what this means for not just their own humanity and the dual good/bad that we all share, but for what it means when people do "bad" things to them. Do we judge as hypocrites? Do we falsely set ourselves up as being  beyond reproach?

Evil is not just banal, as Hannah Arendt famously argued, it is ubiquitous and we participate in it in ways small and big every day. When we can do as good of a job as the Germans do about acknowledging this and trying to learn from it and do better, I think the world would be such a better place.

Pictured, gate with the famous motto and lie that work will make free, crematorium, room marked showers that leads to a functioning gas chamber (although apparently never used), and "shower" head designed to dispense zylkon b for the efficient murder of people that were considered by their murders to themselves be "evil" and as such worth of such treatment.

Ok, my plane is boarding! Please forgive any typos or convoluted writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How to Process Your Emotions

I thought this was a good, short video about how everyone has emotions that they don't process and how that is both influenced by societal expectations and has an ultimate affect on society:

It doesn't say anything terribly new, but this concept of having emotions that you don't even acknowledge as being emotions because they're happening at a level that you're not aware of is very much my traditional way of experiencing emotions.

It's not as if I was ever an emotionless void. But to the extent I did experience emotions, it's was if they were a conversation being had in another room -- or gossip about you that you're not aware of. I had physical or other symptoms (grouchiness). Like I would know that I felt tired or disinterested, but my awareness was more of my physical symptoms than being able to identify a specific source.

But even if I did have a greater awareness, I traditionally have not had the skills to process the emotion.

Through therapy I became more aware of and better at identifying my emotions, which solved the first problem. But then I had to (like everyone else) learn what to do with that knowledge. So I ended up with the same problem as everyone else in which I was experiencing general malaise, some generalized anxiety, and bad sleep because I had unacknowledged and unprocessed worries. Luckily once stuff starts affecting my sleep, I'm generally willing to do whatever it takes to figure out how to fix what's fixable. And in a way, as the video sort of alludes to at the end, although the way I lived my life was already following the philosophy of stoicism quite a bit, I became even more (via what I learned in therapy) an unintentional stoic. The key is this willingness to accept reality for what it is. Once that happens, I think most people are able to figure things out with just a little help maybe from a therapist or friend who sees things for how they truly are.  

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Italy and Munich in September

Hey friends, I’ll be in Italy in the second week of September, starting in Rome, Naples, Florence, and a couple other Northern Italy destinations before ending up in Munich around the last weekend in September. Hit me up if you want to meet up. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Paris in an efficient week

This travel time is cheating a little bit because I met a friend in Paris and his friend had been living in Paris for the past few months studying cooking, so I kind of coasted.

Things that I did and found worthwhile were the Louvre. I went through the newer area up the stairs from the boat sculpture, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, first, which I think was a good idea because there's less pizzazz that route, and then when I was tired after lunch is when I hit up the crazy Italian wing. The French revolution wing was closed, which was a little disappointing because I'm a fan of Géricault and Delacroix, but ok.

Musée d'Orsay is not as massive as the Louvre, but is also very interesting and important more modern pieces and a beautiful building in its own right.

I really liked dining at the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower. It as a Michelin star and was of course pricey, but seemed like exactly the sort of thing you would want to spend money on. Make a reservation for sure, and as early as you can. I think they assume you want a good window seat and seating is based on how early you make reservations. Even locals believe Jules Verne to be "classique".

For other restaurants in Paris, the Fork App is apparently good. As one local put it, it's like Groupon for Paris restaurants, but good. You make discounted reservations when restaurants think they'll have extra capacity. There's also Yelp, but apparently the reviews in French can be quite different from the reviews in English. For instance, one restaurant within a short walk of the Eiffel Tower had things like "Good standard fare" while the French reviews called it a "National scandal!"

Pigeon is delicious. Heads up! Also of course escargot. My chef friend really recommends Grand Cœur as one of her favorite restaurants.

Also, my friend had been taking private French tutoring with a Paris local, and I think he enjoyed getting the inside scoop on local trends before he went. The Google Translate app is a must for weak French. Be sure to download the French dictionary ahead of time and get used to the app if it's your first time.

Apparently Parisian French is particularly hard to learn and understand. I had heard that from many sources, but it wasn't until I was dining with a new friend who was French herself, but who had been away for a decade or two, struggling to communicate with a server at a restaurant that I realized how serious that admonition was. She said that when she comes back, she often ends up speaking to her friends in English, so they can practice and because it just ends up being easier.

Notre Dame was beautiful, although an interesting trend is that Cathedrals or other older buildings in big old cities that have turned into sprawling modern metropolises is that there is just a lot more updating and other changes that happen to the buildings over centuries, for better or for worse. I did meet a cheese chef outside named Remy and kissed in the rain near the bridge to the other little island behind Notre Dame and he invited me to come visit him in Monaco. That seemed very Paris, but I also think I viewed the interaction in a more casual way than he did. Be sure to check out that view of the Seine and Notre Dame, I think it looks its best that way.

Versailles was great, but I definitely got lost going out there, had to ask people what train was the right one (which I should have done in the first place) and it's true that the line is pretty long to get in. It was what I thought it would be, which is a testament to its fame and current status.

A cheaper and dirtier version of French opulence was the Paris opera house, which was wonderfully more than I thought it was going to be. Also, for Phantom of the Opera fans, you can see the Phantom's box -- Box 5. While we were there, the inside (Chagall ceiling!) was closed for a ballet rehearsal. That was also beautiful to watch.

The catacombs were awesome! Again, because they are so small and down so far, only so many people can go in at a time so be sure to book well ahead, print out your tickets, etc. so you don't end up having to stand in the very long line and instead can stand in the shorter.

You can climb up to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and check out Montmarte, in fact one of my new friends suggest I wake up early and climb up those steps to see the sunrise, but I was exhausted by this time.

I took a quick day trip outside the city to meet a new sociopath friend. More on her later, probably, but her story for me was perhaps one of the most compelling because she had just discovered her identity by chance a few months before, so I was seeing her discover herself and come to terms with it in almost real time. And she's such a classic example of what you would expect a very smart, beautiful, successful sociopath to be. Really you would all love to meet her, as well as the rest of the new friends I met on this trip and I hope to be able to write more about them in the next book.

I never feel sorry for the people I meet, but sometimes their circumstances are so poignant to me. A lot of them just want to live an authentic life of pleasure, but also some sort of substance or meaning. And it's not so much their unique mental processes that often keep them from it, but rather the reactions and misunderstandings of the people around them. I hope that we can do better as a society in this regard. I hope that we can come to understand each other better and allow each other to freely live genuine lives. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

New York this week

Just a reminder that I'm in New York this week. If you want to meet up, email me: me @ sociopathworld .com

Friday, June 29, 2018

London in an efficient week

I met so many people in London, it was my busiest time traveling. So I'll give you a brief rundown:

First day back in London I meet up with M to attend Evensong at Westminster Abbey. Worth going! Also worth it to get in line early to get better seats (see photo from my very fancy seat). Afterwards we walk north to Trafalgar Square and eat in the crypt of St. Martin in the Fields. He is a therapist and practices meditation. He taught mea simple breath focus meditation, which was actually very nice to do and even though I have since been bad at practicing it, I do sometimes try to do a form of it when I have a gap of time or want to collect my thoughts. M was an interesting non sociopath guy to talk to because he had this sort of past history of not choosing right things and not loving people the right way. But he learned that being a channel of peace augments him and he becomes more peaceful more grounded. Evil depletes him and gives him pain, as well as other people. It's purely self interested to choose peace because you like the results. Altruism is just selfishness.

I liked this attitude. It reminded me of my own belief that it seems like we are all cells of the
multicellular organism of humanity and to oppose another person is really to oppose yourself.

The next day I went to the Harry Potter Exhibit at the National Library (the magna carta!) and met another new friend (he identifies a little aspie) at the Natural History Museum and walked around a bit. Natural History Museum had some of his favorite architecture, and it was really beautiful inside, particularly the huge whale skeleton. This is by a bunch of other museums you could check out, but we went to South Kensington (I think!) for tapas. Lovely neighborhood, good food and good company. We hang out talking about the writer's life visiting several pubs (diet coke!), ending up at a Covent Garden pub.

The following day I walk around Parliament area (spent 10 minutes seeing a ceiling full of Titians in the Whitehall Banqueting House, which was beautiful, but I did it for the toilet and because free with London Pass -- really exquisite toilets) the river cruise to the Tower, all London Pass items, and meet a new friend H. H relates with some aspects of sociopathy but not all. She tells me about how her work involves monitoring other employees at the same office. There's one person in particular that people love to hate at her office. She targets him as well in her professional capacity, but she is careful to never target him for the same behavior twice. Why? because then he would get fired and she would no longer have anyone to play with at work. She can't pick on just anyone, for instance not the older lady who brings baked goods for everyone after long weekends. That would make her a monster in the eyes of her co-workers. So she keeps this guy around, like a cat playing with a mouse. We got on a Jack the Ripper tour with a walking tour company that was excellent and does a lot of other walking tours around London. I think the London Pass offered some discount or something free, but still paid 10 pounds or something.

The next day I do the hop on hop off bus tour, but it is Lent so St. Paul's is only open for worshippers. I worship! In the afternoon I meet up with my new friend M, who is a full dandy and one of these charming sociopaths that can (and possibly has) conned a lot of people out of their money. He meets me in the National Gallery (after I think I mistakenly told him the National Portrait Gallery) and takes me on an impromptu tour of all his favorites, because like all good seducers, he knows enough about everything to make him seem like an indispensable dinner companion. How is Caravaggio so sensual! (Pictured) After, he gets wine and I get tea but we sit (allegedly) in the wrong place. How do others react to this, I wondered, as I watched him charmingly sidestep the server's rudeness while also placating her by asking for a menu. We sat there for hours while he tried (pretty successfully!) to convince me that conspiracy theories often have truth to them. I know from experience how easy it can be to manipulate people, particularly into believing things that they would rather believe than what may be an unpalatable truth. That's how he acted, but the things that I found most compelling (and probably most honest) were his struggles to find meaning after his father's death. We spoke about theodicy and how in his mind the "moral lesson you get from studying the world is whoever created it is morall horrible because every situation ends in the death of the person who is playing." He also has an Ann in his life, a person who is a guide to the world of people that he doesn't understand and explains he funny feelings that he provokes in others either on purpose or on accident that can either help or hurt him -- explain to him the assumptions that people make about him and helps make him more aware of what aspects of him provoke these reactions. He told me "I'm just interested in brilliance," and only as I write this now do I see how this sort of attitude could provoke the ire of people around him that are perhaps less secure in their own luster. I understand a little better now the reaction that many people had when reading about me, that I came off as being intolerably narcissistic. He even shared with me some reactions from friends who had grown increasingly intolerant of him. But I did not experience him that way, and I was sad to think about the people who (I believed) had mischaracterized and misunderstood him.

The next day I do a bunch of other London things on the London Pass, like the Shard viewpoint, the Tower Bridge, the London Bridge Experience (they pointed me out as the witch and were going to burn me?) and then meet up with my new friend V at the Barbican because he finds brutalist architecture to be soothing. Also close to the Roman wall. V says something that I have repeated a lot before, that one of the first ways he looks to identify sociopaths is that they struggle to find meaning. If the hollowness is unbearable to the person, that's likely just depression or something else. If there's no real emotional value placed on the lack of meaning, if there's just a straight acknowledgment that it's there, that person is more likely a sociopath. He has sociopathic traits himself. He needs a lot of novelty. Every place he has quit from is because he "ran out of dragons, after that it was just the grind." He has a friend that is probably more sociopathic than he is. She has a similar love hate relationship with work. She uses it to to give her less of a sense of emptiness, but when she is worn out she dreams of being the CEO of her own company. He thinks the only reason she hasn't don't it yet is because she's very half-hearted about things. She says things like "will I ever feel anything again?" His friends say he's manipulative. His mom says he just wants ohter people to be his puppet. He admits he likes to mess with other people. "I'm the main hero in my own work of art." "I am the work of art." This is the sort of statement you'd expect to hear from a total blowhard, but he isn't at all. He's soft spoken, unassuming. Compared to the dandy, he is much more likely to just blend in. If I met him outside of this context (in real life), I would never suspect him of having sociopathic tendencies. But when you talk to him, it's clear that a lot of his choices are motivated by sociopathic thinking. For instance, he says he doesn't do revenge, he does payback. He also has characteristics that sociopathic minded people who are higher on the trait of conscientiousness have, e.g. his therapist says that he struggles with perfectionism. He is very principled.

He thinks we can think nicely about stuff but we first need to get real about what we do. He believes that it is best to harshly acknowledge your own thoughts. For example, if I got annoyed at the person on the escalator (story from the book) because I am annoyable and I acknowledge that about myself, I have a greater opportunity to control my behavior that stems from my annoyance. He believes that the purpose of life is the Project of Being -- that existence in itself is a force and a project. H believes we're not living for ourselves, we're just a part of being and we need to not be petty and dwell on our sufferings. So he sounds a little almost Buddhist influenced, and cites Socrates as an influence. But also his favorite column is Modern Love in the New York Times. He avoids lying because at some point there will be some resolution between the lie and the truth. He thinks of love as a choice, as a project that he has decided to take on. But in general he tries not to pretend to be anything he's not, even though people think that though "sociopath" is seen as a disorder and it puts people off. But his mom taught him to never pretend to be something he's not. And he believes that ultimately the cost benefit doesn't make pretending worth it. "never being something you're not makes you invulnerable." "If you never pretend, it teaches you fearlessness." This absolutely resonates with me.

My last day in London was spent doing some clean up for the London Pass activities and meeting up with a young man at the Tate Modern, a man who had a high school classmate who was sociopath and one who had asperger's and we chatted about how those two interacted. Heads up! Don't eat mushy peas by themselves, just with the fish and chips. 

Taking the underground was really easy and efficient for me. They have an Oyster card you can get and just get a week pass. Look into this, but there's something more efficient about getting the Oyster card in London, rather than getting a traveller version. If you have touchless credit cards, you can also just use those? Or Apply Pay. I would suggest going that route. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ohio? Southern Michigan?

I'm going to be in Northern Ohio the end of this month, if anyone wants to meet up? I'll mostly be around Toledo, but will have a car, am flying into and out of Detroit, and am willing to travel.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Central Europe: Poland, Germany, Italy?

Hello friends! I am already planning for this September. So far I have plans to be in Poland, Germany, and Northern Italy. Are there people in those areas or other parts of Central or Eastern Europe that would like to meet up? Also, really if you are anywhere in Europe let me know, because I might be able to arrange a little trip or long layovers in your city as well.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stonehenge and Bath

Ok! Finally we get around to England/London. Next rest of London, Paris, then Russia and Eastern Europe.

The first day in London I went to the British Museum, which is free like all other state run museums and open late on Fridays like most. It was really great -- the type of place where you round a corner and essentially run smack into the Rosetta Stone. Also, they have thieved great parts of the Parthenon from Greece.

I stayed just this one night at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel London Kensington, which was good and close to museums -- the National History Museum, Science and Victoria and Albert. I stayed there because I had to wake up at like 5:00 am (jet lag, what?) for my sunrise Stonehenge tour with Premium Tours. I was surprised how much I loved Stonehenge? That place is photogenic as hell. I could have stayed there forever. And definitely I think it made a big difference that we had the special early entry (can also be later entry) in which we got to actually go inside the stones. Don't touch! Don't kiss! Definitely don't lick!

The tour continued to Bath, where I was going to meet my first new friends! I don't know what I expected, but I was surprised at how young and tall S was after our conversations and his girl petite. They were both so fun. He said that he has relative empathy -- that is he could feel a sort of empathy if he himself has felt and/or had access to that same type of emotion himself. He is also high for fearlessness, with stories like driving and having the bonnet of the car pop open, but he doesn't freak out or even slow down too fast, just looks between the crack at the bottom and steers onto the next off ramp. He says that it is difficult to finish a thought because as he’s thinking all sorts of other parallel thoughts, like a static electronic ball that shoots off little electric bolts (what another sociopath called a chaos brain). He has olfactory issues, which is an odd crossover but a verified one. He can't tell the difference between coffee and orange smell with his eyes closed. He works with his hands and he does say that he is more prone to accidents than others in his profession. S was super sincere. He said one of the things he doesn't like in other people (maybe the root of his antisocial views) is the hypocrisy and lack of sincerity in others. They just wait to talk, he said. He also has interesting ways that he learns from mistakes (sort of learns caution or a sort of respect because he has internalized the physical harm he has experienced, but only after severe or repeated exposure to the bad consequence and he never gets around to fear) that I get into more some other time maybe. Sometimes I would chat with his girl alone and she would tell me that she feels badly for him because he has no one to talk to about any of this, that is why she was so excited to meet me. Yes, I do think it is often a little sad and hard for sociopaths to have no one to talk to about how they view the world. But her situation seemed just as bad, if not worse. It seemed odd to me that they would have many people they could talk to about any BDSM stuff they get up to, because that at least has earned a degree of acceptance in the world, but she will probably never be able to talk to anyone what it is like to love a sociopath.

Bath is nice too, probably worth the trip. It's made all out of the same pale yellow stone (Bath stone) and built basically at the same time in the same Georgian style. It's a little reminiscent of inner Paris that way with the Haussmanian architecture. Also the roman baths are very interesting, beautiful, and historically fun, and finally, this part you can lick!!! (the water has a very strong mineral taste that is a little reminiscent of blood.)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Evolution of Trust

Sorry, I truly forget whether I have posted about this, but a friend sent it to me again. I remember going through the entire game and finding it very interesting, and also a good explanation for trust. All sorts of people talk about how empathy was necessary to build tribe cohesion, etc. so that people could trust each other to stop killing each other and cooperate, but I wonder. Try the game out and let me know what you think.

Also, don't forget I'm in Oregon in May and Hawaii in June, if anyone wants to meet up.

Here is the game:

For some background on game theory, including perhaps the most popular, the Prisoner's Dilemma:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sociopath son kills his sister

One day a thirteen year old boy wakes up having the urge to kill someone. He settles on killing his three year old half sister because she is the easiest prey. He had plans to also kill his mother (perhaps out or revenge for when she relapsed on a heroin addiction for a year and during which, according to him, she put her addiction ahead of him and his sister), but decided against it when he discovered how difficult killing turned out to be.

The mother of the sociopath son (he was too young to be diagnosed, but his examining psychologists said he would qualify if he had been 18 when they met with him) talks about what it is like to continue to love and interact with him, albeit while he is in prison.

In a NY Post article interview her, she details what had happened:

A prison rights activist, she keeps Ella’s memory alive while frequently visiting her now-24-year-old son in jail. He is serving a 40-year sentence (the maximum in Texas for a juvenile for murder) and will be eligible for parole in 2027.

“I have forgiven Paris for what he did, but it’s an ongoing process,” explains Lee. “If he was free [from captivity], I would be frightened of him.

“The fact that he is incarcerated gives me peace of mind, but I worry about his own safety.”
After his sentencing, an assessor told Lee she deserved to know that her son was a sociopath. Psychiatrists whom she hired when Paris was 15 agreed that, had he been 18 and old enough ​to qualify ​for the label, they would have diagnosed him as having anti-social personality disorder​ (sociopath​y​)​.​ He confessed to having had homicidal thoughts since the age of 8, often expressing them through violent and disturbing drawings.​
While Lee describes him as “manipulative” and “narcissistic,” she is quick to explain how her maternal instinct means she puts her love for her son above her anger.

“I sometimes have to say to myself [during visits]: ‘Okay, Charity, take a breath, you know how Paris is wired,’ ” she says. “But I am not going to be that parent who abandons their kid.”

She also talks about how since she had her third child she has wondered what she would do if her murderer son was allowed to meet the toddler (he's prohibited from having visitors under age 17 due to the nature of his crime).

Of course few sociopaths are murderers or ever feel a desire to kill like this. But having both sociopathy and for whatever reason a desire to kill or pretty bad rage and impulse control issues does seem like a danger.  Still I think it interesting that perhaps the person most victimized by this crime apart from the small child is an advocate prison rights. In visiting all of these bad places in my recent travels (more on the Gulags and Auschwitz later) and learning of the ways that everyone reacted regarding these -- prisoners, guards, government, passive people allowing it to happen, families of victims -- I find that I am across the board most impressed the most by people who didn't allow their circumstances to dictate how they behaved. I don't mean to say that I judge the rest, because who knows their circumstances, their heart, or how they were "wired" or shaped by early socialization. But if I were to aspire to a certain way of being, it would be to treat people consistently with the same amount of compassion regardless of who they are or what they've done. I have forgotten where I heard this, but I like it -- we treat people according to who we are, not according to who they are. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Coachella, Oregon in May, and Hawaii in June

For people who want to meet me, upcoming trips I have planned are Coachella first weekend, Central Oregon in May, and Hawaii in June. Let me know if you'd like to try to schedule a meet up.

Also, a little bit of advance warning, central Europe in August or September probably. I have to be in Southern Germany and Northern Italy, so those two places for sure, but I can try to schedule in other stops.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

How Psychopaths See the World

One thing that's been really interesting about meeting other sociopaths is seeing different iterations of essentially myself. I see people who have very different lives from me, very different professions, but their choices also make a lot of sense to me. I can't help thinking that I would have made those same choices they had made perhaps in a parallel universe, or if I had their early life experiences. I can also see much better that the traits represent themselves in spectrums. For instance, I think all sociopaths are impulsive, but some are more conscientious in general than others. I'm about middle of the road in terms of conscientiousness. Some sociopaths I have met have a much longer future outlook than I do, like up to 7 years. Mine of course is still around 3 years. Then there are also people who have a much shorter outlook, more like 6 months to 1 year. Not many sociopaths I have met (just one!) are as into seduction as I am as a form of power game. I was also a little surprised to hear that at least among the successful sociopaths I have met, my fearlessness levels are among the highest. This is not to say that the other sociopaths are fearful, just that they experience a small degree of fear in their lives more than I do (which I experience as almost nothing).

It's super fascinating to talk to these people. It's one of my favorite things in the world to do now, there's such a unique pleasure to it. The way we talk and skip from subject to subject, so fast and so nonstop with interesting things to say, has been common to all of the sociopaths I've met, although of course everyone's conversational content has varied. One new friend I met in Europe actually commented on this -- "You know that no one else talks like this, right?" She described it as having a "chaotic brain". She said that she is careful not to talk like this particularly in the professional realm in which establishing trust is very important for her. Because, as she explains, you have to be likeable and you can't be likeable if you sound like you're on a separate planet. I likewise assume that our unique conversational style reflects the non-linear way that appears to characterize our thinking, as well as the unusual way that our attention works. The imagery I've used to describe it to other people is that it's like in a Loony Toons cartoon where the characters are sneaking around at dark but when a spotlight falls on them they freeze, as if doing so would allow them to escape detection. Our attention is like that spotlight. Whatever it falls upon, we are super focused. Everything else is in a murky haze.

My friend sent me this Atlantic Article about a study done on male prison psychopathic prisoners and their theory of mind, or ability to place themselves in another's shoes. What they found is that sociopaths can do that sort of perspective taking, and can do it very well, they just don't appear to do it automatically. They only engage in that mental exercise if something draws their attention to doing so:

They saw a picture of a human avatar in prison khakis, standing in a room, and facing either right or left. There were either two red dots on the wall in front of the avatar, or one dot in front of them and one dot behind them. Their job was to verify how many dots either they or the avatar could see.

Normally, people can accurately say how many dots the avatar sees, but they’re slower if there are dots behind the avatar. That’s because what they see (two dots) interferes with their ability to see through the avatar’s eyes (one dot). This is called egocentric interference. But they’re also slower to say how many dots they can see if that number differs from the avatar’s count. This shows how readily humans take other perspectives: Volunteers are automatically affected by the avatar’s perspective, even when it hurts their own performance. This is called altercentric interference.

Baskin-Sommers found that the psychopathic inmates showed the usual level of egocentric interference—that is, their own perspective was muscling in on the avatar’s. But they showed much less altercentric interference than the other inmates—the avatar’s perspective wasn’t messing with their own, as it would for most other people.

Of course, not all psychopaths are the same, and they vary considerably in their behavior. But Baskin-Sommers also found that the higher their score on the psychopathy assessment test, the less they were affected by what the avatar saw. And the less affected they were, the more assault charges they had on their record.
To her, the results show that psychopaths (or male ones, at least) do not automatically take the perspective of other people. What is involuntary to most people is a deliberate choice to them, something they can actively switch on if it helps them to achieve their goals, and ignore in other situations. That helps to explain why they behave so callously, cruelly, and even violently.

But Uta Frith, a psychologist at University College London, notes that there’s some controversy about the avatar task, which has been used in other studies. “What does it actually measure?” she says. It’s possible that the avatar is acting less as a person and more as an arrow—a visual cue that directs attention. Perhaps instead of perspective-taking, the task simply measures how spontaneously people shift their attention.

Baskin-Sommers argues that the task is about both attention and perspective-taking, and “for research on psychopathy, that is a good thing.” That’s because, as she and others have shown, psychopaths pay unusually close attention to things that are relevant to their goal, but largely ignore peripheral information. “It’s like they’re the worst multitaskers,” Baskin-Sommers says. “Everyone’s bad at multitasking but they’re really bad.” So, it’s possible that their lack of automatic perspective-taking is just another manifestation of this attentional difference. The two things are related.

When I think back on some of the sketch that I've gotten up to or some of the sociopaths I've met have gotten into, there's a similar thing going on. It's almost like I'm in a trance, so focused on accomplishing the one thing dominating my attention, like tracking that DC Metro worker to choke the life out of him or kicking my best friend out of my car in the middle of a strange city during an argument. It's only when she yelled at me "what is wrong with you?!" that I snapped out of it and started taking a broader, different perspective on the situation. Several of the sociopaths I have met have either been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or have used the meds on the sly to improve their linear thought or better control their focus. To help mediate this unusual focus, I sleep inordinate amounts and when I need to concentrate on one thing for long periods and do not find myself naturally doing so, I force my brain to think linearly with baroque, minimalistic music, or impressionistic music, which share a common feature of constantly moving forward musically at whatever pace without much focus on cadence or structure.

So I find this study and its results to have a great deal of explanatory power and I would love to see this connection explored more.

Hilariously, the study was criticized by an autism researcher, not because the science behind it is poor, but because it seems to suggest a closer link to autism than the autism researcher was comfortable with:

“It is a bit worrying if [Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues] are proposing the very same underlying mechanism to explain callousness in psychopathy that we used previously to explain communication problems in autism, albeit based on a different test,” Frith says. “These are very different conditions, after all.”

But the distinction here, as pointed out by the researcher and as is apparent probably to all sociopaths who have had extensive interactions with people on the autism spectrum, is that autistic people are really bad at perspective taking, even with their attention directed at it full force. And with the sociopath... it's not as if he can't be bothered to do so, it's just that he doesn't always think to do so.

But what do sociopaths or those acquainted with think about the linear thought (chaos brain) or the multitasking? By the way, I can't have a television on in the background and still be able to focus on a conversation. I think I may have mentioned this before, but I also feel like I understand movies and television better with the subtitles on. I used to think it was bad hearing from years of drumming, but I've had my ears tested many times and they're always fine. There's more something about the ability to understand speech in the context of seeing it spoken on a screen that leaves my brain scrambling.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Russians, etc. please email me

If you're trying to contact me, best to email me at:


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Russia or Eastern Europe?

Last call for people wanting to meet up in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Lake Baikal area, Perm, Estonia, Poland, or other locations in Eastern Europe. I'll be there from March 17th until the first week of April.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Melbourne in two efficient days

Sorry for the delay, just got back from England/France/Belgium, which I will get to shortly. But first we finish up Australia.

I arrived in Melbourne in the afternoon, took a nap, and showed up intolerably late for a dinner appointment with my new friend P because I got the times wrong in my head. We had dinner at a local eatery and then drinks at Naked for Satan, hip, a lot of nudity in the decor, and a great rooftop view of the city.

The next morning I woke up and did a tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol. Again, I was struck by how my brothers sociopath were treated and based on such a paucity of evidence. There were exhibits on Phrenology and other attempts to explain criminology through physical or inherited traits. In fact, by the 19th century, Melbournians were calling for greater law and order, particularly in the slums. The rally cry was that criminality (among almost all other traits, apparently) was inherited. Where do the criminals live? The slums. Where were the criminals having children, the slums. So it stands to reason that the slums were just a genetic cesspool of criminality. And thus under this reasoning, one's class was essentially one's mortal and moral destiny on this earth.

The thing that struck me about this part of the jail was how common this belief is again -- that people
are sort of naturally bad or all bad in this black and white thinking and the main solution is to "lock them up." In fact, I was just looking at some random twitter account whose name included those words. I Googled them today and saw black and white thinking from both liberal and conservatives on American political issues. The idea is that either Obama/Clintons or Trump/Kushner/Etc. or essentially just criminals trying to ruin the lives of ordinary good people and that the solution is to lock them up. When large percentages of the populace are seeing their brother man this way and thinking the solution is to imprison them, kill them (as some of the more extreme believe or wish) or to wish them into nonexistence somewhere far away to never be engaged with again, I see parallels to the inhumane ways we have historically treated prisoners and alleged criminals.

An interesting exhibit on the death penalty discussed how much the general populace loved to see public hangings and how there were many who felt deprived of a natural right when hangings became private. When the number of people executed sharply rose in the 1890s as a result of an economic depression, many understood the connection between people living in desperate situations and engaging in crime and started wondering about the morality of hanging. Frances Knorr was a particularly polarizing hanging. She had been convicted of the murder of one baby, although she later confessed to killing at least two during these tough economic times. According to Wikipedia:

Australia was in severe depression from 1873 to 1896; with no state welfare, women in particular faced a hard life. The diaries of John Castieau, governor of Old Melbourne Gaol from 1869 to 1884 indicate that as children were permitted to stay with their mothers, it was a common practice for a pregnant woman to commit a crime so that she could have her delivery in the gaol and be cared for.

During the 1893 Commission, Melbourne's public health officer testified that the post-mortems he had performed on over 500 children showed that more than half had been murdered.

Frances's husband had been imprisoned for fraud and her lover had abandoned her. She had taken to baby farming," the practice of caring for illegitimate or other unwanted children in exchange for money, and decided like many did, including this couple, to kill the babies she was being paid for rather than care for them. Her death sentence so divided the populace that the hangman committed suicide just days before her execution date, partly in response to his wife telling him that she would leave him if he executed Frances.

This quote from Chaplain Keith Forbes from around this time: “It would be impossible for those who have witnessed, like myself, the 'brutal exhibition' of a human being launched into eternity to refrain from asking, 'Can this thing be justifiable in the sight of God?'”

The Gaol also had various portraits of prisoners, the charming Frederick Bailey Deeming, a possible candidate for Jack the Ripper, who was finally caught "masquerading as the dashing Baron Swanston," about to be engaged to a third woman after he had killed two other wives (and four children!) in the space of a year. Wikipedia describes him as a "difficult child" whose teen years were marked by fraud, deceit, and theft with "behaviour variously described as aggressive, ostentatious, ingratiating and overly attentive to women" but was also known by his employers as being an excellent worker, whose employers gladly loaned him 200 pounds to start his own business and who, although he eventually murdered her, was known for treating his wife with the utmost civility. Hello, brother sociopath.

After that I went on The Little Penguin Bus tour to see the parade of penguins, featuring the very cute Little Penguin. The tour was awesome, the guide was awesome. It was such a change from the bad experience I had in Cairns. I definitely recommend seeing the penguins, they are hilarious. They eat fish out in sea and come back to shore every couple days or so to feed their new chicks. But teh chicks don't recognize the parents, only the parents recognize the chicks. So every baby chick is out there squawking and harassing every single adult they see begging for food. Like some seriously aggressive badgering, and the adult is just trying to like slide by without getting harassed. The baby chicks are also like 80% as tall as their parents. So they look like these big furry baby bullies harassing the sleek looking parents. I added the Guided Ranger Tour, which had pretty good seats for seeing them come up from the beach (you can see a million forums about this), but honestly the closest I got to penguins was after everyone got up from their seats and started going through the walkways, when the penguins were just inches away. So don't stress about getting better seats or tour options, I don't think, but the guided ranger tour was still pretty interesting and worthwhile to do if it's available to you.

A quick funny story, while I was out on the penguin tour there was an incident on the same block as my hotel where a man drove into a crowd of pedestrians. My very friendly and very conscientious guide was trying to break the news to me gently, perhaps because I would be upset by it? But she needed to tell me because the roads were closed off and they would likely need to drop me off a bit down the street. I had no clue how to respond to her, though, and I was tired and could not summon up a proper response so I just stayed quiet, but then left to use the toilet. I wonder if she noticed anything unusual.

My last day of Australia I went with new friend N on quick road trip of the Great Ocean Road. If you're used to driving on the left side of the road, you could totally rent a car and do this yourself in a somewhat long day, or they have tours! In fact, the Little Penguin Bus also does Great Ocean Road tours.

I shook down my Little Penguin Bus guide for an itinerary, and this is what she suggested:

  • Head straight to Loch Ard Gorge via the city Colac (not along the Great Ocean Road, cut across on the faster straighter freeway). Check out the Gorge look out and the Razorback lookout
  • London bridge maybe if you have time.
  • Gibson steps is just a lookout. 
  • 12 Apostles
  • Maits rest rainforest walk is just about an hour from 12 Apostles and a quick 20-30 minutes walk
  • Apollo bay has some famous ice cream, Dooleys.
  • Kennett river about 30 minutes from Apollo bay has wild koalas.
  • Anglesy golf course has wild kangaroos 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Children lying = high brain function

A reader sent this older New York Times article on the normal development of lying in children around two years old, including the fact that the vast majority of children lie routinely.

Among some of the findings about children lying, the children who start lying earlier than others are smarter and have better theory of mind (the ability to cognitively put yourself in another's shoes):

Other research has shown that the children who lie have better “executive functioning skills” (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, a crucial indicator of cognitive development known as “theory of mind.” (Tellingly, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized by weaker executive functioning, and those with spectrum disorders such as autism, which are characterized by deficits in theory of mind, have trouble with lying.) Young liars are even more socially adept and well adjusted, according to recent studies of preschoolers.
Training children in executive functioning and theory of mind using a variety of interactive games and role-playing exercises can turn truth-tellers into liars within weeks, Professor Lee has found. And teaching kids to lie improves their scores on tests of executive functioning and theory of mind. Lying, in other words, is good for your brain.

Of course we all know that sociopaths are clinically bad at affective empathy (the ability to feel another's feelings) but tend to be quite good at cognitive empathy or theory of mind, so perhaps these results should not be surprising.

But what about the fact that lying children (or anybody) is a little creepy and problematic? Again, there are some definite parallels to sociopaths:

For parents, the findings present something of a paradox. We want our children to be clever enough to lie but morally disinclined to do so. And there are times when a child’s safety depends on getting at the truth, as in criminal cases involving maltreatment or abuse. How can we get our children to be honest?

In general, carrots work better than sticks. Harsh punishments like spanking do little to deter lying, research indicates, and if anything may be counterproductive. In one study, Professor Lee and the developmental psychologist Victoria Talwar compared the truth-telling behaviors of West African preschoolers from two schools, one that employed highly punitive measures such as corporal punishment to discipline students and another that favored more tempered methods like verbal reprimands and trips to the principal’s office. Students at the harsher school were not only more likely to lie but also far better at it.

Witnessing others being praised for honesty, meanwhile, and nonpunitive appeals for the truth — for example, “If you tell the truth, I will be really pleased with you” — promotes honest behavior, Professors Lee and Talwar have found.
You can also simply pay kids to be honest. In research involving 5- and 6-year-olds, Professor Lee and his colleagues attached a financial incentive to telling the truth about a misdeed. Lying earned children $2, while confessing won them anywhere from nothing to $8. The research question was: How much does the truth cost? When honesty paid nothing, four out of five children lied. Curiously, that number barely budged when the payout was raised to $2.

But when honesty was compensated at 1.5 times the value of lying — $3 rather than $2 — the scales tipped in favor of the truth. Honesty can be bought, in other words, but at a premium. The absolute dollar amount is irrelevant, Professor Lee has found. What matters is the relative value — the honesty-to-dishonesty exchange rate, so to speak.

“Their decision to lie is very tactical,” Professor Lee said. “Children are thinking in terms of the ratio.” Smart kids, indeed.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Cairns and Port Douglas in three efficient days

I'm a scuba diver and wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef while it's still there, it's been a childhood dream of mine to hold koalas, and I had like 4-5 days to kill between weekend appointments with people, so I headed up to the northeast to Port Douglas. I stayed at the Port Douglas Motel which was kitschy, cheap, centrally located, and great.

First, heads up. I feel like this is really not well publicized, but although this is a tropical part of Australia, you cannot really safely go swimming in the ocean, or even 100% safely hang out on the beach near bush or near the water particularly at dusk or dawn because (1) there are saltwater crocodiles and (2) all of the summer is "stinger season" in which you can get stung by all sorts of animals.

What are marine stingers?
Stingers are potentially lethal jellyfish that typically inhabit the waters off northern Australia. The most feared is the box jellyfish or Chironex fleckeri. Distinguished by its large box-like bell and trailing tentacles, the box jellyfish is responsible for about 80 confirmed fatalities in Australia since records began in 1883. The jellyfish's bell grows up to 30cm in diameter and extrudes about 60 tentacles, each measuring up to three metres in length. The Irukandji jellyfish, by comparison, is a pint-sized predator with a transparent bell measuring just 12 to 20mm and four small tentacles. There are numerous Irukandji species and two recorded deaths.

I literally only found out about any of this as I was take a shuttle from the airport in Cairns up to Port Douglas. By the way, I really recommend staying in Port Douglas, which is a charming tourist town, rather than Cairns which feels a little like not a place for tourists at all. My shuttle driver was talking to some locals about the two most recent crocodile deaths from the past 6 months -- an older woman who took a wrong turn while on a walk around her retirement home and a German young woman who was know to like to skinny dip.  For the elderly woman, apparently the family of the deceased pleaded with authorities to not kill the animal. Let's not make this a tragedy of two deaths instead of one!

Day one I checked in with my dive company for the next day then rented a bike and went to the Wildlife Habitat, which is a little small and a little kitschy, but also sketchy in all of the right ways like holding koalas and other animals and feeding various animals in a little bit of a free for all. I biked back to the motel via Four Mile Beach (pictured above). The sand is so packed, you can just bike on the beach itself, and probably safer with the crocodiles. At the Port Douglas end of Four Mile Beach, there's a little hill you can climb up to an ok lookout.

Day 2 I did a three dive tour to the outer reef using the ABC Dive Company, which seemed the most reputable and the smallest groups? The trip was nice, there was a shark apparently that I didn't see. I did see a lot of great coral, rays, an eel, a ton of little jellyfish. Basically it really did look like Finding Nemo, which I didn't expect for some reason. I think I had forgotten that Finding Nemo takes place at the Great Barrier Reef, so of course all of the same fish would be there.

Day 3 was not good. I had heard that the other great thing to see is the rainforest. Now this is like my third or fourth (fifth?) time doing tours of the rainforest, including the heart of the Amazon as well as other places in central and south America. I've done a ton of jungle tours and safaris and this one not only sort of sucked, it felt like I was trapped, which made me super grumpy. Daintree Discovery Tours. It was so bad that I was all set to post a bad review of it online, but then I started reading other one star reviews with my same complaints (basically just driving around in a car all day doing nothing of interest or no value added from the tour), and the response from the company was mainly to address the complaint that people had that they could have done the trip much cheaper themselves. The company responded by saying it would actually be around as expensive to do it yourself. But really, I just sort of wish I hadn't done it at all. My general impression was that either Daintree is not that cool of a rainforest to see, or no tour company has been able to highlight its charms well. It's sad, because apparently it is the oldest rainforest in the world? There were interesting things to see, I guess, but like 1-3 hours worth of interesting. Also, same notes as my post on Sydney about the service industry being a little lackluster in Australia. It felt like there was a lot of phoning it in going on.

Day 4 I did this Kurunda package that was pretty good, something like this in which you're basically just shuttled around on a bus from attraction to attraction. There seems to be no difference in the tour operators, so just choose the cheapest one that includes the little destinations you want to see, e.g. yes or no on the butterfly sanctuary. Rainforestation is worth seeing, so is the train and the skyrail. I had this terrible customer service encounter with a skyrail person who was yelling at people. I almost lost it for a second, and it reminded me that I'm for whatever reason most likely to lose my temper while traveling.

I did learn something interesting on the rainforest tour. Mangrove trees (pictured above) can grow in salt, but salt is still poison to them. They adapted a special root system that keeps most of the salt out, but salt still gets in. To keep the rest of the tree alive, the three designates a "sacrificial leaf". It puts all of the toxic salt in that leaf until it is full and then the leaf drops off. The leaf turns yellow.

I thought about how James Fallon has argued that sociopaths exist in society to essentially take care of the "dirty work" that is necessary and unavoidable in our society, work that give normal people PTSD if they had to deal it themselves. Kevin Dutton has made a similar argument about sociopaths being great soldiers, surgeons, and spies, I believe. Anyway, thanks to all of you sacrificial leaves out there taking one for the team!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tasmania in two days

A funny thing about planning for Australia trip was reading the TripAdvisor forums? People would say things like, how long should I spend in Tasmania, and the response would be like 4-6 weeks is necessary to see everything. Ok, I understand that Tasmanians have a lot of pride about their homeland. And Australians apparently love to be sarcastic? And they also like to have a laugh at others' expense? I have a hard time picking up on sarcasm, but these forums would also just be filled with what I imagined to just be pure misinformation. It made me wonder, who is writing this stuff? I have never visited a place whose TripAdvisor forums were so full of essentially trolls. What is up with that, Tasmanians.

The first couple days I spent at a private residence with my new friend A and her friends. Things I learned are that for some reason it's very easy to get sunburned in Tasmania. Also, we eat freshly slaughtered pigs. Also, eggs always go on toast and get eaten with a knife and fork. Also, the local legal system and local governments seem super corrupt?

There are legitimately road signs warning you to not run over Tasmanian devils, and apparently they are getting close to critically endangered because they're all dying of a contagious mouth cancer that they spread because they're always locking lips and exchanging saliva when they fight. The tumors get so big that the devil actually starves to death.

After hanging out with locals a couple days chatting and getting to know each other, I spent most of my time in Hobart staying in the Argyle Accommodation house, which is patterned after an old boarding house and itself is in a historic building. It's super cheap, nice, and I liked the boarding house vibe, especially since I was up to history on this leg of the trip. The first day in town I went to the Museum of Old and New Art, which is essentially carved three stories into the rock and features extensive collections related to sex and death and sex/death. I recommend taking the ferry, which is a lovely trip up the river.

I also really recommend the Pennicott tours of the Tasman Peninsula, especially if sea cliffs are your jam, like they are with me. You can add on a tour of the Port Arthur prison site. Maybe some of you are more familiar with Australian/UK history than I am, and you can correct any falsehoods I make in the comments or skip what I'm about to say. Australia was a prison colony, I think that's pretty common knowledge. The Industrial Revolution upended the British economy and people who were able to make a decent living in agriculture suddenly found themselves without a marketable skillset. The prisons started swelling and the British first started putting the overflow in beached old ships called "hulks", which apparently were fetid rotting masses of humanity piled on top of each other. But this is how society treats its undesirables. Think Les Miserables and hard labor for stealing food to feed your family. After a few scandals, the British needed somewhere else to send their unwashed masses, so they started forcibly "transporting" them to Australia. If you are familiar with the story of Sweeny Todd, you know that he was fortunate enough to escape and get back to England, although most people who were transported spent the rest of their life away from their homeland and friends and family. Men had it rough, ok, but women prisoners were like forcibly raped the whole time and blamed for being sluts and getting extended prison sentences because of it.

But where do you send the truly badees? They chose the island of Tasmania as a prison within a prison for the hard cases, specifically the isolated end of the Tasman Peninsula at Port Arthur. At its heyday, they guarded against escape by literally setting up a string of angry dogs about every five feet across the most narrow stretch of land connecting the Peninsula.

At various points in the history of the prison, prison conditions were ok and not so ok. The worst was when prison reformers decided that physical punishments only made criminals more hardened, so the key was to go after them psychologically. I'm not 100% sure how he is involved, but utilitarian wunderkind Jeremy Bentham is credited as the origins of these ideas (also invented the prison design the Panopticon.)

What they got up to, then, is the "separate system" or model prison in which all prisoners are kept in isolation of each other. When they go anywhere outside their cell, they wear masks. They exercise in little individual one person yards for a short period, all alone (see photo below). Everything they do is done alone. Even when they go to church, there are walls separating each little seat so they cannot see their fellow man. One thing I read suggested that this came in part from I believe Calvinist beliefs that when bad men associated with other bad men, they got worse, so the key to their rehabilitation was making sure that they were kept apart. The result was a huge spike in the number of insane convicts, such that they had to build an actual asylum right next to the separate prison.  You can see the separate prison and the asylum has been converted into a little cafe.

This was my second prison tour on my little travels (the first, Alcatraz, I'll come back around to that), but this one I took more personally. I was astounded by the hubris of the people handling the welfare of these people. I was a little disgusted with how callously society treated them. These men and women were allegedly wrongdoers, but what was done to them seemed in every case so much worse than what they did. In the prisons were little stories of the prisoners. One was Leonard Hand, sentenced to 15 years after attempted sodomy. He was later punished inside for using pages from a bible to communicate with another prisoner named James White in a way that was characterized as being "of an abominable and disgusting character". After he was sent to the separate prison, his mind deteriorated until he became "childish and silly". He died aged 24, socially undesirable.

There were many other prisoners whose seemed clear victims of circumstance. And then there were others whose personality traits I recognized as being sociopathic, even in the brief descriptions. For instance, Henry Laing, a skilled surveyer who caught the eye of the Governer's wife, Lady Jane Franklin. Lady Franklin described Laing as "a very handsome man . . . who has the disease of picking and stealing and seems to labour under (an) absolute ability to do otherwise". But as I was reading this and other descriptions of my sociopathic brothers and sisters I wondered, aren't they also victims of circumstances?

When you ask the question of who was this prison meant to serve, the answer if clear in its histories -- it was meant to isolate people whom society would rather ignore away from the normal people that did not want to have to deal with them in person or even think of them anymore. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sydney in two efficient days

One thing that surprised me in planning my two week trip to Australia is how little detailed information there seemed to be about workable itineraries. I also wanted to post here a little about my trip, so people can see what I'm getting up to on these travels and understand why I want to meet them and a little about what it might be like to meet me this way. So I created a separate page/tab at the top where I will link all of these travel posts for people who are interested in these areas and/or hearing my goings on. If you're not interested, you can probably just skip these posts?

I flew New Zealand Air (very nice flight attendants, and apparently John Travolta can still sell luxury goods there). 

I got into Sydney in the morning. I found out right away that the reservation for two nights at the Megaboom Hotel was for the wrong days, starting the day preceding, and there was no availability for my actual days. The front desk person was not only not helpful, she was antagonistic and tried to thwart every attempt I made with whomever my booking provider (Expedia?) was to resolve my issue. She wouldn't let me extend, wouldn't let me cancel the reservation, and wouldn't refund me anything. Ok. It wasn't until the end of a 40 minute debate that she conceded that she could put me on a waiting list to extend my stay and ask her manager about a partial refund. 

I noticed arguing with the customer to be a common thing in Australia. I guess it's because there's not really a tipping economy? And there is a high minimum wage. The incentive therefore is not to please a customer, but to avoid losing one's job. So when I asked for anything that wasn't apparently completely standard, I often got pushback and even antagonism. Maybe it was my sociopathy shining through and rubbing people the wrong way, but I chatted with some of my new Australian friends about it and they seemed to confirm the trend of lack of customer service.

It was nicely located, though, and I walked around my neighborhood to the lovely Queen Victoria Building, the Town Hall, and then a little bit of Darling Harbor.  

My new sociopathically minded friend (diagnosed ASPD). S came to meet me at my hotel for a day walking from Bondi (Bond - eye) beach to Coogee, a beautiful walk with many great sea cliffs (sea cliffs are my jam, as I had told S when he was planning the day).  As the Uber driver suggested, we kept walking into the cemetery area and even beyond. There are salt water pools filled by the ocean that people swim laps in. Beautiful, truly, and I'm used to beach beauty. 

Bondi is a hotspot, all these jacked up dudes (apparently many of them from steroids, per new friend S) strutting around scantily clad. There are surfers, but not many. Most people seemed to be out for fun, which emphasis on fun is apparently an Australian cultural thing. S and our Uber driver got in a bit of a fight for verbal dominance to explain to me how the Sydney lockout laws have killed certain once vital neighborhoods because Australians want to be able to drink freely and flow freely from establishment to establishment until dawn. Very similar to the Brazilian mentality, and S was a little surprised when I told him that having last calls for alcohol at 2:00 a.m. is very common in the U.S. But apparently random acts of violence are common (as new friend and fellow Australian M told me when I met him in San Francisco, more on that later). M thinks it's because there are no guns but people still need to blow off steam or demonstrate aggression to other people, so bar fights are not unusual.

After Bondi, S showers in the very good public facilities they had there and we head to the hip and gay-ish neighborhood of Newtown to meet some of his friends for drinks.

Day 2. My new friend J was up the evening prior holiday partying Australian style, so I had the morning and early afternoon to kill. I started in the neighborhood known as the Rocks, a 12 minute walk from my hotel. The Rocks is the oldest neighborhood in Sydney, with tons of history about the very first attempts at colonization and has this very great app with audio tour and augmented reality functionality that will show you what the neighborhood used to look like at various time periods using old illustrations or photos -- Walking the Rocks. It took me about an hour or two to go through the neighborhood/tour audio.

Larrikin Culture
While in the Rocks, I learned about Australian larrikin culture.  It's an Australian specific word defined as: "a boisterous, often badly behaved young man. a person with apparent disregard for convention" or as Wikipedia has it "a person who acts with apparent disregard for social or political conventions". *cough sociopath* It was initially used to describe the street gangs that frequented the Rocks (e.g. the Rocks Push) in the 19th century and was derogatory. The street gangs, no joke, dressed in gang specific dandyish outfits with the male larrikins distinguishable by their high heels and pointy boots and the women (donahs) wearing huge colorful hats. The fact of being associated as a Larrikin was often an excuse to bring the full force of the law down upon your head:

The Queen must surely be proud of such herioc men as the Police and Irish soldiers as It takes eight or eleven of the biggest mud crushers in Melbourne to take one poor little half starved larrakin to a watch house. — Ned Kelly in the Jerilderie Letter, 1879.[10]

(Also, is Dawn Fraser, famed Australian swimmer and described as having a "larrikin" streak a sociopath?)

I walked the 10 minutes from the Rocks to the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb, which was fun and beautiful, but also super expensive? And again, same thing applies re customer service here -- it took forever to get our gear on because we just had one person helping us, there was a ton of stopping on the bridge but no tour information on the buildings or the skyline or anything above just the very most basics, the photos they took were all sort of horrible, like they're not using any good technology or filters or figuring our good angles or anything. I noticed this a lot with Australian tours or activities, just ok being a little mediocre and a passable image of the thing it is supposed to be, like a sad looking amusement park cheeseburger. Because this bridge climb could have been much cooler.

New friend J met me at Bridge Climb because I was running late and she was running early. We walked together back through the Rocks to the Sydney Opera House, didn't take a tour because the guy said they sort of suck (true?), but took a ton of photos from every angle. The best angle is landside, the furthest corner from the bridge on the high point. Make sure that you take a ton here because people keep walking in front of the camera.

The best photo I got, though, was on the Manly Fast Ferry. Very cool trip, because it's basically a tour of the harbor. The fast ferry is just the right speed, and our boat was filled with drunk people wearing santa costumes for a planned pub crawl. Once off at the ferry, walk directly away from the ferry building with everyone else across the narrow isthmus to the actual beach.

Manly is fun, but also there is a lovely walk to Shelly Beach, which has one lovely restaurant, but stops serving food after lunch. There are a few little lookout hikes, spend some time exploring the hill overlooking Shelly Beach.

When we came back into Sydney, we walked through the Botanical Gardens on our way back to my old hotel, swinging by St. Mary's Cathedral, then grabbed my bags and went to my new hotel in Surry Hills, also a hip neighborhood, grabbed a bite to eat, made out, went to sleep. Surry Hills, by the way, is the home of female mob boss Kate Leigh.

So I stumbled upon the history of razor gang wars in Sydney in the 20's. The reason they're called razor gangs is that they banned handguns in Sydney in the beginning of the 20th century, so they'd go around razoring each other up for their share of the cocaine, sly-grog (speakeasy), and prostitution trade. The two main mob bosses were both female for some reason, Kate Leigh, and Tilly Devine, and they were arch rivals. From what I've read, Kate would do some of her own enforcing, killing at least two men and often getting in fist fights with people (sociopath maybe?), although most of the time she hired thugs to do her dirty work. Tilly Devine was also known to be a potentially lethal woman, although for whatever reason I feel like Tilly is more a victim of her terrible circumstances (forced into prostitution as a pre-teen). Maybe it's the fact that Tilly always seemed to have a chip on her shoulder about being more glamorous than most upper class people? Also the main cop going after them was also a woman! Liillian Armfield. This is like a television show begging to be made (not a smallish budget Australian television show, which already has been made, but more like an HBO miniseries). Thank you Australia for providing us the source material for the all female cast biopic about razor wielding mobsters that we deserve.

Next morning I took a bath and watched tv, then took the Airport Train back to the aiport (great and fast, btw, and you can buy single tickets). The rest of the traveling I did was by Uber for convenience and efficiency, although Sydney's public transit is supposed to be great.  
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