book reviews, LDS, psychology, true crime

Repost: A review of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight

Here’s an as/is book review that was originally posted on February 10, 2016.

So, I just finished M.E. Thomas’s Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight (2013).  I think I’m left with mixed impressions of this book.  On the positive side, I thought it was reasonably well written, if not occasionally a bit dry.  Thomas offers some interesting theories as to how having sociopathic tendencies could be a positive for some people.  On the negative side, I found Thomas to be rather unlikable, occasionally disturbing, and really more narcissistic than sociopathic.  Also, though she frequently describes herself as “smarter” than regular people and above being emotional, I notice that she does some really dumb things.

I think one of the dumbest things Thomas (a pseudonym) did was go on the Dr. Phil show after she published this book.  I own a newer edition of Confessions of a Sociopath.  At the end of the book, there are some extra materials that include an epilogue about the aftermath of Thomas’s decision to publish Confessions of a Sociopath. 

Thomas writes that she was very careful not to share too much about herself on her blog or in her book.  And yet, Internet sleuths being what they are, her real identity was discovered and she was promptly fired from her job as a law professor.  She was also barred from being within 1000 feet of the university where she worked.  Thomas writes that she doesn’t think the restriction is legally enforceable and notes that it is a significant inconvenience to her, since the area around the school includes her bank, several public transportation stops, and other places she’d need to visit.  Thomas writes that personality disorders are legally protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), but she doesn’t think a jury would be sympathetic to her if she decided to sue. 

From what I can tell, Thomas is still LDS, which I think is pretty much the height of stupidity.  Based on what I’ve read, Thomas was employed by Brigham Young University, which is a Mormon owned school.  She complains that they are discriminating against her; just as they do to many people, to include homosexuals and apostates.  And yet, she’s still in the church.  

Even if I didn’t have serious issues with the way some Mormons treat others who aren’t like them, and even though I realize that there are many attractive, talented, and otherwise intelligent people in the church, I just think Joseph Smith was a liar and a con man, among other things.  People who choose to believe the lies the church was based on and accept its policies are, in my opinion, showing some serious logic deficits.  But then, Thomas writes that she frequently does things that other people might think of as crazy or stupid.  She habitually lives in the sketchiest parts of town, where rents are cheap but burglaries are frequent.  She even walked in on a burglary once, yet didn’t decide to move. 

A lot of the examples Thomas uses to describe her so-called “sociopathic” behavior don’t seem all that sociopathic to me.  She writes of one incident where she gets angry at a guy working at the metro in Washington, DC.  The guy yells at her for trespassing.  She says she wants to kill him and follows him for a couple of blocks before she loses him.  In another passage, she writes of trying to kill a baby opossum in a swimming pool.  It fell in there and was on its way to drowning before she found it.  She isn’t able to do it.  Later, she fishes the corpse out of the pool and tosses it over a fence.  Big deal.  She fights with her father.  Who hasn’t? 

Thomas repeatedly explains that she doesn’t really enjoy being a lawyer.  She says she’s a lazy person who thrives on any activity that allows her to game “the system”.  Maybe law was a good field for her for that reason, but one thing good lawyers should be able to do is show good judgment and protect one’s reputation.  I don’t think publishing this book was an example of good judgment, even though Thomas claims that she’s okay with the consequences.  Given that she admits to being sexually attracted to and acting on her attraction to both males and females, I’m surprised she’s still LDS.  She does write that being Mormon forces her to be accountable and a “good person”, so maybe that’s a good thing.   At the same time, she writes about how bloodless and calculating lawyers are.  Hmmm…

I did find Thomas’s anecdotal examples of what makes someone sociopathic versus narcissistic somewhat interesting, though I’m not sure I totally agreed with them.  And, again, I have certainly read books that were not as well written.  I don’t think Thomas is very likable, though she insists that she is… and that people don’t seem to notice her sociopathic tendencies.  I find that somewhat hard to believe, though maybe I’m biased.  Thomas does write that she runs into a lot of people who think sociopaths are inherently evil people.  I’m not sure if that’s true, since I’m not really certain that Thomas is a sociopath.  To me, she seems a lot more like a malignant narcissist than a sociopath.  I’m no expert on sociopaths, though…. On the other hand, I’m not so sure Thomas is, either.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this book.  I didn’t love it.  It has three stars on Amazon.com and I think that’s what I’d give it, too.  Thomas is clearly intelligent and some of what she writes is interesting.  Since she lost her job, maybe it’s not a bad thing that I bought her book.  Of course, given her self-proclaimed ability to charm people, she’s probably landed on her feet somewhere.  Who knows?  Read it if it interests you, though I certainly wouldn’t call Confessions of a Sociopath a must read.

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book reviews, politics, Trump

A review of Michael Cohen’s Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump

I swear, I never cared much at all about politics until the Trump era. Maybe it’s one of the few good things that has come from Trump’s presidency. Regular citizens being complacent about politics is probably one of the main reasons Trump is occupying the White House right now. People are quick to trust con men, and Trump is at the top of the list of modern shysters who thirst incessantly for money and power.

Michael Cohen, a now disgraced former lawyer turned felon, was one of the people Trump fooled. He loved money and power and had made a fortune in New York City in real estate deals and selling taxi medallions, a type of transferable permit cabbies must have in order to operate legally. Cohen had read The Art of the Deal and admired Trump for his apparent business acumen and relentless pursuit of money and power.

Cohen admits his legal pedigree isn’t all that exciting. Like my husband, Bill, Cohen got his undergraduate degree at American University in Washington, DC, graduating a couple of years after Bill did. From there, he attended the Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. Cohen writes that he went there because it was relatively easy to get accepted, and as long as he managed to pass the bar exam, it wouldn’t matter where he went to law school. He began his career as a personal injury attorney, but then climbed the ranks to more prestigious positions before he joined the Trump Organization in 2006.

Cohen’s role at the Trump Organization was to be Trump’s legal muscle/fixer. It was his job to help Trump cheat people out of money. For this job, Cohen was paid less than he was used to earning. When Trump initially hired Cohen, after giving him a good love bombing with ingratiating flattery, Trump told him he wouldn’t be paying him his usual rate. In fact, Trump never pays full price for anything, and according to Cohen, he does everything in his power to screw over anyone who works for him. But Cohen was initially okay with it, because Trump was his idol. And that kind of tells you what kind of person Cohen is… or was.

Michael Cohen warning us… At this writing, this video has been up for 15 hours.

I’ll be honest. The first time I heard of Michael Cohen was when I saw him in a video, speaking to the court. He was upfront as he shamed a lawyer who was trying to discredit his account of his dealings with Trump. Cohen very forthrightly told the man that he was about to go to prison and that he was there to tell the truth. Something about the way he spoke impressed me. I don’t like hypocrites, and Cohen was not hypocritical as he spoke in that televised proceeding. And, in his book, Cohen freely admits that he’s as slimy as Trump. Or, at least he was as slimy. He now seems to be trying to redeem himself. I’m not stupid enough to believe that part of this effort isn’t about him trying to save his own skin. However, given the dire situation the country is in right now, and the fact that Trump and his flying monkeys have been trying so hard to silence Cohen, I have some respect for him. I think he was brave to publish his book, Disloyal, and that even though he was one of Trump’s legal flunkies, writing this book was a huge favor to the American people.

I’ve been aware of Trump since the late 1980s. People were talking about what a dishonest scumbag he is even back then. I never paid much attention to Trump until he ran for president. I watched with dismay and confusion as people championed him, saying he was “great” for America because he’s not a politician and isn’t politically correct. But the plain fact of the matter is, he lies, cheats, and steals, and he treats women like objects. More than once, Cohen writes about how Trump cornered women and forced them to kiss him, or got them into compromising positions, manhandled, and groped them. Why no one ever clocked Trump in the face before he became leader of the free world, I’ll never know.

Michael Cohen had a very close relationship with Donald Trump. Although Trump is now trying to discredit his former lawyer, saying he wasn’t a “very good lawyer”, he still kept him around for twelve years. And Cohen explains how Trump operates, giving readers insight into the kind of person Trump is. For instance, despite his famous turn on The Apprentice, where Trump is shown barking “You’re fired!” to contestants, Trump doesn’t actually like to fire people. He leaves that job to his many underlings, who are forced to do his dirty work.

And Trump is extremely cheap. Cohen writes one story about how he was tasked with strong arming the Benjamin Moore paint company into giving Trump thousands of buckets of expensive paint because the super cheap product Trump had ordered his contractor to use at the Doral golf resort was shitty and wiped off of the walls. Trump did not pay for the product he needed for the job to be done properly. But somehow, he managed to threaten and bully his way into having the company give him their best product for free. And he did this with a “pit bull” lawyer that he wasn’t even paying full price for.

Disloyal is full of stories like this– tales of how Trump cheated, and tasked his minions to cheat on his behalf. Then, when it came time for him to pay, either with money or favors, he inevitably welched. This was especially true if he didn’t get the results he wanted. For instance, Cohen writes about how he had tasked an information technology expert he knew at Liberty University to fudge the numbers in a poll run by CNBC. The work involved buying many IP addresses and faking the votes to make Trump look like a more impressive businessman. The work cost about $15,000 for the addresses, as well as the expert’s time and knowledge. But CNBC caught the ruse and removed Trump from the poll, despite Cohen’s threats to sue. And the end result was that the IT expert got stiffed.

Cohen’s wife, Laura, and children, Samantha and Jake, hated that Cohen worked for Trump. They regularly begged him to quit. Cohen had plenty of money and didn’t need to work for Trump. Trump would call him at all hours, interrupting them at dinner or on vacations. But worse than that, he was scuzzy to Cohen’s daughter, Samantha, when she was fifteen years old. Cohen writes that once, they were at a Trump resort. Trump was also there, and he saw Samantha taking a tennis lesson. Not knowing she was Cohen’s daughter, Trump mentioned wanting that “piece of ass”. When he became aware that Samantha was Cohen’s daughter, instead of apologizing, Trump told her he’d soon be dating her classmates. Just disgusting! And it’s certainly not the first or only time Trump has treated women like meat, as we all know. There are many references to his disgusting behavior toward women in the news. There’s even a recording of him admitting how he treats them. And yet, in 2016, white women came out in droves to vote for Trump.

Cohen is right that I probably wouldn’t like him very much. He’s a sleazy, money hungry lawyer who has been disgraced and disbarred, and is now doing time. But at least he owns up to being sleazy. And now he’s trying to carve out a niche for himself as one of Trump’s former minions, fighting against the orange turd’s reelection (which he warns will be very dramatic, as Trump won’t go quietly in 2021 or 2025). Well… I can’t blame him, to be honest. And if his book helps people change their minds about Donald Trump, I am all for his decision to publish it. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but I do think it’s valuable in that it offers a look at who Trump is by someone who knows him very well.

I think people should read Disloyal and decide whether or not Donald Trump really is the man who should be leading the United States… or if he should join Cohen behind bars. One thing is very certain to me. Trump does not care about anyone but himself. Just remember that in November.

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book reviews

Review of Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir, by Lisa F. Smith

Once again, I’m reviewing a book I bought several years ago and just got around to reading. I purchased Lisa F. Smith’s 2016 book, Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir back in September 2016, and it was sitting in my Kindle, collecting virtual dust all this time. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it, because not only have I finally gotten what I paid for, but I think it’s a hell of a book.

The Jewish daughter of a judge and a housewife, Lisa Smith has always been an overachiever. She got straight As in school, attended Northwestern University, and got a law degree at Rutgers University. After law school, she got a job at an international law firm in New York City and worked her ass off. Interspersed between her working hours, Lisa drank… and drank… and drank. She also snorted cocaine. The cocaine would perk her up after a long evening sucking down booze. The alcohol would help numb her to the pain of untreated major depression.

Lisa had a lot of friends… drinking buddies, who would join her on her benders. She attended a lot of parties put on by the law firm where she worked. She’d wake up feeling parched and nauseated, hands shaking from alcohol withdrawal, mind racing from whatever embarrassing incident might have happened while she was under the influence. She’d have a drink in the morning to settle her nerves, then snort some blow to help her look energized when she had to give presentations at work. When she finally showed up to detox at a locked psychiatric ward at a hospital called Gracie Square, Lisa was on the verge of drinking herself to death. Her friends were supportive… or, at least most of them were at first.

The trip to the hospital is where Lisa starts her story of overcoming addiction. She’d called her doctor, panicked and realizing that she was in real trouble. Even her doctor told her she was “fine”, until Lisa told him about her habits and that she’d been shitting blood. He recommended a hospital in Hell’s Kitchen, which Lisa vetoed out of hand. Then he recommended Gracie Square, which was in a more familiar neighborhood. Lisa called and was told to show up before eleven o’clock. When she arrived, she was told that by signing herself in, she would be required to stay for 72 hours. She agreed, until she saw the “detox” floor, where there were people fighting and yelling at each other. Because she was so scared, Lisa was allowed to stay on the “Asian” floor, on which all of the patients and staff were Asians.

Then, as she finally settles in with some Librium, Lisa goes back to the beginning of her story and explains how it all began. Apparently, Lisa’s childhood helped set her up for addiction to booze and cocaine. She’d had a food addiction, the caused her to get fat. She was teased in school, and a pediatrician told her that if she didn’t stop eating, she’d be big as a house. Lisa’s breasts got huge, so when she was in college, she visited a plastic surgeon who said she would reduce them if Lisa lost thirty pounds. She lost the weight, became “hot”, and started being noticed by men. She drank for courage. She drank to feel sexy and confident, or to forget her problems. It seems to me, this was when she started drinking habits that would land her in rehab.

She runs into a fellow lawyer from Pennsylvania, also a drinker. He’s Catholic. She’s Jewish. They hook up one night after a drinking session, start dating, and get married, seemingly on a whim. The marriage is a disaster, as she hates Pittsburgh and realizes they don’t have enough in common. The depression comes crashing down, augmented by the alcoholism. She goes back to New York City and picks up where she left off… back on the booze train.

Much of Girl Walks out of a Bar consists of Lisa’s stories about being drunk, a few of which are pretty funny. I had a good laugh when she describes being two drinks in when a date turns out to mostly be a teetotaler. She proceeded to get very drunk and high, landed in a heap on the floor, and was “helped” roughly into a taxi. Naturally, she never saw that guy again. Then there was the neighbor, “Mark”, who sort of befriends her. He’s younger than she is and lives in her building. They seem to be starting a relationship of some kind– more like, he wants it and she doesn’t. She kind of kicks him out when he suggests she might need rehab, but then he turns out to be a good friend to her as she gets sober. I felt a little sorry for him, since she seemed to use him somewhat.

Lisa Smith’s writing is witty and funny. She uses a lot of profanity, which some readers like and some don’t. Personally, I like a few good cuss words, especially when they’re liberally sprinkled in funny stories. My one complaint about this book is the way it wraps up. The author doesn’t share much about her journey to sobriety or her struggles staying sober. She finishes detoxing and makes it clear that she won’t be attending a 28 day residential treatment due to her work commitments and the lies she told to get a few days off for detox. Next thing you know, she’s going to A.A. meetings and getting her 90 day chip. She doesn’t share much about how she managed to fight temptation. Her writing about her sobriety is surprisingly less juicy than her writing about being a drunk and a cokehead, which makes the book seem off balance.

However… I still enjoyed reading Smith’s story, mainly because she seemed like someone I would enjoy knowing. She’s smart, funny, and very candid. Also… reading her story made me feel somewhat better about my own drinking habits. She was way worse than I’ve ever been… Basically, she spent ten solid years drunk every single day. It’s amazing that she was able to function, let alone work as a high powered corporate lawyer.

I have read better books about people with drinking problems. The late Caroline Knapp’s book, Drinking: A Love Story comes to mind. I also read Augusten Burrough’s book, Dry, which was one of those books that made me feel a wide range of emotions– from amusement to sadness. I think Girl Walks out of a Bar could have been better than it is. However, I’m glad I read Lisa Smith’s story, because ultimately, it’s a success story. It’s a fairly easy read that kept me engaged. If I were rating it on a scale of one to five, I think I’d give this book four stars. Had she expanded her story after she got sober– told us more about the struggle to stay away from booze and drugs, I could see giving her that fifth star.

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