Category Archives: Human behavior

Melissa McCarthy captures Sean Spicer


Saturday Night Live made an inspired casting choice when they picked comedian Melissa McCarthy to play the White House Press Secretary.

She nails Spicer’s combative relationship with the press with precision.

Enjoy:

Sean Spicer Press Conference – SNL


Program note:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer [Melissa McCarthy] and secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos [Kate McKinnon] take questions from the press ]Bobby Moynihan, Kristen Stewart, Cecily Strong, Vanessa Bayer, Alex Moffat, Mikey Day].

Chart of the day: Nativism across U.S. cultures


From a new report from the Pew Research Center:

blog-nativism

School shootings link to high unemployment rates


Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

While there are other facts at work in individual cases, ranging from psychopathology and poor home relationships to immediate provocations, could high jobless rates play a key role in America’s school shootings?

That’s the conclusion of a just-published major study from Northwestern University:

A rigorous Northwestern University study of a quarter-century of data has found that economic insecurity is related to the rate of gun violence at K-12 and postsecondary schools in the United States. When it becomes more difficult for people coming out of school to find jobs, the rate of gun violence at schools increases.

The interdisciplinary study by data scientists Adam R. Pah and Luís Amaral and sociologist John L. Hagan reveals a persistent connection over time between unemployment and the occurrence of school shootings in the country as a whole, across various regions of the country and within affected cities, including Chicago and New York City.

“The link between education and work is central to our expectations about economic opportunity and upward mobility in America,” said Hagan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study indicates that increases in gun violence in our schools can result from disappointment and despair during periods of increased unemployment, when getting an education does not necessarily lead to finding work.”

Frequent school shootings have been a major concern in American society for decades, but the causes have defied understanding. The Northwestern researchers used data from 1990 to 2013 on both gun violence in U.S. schools and economic metrics, including unemployment, to get some answers.

“Our findings highlight the importance of economic opportunity for the next generation and suggest there are proactive actions we could take as a society to help decrease the frequency of gun violence,” said Pah, clinical assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management.

Other key findings include:

  • While Chicago is singled out in the study as one of the six cities with the most incidents from 1990 to 2013, Chicago schools are not any more dangerous than schools in other large cities.
  • Gun violence at schools has not become more deadly over time.
  • Most shootings are targeted, with the shooter intending to harm a specific person.
  • Gang-related violence and lone mass shooters comprise only small fractions of the gun violence that occurs at U.S. schools. Gang-related violence constitutes 6.6% of all incidents.
  • The results suggest that during periods of heightened unemployment, increased gun violence may be a growing risk in American college and university settings.

The study, Economic Insecurity and the Rise in Gun Violence at US Schools, [open access] was published Monday by the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The research team also found the rate of gun violence at schools has changed over time. The most recent period studied (2007-2013) has a higher frequency of incidents than the preceding one (1994-2007), contradicting previous work in this area. This is a unique contribution made possible because of the researchers’ backgrounds in data science and modeling.

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One word to describe Donald Trump: Bullshitter


As we’ve noted before, Donald Trump is a textbook narcissist.

Here are the diagnostic criteria from the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard reference for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. We opted for it rather than the subsequent fifth edition, which uses a lot more words to say the same things:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

One consequence of the disorder, which typically proves intractable to treatment, is a never-ending stream of hastily improvised statements designed to buttress the narcissist’s delusions of grandeur and bearing only tangential relationship to the truth.

In other words, an endless stream of bullshit.

But what does it mean to have a narcissist in the White House?

For a partial answer we turn to University of Florida sociologist and journalist , writing in The Conversation, an academic journal written in conversational English:

If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the past week or so, you know that over the weekend America was introduced to the concept of “alternative facts.” After Trump administration Press Secretary Sean Spicer rebuked the media for accurately reporting the relatively small crowds at President Donald Trump’s inauguration, senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Spicer wasn’t lying; he was simply using “alternative facts.”

News outlets are still working through the process of figuring out what to call these mischaracterizations of reality. (“Alternative facts” seems to have been swiftly rejected.) Many outlets have upped their fact-checking game. The Washington Post, for instance, released a browser extension that fact-checks tweets by the president in near real-time.

Other outlets have resisted labeling Trump’s misstatements as lies. Earlier this year, for instance, the Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief Gerard Baker insisted that the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t label Trump’s false statements “lies.”

Baker argued that lying requires a “deliberate intention to mislead,” which couldn’t be proven in the case of Trump. Baker’s critics pushed back, raising valid and important points about the duty of the press to report what is true.

As important as discussions about the role of the press as fact-checkers are, in this case Baker’s critics are missing the point. Baker is right. Trump isn’t lying. He’s bullshitting. And that’s an important distinction to make.

Bullshitter-in-chief?

Bullshitters, as philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote in his 1986 essay “On Bullshit,” don’t care whether what they are saying is factually correct or not. Instead, bullshit is characterized by a “lack of connection to a concern with truth [and] indifference to how things really are.” Frankfurt explains that a bullshitter “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

In addition to being unconcerned about the truth (which liars do care about, since they are trying to conceal it), Frankfurt suggests that bullshitters don’t really care whether their audience believes what they are saying. Indeed, getting the audience to believe something is false isn’t the goal of bullshitting. Rather, bullshitters say what they do in an effort to change how the audience sees them, “to convey a certain impression” of themselves.

In Trump’s case, much of his rhetoric and speech seems designed to inflate his own grand persona. Hence the tweets about improving the record sales of artists performing at his inauguration and his claims that he “alone can fix” the problems in the country.

blog-t-album

Likewise, his inaugural address contained much rhetoric about the “decayed” state of the country and rampant unemployment (a verifiably false statement). Trump then proceeded to claim that he was going to rid the country of these ailments. The image of Trump as a larger-than-life figure who will repair a broken country resonates with his audience, and it doesn’t work without first priming them with notions of widespread “carnage.”

A stinky, slippery slope

There are several problems with Trump adopting the bullshit style of communication.

First, misinformation is notoriously hard to correct once it’s out there, and social media, in particular, has a reputation for spreading factually inaccurate statements and conspiracy theories.

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For Donald Trump, size really, really matters


As we promised earlier, in light of The Donald’s gross exaggeration of the size of his inaugural audience and his fury at the press for pointing out his prevarication, here’s a look at that other issue of magnitude, one that grabbed the public’s attention during the primary campaign.

For, anything concern his person or his affairs must always be the Biggest, Grandest, Most Fabuolous, and Tremendous. . .UUGE!

And to hint other wise is an act of lese majestie.

Rubio tries the hands-on approach

From CBS, reported on Leap Year Day 2016:

Marco Rubio escalated his slate of recent attacks on Donald Trump’s looks Sunday, telling supporters at an event Sunday night that Trump can’t be trusted because he has “small hands.”

He was responding to Trump’s habit of calling him “Little Marco.” And while Rubio freely admitted he’s the shorter one of the two, he said he was baffled by the size of Trump’s hands.

“He’s like 6’2’’ which is why I don’t understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5’2″. Have you seen his hands?” Rubio said during a rally in Roanoke, Virgina. “You know what they say about men with small hands? You can’t trust them. You can’t trust them.”

Rubio’s insult appears to stem from an argument between Trump and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Carter once called Trump a “short-fingered vulgarian” in an article in Spy magazine.

And The Donald responds

Five days later, CNN reported the response in a story headlined Donald Trump defends size of his penis:

Donald Trump assured American voters Thursday night that despite what Marco Rubio had suggested, there was “no problem” with the size of his hands — or anything else.

“Look at those hands, are they small hands?” the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination said, raising them for viewers to see. “And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”

Rubio in recent days revived a decades-old old insult, mocking Trump for having relatively slight hands.

“He’s always calling me Little Marco. And I’ll admit he’s taller than me. He’s like 6’2, which is why I don’t understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5’2,” Rubio said in Virginia on Sunday. “And you know what they say about men with small hands? You can’t trust them.”

The New York billionaire has heard similar comments about his hands or, more precisely, his fingers, for years.

History behind the dick-measuring contest

A bit of revealing background from the Atlantic Monthly written back in June 2016:

Author and radio host Kurt Andersen, who—along with Graydon Carter—came up with the first iteration of this epithet, short fingered vulgarian, offered this explanation for its staying power: “There are literally a thousand things we could say about Trump. The attraction of talking about his short fingers is that it’s just this one stupid thing that everyone can get around. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, sort of like, Let’s just focus on this because it makes him [respond] and he hates it. You could say he doesn’t understand NATO, but he doesn’t care that he doesn’t understand NATO! At least he cares about this.”

For the record, Andersen is adamant that it’s Trump’s short fingers—and not his ostensibly small hands—that were always the intended object of derision. “And it never, ever had anything to do with the size of his dick,” says Andersen. “It was just literally just, ‘Look, the guy has short fingers!’ Rubio and Trump turned it into a genital-measuring-stick thing.”

Apart from the ease with which Trump can be frothed into a foam of discontent via the mere mention of his hand/finger-length ratio, the epithet is revealing mostly because it demonstrates how humiliation lies at the core of Trump’s campaign.

And, yes, his fingers really are shorties

Finally, via Vanity Fair, the truth the grasping digits in question:

The Hollywood Reporter obtained a verified copy of Trump’s handprint, cast from his own hands by the expert sculptors at Madame Tussauds. The famed waxworks museum had measured Trump for a life-sized sculpture, which was removed from their New York City location in 2011. But Trump’s handprint itself, which was cast in bronze, has for the entirety of the presidential election been displayed prominently in front of the Tussauds museum in Times Square.

Their official discovery: measured from wrist to the tip of his middle finger, Trump’s hands are 7.25 inches in length.

According to several scientific studies, this is a definitively below-average hand length for a man, especially for his height of 6 feet 2 inches. A 1980 study commissioned by the U.S. Army indicates that Trump’s hand length of 7.25 inches hovers around the 25th percentile of hand length among military men. A meta-analysis of studies from the Georgia Tech Research Institute places Trump’s hands below the 50th percentile. And the 1988 Anthropomorphic Survey of U.S. Personnel, used frequently by the Ergonomic Center of North Carolina, places Trump’s hands at the 15th percentile. Trump is, medically speaking, short-fingered.

And that’s why we call him Littlefingers.

Quote of the day: Dangerous political nostalgia


A resurgent far right is gaining power not just in the U.S. but in other nations as well, promising a return to a past golden age.

Samuel Earle, freelance writer and recent masters graduate from the London School of Economics, writes about the dangers of that nostalgia in an essay for Jacobin:

On the surface, conjuring up a happier past may seem benign. But much of today’s nostalgia comes with its own set of noxious side effects. The bonds between those who belong to the remembered time are strengthened — they all feel at home — while for those who do not, their separation becomes all the more pronounced.

Only through the marginalization of others — foreigners, immigrants, LGBTQ people, all those who “don’t belong” — can the reactionary nostalgists turn their remembered past into a site of empowerment. To turn back the clock, others must be turned out. With little else to latch on to, excluding others makes their past feel all the more precious, a thing that can truly be claimed as their own.

This is the dark irony beneath the nativist’s angry refrain to the immigrant “Go back to where you came from”: it is the xenophobe who, more than anyone, wants to go back to where they came from — to an imagined, pure point of origin, a moment in history where their country was a homogenous mass. The racist, like all great nostalgists, is homesick for a home they never had.

This nostalgia, and its dark underbelly, will be a difficult beast to reckon with. While the future can be fought over and the present is there to take or leave, the past can be — may always be — whatever we want it to be.

Quote of the day: The rush to kiss Trump’s ass


The day Littlefingers became president of the united States also brought down the curtain on the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, the gathering of 2,500 leading corporate moguls, banksters, elected officials, economists, celebrities [George Clooney attended this year], and media figures in the elite Swiss resort town of Davos.

One of those in attendance was former World Bank Chief Economist, U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, a man who played a central role in the deregulation of American banking and the unleashing of the derivatives market.

In of the other words, he bears much of the responsibility for bringing on the Crash of 2008 and the ongoing global Great Recession.

But even he abhors the rush to embrace President Pussygrabber by his fellow Davos elites, as he writes in Financial Times [subscription only]:

I am disturbed by (i) the spectacle of financiers who three months ago were telling anyone who would listen that they would never do business with a Trump company rushing to praise the new administration; (ii) the unwillingness of business leaders who rightly take pride in their corporate efforts to promote women and minorities to say anything about presidentially sanctioned intolerance; (iii) the failure of the leaders of global companies to say a critical word about US efforts to encourage the breakup of European unity and more generally to step away from underwriting an open global system; (iv) the reluctance of business leaders who have a huge stake in the current global order to criticise provocative rhetoric with regard to China, Mexico or the Middle East; (v) the willingness of too many to praise Trump nominees who advocate blatant protection merely because they have a business background.

>snip<

My objection is not to disagreements over economic policy. It is to enabling if not encouraging immoral and reckless policies in other spheres that ultimately bear on our prosperity. Burke was right. It is a lesson of human experience whether the issue is playground bullying, Enron or Europe in the 1930s that the worst outcomes occur when good people find reasons to accommodate themselves to what they know is wrong. That is what I think happened much too often in Davos this week.