Category Archives: Idiocy

Why millions believe Trump’s idiotic tweeter-twaddle


As anyone who pays attentions to the utterances, tweeted and otherwise, of our President-elect, Donald Trump is, at best, the source of profoundly absurd declarations of nonsense, gleaned from sources that regularly write about a cabal of lizard people ruling the world, rampant voter fraud, a secret fluoride mind control program, and other blatant twaddle.

While the rational among us would at first glance reject such absurdities, they gain traction, eventually forming part of the core belief systems of millions.

The question, then, is why?

A perceptive analysis by Lisa Fazio Assistant Professor of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, writing in the open source [Creative Commons] academic journal The Conversation, offers some key insights:

In the weeks since the U.S. election, concerns have been raised about the prominence and popularity of false news stories spread on platforms such as Facebook. A BuzzFeed analysis found that the top 20 false election stories generated more shares, likes, reactions and comments than the top 20 election stories from major news organizations in the months immediately preceding the election. For example, the fake article “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” was engaged with 960,000 times in the three months prior to the election.

Facebook has discounted the analysis, saying that these top stories are only a tiny fraction of the content people are exposed to on the site. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said, “Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way – I think is a pretty crazy idea.” However, psychological science suggests that exposure to false news would have an impact on people’s opinions and beliefs. It may not have changed the outcome of the election, but false news stories almost definitely affected people’s opinions of the candidates.

Psychological research, including my own, shows that repeated exposure to false information can change people’s beliefs that is it true. This phenomenon is called the “illusory truth effect.”

This effect happens to us all – including people who know the truth. Our research suggests that even people who knew Pope Francis made no presidential endorsement would be susceptible to believing a “Pope endorses Trump” headline when they had seen it multiple times.

Repetition leads to belief

People think that statements they have heard twice are more true than those they have encountered only once. That is, simply repeating false information makes it seem more true.

In a typical study, participants read a series of true statements (“French horn players get cash bonuses to stay in the U.S. Army”) and false ones (“Zachary Taylor was the first president to die in office”) and rate how interesting they find each sentence. Then, they are presented with a number of statements and asked to rate how true each one is. This second round includes both the statements from the first round and entirely new statements, both true and false. The outcome: Participants reliably rate the repeated statements as being more true than the new statements.

In a recent study, I and other researchers found that this effect is not limited to obscure or unknown statements, like those about French horn players and Zachary Taylor. Repetition can also bolster belief in statements that contradict participants’ prior knowledge.

For example, even among people who can identify the skirt that Scottish men wear as a kilt, the statement “A sari is the skirt that Scottish men wear” is rated as more true when it is read twice versus only once. On a six-point scale, the participants’ truth ratings increased by half a point when the known falsehoods were repeated. The statements were still rated as false, but participants were much less certain, rating the statements as “possibly false” rather than closer to “probably false.”

This means that having relevant prior knowledge does not protect people from the illusory truth effect. Repeated information feels more true, even if it goes against what you already know.

Even debunking could make things worse

Facebook is looking at ways to combat fake news on the site, but some of the proposed solutions are unlikely to fix the problem. According to a Facebook post by Zuckerberg, the site is considering labeling stories that have been flagged as false with a warning message. While this is a commonsense suggestion, and may help to reduce the sharing of false stories, psychological research suggests that it will do little to prevent people from believing that the articles are true.

People tend to remember false information, but forget that it was labeled as false. A 2011 study gave participants statements from sources described as either “reliable” or “unreliable.” Two weeks later, the participants were asked to rate the truth of several statements – the reliable and unreliable statements from before, and new statements as well. They tended to rate the repeated statements as more true, even if they were originally labeled as unreliable.

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Why comedians are our best Trump news source


American journalism has long been afflicted with the notion of objectivity, and objectivity of a peculiar nature.

We can’t even begin to number the times editors had told us “be sure to get the other wide.”

The notion of “the other side” is inherently flawed, the concept that truth is like a sheet of paper: First you see one side, then turn it over and you see the other side.

Fix news managed to invert the usual standards by offering “the other side of the story,” giving us the first overt American mainstream propaganda outlet of our own lifetime.

But truth isn’t bipolar. It’s multidimensional, and however thoroughly you dig, there’s always more to the story.

Even more significantly, sometimes the story is so absurdly obviously that that any pretense of objectivity lends it a dignity it doesn’t possess.

As in the case of our President-elect.

We offer two examples of the only way news make sense in the Trumpian era.

First up, a segment from Late Night with Seth Meyers:

Donald Trump’s False Claims and Foreign Policy Moves: A Closer Look

Program note:

Seth takes a closer look at Presidential-elect Trump’s willingness to make false claims and his shoot-from-the-hip foreign policy approach.

And then this from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee:

The Big Lie

Program note:

When you’re president, you can tell whatever lies you want. They just let you do it.

As Walter Cronkite, America’s most trusted television newsman of esnl’s early journalism years, used to say:

Headline of the day II: Daily life in Trumplandia™


From the East Bay Express:

Oakland Landlord Evicts Tenant, Then Hangs Pro-Trump Billboard on Building

‘On Christmas Day I’m being evicted. Can you believe that?’

Welcome to the trolling Trumpian tweeterocracy


His latest indication of the shape of things to come:

blog-trump-tweet

Trump calls Taiwan: Diplomacy for personal profit?


Donald Trump made a call to the President of Taiwan, an island China calls its own and which lost diplomatic ties with the U.S. in 1979, the result of Richard Nixon’s earlier move to restore ties with the mainland.

Before Nixon, the United States recognized the Taiwanese regime as the legitimate government of the mainland, denying recognition to the communist government in Beijing following Mao Tse Tung’s revolutionary victory over the Kuomintang forces of Chiang Kai-shek, who withdrew what was left of his forces to the island in 1950.

Since diplomatic recognition with the island was revoked, no U.S. President had spoken to its government,

Until Donald Trump.

Trump’s call complicates the ongoing Game of Zones being played by China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines over control of oil, gas, and other resources beneath the contested waters.

China, needless to say, reacted to The Donald’s provocative ploy.

From Reuters:

China lodged a diplomatic protest on Saturday after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, but blamed the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own for the “petty” move.

The 10-minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it had lodged “stern representations” with what it called the “relevant U.S. side”, urging the careful handling of the Taiwan issue to avoid any unnecessary disturbances in ties.

“The one China principle is the political basis of the China-U.S. relationship,” it said.

The wording implied the protest had gone to the Trump camp, but the ministry provided no explanation.

But there’s another game afoot

And that’s a hotel apparently planned by a Trump corporation for the island.

That little but very significant fact would lead to a very big question: Is Trump planning to use the White House as a fulcrum to further his own business interests?

From the Guardian:

Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, a businesswoman claiming to be associated with his conglomerate made inquiries about a major investment in building luxury hotels as part of the island’s new airport development.

The woman, known only as Ms Chen arrived from the US in September to meet the mayor of Taoyuan, Cheng Wen-tsan, one of the senior politicians involved in the Aerotropolis project, a large urban development being planned around the renovation of Taiwan’s main airport, Taoyuan International.

“She said she was associated with the Trump corporation and she would like to propose a possible investment project in the future, especially hotels,” said an official familiar with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“One thing quite sure from her side was that she would like to bring the Trump corporation here to build the hotel,” said the official, who did not know if Chen had a Trump Organization business card.

Can things get any sleazier?

Knowing Trump, we’re certain they can.

Israeli shapes a U.S. law enabling campus purges


How would Americans like it if, say, North Korea dictated a law barring criticism of that country on U.S. campuses.

We imagine lots of folks would get righteously upset.

But an Israeli propagandist and former Deputy Prime Minister has done just that.

From the Intercept:

After Donald Trump’s election emboldened white supremacists and inspired a wave of anti-Semitic hate incidents across the country, the Senate on Thursday took action by passing a bill aimed at limiting the free-speech rights of college students who express support for Palestinians.

By unanimous consent, the Senate quietly passed the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, only two days after it was introduced by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.

A draft of the bill obtained by The Intercept encourages the Department of Education to use the State Department’s broad, widely criticized definition of anti-Semitism when investigating schools. That definition, from a 2010 memo, includes as examples of anti-Semitism “delegitimizing” Israel, “demonizing” Israel, “applying double standards” to Israel, and “focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations.”

Critics have pointed out that those are political — not racist — positions, shared by a significant number of Jews, and qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

According to the draft, the bill does not adopt the definition as a formal legal standard, it only directs the State Department to “take into consideration” the definition when investigating schools for anti-Semitic discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Now why do we say that the law is the creation of an Israeli propagandist?

That’s because those key words — demonizing, delegitimizing, demonizing — are the formula created by Israeli political propagandist, Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs and a good friend of Sheldon Adelson, the zealous Ziocon and Las Vegas casino magnate, and newspaper publisher who poured $25 million into a Trump-supporting PAC and sits on Trump’s inauguration committee.

Sharanksy,’s formulation is a brilliant semantic coup, employing words of such vagueness that they can be applied to virtually any critic of Israeli policies.

We know that, because they have been applied to us, repeatedly, first when reporting on the actions of a campaign launched against the Berkeley Daily Planet, a paper that came under fire from a motley crew of militant Ziocons angry because the paper published letters critical of Israeli government policies toward its Palestinian population.

Hillary Clinton lead the way

Attesting to the brilliance of Sharansky’s word-spinning is the fact that it was adopted as the adoption of that very definition of antisemitism by the State Department under Hillary Clinton.

Surely it’s legitimate to criticize the actions of a government which clearly applies double standards by seizing land and homes of non-Jewish citizens while not taking the same actions toward the property of its Jewish citizens.

Similarly, one could question’s Israel’s legitimacy, given that the state was created as the result of an accord between by the British and French governments without the consent of those who lived their, the majority of them not Jewish.

As for demonizing, what word could be more vague?

Trump’s tweet addiction linked to narcissism


While this new academic study doesn’t mention Trump by name, the behaviors described fit no one better.

From the University of Georgia [emphases added]:

A new statistical review of 62 studies with over 13,000 individuals found that narcissism has a modest but reliable positive relationship with a range of social media behaviors. The largest effects were with the number of friends/followers narcissists had and frequency of status updates, followed by selfie postings, according to University of Georgia psychology researchers.

The two strains of narcissistic behavior — grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism — showed different relationships to social media use. Grandiose narcissism, the more extroverted, callous form, positively related to time spent on social media, the frequency of updates, number of friends/followers, and the frequency of posting selfies. Vulnerable narcissism, the more insecure form, did not show any relationship to social media, but there was relatively little research on this form of narcissism.

“The stories you have heard about grandiose narcissism on social media are probably true,” said the study’s senior author, Keith Campbell, a professor of psychology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Campbell, co-author of the best-selling “The Narcissism Epidemic,” notes that “when you engage with social media, you will be engaging with more narcissism than might really exist in the world. This might distort your view of the world as being more narcissistic than it is.”

“It is important to remember that these are only correlations, however,” said the study’s lead author, Jessica McCain, a graduate student in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology. “This is not evidence that social media causes narcissism or vice versa. Theoretically, we suspect that individuals with pre-existing narcissism are drawn to social media, but the present evidence only establishes that the two are related.”

“Networks on social media aren’t designed by people in Silicon Valley,” Campbell said. “They are built one link at a time by users. And narcissists seem to be central to this build-out.”

The study, “Narcissism and Social Media Use: A Meta-Analytic Review,” was published in the early online edition of Psychology of Popular Media Culture and is available here [$11.95 to download].

The diagnostic criteria for grandiose narcissism

So what is grandiose narcissism?

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.

And something to help you with the diagnosis

From a fascinating collection of Trumpisms assembled by author Eliot Weinberger for the London Review of Books:

  • ‘My entire life, I’ve watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn’t the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They’re morons.’
  • ‘The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.’
  • ‘I fully think apologising’s a great thing – but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologise sometime in the hopefully distant future if I am ever wrong.’
  • ‘I love women. They’ve come into my life. They’ve gone out of my life. Even those who have exited somewhat ungracefully still have a place in my heart. I only have one regret in the women department – that I never had the opportunity to court Lady Diana Spencer.’
  • [On daughter Ivanka]: ‘She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.’ ‘Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…’
  • ‘My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.’
  • ‘My IQ is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.’
  • ‘We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.’
  • ‘With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me.’
  • ‘Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money.’
  • ‘When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.’
  • [When confronted by the father of a Muslim U.S. army captain killed in Afghanistan angry over Trump;’s virulent anti-Muslim rhetoricm, who asked the Donald what sacrifices he had made for his country] ‘I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.’