The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Psycopathic response to state violence

Not content to give psychologists circumstantial evidence of psycopathy, the president became even more unhinged and reactive this weekend. Since he has no capacity for empathy or even, it seems, metacognition of any sort, one could have (and did) predict much of this. To begin, in a conversation with state governors today, he advocated increased state-sanctioned violence to counter peaceful protests against state-sanctioned violence:

As the country reels from nearly a week of intense protests marked by countless acts of police brutality, President Donald Trump on Monday pressured governors to deploy more aggressive and violent tactics against protesters, telling them they would look like “jerks” if they didn’t get tougher. He also threatened to unleash the powers of the Justice Department in order to empower law enforcement officials to “fight back” against demonstrators.

“You have to dominate,” Trump said on a private call with governors, according to reporting by multiple news outlets that obtained a recording of the explosive conversation. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”

“You’ve got to arrest people,” he continued. “You have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years, and you’ll never see this stuff again.”

Fun fact: he (and bestie Vladimir Putin, almost forgot) wins when the country is divided against itself. And to him, nothing else matters except winning—even if he only wins the moment and loses the war.

While cowering in the White House basement, the president contemplated invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy active-duty troops to American cities. The last time this happened, California governor Pete Wilson requested President George HW Bush send troops to Los Angeles in 1992 to help quell the Rodney King protests. But I think most people can see the problem of putting armed regulars on American streets against the express wishes of state governors, if for no other reason than we last did that in 1877. And in that case, the army went in to protect civil rights, not prevent them.

More views:

Unfortunately, all of this means that the president, being scared out of his tiny mind, will show even more psychopathic behavior, because that's all he knows how to do. Even on his best days he couldn't reason himself out of a losing game of Tic-Tac-Toe. These are his worst days, and they're getting worse for him.

On the left, we have to bang the drum from now until November 3rd that the president, not the protesters, is making America less American. Quoting Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer: “The president’s dangerous comments should be gravely concerning to all Americans, because they send a clear signal that this administration is determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division, which I fear will only lead to more violence and destruction. We must reject this way of thinking.”

All-or-nothing doesn't work

Harvard Medical School epidemiologist Julia Marcus argues that "quarantine fatigue is real," and it may be healthier to start relaxing self-isolation (for many people) than to continue it:

Public-health experts have known for decades that an abstinence-only message doesn’t work for sex. It doesn’t work for substance use, either. Likewise, asking Americans to abstain from nearly all in-person social contact will not hold the coronavirus at bay—at least not forever.

I’m not talking about the people who are staging militaristic protests against the supposed coronavirus hoax. I’m talking about those who are experiencing the profound burden of extreme physical and social distancing. In addition to the economic hardship it causes, isolation can severely damage psychological well-being, especially for people who were already depressed or anxious before the crisis started.

[T]he choice between staying home indefinitely and returning to business as usual now is a false one. Risk is not binary. And an all-or-nothing approach to disease prevention can have unintended consequences. Individuals may fixate on unlikely sources of contagion—the package in the mail, the runner or cyclist on the street—while undervaluing precautions, such as cloth masks, that are imperfect but helpful.

[A]s years of research on HIV prevention have shown, shaming doesn’t eliminate risky behavior—it just drives it underground. Even today, many gay men hesitate to disclose their sexual history to health-care providers because of the stigma that they anticipate. Shaming people for their behavior can backfire.

Scientists still have a lot to learn about this new virus, but early epidemiological studies suggest that not all activities or settings confer an equal risk for coronavirus transmission. Enclosed and crowded settings, especially with prolonged and close contact, have the highest risk of transmission, while casual interaction in outdoor settings seems to be much lower risk. A sustainable anti-coronavirus strategy would still advise against house parties. But it could also involve redesigning outdoor and indoor spaces to reduce crowding, increase ventilation, and promote physical distancing, thereby allowing people to live their lives while mitigating—but not eliminating—risk.

Of course, the Trump Administration's abject failure to provide adequate testing and safety guidance will only prolong our anxiety and isolation. But right-wing governments never make the trains run on time, no matter what their propaganda says.

Liberate Minnesota!

No, really, the president Tweeted that earlier today:

I mean, what the actual f? (He also wants to liberate Michigan and Virginia, by the way.) Charlie Pierce warned only Monday that this kind of nonsense was coming:

The acting director of the Office of National Intelligence is encouraging citizens to break local laws, endangering themselves and others, in the middle of a pandemic. Of all the screwy moments that we have experienced since the founding of Camp Runamuck, this is going to rank very close to the top. And it is not going to be a surprise to anyone if another AstroTurf movement similar to the Tea Party rises, especially if the president* “opens up” the country at the beginning of May.

This nonsense is coming, and it’s going to be encouraged by the national government, and I don’t know how we avoid it.

Andrew Sullivan, after point out that the virus doesn't have a social message, breathed a sigh of relief that Trump is so very lazy:

But of course we all know by now, including the Republicans, that it is meaningless. Trump claims the powers of a tyrant, behaves like one, talks like one, struts like one, has broken every norm a liberal democracy requires, and set dangerous precedents that could enable a serious collapse in constitutional norms in the future.

This, in Bill Kristol’s rather brilliant phrase, is “performative authoritarianism.” It has a real cost — it delegitimizes liberal democracy by mocking it and corrodes democratic institutions by undermining them. But it is not the cost of finding ourselves run by an American Victor Orban. Orban saw the coronavirus emergency the way most wannabe strongmen would and the way I feared Trump might: as an opportunity to further neuter any constitutional checks on him and rule by decree. Trump saw it purely as an obstacle to his reelection message about a booming economy, a blot on his self-image, an unfair spoiling of his term. Instead of exploiting it, he whined about it. He is incapable of empathy and so simply cannot channel the nation’s grief into a plan of action. So he rambles and digresses and divides and inflames. He has managed in this crisis to tell us both that he is all-powerful and that he takes no responsibility for anything.

And I suspect that this creepy vaudeville act, in a worried and tense country, is beginning to wear real thin. A man who claims total power but only exercises it to protect his personal interests, a man who vaunts his own authority but tolerates no accountability for it, is impressing no one.

The emergency I feared Trump could leverage to untrammeled power may, in fact, be the single clearest demonstration of his incompetence and irrelevance

Simply put, "Trump can't lie his way out of this one," as several pundits have observed. Also:

Fun times, fun times. Good thing it will actually seem like spring tomorrow in Chicago after another snowfall last night.

Is it July yet?

An Andy Borowitz bit from last year is making the rounds again: "Trump Comes Out Strongly Against Intelligence." More evidence of why that's true after these two videos. First, the Ohio Department of Health demonstrates social distancing:

Second, the Lincoln Project, a Republican organization headed by George Conway, has put out this ad:

And now the roundup of horror promised above:

Finally, 50 years ago today, Paul McCartney announced the Beatles had broken up.

Oh wait: here's another cool video.

Think of the children

This article came up in an online discussion some friends and I had this morning about, let's just say, a public figure with high-profile children:

Being raised by a narcissistic parent is emotionally and psychologically abusive and causes debilitating, long-lasting effects to children. It is often missed by professionals, because narcissists can be charming in their presentation, displaying an image of how they wish to be seen. Behind closed doors, the children feel the suffocation of self and struggle with loneliness and pain. The narcissist is not accountable for their own mistakes or behavior, so the child believes they are to blame and that they flunked childhood. Having worked as a mental health provider with thousands of children, as well as the adult children of narcissistic parents, I see the above symptoms again and again. The lifestyles differ, and the stories differ, but they all wave the same emotional banners. It’s quite a list. It takes serious recovery work to get better and feel better.

Note: Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, so think of it as a continuum ranging from low-level traits that we all have to some degree to a full-blown personality disorder. The higher the level of traits, the more damage gets done to children.

Scary stuff. And we can see the results in the news every day.

Why does Greta Thunberg bother you?

The arrival in New York this week of climate activist Greta Thunberg has thrown the Right into their version of pearl-clutching hyperventilation. Unfortunately for civil discourse, their version involves death threats and impotent rage. So why has Thunberg's quest for a reduction in climate-changing pollution make so many people so irrational?

Possibly they're hyper-masculine climate deniers, with more than a soupçon of misogyny:

In 2014, Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman of Chalmers published a paper analyzing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics. The common themes in the group, they said, were striking: “for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.”

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, Hultman told me—an identity they perceive to be under threat from all sides. Besieged, as they see it, both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another.

“There is a package of values and behaviors connected to a form of masculinity that I call ‘industrial breadwinner masculinity.’ They see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It’s a risk perception that doesn’t think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment” Hultman told Deutsche Welle last year.

Or perhaps it's because she's a teenager:

Thunberg and a handful of other young climate activists were receiving the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in Washington, D.C., last Monday. In the past 17 years, Amnesty has given the award to other icons: Nelson Mandela, Colin Kaepernick, and Ai Weiwei. Backstage, grizzled men in their 40s exchanged boisterous handclasps. Interns and assistants buzzed around: anxious, helpful, and attuned to hierarchy. Somewhere Maggie Gyllenhaal was in a dressing room.

Yet when I saw Thunberg—in jeans, sneakers, and a pink tank top—she seemed small, quiet, and somewhat overwhelmed. Thunberg has Asperger’s, which she calls her “superpower,” and which she says allows her to be more direct and straightforward about climate change.

Her answers were direct but earnest. She sometimes searched for an English word. Unlike politicians and book-touring authors who have been brain-poisoned by media training, she answered the questions posed. When I asked whether there was a climate fact that caused her particular worry, she frowned and first said she could not think of any one fact in particular. Then she added that she was worried about what she’d heard would be in the upcoming UN Intergovernmental Panel report on sea-level rise. Same, Greta.

She is strikingly nonradical, at least in tactics. Unlike other young climate activists—such as members of the Sunrise Movement in the United States, which is led by college students and early 20-somethings—she rejects specific policy proposals such as the Green New Deal, instructing politicians instead to “listen to the science.” She has even declined to endorse a specific platform in the European Union, where her “Fridays for Future” movement has taken hold. When I asked how other teenagers should fight climate change, she said, “They can do everything. There are so many ways to make a difference.” Then she gave, as examples, joining an activist movement and “also to, if you can, vote.”

Thunberg epitomizes, in a person, the unique moral position of being a teenager. She can see the world through an “adult” moral lens, and so she knows that the world is a heartbreakingly flawed place. But unlike an actual adult, she bears almost no conscious blame for this dismal state. Thunberg seems to gesture at this when referring to herself as a “child,” which she does often in speeches.

But if you just read what Thunberg says, ignoring her age, gender, and national origin--not to mention every other irrelevancy--then she makes a lot of sense. So attacking Thunberg really just exemplifies the old adage, "If the facts are against you, hammer the law. If the law is against you, hammer the facts. If the fact and the law are against you, hammer opposing counsel."

The Right are, as always, hammering opposing counsel.

Expertise in subjunctive scaling of declarative fractions

University College of London researchers John Jerram and Nikki Shure have evidence that rich North American men are the most likely to employ bullshit:

Study participants were asked to assess their knowledge of 16 math topics on a five-point scale ranging from “never heard of it” to “know it well, understand the concept.” Crucially, three of those topics were complete fabrications: “proper numbers,” “subjunctive scaling” and “declarative fractions.” Those who said they were knowledgeable about the fictitious topics were categorized as BSers.

Using a data set spanning nine predominantly English-speaking countries, researchers delineated a number of key findings. First, men are much more likely than women to master the art of hyperbole, as are the wealthy relative to the poor or middle class. North Americans, meanwhile, tend to slip into this behavior more readily than English speakers in other parts of the globe. And if there were a world championship, as a true devotee might appreciate, the title would go to Canada, data show.

Finally, a between-country comparison finds that young people in Canada and the United States are the most likely to over-sell themselves overall, with those in Europe being much less likely to engage in such behavior.

Taken as a whole, the results appear to suggest that the countries with the greatest propensity toward bombast also have the smallest variances between groups living within them. In the U.S. and Canada, for instance, there may simply be so much BS going around that everyone ends up partaking in it.

The paper is available from IZA.

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

Home sick and tired

I'm under the weather today, which has helped me catch up on all these stories that I haven't gotten to yet:

And now, I will nap.

Detecting Alzheimer's in a novel

Researchers used the Iris Murdoch's last novel to quantify how Alzheimer's first signs show up in language:

As [neurologist Peter] Garrard explains, a patient’s vocabulary becomes restricted, and they use fewer words that are specific labels and more words that are general labels. For example, it’s not incorrect to call a golden retriever an “animal,” though it is less accurate than calling it a retriever or even a dog. Alzheimer’s patients would be far more likely to call a retriever a “dog” or an “animal” than “retriever” or “Fred.” In addition, Garrard adds, the words Alzheimer’s patients lose tend to appear less frequently in everyday English than words they keep — an abstract noun like “metamorphosis” might be replaced by “change” or “go.”

Researchers also found the use of specific words decreases and the noun-to-verb ratio changes as more “low image” verbs (be, come, do, get, give, go, have) and indefinite nouns (thing, something, anything, nothing) are used in place of their more unusual brethren. The use of the passive voice falls off markedly as well. People also use more pauses, Garrard says, as “they fish around for words.”

For his analysis of Murdoch, Garrard used a program called Concordance to count word tokens and types in samples of text from three of her novels: her first published effort, Under the Net; a mid-career highlight, The Sea, The Sea, which won the Booker prize in 1978; and her final effort, Jackson’s Dilemma. He found that Murdoch’s vocabulary was significantly reduced in her last book — “it had become very generic,” he says — as compared to the samples from her two earlier books.

Apparently there's a movie about Iris Murdoch too.