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Angelina Jolie plays the spiteful protagonist in an upcoming movie called "Maleficent," based on "Sleeping Beauty." (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA)

Why Are We Spiteful, Even Though It Bites Us Back?

by Maanvi Singh
Apr 23, 2014

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Maybe you turn up your music when your neighbor complains about the noise.

Or maybe you curse a baby princess because you didn't get invited to her christening, as in "Sleeping Beauty" and its latest incarnation, the upcoming movie "Maleficent."

To see spite in its purest form, try brunch in New York. At the hippest restaurants, patrons will linger at their tables long after they've paid the bill, just to show those losers on the wait list who's boss - even though they're wasting their own time in the process.

Why do people willingly inconvenience or even harm themselves in order harm others? And why are some of us more spiteful than others? Being aggressive and lacking empathy might have a lot to do with it, researchers say.

"Spite can become very destructive," says David Marcus, a psychologist at Washington State University and the lead author of a study published in the journal Psychological Assessment.

Someone in the midst of a divorce may hurt themselves financially or even risk alienating their kids just to get back at their ex. Suicide bombers give up their own lives in the process of trying to hurt others.

And even though spiteful feelings are universal, the emotion has been little studied.

Marcus and his colleagues asked 1,200 people to rank how firmly they agreed with statements like "I would be willing to take a punch if it meant someone I did not like would receive two punches."

The researchers also had the participants complete a bunch of personality tests to gauge how aggressive or agreeable they were.

The results show that some people's personalities do make them more prone to spiteful behavior. Traits like aggressiveness and callousness closely linked to spite, while people who were more guilt-prone or conscientious were less vindictive.

And the researchers found that men tended to be more spiteful than women, and that younger adults were more vindictive than older adults.

But the researchers still aren't able to directly match up a person's personality traits with their spitefulness score. "If two people are five points apart on the aggressiveness scale, I don't really know what that means," Marcus says.

If he figures that out, Marcus says, it could help us better understand self-destructive behaviors. And it could help psychologists better diagnose personality disorders like borderline personality disorders and oppositional defiant disorders. Spitefulness is a symptom of both, Marcus says, "But as of now we don't have a good way to assess spitefulness."

More research might also reveal when spitefulness is actually productive. "Anytime people engage in a boycott, they're engaging in spiteful behavior," Marcus says. "But while some boycotts can be just petty, others some can be socially productive."

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A Minke whale photographed in Antarctica last year. The Minke, the smallest of the baleen whales, turned out to be the mysterious "bio-duck." (Barcroft Media/Landov)

Scientists Pinpoint Source Of Antarctic 'Quack'

Apr 23, 2014

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For decades, researchers and submarine crews in icy waters off the coast of Antarctica have been picking up a mysterious quacking sound.

The "bio-duck" as its called, has been heard on-and-off since Cold War patrols picked it up on sonar during the 1960s.

"It goes 'quack, quack, quack, quack," says Denise Risch, a marine biologist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. "It has this almost mechanical feel to it."

Some thought it might be a secret Soviet sub. But over time they came to realize it was an animal. It got a name: the "bio-duck." Although whatever was making this sound had to be a lot bigger than a duck.

"The sound is very intense, it's very loud, so the thought was it's probably a larger animal producing the sound," she says.

As researchers gathered more data, a suspect emerged. The Antarctic minke whale. Not much is known about this particular whale. They're the smallest of the baleen whales; they're solitary; and they tend to stay very close to dense sea ice.

"That makes them quite hard to study too and that's also part of the reason why the signal has not been identified earlier," Risch says.

But last year, during the Antarctic summer, a team from Duke University was studying the behavior of these whales. They attached an instrument package to one of the whales using suction cups. On board was a microphone. Briefly, in one of the recordings, was a muffled, up-close version of the quack.

"They don't sound alike, but the pulses are exactly 3.1 seconds apart from each other," she says.

The same as the quacking.

The frequency of the noise matches too. Risch and her colleagues published their work in the journal Biology Letters.

So, mystery solved. Well, sort of.

Scientists still don't know why or even how these whales quack.

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the "NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance", on Wednesday in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil Becomes One Of The First To Adopt Internet 'Bill Of Rights'

by Eyder Peralta
Apr 23, 2014

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Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff signed into law a kind of Internet bill of rights on Wednesday.

As the AP reports, the law enshrines access to the Web, guarantees neutrality and "puts limits on the metadata that can be collected from Internet users in Brazil. It also makes Internet service providers not liable for content published by their users and requires them to comply with court orders to remove offensive material."

Rouseff signed the law just before she delivered remarks at the NETmundial gathering, which is focusing on the future governance of the Internet.

The AP adds:

"Brazil has cast itself as a defender of Internet freedom following revelations last year that Rousseff was the object of surveillance by the United States' National Security Agency. She cancelled a state visit to the U.S. last October over the revelations, which came out of leaks by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden and showed Brazil's state-run Petrobras was also the object of American spying.

"Rousseff had championed a measure requiring Internet companies to store the data of Brazilian users inside the country, as a way of protecting citizens from further U.S. spying, but clause was cut from the final bill amid fears it would prove too challenging to implement.

"Rousseff signed the bill into law early Wednesday ahead of her opening remarks at the NETmundial conference in Sao Paulo. Representatives from dozens of countries were in attendance, as were top Internet figures including a Google vice president and the head of the U.S.-based organization that coordinates the Internet naming system."

If you remember, the United States announced it was relinquishing its remaining control of the Internet back in March.

It asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to gather the stake holders and "craft an appropriate transition plan."

That transition is expected to happen within 18 months. This conference is a first step.

Bloomberg reports that the bill signed by Rouseff — called Marco Civil — "will be a model for the conference, not just for its content, but also for the way in which it was composed."

Bloomberg adds:

"The bill's authors received contributions from hundreds of individuals and organizations since it was first proposed in 2009.

"'Brazil will try to show off the Marco Civil effort and say, "This is what we did internally, it actually works, and we would like it to be considered globally,"' said Ronaldo Lemos, director of the Center for Technology and Society at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas School of Law in Rio de Janeiro."

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Syrian President Bashar Assad (right) visits the Christian village of Maaloula, near Damascus on Sunday. Assad's forces have been gaining the upper hand in the fighting and the CIA is now increasing training and aid to Syrian rebels. (AP)

CIA Is Quietly Ramping Up Aid To Syrian Rebels, Sources Say

Apr 23, 2014

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Rebel fighters carry their weapons along a trench in the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor on March 24. The CIA is stepping up training and military assistance to moderate rebels, according to U.S. sources. A Syrian youth walks near a vehicle in flames following an air strike, allegedly by government forces, on April 4 in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

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The U.S. is providing more arms and training to the moderate rebels in Syria, under a growing secret program run by the CIA in Jordan. Sources tell NPR that secret program could be supplemented by a more public effort in the coming months involving American military trainers.

The change in strategy comes as the White House sees Syrian leader Bashar Assad growing in strength, and continuing to strike rebel strongholds.

Another factor: Russian leaders appear unwilling to help end the three-year-old civil war and are continuing to provide weapons to Assad. Finally, al-Qaida fighters and their allies are expanding in Syria, a development that some believe could threaten the U.S. homeland.

The ramped-up covert program is an attempt to further pressure the Assad regime and its allies to reach a political settlement, not necessarily to achieve a military victory by rebel forces.

Skeptics doubt the U.S. effort will help much, given the weakened state of the opposition and the inroads made by al-Qaida fighters. The moderate fighters being supported currently have relatively little influence on the ground.

Still, the U.S. plan calls for both small arms and more powerful weapons such as TOW missiles, which can penetrate tanks and other armored vehicles. Rebel forces were pictured last week with some of the first TOW missiles, and sources say that the effort will expand throughout the next year. It's uncertain if the U.S. is sending the TOW missiles through Saudi Arabia, which is also supporting the rebels.

There is a debate within the White House whether to supply rebels with shoulder-fired missiles, which could target Syrian helicopters. There are fears those missiles could fall into the hands of al-Qaida, and produce a threat to commercial aircraft and allied warplanes in the region.

The White House has said little publicly about the new, expansive effort to help the moderate rebels.

"The United States is committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition," said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan, when asked recently about the TOW missiles. "As we have consistently said, we are not going to detail every single type of our assistance."

Training Program In Jordan

In addition to the arms transfers, a training program already in place in Jordan and run by the CIA will grow in the coming months. And that program, though still secret, could include the Pentagon's special operations forces and contractors to train more rebels in combat skills.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is drawing up training plans of its own for White House consideration, and such an effort would lend a more direct and public American role in the Syrian civil war.

The Defense Department planning is two-fold. One option calls for U.S. military trainers to take part in the training underway in Jordan. Another calls for the U.S. military to train the Jordanian military, who would in turn train the Syrian rebels. This is what the military calls the "train the trainers" model.

Also on the table are possible U.S. air strikes against select military targets in Syria, a move favored by some high-level officials.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, already has told Congress that limited air strikes might not achieve the desired result and could lead to civilian casualties. He has said the best approach for the U.S. would be to train Syrian rebels in Jordan.

"I think (training is) the most effective," Dempsey told NPR earlier this year. "The one that would produce an outcome that would be sustainable over time would be one where we empower ... that moderate group — assuming we can still find them in that mixture — to assist them in establishing security, overcoming the challenges they face."

Sources briefed on the covert effort say that the intelligence community will continue to lead this "robust" program of increased arms and training effort. The White House will see how this effort develops before deciding on whether the Pentagon would play a more public role.

A Limited Test With TOW Missiles

This first covert shipment of TOW missiles is a test, said a member of the Syrian opposition briefed on the negotiations. The Harakat Hazm rebels, considered a moderate group, say they have received 50.

A shipment of Croatian weapons sent to moderate fighters, with U.S. knowledge, a year ago, ended up in the hands of al-Qaida linked groups.

This time, fighters are encouraged to post videos on YouTube to prove they are using the missiles for the intended purpose. One fighter reached via Skype said that they were required to return the casings of the missiles to "a foreign intelligence agency" to prove they had used them.

The next step will come when Ahmed Jarba, leader of the Syrian political opposition in exile, visits the White House early next month.

He is expected to request additional TOW missiles. And while the debate continues at the White House over shoulder-fired missiles, Jarba is expected to request anti-aircraft guns in the hopes of rebels being able to bring down Syrian government helicopters.

The guns are less portable, since they must be towed by a vehicle. But they're more politically palatable than shoulder-fired missiles. One source tells NPR that some shoulder-fired missiles, the Russian-made SA-7, already are making their way to the Syrian battlefield from Libya.

Advocates of the enhanced American program say they hope to change the momentum on the ground, given that Syrian leader Assad has been pounding rebel enclaves, at times with "barrel bombs" dropped by helicopters.

Skeptics Say Impact Likely To Be Limited

Skeptics of the U.S. plan say the enhanced arming and training effort would have made a bigger impact two years ago, when the entire national security establishment — from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Dempsey to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus — pressed the White House on such a plan. The White House rejected it.

Some analysts also see the effort as an attempt to repair bruised U.S.-Saudi relations. Obama recently visited Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who has long pushed for greater support for Syrian rebels.

"Today, Assad is winning the war in Syria quite handily and I think most Western powers have completely written off the rebels," said Joshua Landis, of the University of Oklahoma.

But after the U.S. backed off planned airstrikes last fall, a furious Saudi Arabia vowed to go it alone in Syria. Landis says that would be a red line for the U.S., who fear that sophisticated weapons would be given to extremists.

Working together to send TOW missiles, he thinks, allows the U.S. to keep, "monitoring the Saudis and keeping them from trying to give too many sophisticated weapons to crazy people in Syria."

But Secretary of State John Kerry is said to be supportive of the new, more robust American assistance plan, with sources saying he's been frustrated that talks in Geneva to end the civil war fell apart in February.

"It's very clear that Bashar Assad is trying to win this one on the battlefield instead of coming to the negotiating table in good faith," Kerry told reporters soon after leaving Geneva in February.

And Kerry has been particularly angry that Russia has not been helpful in bringing the war to an end, but instead is providing Assad with weapons.

"Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they are in fact enabling Assad to double down," he said after the Geneva talks.

Rise Of Extremist Groups

Another factor in the U.S. thinking is the growth of extremist groups in Syria. The intelligence community estimates there are as many as 26,000 extremists — some linked to al-Qaida and some so extreme even al-Qaida has disowned them.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has told Congress that a faction linked to al-Qaida in Syria, the Nusra Front, "does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland."

Advocates of the new American program hope that training the moderates will serve as a counterweight to al-Qaida and could peel away some of those fighters with the promise of more support.

The U.S. threatened air strikes against Syria last fall following tough talk by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry about Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people. But the administration opted not to strike after assurances from both Assad and Russia that the chemical weapons stockpile would be destroyed.

That effort is continuing. Now most of Syria's declared chemical weapons have been shipped to a Syrian port and readied for destruction. But sources say Kerry is convinced that Assad still is holding on to some of those lethal chemical weapons.

And the U.S. is now investigating new allegations that Assad's forces have attacked rebels with chemical weapons.

"We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. She added that the chemical was believed to be used against a rebel-held village north of Damascus.

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Nellie McKay has visited Mountain Stage seven times, and no two performances have been the same. (Mountain Stage)

Nellie McKay On Mountain Stage

Apr 23, 2014

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She's backed by the Mountain Stage house band for this appearance. Today, she plays the vibraphone for almost her entire set. Her style is eccentric; she can channel cabaret crooners as easily as classic singer-songwriters. The songs on today's set are from an as-yet-unreleased project. Nellie McKay.

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Nellie McKay appears on Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va.

McKay has appeared on the show seven times since first visiting in 2004, and it's no exaggeration to say that no two performances have been similar. At times, she evokes cabaret crooners, but she can also channel eccentric singer-songwriters and Doris Day. McKay's latest performance finds her playing a vibraphone for nearly her entire set — perhaps a Mountain Stage first.

Here, she plays songs from an upcoming project that remains unreleased. As she often does when she visits, McKay is backed for the entirety of her set by the nimble Mountain Stage house band, led by guitarist Ron Sowell and featuring the backing vocals of Julie Adams.

Set List

  • "Absolutely Everywhere"
  • "Baby Watch Your Back"
  • "Alabama Song"
  • "Heartaches By The Number"
  • "Oh Worthless Mother"
  • "Are You Alright/Licorice Rap"
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