Saturday, October 28, 2006

Asylum Street Spankers

H/T: Norm

Saturday, October 21, 2006

This Explains A Lot

As some BDM readers may know, one of my favorite quotations is Bertrand Russell's observation that, "The problem with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Now, thanks to a Cornell University study, this witty aphorism is supported with evidence. Read on:

Incompetence is bliss, say researchers

There are many incompetent people in the world. But a Cornell University study has shown that most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

People who do things badly, according to David A. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, the researchers -- Dunning and Justin Kruger, then a graduate student -- suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it," wrote Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning.

This deficiency in "self-monitoring skills," the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out -- and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

Some college students, Dunning said, evince a similar blindness: After doing badly on a test, they spend hours in his office, explaining why the answers he suggests for the test questions are wrong.

In a series of studies, Kruger and Dunning tested their theory of incompetence. They found that subjects who scored in the lowest quartile on tests of logic, English grammar and humor were also the most likely to "grossly overestimate" how well they had performed.

In all three tests, subjects' ratings of their ability were positively linked to their actual scores. But the lowest-ranked participants showed much greater distortions in their self-estimates.

Aiming high -- real high
Asked to evaluate their performance on the test of logical reasoning, for example, subjects who scored in only the 12th percentile guessed that they had scored in the 62nd percentile and deemed their overall skill at logical reasoning to be at the 68th percentile.

Similarly, subjects who scored at the 10th percentile on the grammar test ranked themselves at the 67th percentile in the ability to "identify grammatically correct standard English" and estimated their test scores to be at the 61st percentile.

On the humor test, in which participants were asked to rate jokes according to their funniness (subjects' ratings were matched against those of an "expert" panel of professional comedians), low-scoring subjects were also more apt to have an inflated perception of their skill. But because humor is idiosyncratically defined, the researchers said, the results were less conclusive.

Unlike their unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study, Kruger and Dunning found, were likely to underestimate their own competence. The researchers attributed this to the fact that, in the absence of information about how others were doing, highly competent subjects assumed that others were performing as well as they were -- a phenomenon psychologists term the "false consensus effect."

When high-scoring subjects were asked to "grade" the grammar tests of their peers, however, they quickly revised their evaluations of their own performance. In contrast, the self-assessments of those who scored badly themselves were unaffected by the experience of grading others; some subjects even further inflated their estimates of their own abilities.

"Incompetent individuals were less able to recognize competence in others," the researchers concluded.

In a final experiment, Dunning and Kruger set out to discover if training would help modify the exaggerated self-perceptions of incapable subjects. In fact, a short training session in logical reasoning did improve the ability of low-scoring subjects to assess their performance realistically, they found.

The findings, the psychologists said, support Thomas Jefferson's assertion that "he who knows best knows how little he knows."

Such studies are not without critics. David C. Funder, a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, for example, said he suspected that most lay people had only a vague idea of the meaning of "average" in statistical terms.

But Dunning said his current research and past studies indicated that there were many reasons why people would tend to overestimate their competency and not be aware of it.

Concrete clues
In some cases, Dunning pointed out, an awareness of one's own inability is inevitable: "In a golf game, when your ball is heading into the woods, you know you're incompetent," he said.

But in other situations, feedback is absent, or at least more ambiguous; even a humorless joke, for example, is likely to be met with polite laughter. And social norms prevent most people, when faced with incompetence, from blurting out, "You stink!" -- truthful though this assessment may be.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

One that Should've Been in my Top 5

My Five Favorite Rap Songs

Last week, Howie held a contest over at C&L asking readers to name their five favorite rap songs and why. He selected five winners from over 300 entries and I was one. Yay! In case you're wondering, here's my entry:

“Tread Water,” by De La Soul, from the album 3 Feet High and Rising, was the first rap song to convince me that rap and hip hop were valid, versatile musical forms and not just clever novelties. The song uses the theme of treading water as a metaphor for surviving the hassles of daily urban life from the middle class black perspective, providing a welcome departure from the tales of street life that dominate the genre. The Motown groove and pioneering use of samples presage the emergence of such later electronic artists as Thievery Corporation and Herbaliser. De La Soul’s inventive blend of pop culture sound bites, country, pop and rock grooves, and we’re-all-in-it-together attitude changed a lot of people’s minds about what rap could accomplish.

“The Day the Niggaz Took Over/Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang”, by Dr. Dre, combined the party attitude of old-school rap with a hybrid of 60s black radicalism and insouciant criminal behavior. The opening track of this two-track medley from the multi-platinum album, The Chronic, fantasizes about opposing street gangs uniting to overthrow corrupt, white-owned society. The song opens with what sounds like a field recording of a black activist yelling to a crowd, “If you ain’t down for the Africans here in the United States, period point blank; if you ain’t down for the ones that suffered in South Africa from apartheid and shit, Devil you need to step your punk ass to the side and let us brothers, and us Africans, step in and start puttin’ some foot in that ass!” Heh heh. That rather sets the tone for the remainder of the song, which pretty much calls for a long overdue armed revolution. A chorus of apparently enraged men chants, “Break ’em off something. Break ’em off something,” as various rappers take turns describing their roles and their motives, culminating in Dre’s explanation: “Sittin’ in my living room, calm and collected/ Feelin’ that I gotta get my perspective/’cause what I just heard, broke me in half…” Later, he describes what he has in mind: “Bloods, Crips on the same squad/With the Eses’ help, nigga, it's time to rob and mob.” The insistent beat — reminiscent of the final scene of Sam Peckinpah’s legendary film The Wild Bunch — increases the song’s militant demeanor, and painfully illustrates how little progress we’ve made since CSN&Y sang, “Gotta get down to it/Soldiers are gunning us down/Shoulda been done long ago.” The song is interspersed with clips of news reports depicting widespread looting in Los Angeles, and the sounds of helicopters fading in and out. The song climaxes with Dre shouting, “Helicopters flyin’/these motherfuckers tryin’/to catch me and stretch me on Death Row/But hell no, suppose black refuse to go?” Moments later, rage and revolution blend into the stoned chill-out of “Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang,” with its Parliament groove and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s blithe delivery. Combined, these two songs revealed to the nation what black America was up against better than any academic treatise or militant manifesto ever could.

“She Watch Channel Zero,” by Public Enemy tells the tale of a woman who forsakes cultural awareness in exchange for television addiction. As Flava Flav says at the song’s opening, “You’re blind, baby. You’re blind from the facts of who you are ‘cause you’re watching that garbage.” The song appears on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, one of the most revolutionary albums in all of music. Like De La Soul, Public Enemy influenced a generation of knob twiddlers with their limitless barrage of heavy metal riffs, hard funk beats and wildly divergent musical samples. The album’s lyrical themes mark an arrival for black music in that they directly confront the racial and social inequities that define modern urban America, unlike earlier black musicians who only hinted at such themes. This profoundly influenced such later rappers as Ice-T and N.W.A. This song has particular appeal to me because I share the song’s assertion that most television programming is pure garbage, and that TV is the main culprit behind America’s cultural ignorance and political naiveté.

Straight Up Nigga,” by Ice-T, from the album Original Gangster is probably my favorite rap song. The song’s narrator skillfully blends the righteous indignation undoubtedly felt by many urban blacks in the Rodney King era with a shrewd political awareness and sense of irony. “I’m a nigga in America, and that much I flaunt,” says the narrator, “’Cause when I see what I like, yo I take what I want/I’m not the only one, that’s why I’m not bitter, ’Cause everybody is a nigga to a nigga,” implying that the American Way is to steal or otherwise get away with as much as possible. He then uses American history to support his point by saying, “America was stole from the Indians, show and prove/What was that? A straight up nigga move/A low down shame, yo it’s straight insane/Yet they complain when a nigga snatch their gold chain/What the hell is a nigga supposed to do? Wait around for a handout from a nigga like you?” The song also manages to depart from the homophobia sadly common to much rap by saying, “She wanna be les, he wanna be gay/Well I’m straight, so nigga have it your way.”The song is accompanied by Evil E’s funk groove that both shuffles and slams, providing perfect punctuation for the lyrics.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What If?

The London Times online has published this graphic explanation of how long it would take Earth to recover from human occupation.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Back 2 Bidness

Okay, we’ve had our fun. An entertainingly stupid Republican was caught, once again, engaging in the very behavior he pretends to detest, and we all got to yell, “nanny nanny boo-boo.” Now back to business.

Plans are moving forward on the NAFTA/CAFTA SupaHighway2Hell, which nobody in the main$tream media seems to be noticing. This thing is a central pillar in the Iron Triangle’s endeavor to transform the world into a corporate feudal state. After that, things like the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal will be business as usual, and we will all be licking the boots of guys like this.

As I reported in May, colonizing the Caspian Sea region is also on the agenda. Israel is planning to tap into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline terminus at Ceyhan, Turkey. One proposal calls for the construction of a 500-mile undersea pipeline from Ceyhan to Haifa along the eastern Mediterranean coast. But an overland route would be cheaper, and with Syria out of the way, Israel could tap into the BTC pipeline, as well as a proposed pipeline from Mosul, in Kurdish Iraq, to Haifa. The BTC pipeline would deliver fresh water, as well as oil and natural gas, eliminating Israel’s need to purchase drinking water. And the Mosul pipeline would not only solve Israel’s energy needs, it would also transform the Jewish state into a net energy exporter, and, in turn, reduce their economic dependence on the United States. This, in turn, would free up economic and military resources that the US could use elsewhere in the region. Viewed in this light, Israel’s recent overreaction to the July Hezbollah kidnappings makes more sense. And as Seymour Hersh and others have reported, the US war against Iran has already begun. Could Syria be far behind?

Meanwhile, the FBI is expressing growing concerns that the Mob is helping support Islamist terrorist organizations, including smuggling stolen American cars to the Mideast for use in carbomb attacks.

And just in case any dirty ferners decide to actually do something about all this, the Decider Regime has brought an end to the 800-year reign of that silly Habeas Corpus thingy. Luckily for The Decider, there aren’t many Democrats with the temerity to ask WWWD. But in case you’re wondering, here’s the answer.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Oingo Boingo

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blogger SAT Challenge

Cognitive Daily recently held a “blogger SAT challenge” to allow bloggers to test their writing-on-the-fly skills.

Here’s the skinny from CD:

Welcome to the Blogger SAT Challenge

Welcome to the home page of the Blogger SAT Challenge. The Challenge ran from September 15 to September 20, 2006, and invited bloggers and blog readers from around the world to test their skill at writing SAT-style essays under test conditions. They were given 20 minutes to answer a sample SAT question, and their entries were collected and sent to volunteer graders for grading based on the
official College Board standards.
The collected entries are posted here, with the "expert" score included with each post (click on the link at the bottom of the essay to see it; each essay was read by two graders, and the scores were averaged and then rounded to the nearest integer). In the spirit of the modern Internet, we have also included a poll so you can grade each essay yourself, and see what the collective wisdom of the Internet has to say about the essay.
Read on for some more explanation, or
jump right into rating random entries.
Why the Challenge?
The Challenge grew out of an
article in the New York Times about the new SAT essay test (see also the College Board press release). The author of the article and many of the commenters on it were fairly dismissive of the quality of the sample essays that had received a perfect score. We decided to see whether bloggers could do better.
The pro-blogger argument holds that people who write short essays on a regular basis for fun would have more practice at writing, and would thus produce better prose. The anti-blogger argument holds that there's a big difference between writing for fun, about a self-chosen topic, with no time limit is a very different thing than writing an essay on an assigned topic with a strict time limit. We designed the Challenge to see who was right.
What was the question?
The question was taken from a
list of practice SAT essay questions. Participating bloggers were given twenty minutes to write a short essay in response to the following:
Directions: Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.
'I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.'
-- Booker T. Washington
Assignment: What is your opinion on the idea that struggle is a more important measure of success than accomplishment? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
What was the result?
We invite you to decide for yourself. You can either
browse through the archived entries or click here to be sent to a random entry. Whichever you choose, you can rate the essays using the polls, and see whether you think that volunteer bloggers are better writers than high-school students taking the SAT.
Happy reading!

Now here’s my crappy-ass attempt:

There is no room for debate in the notion that struggle is a more valid measure of success than accomplishment. The most obvious contemporary example is that of President George W. Bush, who has achieved the highest elective office in the history of the world almost entirely on account of his position of privilege. Bush's careers in the military, business and politics are all marred by abysmal failures of judgment, performance and commitment, yet he has managed - with the help of powerful allies - not only to evade responsibility for those failures, but to parlay this string of embarrassing blunders into unparalleled political power.

One need only compare Bush's career with that of the average soldier in Iraq to come to the inescapable conclusion that struggle is a better gauge of one's character than accomplishment.

The time limit was the biggest obstacle for me. I’m pretty sure I could craft a much better essay than this one if I had a few hours to work on it. Excuses, excuses. I think you can tell where I was headed — I can never pass up a chance to take a poke at the Prez-ee-dent.

According to Cognitive Daily, around 500 entrants made an attempt, but only 109 completed the test, which automatically puts me in the upper fifth. Woo Hoo! But that’s where the good news ends. I scored a TWO out of a possible six. The average score was 2.9. I wonder how many of the 400 or so who bailed out without finishing actually ruminated on the question awhile and then tried again. At any rate, I’ll bet you’re happy they didn’t have this type of question when you were taking the SAT, eh?