Friday, October 31, 2003

Amusing Reading Elsewhere

Maybe it's symptom of intellectual snobbery, but I'm often amused by people whose abilities fall short of their own estimation of themselves. One of my favourite psychological research papers purports to show that highly incompetent people tend to grossly overestimate their own abilities. This explains many things, not the least of them being widespread incompetence in workplaces. Job interviewers usually look for people who present themselves and their abilities confidently, and most of the standard how-to-get-a-job advice emphasises the need to do this. What they should be doing, if they want someone who actually knows their stuff, is taking on the interviewee who hedges, or even has the gaucherie to remark that the job sounds difficult.

I think this amusement is why I keep John Ray on the blogroll; he links to so many people who overestimate themselves. Today (Friday) he's linked to a couple of beauties.

Wendy McElroy at iFeminists has produced a wonderful piece of prose to match the background colour of her web-page:

The price tag for decades of gender warfare is usually expressed in general terms -- for example, through data-filled studies that reflect how "boys" are slighted in education. The ordeal of Michael Wright -- a student at Oklahoma University at Normal -- captures the human factor. And it leads me to a question: What does the devil look like?

Michael's ordeal started when he found another student's ID card at a copy centre. He looked up her details in an on-line student registry and telephoned, then e-mailed her, to let her know that he had the card and to arrange its return. When she didn't respond, he turned to card over to the authorities and thought no more of the matter.

Unfortunately, the card's owner was a little paranoid, and contacted the police, accusing Michael of stalking her. The police visited Michael to investigate the complaint:

two police officers appeared at Michael's house, apparently to investigate his stalking of a female OU student. Stalking is a serious crime which is defined as "the willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person". It can place a young man on a registry of sex offenders that could haunt his future and limit his options in life. Indeed, Oklahoma is a state in which convicted sex offenders must register his/her address, which is made available to the public. No wonder Michael suffered "a great deal of nerve-wracking anxiety" before being exonerated.

Under those circumstances, I'd be worried too. But Michael's ordeal was mercifully short and ended well:

The incident is not a breakdown in "the system." According to Michael, the police exercised both common sense and common decency, with one detective eventually thanking him for "making the extra effort to protect the members of our community" by returning lost property.

From this distance, the whole incident looks like the sort of trivial misundertanding which, with a few days to recover from the nerve-wracking anxiety, you could turn into a good yarn, adding a lot of humorous embellishments over the years. To McElroy, it's evidence of something more insidious:

I was once asked to describe the devil. (I interpreted the question to be about the general nature of evil in man rather than about religion.)

I replied: If the devil is the living flesh of evil, then here is who I think he is. Far from appearing as a hideous demon, he is the average-looking person who walks into a room and shakes your hand with a smile. By the time he leaves, the standards of decency of everyone within that room have been lowered ever so slightly.

Perhaps he offers general statistics on divorce or child abuse to convince you to suspect your husband of infidelity or your neighbor of molestation. No evidence of specific wrongdoing is offered, of course. But since such "crimes" do occur, you are advised to be vigilantly on guard against them in your personal life. And, so, you begin to view your spouse and neighbors with a bit more suspicion, a little less trust, and with the tendency to interpret every action as possible evidence of wrongdoing. The very possibility of an offense is taken as evidence of its presence.

She continues in this vein for a few paragraphs, leading to this proclamation that the Antichrist is among us:

With no religious implication, I say: a devil is at large. He tells us that acts of kindness and common decency do not exist; the worst possible interpretation should be placed on acts that appear to embody those values. Individuals do not exist; only categories.

The other beauty is ChuDogg's refutation of the results of a study reported in the Washington Post which found that Fox News viewers were misinformed on the war in Iraq. The study found the following to be the three most common mistaken impressions about the war:

* U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
* There's clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein worked closely with the Sept. 11 terrorists.
* People in foreign countries generally either backed the U.S.-led war or were evenly split between supporting and opposing it.

ChuDogg takes the first apart with the help of David Kay's congressional testimony. Here's a section of Kay's testimony which is totally irrelevant to ChuDogg's case:

We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone. We are actively engaged in searching for such weapons based on information being supplied to us by Iraqis.

And here's a section which is:

A very large body of information has been developed through debriefings, site visits and exploitation of captured Iraqi documents that confirms that Iraq concealed equipment and materials from U.N. inspectors when they returned in 2002. One noteworthy example is a collection of reference strains that ought to have been declared to the U.N. Among them was a vial of live C. botulinum Okra B. from which a biological agent can be produced. This discovery – hidden in the home of a BW scientist – illustrates the point I made earlier about the difficulty of locating small stocks of material that can be used to covertly surge production of deadly weapons. The scientist who concealed the vials containing this agent has identified a large cache of agents that he was asked, but refused, to conceal. ISG is actively searching for this second cache.

There's a photo of the vials, which ought to convince any doubters that Iraq really did have at least one weapon of mass destruction and that it has been found. And here's some photographic evidence that ought to convince you that Italians eat shit.

On the second, ChuDogg cites utterly reliable reorts from National Review On-Line, NewsMax, Rush Limbaugh and The St Petersburgh Times. On the third, he is oddly silent.

(Updated to include the missing third survey result. Well spotted Jeremy.)

No comments: