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Dunning-Kruger Effect

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

We probably have all heard of the ”Peter Principle”, or “The Generalized Peter Principle”:  Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. It was created almost 50 years ago by Laurence J. Peter, a prominent Canadian scholar of education.  When applied to a person this is sort of inwardly looking where someone outside makes a judgment on someone else’s performance.  But there is another principle or effect where a person makes a judgment on his or her own performance.

The following is abstracted largely from “Pacific Standard, The Science of Society”. I will suppress my urge to relate the following to most politicians.

The opening line is: “The trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise.”

The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, Department of Psychology, occurs: Where some people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than others. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyze their performance, leading to a significant overestimate of themselves.

The underling premise is basically that many people (dumb to smart) over estimate their ability because they are too dumb (at whatever level on the scale) to see when they are failing: The Dunning-Kruger Effect, which Wikipedia defines as “a cognitive bias whereby unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate.” Wikipedia added that: “This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.”  Whew…..I’m not sure I can follow all of that!!!!

The phenomenon was first tested in a series of experiments published in 1999 by David Dunning and Justin Kruger.  The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.

…….I could never make that up.

In many cases incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

For more than 20 years Dunning and Kruger have researched people’s understanding of their own expertise.  This is formally known as the study of metacognition, the processes by which human beings evaluate and regulate their knowledge, reasoning, and learning.  The results have been consistently sobering and occasionally comical.

The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, many people fail to recognize the frequency and scope of their ignorance.

In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize or cannot recognize just how incompetent they are. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack.  What’s curious is that in many cases incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

Because it’s so easy to judge the ignorance of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to one’s self. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that can visit us all from time to time.

Over the years Dunning and Kruger have become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind: “One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.”

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers.  As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (Ironically, one thing many people “know” about this quote is that it was first uttered by Mark Twain or Will Rogers—which just ain’t so.)

The way we traditionally conceive of ignorance—as an absence of knowledge—leads us to think of education as its natural antidote. But education can produce illusory confidence.  Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to yourself. But as said above, the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that can visit us all.

“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not fancy that I do.  In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser then he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know”….

Attributed to Socrates from Plato.


Boy, do I feel ignorant!!!!!



Glorious Insults

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Insults used to be an art form… before the English language got boiled down to all those unfortunate 4-letter words. Here are a selection of some of the better known insults from the better known insulters…


The He Said – She Said exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:

  • She said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.”
  • He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”


“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend… if you have one.” – George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

  • “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one..” – Winston Churchill, in response.


“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill


“He had delusions of adequacy.” – Walter Kerr


“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).


“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde


 “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends..” – Oscar Wilde


 “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain


“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” – Mark Twain


 “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” – Irvin S. Cobb


 “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” – Clarence Darrow


 “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas


 “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.” – Stephen Bishop


 “He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright


 “He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson


 “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up..” – Paul Keating


 “In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” – Charles, Count Talleyrand


 “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tucker


 “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” – Mae West


 “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.” – Andrew Lang (1844-1912)


 “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder


 A member of Parliament to Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.”

  • “That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your policies or your mistress..”


 “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx



 And if you have managed to read this far… a couple more recent ones:


 ”The problem with being better than you is that you think I’m arrogant” – Alex Obenauf


 “While intelligence can be mistaken for arrogance, your lack of intelligence can never be mistaken” – Obie




Unusual Words and their Definitions – some new, some strange, and all funny

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013
Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.


A manager, who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then leaves.


The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.


The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end


An office filled with cubicles.


When someone yells or drops something loudly in a Cube Farm, and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on.


The on-line, wired generation’s answer to the couch potato.


Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.


A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.


An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.


Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one‘s workplace.


Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find yourself unable to stop watching them.


The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.


The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.


Someone who’s clueless. From the World Wide Web error message “404 Not Found” meaning that the requested document could not be located. (For those in Toronto, it’s also Hwy 404… A destination that cannot be located.)


Surreptitiously farting while passing through a Cube Farm.


That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you’ve just made a BIG mistake.


Well-Off Older Folks


(oh-bliv-̩on) РA person who is so oblivious to his or her surroundings that they abandon all common courtesy and commit daily acts of rudeness. Oblivions are oblivious to the very fact that they are Oblivions, which makes it difficult for an Oblivion to ever see the error in his or her ways.

For example: A line of courteous people will form at the Starbucks coffee counter, with each person ordering in their turn. An Oblivion usually stands to the side of the line, staring so intently at the Frappuccino menu that when a clerk asks who’s next, they are awakened out of their Oblivion trance and will yell out their order, cutting the line as if there weren’t a line at all. They also park in a no-parking or handicapped zone.  Another example is the movie theater Oblivion, who arrives to a packed theater with an Oblivion friend, after the movie begins. Together they will search for seats and eventually spot two separate, empty seats in the same row. They will then proceed to ask the people who bothered to show up early so they could choose the seats they wanted (non-Oblivions) and ask everybody in the row to scoot down a seat so they can sit together (most times people will accommodate the Oblivion, just to save the Grrrrrr).


A person whose Oblivionism is dangerous to others. Will stop short in the middle of a busy sidewalk to answer a cell phone, try to board an “up” elevator before it empties, and swings a lit cigarette indiscriminately as they walk. Also known to make abrupt, complete stops at yield signs and are chronic rubber-neckers.


An automobile driver who believes so strongly in speed limit highway laws that he or she will drive 55 miles per hour in the passing lane, forcing people to either adhere to the speed limit or to pass on the right. Left Lane Vigilantes never use their rear view mirror, so tailgate intimidation or flashing the high beams is of no use. These are people committed to keeping you from getting a speeding ticket, and they will do whatever they must to keep you behind them.


A person who is always right, and has to let every one know it. Favorite phrase: “l told you.”  Self-Righteons will cross in front of a moving bus because they have the right of way, will rudely demand another steak because they ordered theirs well done and it came out a little pink in the middle, and usually huff and puff at the retail counter when an underpaid clerk makes an honest mistake (yes, you should get your steak how you ordered it, but for crying out loud, it’s not the end of the world).  Self-Righteons, when driving, are Left Lane Vigilantes. Also known to speed up their vehicle when another driver makes a suspect move, just to show how close they came to an accident (if they didn’t speed up, however, it wouldn’t have been close at all). They also refuse to let anyone merge in front of them.


Sooo important that they can’t sit through a restaurant meal without loudly talking business on the cell phone or believe that if they quit their job their employer’s business would go down in flames. Note to doctors, police officers and emergency medical technicians who fit into this category: While your job is very important, there are millions more of you who don’t feel the need to let everyone know that what they do is sooo important. Celebrity staffs, including public relations people are usually ImporTants.


These are grocery store Oblivions, who wait until their entire cart is rung up before whipping out the checkbook. These are the folks whose families span across entire shopping aisles, debating the pros and cons of all-in one shampoo and conditioner, or who stop to chat with their next-door neighbors to catch up on the last five years.


People who know nothing about politics yet nod profusely and agree with the loudest (and oftentimes most obnoxious) people in the room.


People who are treated like celebrities when their only contribution to society is appearing on a reality show. Therefore, they don’t get the honor in the Grrr! to be called celebrities. Real-ities will hold on to their little bit of fame with every nook and cranny of their being, announcing to everyone they meet, “Remember me? I’m the guy who had sex in the restaurant bathroom,” or “I’m the Apprentice who was attacked by the tow truck driver,” or “I’m the guy who threw water on Simon Cowell”


Ageless (mostly conservative) wit and observations

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

‘If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.’
-Mark Twain

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress…. But then I repeat myself.
-Mark Twain

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
-Winston Churchill

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
-George Bernard Shaw

A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.
-G Gordon Liddy

Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
-James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
-Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at

Georgetown University

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
-P.J. O’Rourke,

Civil Libertarian Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. -Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)  Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
-Ronald Reagan (1986)

I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
-Will Rogers

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free!
-P.J. O’Rourke

In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
-Voltaire (1764)

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you!
-Pericles (430 B.C.) 

No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.
-Mark Twain (1866 )

Talk is cheap…except when Congress does it.

The government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.
-Ronald Reagan

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
-Winston Churchill

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.
-Mark Twain

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
-Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)

There is no distinctly Native American criminal class…save Congress.
-Mark Twain

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.
-Edward Langley, Artist (1928 – 1995)

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.
-Thomas Jefferson