Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vanity of vanities

I recently happened upon this website which purports to assess the complexity of language used on your blog or website by reference to the 'reading level' supposedly required at various stages of the American education system. It's an amusing way to waste a few minutes putting all of your favourite sites to the test, but I wonder how reliable it is.

OK, I confess I am rather peeved to discover that the 'reading levels' of Froogville and Barstool Blues are supposedly only:

At first, I took some consolation that most of the blogs I enjoy also received this rating. Even the formidably erudite Leah was assessed at the same humble level; but today I find that she has somehow bumped herself up to a College (Post-graduate) rating. I am quite mystified. Mystified, and jealous. Yes, her sudden upgrading is particularly baffling, since of late she has only posted funny pictures and video clips; the writing has been scant and frivolous. What has she done to so impress this mysterious prose-sampling computer program?

Jeremiah, who is most of the time writing quite earnestly about Chinese history with a level of detail (footnotes and all!) and language pitched well above the average Freshman, is still rated only as Undergraduate. It really is hard to surmise the criteria on which these automated assessments may be made.

While I was briefly heartened to see that the execrable China Dirt blog was rated at only an Elementary School reading level (a dismal collection of "dating disaster" stories from expat women, it was widely known in my circle as Whiny Bitches Dotcom; it gained quite a lot of attention when it was first launched a year or so ago, but has now mercifully withered into disuse - but, if any of you thought I gave expat women an unduly hard time in my Dating in Beijing series of posts over on The Barstool a while back, you could check out some of the posts on here to see just how bitter, warped, and self-defeating some of them become), I was soon once more perplexed to discover that the hyper-literate family blog Peer-See was accorded the same disdainful rating.

But the most astounding aberration of all from this rating system is that my old friend 'Keith Tolstoy' and his oddball potpourri of Internet beachcombings is the only site I can find to be rated as:

I tipped him off about this, and he has proudly bragged of the accolade and added it to his sidebar. Now, 'Tolstoy', dear mad 'Tolstoy', is indeed a gargantuan intellect - but there's little in his blog to reveal this: it is almost devoid of text. The mystery deepens.

I begin to suspect that this so-called Readability Test is largely or wholly based on the ratio of hotlinks (and/or embedded videos) to text..... which would actually make it a very poor measure of 'readability'. I imagine there might also be some sort of weighting for the kind of sites you link to (after all, I include a pretty high proportion of links myself, but mostly to other posts of my own, or to other blogs; whereas 'Tolstoy' links to a lot of highbrow newspapers), but it seems odd, inappropriate to gauge a site's 'readability' by reference to things outside the site itself.

I did ponder conducting a series of experiments to see if I could bump up my rating (more hotlinks, numbered footnotes, bibliographies, using words like 'esoteric' and 'eclectic' and 'effulgent' more often?), but...... really, what is the point? Most of the things that ought to count towards a higher 'reading level' - long sentences and paragraphs, correct grammar/punctuation/spelling, low use of slang and profanity, high use of Latin- or Greek-derived vocabulary, extended quotations, quotations in other languages, poetry - I can already claim, and it hasn't done me any good.

I'm not really bitter, honestly. I'm just a little irritated that it's such a ridiculously bogus test.


Livia said...

That's batty. My lacking-in-erudition blog comes in at College postgraduate level.

The British Cowboy said...

My bet is that if you use the word "assclown" preferably as part of the phrase "no talent assclown" in every post, your level will increase.

Even if it doesn't, I would be entertained, which, after all, is the purpose of this, isn't it?

Froog said...

A fine suggestion, Cowboy.

I wish I'd used "assclowns" in my post about the Chinese government's decision to block me. [Yes, I've found a way around it already - but it's still a pain-in-the-arse.]

Maybe another day. Soon. I don't suppose they're going to stop being assclowns any time in the next few decades.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you'd be surprised...it all came unravelled in a matter of months in the other great communist dictatorship. Something thee and me thought we'd never see in our lifetimes...I remember us discussing the collapse of the Soviet empire in the mid-80's in very theoretical terms as something that 'might' happen in the next century or two... If someone had told me then that I'd own several villas in Bulgaria by now I would have died laughing!

On the other hand - following the Russia debacle - should we fear what replaces 'Communism' more?

The abiding mystery to me is why, of the world's two numerically greatest nations, India is - on the whole - as 'democratic' and 'stable' as it is, whereas China seems not really to be on that track...

Froog said...

Not much mystery there, Mothman. Clue: Hong Kong.

Froog said...

After further exhaustive testing of just about every worthwhile blog and website I can think of (strange how having to work in the evenings makes you want to completely waste your days!), I that come to the conclusion that..... this site is A HOAX.

There's no method to it at all, it's just completely bloody RANDOM. Sorry to burst your balloon, 'Tolstoy', old chum; but you know I'm right, don't you?

argonox said...

Heh. Moi? Post-graduate? I reckon it was the Simpsonizing what vaulted me to such great heights!

Anonymous said...

"Hong Kong", Froog? Could you be hinting at the fact that that utterly useless and untrustworthy tool of the Imperialist Running Dogs (namely the Writ of Anglo-Saxon Law...not to mention an associated 'innate sense of decency')have something to do with running a successful liberal democracy? Surely not!!!!

Heaven forfend that I should suggest that it true that virtually all of the world's 'decent' innovations stem not from the world's most populous (and yellow) nation, but from a tiny sub-arctic island off the north coast of Europe...and its numerous cultural offshoots. The horror! The horror!

Froog said...

A half-way decent civil service, judicial system, free press, educations system..... and some attendant appreciation (if sketchy adoption) of 'Western values'..... yes, these things go a long way.

This is why I feel that India is in much better shape to sustain its growth than China, and will overtake its economy one day - despite being somewhat left behind by the China's huge growth spurt over the past dozen years (which has been largely built on a mountain of bad loans). This is becoming one of my favourite ways to wind up gung-ho China-optimists (of whatever nationality).

Gung-ho optimist: "Of course China's economy is going to overtake America's economy one day."

Me: "Well, maybe. But when is it going to overtake India's?"

Optimist (puzzled): "But China's economy is already far ahead of India's."

Me (laughs scornfully): "And you really think it's going to stay there? With its unsound banks, and its doctrinaire government, and its lousy education system??"

India has at least the beginnings of a moral/cultural/intellectual infrastructure that China lacks - and shows very little sign of developing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you agree, Froog...I seem to recall that we had this debate some time ago and that you were modestly sceptical of India's chances at that time. It has always been my strongest feeling that India will be the number one world power of the 21st century - simply for the reasons discussed.

I've spent a lot more time in India in recent years than in points further east, but I have a lot of day-to-day dealings with nationals of both countries and I have to say that the underlying USELESSNESS of most Chinese I meet always depresses me mightily. Their total lack of regard for anybody else; their associated lack of cohesion; the huge fuss that they make over fuck-all; their utter indifference to all other than their immediate surroundings; their overall perverse delight in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; their love of gratuitous noise and of tawdry excess...all conspire to make me feel that no matter how much cash the nation accumulates in the bank there is no way that they will ever do anything at all credible or constructive with it. On the other hand the 'collective anarchy' in India I find so much more constructive and directed...

I don't think that the British Raj in India can claim all (much?) of the credit for the overall sense of chaotic order in that country - the Moghuls before them were a pretty well organised bunch and for hundreds of years before that the subcontinent was largely a relatively cohesive collection of societies. India may have lacked democracy in a modern sense, historically, but it has largely had a sense of spiritual decency for much of its recent history. Unlike, say, Africa, I do not believe that it was an uphill task for the British Box Wallahs and ICS to apply a veneer of Anglo-Saxon cultural values that stuck reasonably well. It was hardly oil and water - as I suspect that it would have been had the Brits. attempted wholesale colonisation of The Middle Kingdom. I recall that when I was in Hong Kong in the 1980's absolutely NOBODY spoke a word of English, which amazed me after a century of British - er 'rule'...

I don't know vast amounts about Chinese history (to put it mildly) but my impression is that they have had a long succession of oppressive dictatorships interspersed with periods of roving warlords wreaking havoc. Democracy does not really get burned into the collective will under such circumstances, does it? More a sort of 'every man for himself' job.

On the other hand (as the Chinese keep on telling us) they had an organised nation with a functioning civil service; writing; laws; gunpowder and the magnetic compass while we of the Anglo-Saxon persuasion were running around painted blue. Maybe I underestimate the power of that loathsome creed, Communism, to fuck over a nation in a very short period of time. I observe in both Russia and Bulgaria that the creed of the working class (in terms of course language; mannerisms and attitude to others) is still king, even after the fall of the Soviet. You only notice it when you talk to the old 'White Russians' (and their Bulgarian equivalent) whose courtly manner, language and general attitude to others shines out like a beacon in an otherwise grey sea of spodishness.

I guess that if (as the Chinese communists did) you have executed all of the people who have a bit of cultural nous and a sense of cohesion and collective responsibility then you are left with the other kind...sigh... Confucius he say "please don't shoot me, Mr. Illiterate Peasant - I can present a reasoned philosophical argument to my continued existence in law" (bang!)

Interestingly the UK seems to be undergoing this reverse cultural renaissance. In our case by the 'best' upping and leaving (hi guys) rather than by execution. Quite a lot of them seem to be going to India, which - ironically - is in many ways the standard bearer of the traditional 'British' values which have been steadily eroded in the 'mother country'. Ability to play cricket too :-(

All very anecdotal socio-babble with no real substance, I do realise...but I shall certainly be interested in seeing how the India-China thing develops during the 21st century (or what little of it is left to me). The thing that amuses me most is that after years of crapping on India for their 'non-aligned' stance (and, perversely, supporting Pakistan - which is now coming back to haunt them)the US State Department is now schmoozing India like mad as a bulwark against China. Yeah, right!

It also intrigues me that although you chose to live there, Froog (so the place must have SOME attractions other than the low cost of living relative to earnings) there is so much that you dislike about the place... I can't imagine voluntarily propelling myself to a country with so many obvious drawbacks. I suspect that you have a soft spot for the place REALLY :-) Don't you?