Daily Archives: May 13, 2004

Evaluating Stupidity

As most of you know, I’m spend a lot of my time recently banging out The Book of the Dumb 2 (“Now with 30% extra stupidity!”), and I imagine as most of you suspect, the task is not especially onerous, since there’s a whole world of stupidity out there. The hard part is not finding stupidity to write about, the hard part is choosing what not to write about.

To give you an example of this, let me recount for you today’s stupidity selections (as of around noon today — yes, this is just in the first twelve hours of a 24 hour period), and tell you which of these I’m like to write up today and why. The rest will not be thrown away; no, they’ll be stored in a stupidity archive, if you will, into which I can go if for some unfathomable reason there comes a day that has hardly any stupidity in it. This doesn’t seem likely, however.

Also be aware that a) these are selections from just one of my stupidity harvesting stops — they’re from FARK.com, which to my mind is probably the best Web site ever, for me, because of these books. However, I have other sources I also hit, just not yet today; and b) these are the selections after I’ve thrown out quite a few other similar stories that I can’t use. For example, the story about how two Ukrainian soldiers caused three-quarters of a billion dollars in damages by smoking in an ammunition dump (it has people dying, and the BotD books cede the “stupid and dead” arena to the Darwin Awards).

Okay? Here’s today’s stupidity harvest, so far:

Beermats explain EU to Welsh drinkers
Concept: Welsh people woefully ignorant about EU, so try to get them to read about it when they’re drunk.
Use It: Oh, yeah. However, this will the third EU story I’ve written up so far; unless I’m planning a whole section on EU stupidity (which isn’t a bad idea, actually), this is the last one.

Globe caught with pants down: Paper duped into running porn photos
Concept: The Boston Globe runs pictures of what they thought were Iraqi prison atrocities; actually, it’s just staged porn.
Use It: Maybe — On one hand, it’s always amusing when the media does something really stupid; on the other hand, the Iraq prison atrocities are still not funny, and may continue to not be funny through September-October, which is when the book comes out.

‘I Want You’: Love Letters To Student Land Teacher In Trouble
Concept: Female teacher writes male student love letters, which are discovered in his locker.
Use It: Maybe, but probably not. To be sexist about it, it’s the fact the teacher is female and the student male that makes it usable; it’s kind of creepy and sad, but if the sexes were reversed it’d only be creepy and sad. I’ll store it and see if any better sex-related stories come around, which they almost certainly will.

Coffins mixed up
Concept: Undertakers bring the wrong coffin to a funeral; funeral delayed an hour as they go back to get the right one.
Use It: Oh, yeah. Bringing the wrong coffin to a funeral is classic stupidity.

Man Says Tornado Made Him Try To Kill
Concept: Man uses a “Twinkie Defense,” only in this case the Twinkie is a rampaging cyclone.
Use It: Maybe. The case isn’t settled yet, and it’d be better to see how it turns out. The good news here is that the murder here is only attempted, and therefore I can use it.

Woman Commutes for Welfare Benefits
Concept: Women pretends to live in San Francisco to get city’s comparatively generous welfare package, but actually commutes from Lake Tahoe to get take her appointments.
Use It: Probably, since there’s a point to be made that all the effort and initiative the woman is making to secure a few extra bucks from Welfare could have been probably better used to get, you know, a job.

‘Pirates’ may lose some loot
Concept: Teenage kids posing as pirates walk in a kiddie parade as a prank; are cited and charged $100 each.
Use It: Eh. Maybe. It’s definitely B-list material.

Bourbon sold in soft drink can
Concept: Four year old thinks she’s drinking a Pepsi, but there’s actually a Jim Beam and Cola mix. A screw-up at the factory.
Use It: Sure. You can never go wrong with corporate stupidity that involves getting a preschooler wasted (so long as the preschooler is not actually seriously injured, and this one was not).

Man leads officers to his own pot plants
Concept: Man, fearing hallucinated intruders, calls cops who can’t help but notice his agricultural enthusiasms.
Use It: Duh. Of course. Don’t do drugs, kids!

“Dead” Fugitive Found In California
Concept: Wanted man fakes his own death, but can’t change his fingerprints.
Use it: Probably. This is a good “Tips For Stupid Criminals” story.

A Failing Grade For “Friends”
Concept: NBC Research report from 1994 says the sitcom Friends isn’t funny.
Use It: You bet. It’s timely and it’s also correct in its details. Well, it is.

Audience Lied to at Reality Show Taping
Concept: Producers making an anti-American Idol tell audience members that the terrible singers they’re about to hear all have terminal cancer, so please treat them nicely.
Use It: Absolutely, if only to get in the following comment from an unconvinced audience member: “I said to myself, ‘There should be some cancer patients who could actually hold a note.’ “

Naughty gnomes made to cover up
Concept: Guy buys naked gnomes; is told to paint clothing on them.
Use it: Possibly. This is one of those that I’d probably have to work myself up in the writing department to really make it fly.

Kid brings mercury to school
Concept: Teen thinks it’d be amusing to show friends a cup of poisonous liquid metal; resulting clean up costs school district $163K.
Use It: Eventually. I just wrote a piece on a kid bringing a live artillery shell to school, though, so I’ll probably sit on it for a couple of weeks to think of some new way to write it up.

Lightning Close Tap On Beer Giveaway
Concept: Pro hockey team thinks nothing could go wrong by giving away free beer to season ticket holders; everyone else in Florida disagrees and force the team to change its mind.
Use it: Hockey? Free beer? Florida? How could one not use it?

Just remember: I do this every single day. And some of you wonder why I’m cynical about humanity.

Science and God, Part Mumble Mumble Mumble

Via Metafilter (which got it via Boing Boing, which got it via Slashdot), a really fascinating interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno, Curator of Meteorites at the Vatican Observatory. Among the number of things in the interview is a view of science as it relates to religion and to the appreciation of the universe, a few which is pretty much sums my own opinion why science and religion are not inherently incompatible (I’ll use bolding here rather than italics because it’s a long quote):

And there’s two things going on there. One is the sense that, if God made the universe, and he made it good, and he loved the universe so much that, as the Christians believe, he sent his only son, it’s up to us to honor and respect and get to know the universe. I think it was Francis Bacon who said that God sets up the universe as a marvelous puzzle for us to get to know him by getting to know how he did things. By seeing how God created, we get a little sense of God’s personality. And that means, among other things not going in with any preconceived notions. We can’t impose our idea of how God did things. It’s up to us to see how the universe actually does work.

And the other assumption you have to make is that it’s worth doing. If your idea, if your religion is to meditate and rise above the physical universe, this corrupting physical universe, you might say, you’re not going to be a scientist, you’re not going to be interested in Mars. So it’s a religious statement to say the physical universe is worth devoting my life to. Seeing how the universe works is worth spending a lifetime doing.

Interestingly (or not, depending on your point of view), this reminds me of something I wrote quite a long time ago now, with a book idea about a man who has lunch with the Devil (or more accurately, a man who claims he is the Devil — it’s not something that gets proven during the course of the book), and the Devil, who claims to be working with God, not against him, explains why humans today will come to know God differently from the way they know God thousands of years ago:

“What I tell you now would be true whether I was the Devil or not,” the Devil said. “If you had lived in Job’s time, you wouldn’t doubt the existence of God. You’d see Him all around you. Frankly, you couldn’t get rid of Him. He would be everywhere. That’s because, at the time, God needed to here. Truly, physically here, to help open humanity’s mind to the world outside his hut, his tribe, the next day. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

“But God has had to hide Himself again… Humans are lazy. God gave you these big fat brains, and spent the time to pop their tops so you could use them as they were designed. But as long as God was obviously around, you were content to let him do the heavy lifting. Which is not what you were designed for.

“So He went away, and the history of your progression in the world is a history of your trying to locate Him again… Your test is: do you have the faith to find God again? And on God’s terms? Expecting God as He appeared thousands of years ago will do you no good. You’ll be like Job’s friends, sticking to an old way of thinking even as the new one peers you right in the face. No, you’ll have to find God again by seeking Him out in the world as it is today, using all the knowledge that you have at your disposal. It’s a harder task than Job had, but you’re not the same sort of people that Job was. Not anymore.”

I’m willing to believe such an idea — that God wants us to explore the universe in order to better understand Him — has more credibility coming from a Jesuit scientist working from the Vatican than it does coming from the 25-year-old iteration of me who was trying to sell his first book.

(Incidentally, if you want to see the whole sample chapter upon which that bit was based, it’s here. I think it’s still interesting, although if I were writing it now I might edit it down a little — or a lot. It’s funny what a decade of writing experience will do to your perspective of your own prose.)

In any event, read the interview with Brother Guy. It’s well worth your time.

DeLay, and the Frat Meme

Someone forwarded me a link to this story noting lawmakers’ general horrified reactions, and suggested I take special note of Tom DeLay’s reaction to the pictures, which is thus:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said he thought “some people are overreacting.”

“The people who are against the war are using this to their political ends,” he said.

Well, but that’s Tom DeLay for you, isn’t it? Tom DeLay is the sort of partisan hack who, if the Devil showed up in his office sporting cash for the GOP, would be on the horn telling the Republican caucus that he heard that Jesus fellow was a goddamn liberal commie who’d get the crap kicked out of him if he ever set foot in Texas.

I don’t think DeLay is utterly without the capacity to appreciate the pictures, which he described to the AP (not in this particular story) as “Pretty disgusting … Looks like someone was trying to put together a porno film or something.” (Which makes you winder what porn DeLay’s been watching.) However, I don’t imagine it even occurred to DeLay to look at those pictures except through the filter of what advantages they afford his enemies, and therefore, how they must be refuted.

The way to test this is to check to see if you really believe that if this had happened in the Clinton era, that DeLay would say the same thing. There’d be about as much chance of that as there is of me sprouting butterfly wings out of my nostrils. Long story short: DeLay’s a sad little man, and this is just more of the same from him. Let’s move on.

I do note an interesting meme going through the right side of the aisle regarding the torture, which is comparing it to fraternity hazing:

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Houston, said some of the photos were violent, most showed humiliation of the prisoners and some were simply juvenile.

“A number of the photos were just sophomoric like fraternity prank stuff that left you shaking your head, like hazing almost of the prisoners,” Brady said.

Rush Limbaugh also ran with the meme, saying “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” Which of course makes one ask: So they’re sodomizing initiates with glow sticks at Yale? Interesting.

Two things going on here: One, someone needs to do a study why the most ready metaphor for torture a GOPer can reach for is a fraternity hazing, because that’s gotta mean something. Two, in the case of the Limbaughs of the world, it’s an explicit attempt to minimize and infantilize the problem for no other reason than “their side” is under attack, which is a shameful thing to do.

As much as I dislike the general concept of fraternities, I somehow doubt that any of them regularly have initiations where the initiates are anally violated until they bleed (which one of the lawmen reported seeing in the new pictures), or have dogs bite them to the point of severe injuries. And if they do, it’s the same as what it is in Iraq: Torture.