Category Archives: Stupid People

The Village Idiot

Lewisville, NC doesn’t get a lot of newsworthy action. Occasionally a house will burn down, a serious accident will happen on Highway 421 or some other noteworthy-for-an-hour event will occur. My family lived there for almost 12 years, from July, 2004 to February, 2016, and in that time there were a few actual newsworthy events, like the discovery of bodies or even a couple of murders, but you rarely heard of armed robberies or things of that sort happening.

That’s why it caught my attention when I saw on the news that the Wells Fargo bank in Lewisville had been robbed. There are only a couple of banks in Lewisville, and the Wells Fargo branch is literally next door to the library and one door down from Town Hall, which is where the sheriff has a couple of officers stationed. In other words, it’s in the heart of downtown and not what I’d call the most inviting target for a robbery due to the high likelihood that you could be seen and/or caught in pretty short order.

Well, to confirm that this wasn’t the work of a criminal mastermind, we learned today that a suspect has been arrested and the sheriff didn’t have to look far to find him. From the Winston-Salem Journal:

Jason Brant Henderson of the 6000 block of LaGrande Place Drive in Lewisville faces charges of robbing the bank as well as the robbery of the E-stop convenience store at 130 Lewisville-Clemmons Road and the Four Brothers store at 6351 Shallowford Road in Lewisville.

As you can see from the map below, the guy basically decided to rob the bank closest to his apartment. Maybe he just wanted a day he could walk to work?

lewisvillerobber

This is the American Way¡

I recently heard that the inverted exclamation point is used to denote irony which is why I used it in the title of this post – This is the American Way¡ – and after reading the following you’ll hopefully agree that it’s appropriate. Dateline New York:

PS 120 in Flushing held a carnival for its students Thursday, but kids whose parents did not pay $10 were forced to sit in the auditorium while their classmates had a blast.

Close to 900 kids went to the Queens schoolyard affair, with pre-K to fifth-grade classes taking turns, each spending 45 minutes outside. The kids enjoyed inflatable slides, a bouncing room and a twirly teacup ride. They devoured popcorn and flavored ices. DJs blasted party tunes.

But more than 100 disappointed kids were herded into the darkened auditorium to just sit or watch an old Disney movie while aides supervised — the music, shouts and laughter outside still audible…

Principal Joan Monroe tacked up a list of the number of students per class: “How many attending, Paid,” and “How many not attending, Not paid.”

On Thursday morning, Monroe used the school loudspeaker to remind teachers to send in a list of kids who did not pay.

While teachers were handed a bag of little stuffed animals to give kids who paid for the carnival, one withheld them until she could add her own gifts for the half-dozen or so kids in her class who didn’t go.

She may not have meant it, but I’d say the principal gave her students a real life lesson in how things work in the world beyond the walls of PS 120. Of course if the kids whose parents didn’t pay had been allowed to attend then I know a few people who would say, “Well, they’re getting a good lesson in how our entitlement society works.” Still, I can’t imagine anyone thinking this is the right approach to take with these kids. If it’s an event taking place after school hours at which admission is tied to the money paid then at least the kids whose parents didn’t/couldn’t pay aren’t confronted with the sight of their classmates participating while they can’t, but doing this during the school day when they can’t help but wonder why they’re being “punished”? That’s just stupid.

The Bikeshed Effect

Over at the Atlantic Wire they ask the question, "Why do we care about things that don't really matter?" Here's one reason:

The Bikeshed Effect, more formally known as Parkinson's Law of Triviality derived from the humor book Parkinson's Law, is "the principle that the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of the topic," as explained in Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project. The most classic and titular example is that people care more about the color of a bike shed than the decision to build a nuclear plant because they know about colors and don't know about nuclear power.

As they go on to point out the effect influences what we talk about and thus what generates "discussion" in our modern world:

Since everyone needs to say something — especially on the Internet — these mundane things get talked about often and with vigor. Meanwhile, the more complex questions — like "How Will Yahoo Increase CPM's Given Current Trends in Digital Advertising?" — get much less attention because most people can't comment with any intelligence, as The Guardian's Oliver Burkman explained in his column "Why trivia is so important" back in 2010. "Each wants to demonstrate, to the boss or to themselves, that they are taking part, paying attention, making a difference, 'adding value,'" he wrote. "But with complex subjects about which they're ignorant, they can't: they risk humiliation."

The dumbest topics — the tilt of an exclamation point, for example — therefore, get the most attention. A related phenomenon happens a lot in the work-life balance debate, which relies a lot on personal anecdotes to talk about an important societal question. Without much knowledge or data on women in the workforce, writers and thinkers revert to their personal experiences to fuel the debate. Since these people are women and have worked and have also had children, they can speak to the issue with some intelligence. That leaves harder questions, like how most women can improve working while raising families, on the sidelines. 

People have always been trivial, ill-informed bloviators but now thanks to the online extensions of our society the effect is amplified. Rather than only being exposed only to the nimrods in your circle of friends, family, coworkers and neighbors your exposed to the hundreds of millions of nimrods you can find online. What a truly depressing thought.

Know Whereof You Speak

This video of a woman calling Obama a communist, and then not being able to explain why he was a communist, was an uncomfortable reminder of what it feels like to be caught using words beyond your comprehension when debating/arguing/philosophizing. When I was in high school I accused my brother of being a fascist and he realized pretty quickly that I didn't actually know what a fascist was, and so asked me to explain why he was a fascist.

Oops.

Let's just say I've done a much better job since then of not using adjectives I don't actually understand.

Four Minutes of Infamy

In 1968 Andy Warhol said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." In 2012 a North Carolina preacher gave a Mother's Day sermon that was recorded and posted on YouTube and pretty much guaranteed that he'll be famous for more than 15 minutes. In that sermon the pastor said some pretty outrageous things as related by the Los Angeles Times:

In the video, Worley says to the sounds of laughter from the congregation that he's figured "a way out." He suggests building a large fence — 150 or 100 miles long — and putting all the gays and lesbians inside it.

"And have that fence electrified 'til they can't get out," he says. "Feed 'em. And you know what, in a few years, they'll die out. Do you know why? They can't reproduce."

Later, he bellows, referring to President Obama's positions on abortion and same-sex marriage: "I'll tell you right now. Somebody says, 'Who you gonna vote for?' I ain't gonna vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover!" He added that he understood the shocking nature of his language, and would stand by it. "You said, 'Did you mean to say that?' You'd better believe I did!"

Also during the sermon, Worley says he was "disappointed, bad" by Obama's recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, and he went on to suggest that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would get his vote in November.

As bad as that was, it kind of got worse when one of the members of his congregation agreed to appear on Anderson Cooper's show and engaged in an exchange that caused the website DangerousMinds to label her the Dumbest American (Ever?) Found. She may not get 15 minutes of fame, but it's certainly four minutes of infamy:

I'm not sure Warhol could have ever envisioned this.

If Stupid People Organized

Scott Adams (the Dilbert dude) has a blog post where he asks a simple question – "What would happen if stupid people figured out how to organize their vast numbers into a cohesive political force?" – and then provides an example of people organizing around a stupid idea via change.org and points out that the organization is a tool for both good and bad:

I don't know if the good work that comes out of Change.org offsets the bad. In any case, I don't think free speech should be curtailed. My point is that Change.org is a tool that can empower both smart people and stupid people, and that only one of those situations is good. 

In my mind a big group of stupid people isn't all that scary because, well, they're stupid and as a result Darwin's Law will kick in sooner rather than later. At the other extreme an organized group of nutjobs, zealots and evil people scares the crap out of me for obvious reasons. But what really scares me are the kinda smart people in the middle – the folks who are smart enough to get things done, but not smart enough to realize they're tools – who enable one really talented nutjob to do bad things on a massive scale.