Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Forrest Gump (character)

Life is like a box of Gumpisms! From Forrest Gump (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have seen the 1994 Tom Hanks‘ film Forrest Gump, then you likely recognize my title as a piece of advice given to the simple-minded protagonist by his mother, played expertly by renowned actress Sally Field.

And let’s face it: Who hasn’t seen this film? It won all sorts of Oscars, for goodness sake, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, among others.

It was a cultural phenomenon. Or at the very least, a pop cultural phenomenon.

At any rate, the basic idea behind Ms. Gump’s advice is sound: stupid people are only viewed as such because they do stupid things. And please know that I don’t toss around the word “stupid” very often and have been teaching my son that calling someone stupid is wrong.

That doesn’t change the fact that stupidity exists, though. And these days, it seems to be spreading faster than venereal disease in a whorehouse, for lack of a better expression. Just scan the news and you will see examples of stupidity everywhere.

Actually, don’t worry about it because, true to form, I scanned the news myself and found plenty of evidence to substantiate my claim. Here are some of the stories that caught my attention and that prove no matter where you go or how far from home you travel, the odds of encountering someone who makes stupid decisions are always high.

Just remember this: you don’t have to be stupid to make a dumb decision. In all of these cases, flexing that muscle between their ears a little more could have yielded different—and even more favorable—results for the individuals mentioned here. And at the very least, it would have kept me from blogging about them at all.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if that will happen. So here you go: four stories that prove “stupid is as stupid does.” Thanks to Ms. Gump for articulating this so well, by the way.

PORT CANAVERAL, FLORIDA

Sergeant Ron King, a firearms instructor for the Port Canaveral Police Department, was fired last Friday for possessing and using silhouette targets with a familiar figure on them, and one that has caused quite an uproar.

The targets looked like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a community watch captain who is currently awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges.

According to King—who was fired for this incident—the targets were being used to train officers in “no shoot” scenarios. In other words, they were like the alien targets Will Smith faced in the original Men in Black film: some were threats, some weren’t… and it was up to the officers to determine which ones to shoot.

While I can understand King’s motivation for using “no shoot” targets, the way he handled it was unacceptable and completely insensitive. Why, you ask?

Consider this.

The figure on each target was wearing a dark hoody, holding a can of iced tea and had a bag of Skittles candy in his pocket. All of these mirror Trayvon Martin on the night he was shot and killed.

Not cool (courtesy of WKMG-TV)

Absolutely tasteless.

Unfortunately, it seems as if King disagrees. And in his mind, using the targets wasn’t even the problem.

“The only stupid act I performed was to believe that some of my co-workers would be mature enough and care enough to use a bad situation as a learning tool,” he said later. And when he finally summoned up the courage to apologize for his actions, even his apology seemed to shift the blame from himself.

“To the Martin family, I would like to apologize for those law enforcement officials that chose to use your son’s death as an element for their personal and political gains,” King had the nerve to say. “I assure you that the use of these targets that are in question is to prevent a tragedy from taking place.”

Little does he know that in using these targets, he caused yet another tragedy, at least for the family who lost their son last year and now have to relive that horror even further in the media.

Way to rub salt in that wound, my man. And thanks for doing something stupid when just a little forethought could have prevented all of this, and probably saved your job, too!

DANVILLE, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Our next story keeps the “brainless law enforcement” train rolling and this time involves someone who should certainly know better: Danville Police Chief Wade Parsons.

On Friday, Parsons was cited for an incident that occurred at his home last month. Basically, he left his service weapon—a .40-caliber Glock 22 pistol—loaded and lying on top of a safe in his bedroom closet. Then he left to run some errands.

Little did he know, but the 15-year-old son of his girlfriend, a boy never known for depression or any other serious psychological issues, found the pistol and used it to commit suicide.

Parsons discovered the boy’s body when he returned home a short time later.

Oddly enough, this irresponsible police chief will face no serious charges related to the boy’s suicide. Instead, he was charged with violating a state law that requires the secure storage of any firearm that could be accessed by a minor without parental consent. And get ready for this: the maximum fine for such a transgression is $1000.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what to say aside from this: Is a young man’s life really only worth $1000? Or better yet, should law enforcement officials “get off the hook” for making mistakes that cost others their lives?

I bet the same punishment wouldn’t apply if Parsons had accidentally shot the kid himself while on duty. Or maybe it would. Neither situation makes this punishment very easy to stomach, especially for the mother who lost her child in this unfortunate turn-of-events.

LONDON, ENGLAND

For our next example of stupidity in action, we jump “across the pond” to America’s surrogate mother, Great Britain. And believe me: this example takes stupid to a whole new level—and on a more global stage than it should likely be.

Crazy is as crazy does, too (courtesy of Time Magazine)

John Sweeney is a BBC reporter also known for his investigative journalism on the network’s primetime current-affairs program Panorama. Last month, he decided to try to obtain the scoop of a lifetime—or at least a pretty good story based on current events: a behind-the-scenes look at North Korea from inside the country itself.

Well, if you have been following the news lately—and few of us can escape it anymore—then you likely know that Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s latest and most ridiculous dictator, has been acting very strangely these past few months. Out of nowhere—and please excuse the fact that I am American and as such, quite biased—he started amassing weapons, testing missiles and threatening a nuclear attack against the U.S. and its allies around the world. Annual military tests in South Korea—which occur every year around this time—have been viewed as an act of aggression. And despite sending our most capable diplomatic emissary there to consult with him—I am speaking, of course, of the skilled negotiator, former NBA coattail rider Dennis Rodman—Kim Jong Un continues to “amp up” his rhetoric along with his most prominent character trait: paranoia.

In other words, he isn’t the type of guy who normally welcomes journalists—especially Western journalists—into his isolated nation. Remember what happened to those two American journalists who were arrested in 2009 and sentenced to outrageous prison terms? They were only on the border between China and North Korea. Imagine what would have happened if they were discovered “in country.” Not even ex-President Bill Clinton could have saved them then!

Incidentally—and for those unfamiliar with this story—it took Bill to get these guys out of trouble. And even that took some doing.

So booking a trip and visiting the northern part of this split peninsula—just for some sightseeing on “holiday”—was never an option for Sweeney. He needed to infiltrate the country. And last month, he found the perfect cover.

A group of students from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) were headed to North Korea for academic purposes, so Sweeney falsely claimed to be one of the doctoral students, completed an application for entry into the country and simply told the others he was a journalist and would be joining them. Sweeney’s wife and a cameraman came along and, for all intents and purposes, the trip went off without a hitch.

Only recently did anyone “clue in” to the fact that what Sweeney did wasn’t only stupid; it was also quite dangerous, at least to the students he used as camouflage.

“The students were not given enough information to enable informed consent,” the LSE said in their most recent statement. “Yet [they] were given enough to put them in serious danger if the subterfuge had been uncovered prior to their departure from North Korea.”

This brings up a good point: Why didn’t Sweeney conceal everything so the students would know nothing?  I’m sure that he and his companions could have all posed as students, especially since Sweeney lied on his application and got away with it. Security obviously wasn’t as tight, at least not for those travelling as scholars and academics. That way, if his cover was blown, everyone was arrested and people were questioned, they could all respond with something best described in the film Independence Day: plausible deniability.

Wouldn’t that have been at least a little safer, not to mention far less stupid? I think so.

Now think about this. And again, this is the American coming out in me.

How do you think Kim Jong Un is going to feel about someone sneaking in to spy on his country? Sweeney already said that the North Korean government was “very angry” about what happened. In other words, Kim Jong Un is very angry. And since he isn’t thinking straight—given all the craziness I mentioned earlier—pissing him off further really isn’t the best idea.

Not that Sweeney sees anything wrong with it.

“We go in and we tell a lie to the North Koreans,” he told reporters recently. “And I believe that’s journalistically fine and proper.”

Easy for him to say! We’re the ones Kim Jong wants to nuke into oblivion! Sure, he mentioned our “allies”—which obviously includes the UK—but who do you think he’s coming after first?

The good news is that everyone got out of North Korea, no one was hurt and the footage Sweeney collected is safe. Of course, Craig Calhoun—Director of the LSE—mentioned that the Panorama program “seems to have found no new information and only [showed] what North Korea wants tourists to see.”

Glad to see it was all worth it. And rather than calling Sweeney a jackass—a truly American term, I think—I instead award him a moniker that my British brothers and sisters undoubtedly prefer. Because if ever there was a wanker, he would probably be it.

ALBANY, NEWYORK

The final stop on the Stupidity Tour 2013 is stateside in New York, more specifically at Albany High School in the city of the same name.

A teacher at the school is in hot water after giving students a writing assignment about everyone’s favorite mass-murdering regime, the Nazis. Only this wasn’t some book report or reflection paper on the horrors of the Holocaust; it was something much darker and—to many students, parents and even administrators—extremely offensive.

We don’t want to go here again (courtesy of Everett)

The assignment asked students to prove their loyalty to the “Motherland”—namely Nazi Germany—by arguing that Jews are “evil” and causing more problems to the country and its government than they’re worth. Here’s what it said on the actual assignment sheet:

“You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!” The me in this statement is supposed to be some kind of educator within the Nazi government.

Needless to say, people made quite a stink over this—including almost a third of the students asked to complete it (out of three classes)—and the school is considering disciplinary action against the insensitive teacher, who I believe has been removed from the classroom pending an investigation. Odds are that he or she will eventually be fired over this anyway.

While I can understand what this teacher was trying to do—and have always found Nazi propaganda to be very interesting, given all these guys turned out to be complete psychos—it strikes me as somewhat stupid (again with that word) that he or she didn’t first consider the potential consequences. To be honest, I kind of like the assignment because it forces students to think about the reasons something as horrific as the Holocaust could have occurred, not to mention the importance of preventing something similar from ever happening again. And it shows how information, art, advertising and deception can all be utilized to mislead not just one person, but a whole nation of people.

However, there is a better way to present it. And simply handing it out in some of your classes—knowing those kids will be returning home to discuss it with their parents (most likely)—isn’t what I would recommend. Instead, why not send a letter or email to parents asking them to critique the assignment first? Or treat it as a kind of permission slip where students select one of a few controversial assignments and secure parental approval before returning to school? Hell, just running it by some other teachers could have prevented this backlash!

I hate to call any educator stupid, but what this person did—or at least how he or she went about it—certainly qualifies. I guess there won’t be any “Teacher of the Year” awards in their future, huh?

As the train of stupidity finally pulls into the station, I find myself wondering about another story I heard just before leaving work. Earlier today—and at the time I’m writing this it is Monday evening—several bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Massachusetts. If I remember correctly, several people were confirmed dead and another dozen or two were injured. And this was at a sporting event visited by people—and competitors—from all over the world, which proves my point even further.

Stupid people are all around us. And worse, some of them are extremely dangerous and may even try to hurt us. Just look at those poor people in Boston. Wouldn’t someone capable of injuring and killing innocent people have to be stupid anyway?

Be good to each other. And by all means, watch your back… or each others’ backs. Whatever the case may be.

Posted on April 16, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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