John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How dumb can you get?

Stupidity used to be defined, at least in Baltimore, by the guys who decided to rob a gun store on Harford Road in Parkville. They attached a chain to the barred window of the store, the other end to the bumper of their pickup truck. They intended to floor the accelerator and pull the bars out, smash into the store, and make off with a couple of armloads of guns before police arrived. But the bars held; the bumper gave way. In a panic, they sped off, leaving the bumper, with the license plate, attached to the chain. They were arrested the next day.

So it would take a lot to be dumber than that. But perhaps you have nominees.

Such anyone who refuses to drop the knife or gun when confronted by an armed police officer.

Or the dolt who published a “Should Obama be killed?” poll on Facebook — who can expect a visit from the Secret Service momentarily.

There’s the gentleman who posted his views on Facebook opposing Maryland’s new no-texting-while-driving law:

Not sure why I have to follow a law like this. I know how to text and drive at the same time and have not had any accidents as a result.

I feel so left out of the law making process in this state, so why should I follow laws that I didn't even have a hand in creating? Just sets up a funny social system...that's all. I guess people will follow the law because they are scared of the police and the legal system.

There’s a potential Darwin Award winner (as well as someone who apparently dozed during civics class).

Can you top these? Go ahead; try. Please, no nominations of people whose political views merely conflict with your own; I’ll delete those. It has to be something really, really stupid, and this great Republic surely boasts inexhaustible reserves of imbecility.


  1. - The copyeditors responsible for this.

    - Guy, Don't be That

    - Absolutely no comment.

    - And most of the customers recorded here. (I've worked in retail. It's all true, true I tell you!)

  2. This is True is a weekly email newsletter: free version contains a plain-text ad, premium version with more stories costs money but is ad-free). with exactly this sort of stuff. You can inspect several sample stories at I'm unconnected with the site except as a consumer of the free edition.

  3. This was pleasantly stupid last summer:

    Lori K in Pittsburgh

  4. I kind of liked the tea-party commenter at a Major Metro Daily a few weeks back who asked something on the order of: Tell me where in the Constitution it says the govment can take my money, huh?

  5. While I don't agree with the man commenting on the texting-while-driving law - I do think it's a good law, even if I myself have been guilty of texting while driving once or thrice - and I'm not too keen on the destination his comments seem to be headed towards, I do think there's a kernel of truth buried in what he's saying.

    There's a good amount of public perception that (a) it's hard to get in contact with our lawmakers and (b) it's even harder to know that our voices are heard when and if our opinions reach their desks. I stay current on legislation concerning computers, the Internet, copyright, IP, and so on, and have written to my congressperson (whoever it was at the time - I've moved a lot in the past few years) on a number of issues. Never have I received a response, and so I have no idea if my views as a constituent were taken into account.

    Too many people view all congresspeople as being under the thumb of special interests who have money to give to their campaigns and lobbyists in Washington. Those of us who actually put these congresspeople in office end up feeling pretty left out of the actual process itself, even when we have things to say about it. Our congresspeople haven't done a whole heck of a lot to overturn this perception either...

  6. I've done too many stupid things in my own life to comment on other people's stupidity.

  7. When I was a reporter in the 1980s I covered industrial and environmental noise control for a while. Railroads sought and obtained an exemption from EPA noise regulations, arguing that it was a local issue and should be handled locally (and also thinking state and local governments would be easier to push around). But some state and local governments jumped at the opportunity to regulate train noise (mostly horns and idling locomotives). Several years later, the railroads were back before Congress, begging to be regulated again. Even the congresspeople were astonished. (Don't know how this was resolved, I changed beats shortly after the hearing.)

  8. Mayor Sallie Peake of Wellford, South Carolina, who issued a memo banning police in her town from pursuing suspects.

    Googling "Mayor Sallie Peake" will turn up a truly baffling interview where she demonstrates an extremely childish attitude towards anyone questioning the wisdom of her new policy.

  9. Here's one -- the newspaper in Fairbanks, Alaska, recently had to apologize for calling Sarah Palin "A broad in Asia."

    I don't care what your politics are -- calling a female public figure a broad is beyond stupid.

  10. Let me first offer a category award to politicians who think they can explain away an extramarital affair, from Gary Hart, who challenged reporters to follow him to see if he misbehaved, only to have them take up the challenge, to the recent crop of philanderers from both sides of the party who seem to have an amazing ability to believe, first, that they can buy or finagle their way out of revelations of indiscretion and, second, that they can explain away a pretty straightforward fact with fascinating stories of great complexity.

    My individual award, though, goes to a gentleman who called a Baltimore hospital where I worked back in the '90s and said there was a bomb in the building. The hospital had recently installed a caller ID system on the phones in the emergency department, and the person answering the phone noted the number. The police traced it to a nearby address and told the man answering the door that they would like to ask him a few questions about an incident at the hospital that morning. The man answered, "What, did somebody call in a bomb threat?"

    Not eat up with the smarts, as a former deputy sheriff from Memphis of my acquaintance 40 years ago used to say.

  11. A letter to the editor in the Oct. 5 Washington Post argues that texting benefits sleepy drivers by keeping them awake. Just what we need on the road: sleepy distracted drivers. Any law banning texting while driving will have to permit it if sleepy. "But officer, I was almost dozing off."

    At the start of an all-day drivers' ed class for motorists who'd run afoul of the law, the instructor asked the drivers to explain why they were there. A young man explained that he had numerous speeding tickets but that they weren't his fault. If he didn't speed to work he'd be late and get fired. He had no choice but to speed. He felt wronged by all those speeding tickets and having to waste a day in the class. Dumb people who feel they're being picked on are doubly dumb. A dumb person not thinking is of limited danger to the world, but a dumb person thinking endangers everybody.