A Brief History
On February 2, 2020, we celebrate yet another Groundhog Day, a day in which Winter weary people find out if we are in for 6 more weeks of Winter or if we are facing the joy of an early Spring. As implied by the name of the day, an actual Groundhog is “consulted” for his (or her) “prediction.” But…. This year the animal rights organization, PETA, is recommending we immediately end this act of animal cruelty (?) and replace our beloved Marmots with (gasp!) animatronic replicas of Groundhogs! A discussion of why this plan is “stupid” is below in our list of 10 Incredibly Stupid Ideas. As someone who has come up with plenty of incredibly stupid ideas myself, I believe I am uniquely qualified to identify items relevant to such a list. As always, feel free to question our judgement in naming any of these ideas to the list or to nominate your own stupid idea that should have been included. Competing examples of profound stupidity abound, as there really seems no end to the depths of human bad judgement.
1. Animatronic Groundhog.
Whether you call our little furry friend a Groundhog, Woodchuck, or Marmot (or Whistle Pig… Who says that???), people are relying on the chunky rodent for an important weather report. How can a glorified toy capture the special je ne sais quoi that only a Groundhog has? Seriously, if Groundhogs are indeed imbued with weather forecasting skills, it only makes sense to rely on the real thing. We would not send our soldiers to war with toy guns! We would not try to fly across the country in a toy airplane! Yes, sometimes terrible things happen during the Groundhog ceremony, just ask Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City about the tragic 2014 event. Still, weather is darn important, and we think too important to be left to toys. Would you go to a robot Tarot Card reader? Would you have your palm read by an Android Gypsy? We think not.
2. Elizabeth Warren’s novel approach to selecting cabinet members.
Candidate for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination for President, Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat, Massachusetts) recently stated her plan for “vetting” candidates for the position of Secretary of Education. She made the stunning announcement that she would only approve a nominee for Secretary of Education that first met the approval of a transgender child she had met in 2019, a child of 9 years of age. The transgender part has nothing to do with the stupidity of the idea, and is mentioned only because Warren has made that distinction. It is the idea that a 9 year old is somehow capable of making an informed decision about the qualifications of a cabinet secretary! With the fertile imagination residing in my brain, I can come up with some really stupid stuff, but this takes the proverbial cake. Even proposing such an idiotic idea would seem to place Warren in the category of people that should not be allowed to handle sharp objects or operate heavy machinery. (Let us know if you think she is on the right track.) (Note: Politics and politicians are so replete with idiotic ideas we could have a list of hundreds of examples just based on politics!)
3. OJ Simpson’s proposed book, If I Did It.
In 1994, former college and professional football star and movie actor OJ Simpson was suspected of killing his ex-wife and her friend in a brutal manner. The public spectacle that followed and the circus like show trial where OJ was represented by the “best” attorneys money could buy became an American obsession. While most observers had the impression that OJ was just about as guilty as anyone ever charged with a crime, the jury in the criminal double murder case acquitted the charismatic running back. Later, a lawsuit filed by the family of one of the victims resulted in a judgement against OJ, deciding he was indeed responsible for the murders. So what does OJ Simpson do, after dodging a possible life in prison sentence? He writes (actually ghost-written) a book about the “hypothetical” way he would have gone about the murders and subsequent covering of his tracks, if he did it. The cleverly titled book, If I Did It, was set for publication in 2006, but a public uproar over what amounted to a confession of guilt and a lawsuit by the family of a victim prompted the publisher to halt production of the book. In 2007, a court granted the rights to the book to the Goldman family as part of the lawsuit settlement that OJ had not paid off. The Goldman family sees the idiotic book as a virtual confession and has had the book published and distributed so that the public could have some insight into the mind of the person they hold accountable for the death of their son. In case you doubt the idiocy of OJ’s judgement, another case in point is the 2007 incident in which OJ participated in the armed robbery and kidnapping of someone in possession of some OJ memorabilia in Las Vegas, earning the ex-footballer a 33 year prison term. (He was released on parole in 2017.)
4. New Coke.
When a product is so iconic that it is considered an indivisible part of Americana, do not mess with it! Just like Kleenex, Q-Tips and other products that are sometimes used as the generic name for a class of products, Coca Cola (or “Coke”) is often used as a generic term for a soda (or pop, depending on where you live). Even people in other countries identify the United States with Coke, and yet, despite being the biggest selling soft drink in those United States, in 1985 the top secret formula of our favorite brown cola drink was changed! A marketing and business blunder of epic proportions, enough to make you wonder, “What were they thinking?” Sometimes business people make enormous mistakes about the design or marketing of a product, and history is replete with such examples. This particular example is one of the most iconic, virtually a generic example used to describe a corporate blunder!
5. Helmet mounted cannon.
Weapons are an area where human beings have demonstrated both incredible ingenuity and incredible stupidity. For this class of human endeavor we choose the helmet cannon as the most idiotic. Invented by Albert Bacon Pratt of Vermont, the idea of having a small cannon mounted to the front of a metal military helmet would certainly result in the snapping of the neck of any soldier dumb enough to actually try the device. This idiotic idea ranks up there with the helmet mounted parachute for sheer stupidity.
6. Coat Parachute.
They should call this guy Zweistein, because he was at least twice as smart as Einstein… NOT! In 1912, Franz Reichelt tested his own invention, a “coat parachute,” by jumping off the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He promised the authorities he would test it with a dummy before trying it on a human. Apparently, he was the dummy! Franz, a tailor by trade, used himself as the dummy and fell to his death. At least this guy’s stupid idea only got himself killed, sparing the rest of us.
7. Jarts/Lawn Darts.
The idea of a backyard game to be enjoyed by families having their picnics or barbecues is usually an ok plan, and something along the lines of horseshoes or corn hole games are a fine way to enjoy some friendly competition among friends and family. On the other hand, what is NOT a fine idea is to use a plastic circle as a target for large (15 or 18 inch) and heavy hand held darts designed to be lobbed several dozen feet by participants in a high arcing manner, with the weight of the heavy metal point rushing toward the turf where it gets buried in the ground to a depth of perhaps 3 inches. Apparently, the inventors of these games and the people that bought them (including the author’s family!) did not take a few things into account. One of the factors apparently not considered included alcohol. Beer and other alcoholic beverages are often found at outside gatherings where the Lawn Darts might be played by attendees, and mixing such alcoholic beverages with heavy metal things with points intended to be thrown around people milling about is such an obviously bad idea that it is amazing these things ever got approved for sale! Another factor is kids. Families often have children, and children are not known for good judgement and a sense of safety. Whether through a lack of careful attention or even misguided attempts to scare or even hit other people with the Lawn Darts, enough people responded to emergency rooms to have their heads repaired that these toys soon disappeared from the market, though not necessarily from suburban garages! Plus, if you (as we do), believe that a sizeable segment of the human population is just not that smart, you could easily foresee the potential for problems with such a game. Why did the inventors not see the potential for disaster? Stupid, stupid, stupid. That is why! Sales of this ill considered game were banned in 1987.
8. McNamara’s 100,000 Morons.
During the 1960’s the Vietnam War was being fought by Americans in a place far away and of questionable value to the security of our nation. Many Americans questioned the need or propriety of the war, and many railed against the military draft used to supply some of the soldiers, sailors airmen and Marines needed to man the armed forces of the USA in order to prosecute the war. The US Government needed an idea! They got one, appropriately from the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara who came up with the idea of hiring 100,000 people in the military that were of an intelligence level previously deemed too low (aka, stupid) for service with the US military. The so called “Project 100,000” saddled the military with a bunch of morons unfit for military service that endangered everyone around them, especially in combat. Imagine, if you will, coming up with the idea of hiring especially stupid people to give guns and high explosives to! Why, we believe the person coming up with such an idea must be the REAL idiot! Despite the name of the project, the Johnson administration (this was the 1960’s) actually enlisted over 350,000 such mentally defective men for service in the military, one of which reportedly had an IQ of 62! (Probably higher than McNamara’s…) Said a former US Army lieutenant about Secretary McNamara and his idiotic plan, “I think McNamara should be shot.”
9. Anne Boleyn marries Henry VIII.
Marriage possibly the most important choice or decision human people make, and when that decision is based on an idiotic idea or ideas, the results can be catastrophic. History is full of examples of bad choices for a spouse, and one of the most famous examples would be Anne Boleyn pursuing and marrying King Henry VIII of England. The second wife of King Henry VIII, her marriage to Henry in 1533 was the precipitating factor in the establishment of the Church of England when the Catholic Pope refused to grant Henry an annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Alas, Henry proved fickle and had his wife convicted on trumped up charges of adultery, incest and treason and then executed by beheading in 1536. Henry also had his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, executed by beheading (1542), this time for probably real crimes, but her execution is hardly remembered compared to the notorious execution of Anne. While Henry VIII is often portrayed as a capricious killer of wives, he only had these two wives executed out of his total of 6 wives. Come to think of it, Catherine Howard is probably the person we should cite as being incredibly stupid, both for marrying a guy known to have had a wife beheaded and then for cheating on that guy!
10. The Children’s Crusade.
The desire of the Christians to retake control of the Holy Lands from Islamic invaders resulted in several wars over those “Holy Lands” in the area of what is now Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and some surrounding areas. The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II in 1095, and over the next couple centuries the fortunes of war went back and forth between Christians and Muslims for control of the Holy Lands, most notably the city and areas around Jerusalem. Sometime around the Easter season of the year 1212, England was taken with a religious fervor to reclaim the Holy Lands from the Islamists, and supposedly vast numbers of children were inspired (by God?) to start traveling to the Holy Land in order to take it back for the Christians. The aim of these child crusaders was to do so through the power of persuasion rather than by the force of arms. French and German children were also so inspired, and a throng of children marched toward the Middle East, leaving Northern Europe and passing through the Italian peninsula. Hard to believe anyone would take advantage of such naïve kids, but unscrupulous people traffickers tricked the children into thinking they would transport the kids to the “Holy Land” but really just packed them off to be sold into slavery instead. Accounts of the “Children’s Crusade” vary, and some have just kids from France and Germany involved. Numbers are also hard to come by, but it does appear as though some sort of event occurred giving this ill conceived idea some historical credibility, if not quite as often portrayed. In any case, parents that would let their children go off on such an idiotic quest had to be pretty stupid, and the kids themselves had to be pretty gullible as well. In fact, the entire history of the Crusades is filled with examples of incredibly poor judgement. In no accounts do the children actually arrive in the Holy Land. (Written accounts first appeared around 1220.) In fact, there is some doubt as to whether or not the Children’s Crusade(s) happened at all. If the event did not happen, then the story exists as an apocryphal example of the stupidity of people.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is the dumbest idea you think belongs on this list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Gregory, Hamilton. McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War. Infinity Publishing, 2015.
Grimes, Tim. The Joy of Not Thinking: A Radical Approach to Happiness. Amazon, 2019.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Ron Shawley of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. This image, which was originally posted to Panoramio, was automatically reviewed on by Panoramio upload bot, who confirmed that it was available on Panoramio under the above license on that date.