This week’s Idiot of the Week is Mitt Romney.

Thumbs-up from Mitt Romney. He probably didn't approve this post but I wouldn't be so sure.

Thumbs-up from Mitt Romney. He probably didn’t approve this post but I wouldn’t be so sure.

Honestly, I didn’t want Romney to be at the top of the pile six weeks before the election. Mostly because I’m pretty sure that he’s going to do something really stupid between now and November 6, so I wanted to keep him in reserve. Also, having Romney propping up or topping the list week after week makes me look as though I’m primarily anti-Romney rather than merely anti-idiocy. But the plain mismanagement of his own campaign and lack of control over what he’s saying is now so bad that I couldn’t avoid observing that he’s put himself in the super idiot box (I don’t put people there – I just take note of where they are), even if I wanted to.

Political commentary last weekend was almost entirely devoted to Mitt Romney’s comments about not being able to open windows on planes. In case you missed it (and if you did, it was funny), Romney’s wife Ann was on a plane that had to make an emergency landing in Denver on Friday due to an electrical fire. A day later, Mitt Romney was at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills, where he said: “When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. So it’s very dangerous.”I’ve included video of the comments below. A few days after the report (and following what seemed like half the news sites on the Internet poking fun at Romney’s lack of understanding of why planes don’t have windows that can open), writer of the original pool report Ashley Parker was pretty clear that Romney was joking. That’s three days where every broadcast and Internet comedian had free rein to explain to Romney how planes work. He’s fighting a campaign that is completely failing to control the message getting to voters. What’s getting to voters is that he’s an idiot. Being blunt, his failure to control that message does, in fact, make him an idiot.

The comments attracted scorn from Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Steven Colbert. Rachel Maddow’s reaction was: “I don’t think he was joking because he couldn’t possibly joke about his wife being in a plane crash – you can’t possibly joke about that, especially with her standing right there.” No, you can. I could (mind you, I’m not married and maybe that’s part of the reason why). The key word is “almost”. There’s an entire planet of seven billion people out there, a chunk of whom use  humour as a defence or coping mechanism or an opportunity to make people giggle. I might even make such a joke in public if I happened to be running for president and that’s part of the reason that I’d probably lose. Mitt Romney may have been joking. If he was, he’s suddenly discovered an ability for deadpan humour that he’s never before exhibited, even as a political chameleon. Bob Dole famously said in his 1996 campaign that “If you want me to be Reagan, I’ll be Reagan.” If you want your president to be a deadpan comedian of the dark humoured variety, Romney’s probably willing to try that too, at least if there are six or seven votes in it.

Joking or not, various news outlets took the time to explain why planes don’t have windows that open. Here’s one, if you need to read it. None of them felt the need to include “Because fools would open them.” Those five words should have been enough of an explanation. I’m slightly surprised that none of the commentators cited what happened to a New York Port Authority patrol boat earlier this month when someone opened a below-waterline hatch to see if there was a piece of driftwood clogging the motor. Not surprisingly, it sank.

Last Wednesday, Romney was accused of dying his face brown for a Univision interview. It would be tempting to see this as evidence of a concerted Democratic smear campaign (of course there’s a Democratic smear campaign – there’s also a Republican smear campaign. US elections thrive on smear campaigns) but it was the second time in a week that he’d been browned up for a Latino audience – his face was as brown as a berry the previous Monday when he addressed the LA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Outside of these two occasions, he’s had the pasty-white pallor one would expect of a Michigan-born WASM. Once is unfortunate. Twice is… well, you don’t get fooled again. Romney and Obama were both interviewed on Univision and both audiences were stuffed with their own supporters. One way or another, these audiences usually are. Then again, if you’re going to insist on a re-tape and your tactic of bringing in supporters by bus gets highlighted by the show’s anchor, people will talk about you in an uncomplimentary manner.

Campaigning across Ohio this week, the Romney campaign hit another self-imposed obstacle on Tuesday when Mitt failed dismally in leading a “Romney, Ryan” chant in front of voters. MS-NBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ show played the clip from Dayton on Wednesday. It’s worth watching for the failed chant attempt alone but, even better, it includes Joe Scarborough’s reaction. He’s not particularly impressed. Despite the subtitles indicating a chant of “Ryan! Ryan!”, the crowd is obviously cheering for both (check out this 20-second c-span video and listen carefully) and it’s to MS-NBC‘s discredit that they don’t highlight that. But the shot of Romney playing failed cheerleader as he tries to get his own supporters to chant “Romney, Ryan” – not just in unison but even at all – is almost painful to watch. It’s like a cringeworthy episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ without the comedic premise.

 

When you’re in a position where Russian broadcasters are finding you a little worthy of pity, you’re probably heading for oblivion, apart from the post-midnight comedy circuit. Bloomberg’s poll (PDF link) from the beginning of this week has George W Bush viewed more favourably than Mitt Romney. In a weak economy with high unemployment, Romney should be in a perfect position to highlight to voters that he’s not the guy presiding over a weak economy and high unemployment. He’s reduced his foreign policy views to Bush-era hawkish chest-beating, making Obama’s foreign policy failures (and, yes, there are quite a few of those) look progressive by comparison. Voters don’t believe him and they don’t like him. They don’t relate to him, they don’t think that he relates to them and he’s losing to the president with the highest national unemployment levels since FDR ran for re-election in 1936. That’s incompetence at the Dan Quayle level. He’s reduced his 59-point economic plan to a simple statement that the economy will get better merely by virtue of his election as president. That’s incompetence at the level of someone who keeps walking into doors. He’s turned out to be his own worst enemy – every time he opens his mouth, it costs him votes.

Romney’s slump in the polls gave birth to what Jillian Rayfield on Salon.com labelled the ‘dumb tweet of the day‘ on Tuesday –  a plea to Sarah Palin to campaign for Romney/Ryan.

 

As Palin issued a statement to the Weekly Standard on Sunday, saying that Romney and Ryan “should ‘go rogue’ “, adding that “America desperately needs to have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment in discussing our big dysfunctional, disconnected, and debt-ridden federal government”, perhaps she’s listening, watching and waiting in the wings. Or she’s really annoyed at Julianne Moore. She didn’t clarify whether her proposed ‘come to Jesus’ moment involves a choice between kicking the money-lenders out of the local temple or kicking unmarried mothers out of the local welfare office.  It’s Sarah Palin, so it may be the latter.

Romney can still win and Obama can still lose. There are three presidential debates between now and November 6. Romney has had a full year of debates while Obama hasn’t had one in four years. Two jobs reports will be issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on October 5 and November 2. Bad news in either or both of those reports would hand the Romney campaign a tower of throwable fodder. In the final few weeks of the campaign, a staggering amount of money will be spent on TV adverts and the Romney-associated SuperPACs have more money to throw at the media than the Obama-associated ones.

In the meantime, Romney appears intent on closing as many of his own pathways to the presidency as he possibly can. He’s coming across as an idiot. I’d love to believe that this is an amazing meta-humour comment on the power of the media, the needs of the voter and the presentation of a presidential candidate in balancing form and function but that would make it the most expensive joke in history and Romney just isn’t that funny. Is he facing a hostile media that is now conditioned to assume that he’s gaffe-prone like his father in 1968? Yes. He’s facing that hostile media through his own poor decision-making though and his own tendency to say stupid thins. He deserves to be this week’s Idiot and might even re-earn that honour in the coming weeks. I’d like to think that he won’t, but he probably will.

 

Dishonorable mentions:

 

It’s not easy being Paris Hilton’s publicist.

Paris Hilton‘s publicist is having a few sleepless nights following the – dammit, what do I call her… ‘socialite’, yeah, that’ll do… – socialite’s comments about gay people being whisked on to the Internet faster than a house spinning in a Kansas hurricane. While she said “They’re disgusting. Dude, most of them probably have AIDS … I would be so scared if I was a gay guy. You’ll like, die of AIDS.”, the publicist has been at considerable reality-warping pains to point out that what she meant was to “express that it is dangerous for anyone to have unprotected sex that could lead to a life-threatening disease.” That’s nice.

 

Ig Nobel Prizes presented. Swinging ponytails are a hit

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded last week at MIT. It would be unfair to cast all winners into the idiot pit and I don’t propose to do so.  In the past, trivial research (even Ig Nobel prize-winning research) has led to some genuine breakthroughs. However, I can’t let the week of the Ig Nobel awards go by without noting it. People who approved spending money on some of this research should probably be chased out of their cosy offices. Prizes included:

  • Psychology: Anita Eerland, Rolf Zwaan and Tulio Guadalupe, for their study “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller”
  • Literature: The US Government General Accountability Office for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports
  • Physics: Joseph Keller, Raymond Goldstein, Patrick Warren and Robin Ball, for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail
  • Fluid dynamics: Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer, for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee (the paper was called ‘Walking with coffee. Why does it spill?’)

My favourite past Ig Nobel winner was in 2004, when five biologists won a prize for discovering that herrings communicate by farting. Silly as it seems, it had the knock-on effect of revealing that millions of krona spent by the Swedish government to guard their territorial waters from Soviet submarines could have been saved if they’d realised that they were instead chasing herrings having a chat.

 

No, Barack Obama, you took office in January 2009.

Barack Obama‘s not making as many stupid errors as Mitt Romney but, occasionally, he’s causing his own controversies by getting things wrong. Asked about Operation Fast and Furious at the Univision forum last Thursday, he opened by blaming his predecessor. “I think it’s important for us to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration”, he said. The Fast and Furious programme began in October 2009, nine months after he took office. Project Gunrunner, which was an ATF attempt to lessen the power of Mexican drug cartels by stopping the flow of firearms into Mexico, started in 2006 under the Bush administration. As part of that programme, Operation Wide Receiver was run by the ATF in 2006/07 to track gun shipments to high-level members of Mexican cartels by ignoring buyers of illegal guns until they reached a high-level target. In October 2009, Operation Fast and Furious started, largely using the same tactic of ‘gunwalking’. Barack Obama addressed problems with the operation in March 2011, saying that it was not authorised by him or by Attorney General Eric Holder. The operation was shut down. Obama’s presumably confusing Operation Fast and Furious with Project Gunrunner but, either way, Fast and Furious was begun under his administration, not under Bush’s.  You can’t blame everything on the previous administration.

 

All I wanted was a cuddle. And you cut me, right in the shoulder.

New York real estate agent David Villalobos was mauled by a Siberian tiger at the Bronx Zoo last Saturday after he jumped from an elevated train so that he could pet the tiger. While he briefly got his wish, the 400-pound cat attacked him and dragged him around the enclosure by his foot. He currently has “bites and punctures on his arms, legs, shoulders and back, as well as a broken right shoulder, right rib, right ankle and pelvis and a collapsed lung.” Zoo officials chased the animal away with a fire extinguisher. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told reporters that Villalobos said to detectives that “his leap was definitely not a suicide attempt, but a desire to be one with the tiger.” He’s been charged with misdemeanor trespassing as New York does not currently have an anti-stupidity law.
(note: I held off on posting this on facebook as I wanted to ensure that it wasn’t a suicide attempt or an action by someone with mental illness. I highlight stupidity rather than cravenly laughing at people with mental issues.)

 

Fox News: Pirates (totes awks) and fake interviewees (also a little bit awkward)

Not the best week for ‘Fox & Friends’ on Fox News. On Monday of last week, Gretchen Carlson terminated an interview with a “former Obama supporter” who gave bizarre answers to her questions (youtube link – 2 minutes long) about his political views. Presented as a college graduate who was now supporting Mitt Romney, aspiring standup comedian Mike Rice took part in the aborted interview, later telling Raw Story that he lied about his situation and views “just to see if they’d do their homework”. Producers had ten days to check the background of their chosen interviewee and… sort of forgot to bother. The video itself is below. It’s not funny, simply awkward, which is something of a missed opportunity for an aspiring standup comedian. I’m including it because it happened.

 

Last Thursday, ‘Fox & Friends’ presenters saw a joke picture of Barack Obama that had been taken in 2009 and retweeted for ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day’ and concluded that the current US President is currently too busy meeting with pirates to conduct foreign policy. Co-host Brian Kilmeade said “The White House doesn’t have the time to meet with the prime minister of Israel, but this pirate got a sit-down in the Oval Office yesterday.” Happy to display it a second time, the show also featured it as its Shot of the Morning. Before the show ended, they gave it a third showing, with the headline “Too busy for Israel”. The picture was from 2009 and used for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that year. Still, 2009, 2012 – in three hundred years, the difference won’t be all that significant.

 

Congressman Peter King: not concerned with facts

Peter King, US Representative for New York’s 3rd district, is pretty sure that Obama is on an apology tour as he travels around the United States and abroad. What’s interesting about his interview with Soleded O’Brien (youtube link: 2 minute video) on CNN’s ‘Starting Point’ on Monday last week is that he “doesn’t care what factcheck says” and will interpret what he hears as he sees fit.

Like Peter King (US Representative for New York’s 3rd district), I sometimes make up my own reality when I don’t like what’s around me. Just a bit, not too much. Unlike Peter King (US Representative for New York’s 3rd district), I can mostly tell the difference between what’s in my head and what’s in the outside world. Then again, unlike Peter King, I didn’t support the IRA throughout the 1980s, didn’t compare Gerry Adams to George Washington in 1985, didn’t fundraise for Noraid and didn’t (laughably, considering views of Irish people) abandon support for the IRA because Irish people mostly didn’t support the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yes, he thought that would tick off the Irish, exhibiting that he never quite understood the thing that he was rabbiting on about. Of course, support for terrorist organisations became less politically advantageous in the US around 9:30EST on September 11th, 2001. Scarily, he may have been asked to be the US Ambassador to Ireland – I suspect, to get him away from US soil. He’s now pretty sure that Obama is on an “I’m sorry” tour. I wonder if he knows that there’s a US presidential election this November. There’s a 2-minute video. Send me a Republican congressman/woman who isn’t a plonker, I’m looking partisan here. I’ll take suggestions.

Here’s the video of King on ‘Starting Point’. 2 minutes long.

 

Darwin Award nominee: Death fall from escalator handrail

59-year old Theodore Meiners fell thirty feet to his death last Thursday in Valdez, Alaska after he attempted to slide down the centre rail of a second-floor escalator at the city’s convention centre. He was attending the International Snow Science Convention. Eye witnesses said that he may have been drinking. Before his death, Meiners had been the National Ski Patrol Regional Avalanche Advisor for the Northern Intermountain Division in Alaska due to his research on avalanches. (yes, the inference I’m drawing is that the man understood what gravity is)

 

Shrink-wrapped bananas? Gott im Himmel!

A German-owned supermarket in Austria, took some heat last week for selling pre-peeled bananas packaged in plastic (link contains a picture)Billa, which advertises itself as the “common sense” supermarket, began selling the pre-peeled bananas last week. They also stopped selling the product last week, when critics arrived in waves to their facebook page, pointing out that bananas already come safely pre-wrapped in banana skins. Staff called it a “one off” mistake that would not happen again. Any plans that the company may have had for pre-peeled oranges and onions have, presumably, been abandoned.

The Also-Rans

 

Philippe Raines, personal spokesman for Hilary Clinton at the US State Department, told a reporter to “fuck off” in an email on Sunday. While government officials occasionally lose it with reporters, it’s not that typical from the US department responsible for international relations and diplomacy. You can read the full email exchange here. I suggest a quick ctrl+f for “fuck off”. It’ll save time.

The Powder Springs City Council in the US state of Georgia last week approved an application by a local shooting range to sell alcohol. They’ll sell the finest Tennessee sippin’ whisky. And bullets. Both for use on the premises.

E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, has such a penchant for bow ties that, since 2007, he’s spent $64,000 of his university-funded expenses on bow ties, bow tie cookies and bow tie pins. In an email to USA Today, an Ohio State Uni spokesman stressed that the bow tie purchases were not just for Gee’s personal use, saying that they were for “charitable auctions and other non-personal uses”. The bow tie fetish is a small part of the total expenses run up by the president since 2007, which total $7.7 million. In the same period, student fees have increased by 13.3%. As every Doctor Who fan knows, bow ties are cool when worn by a quirky time traveller. Probably not so much when it’s a university president though.

In the UK, a West Midlands Christian League soccer game last Saturday had to be abandoned when a fight broke out between rival teams Zion Athletic and Common Ground United. An argument over a penalty turned into a fight, ignoring the league rules that player behaviour is expected to be “morally, decently and ethically sound of action and speech, honouring the name of Jesus Christ”. The players are expected to be banned from the league for up to a year and from heaven until 2050.

 

And finally…

A look at least week’s idiots couldn’t be complete without a reference to the NFL and the replacement referees that they hired. There, that’s done. Also, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still isn’t doing himself any favours.