This week’s Idiot of the Week is James Reilly, Irish Minister for Health.

James Reilly, Irish Minister for Health. He's the one with the giant scissors.  Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

James Reilly, Irish Minister for Health. He’s the one with the giant scissors. Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

There’s one sentence that became very important in Irish politics over the past few decades: “I’ll sort ye out, lads”. It was a sentence that preserved political and financial power for people who already had it and acted as a stepping stone for those who didn’t have it but wanted it. It accompanied shady planning decisions, dodgy financial transfers, nods, winks, conveniently closed eyes, choreographed shuffles and brown cash-packed envelopes handed over with the knowing smile of a guest at a Mafia wedding. By 2011 it was almost-universally seen as synonymous with Fianna Fail, who had been in government since 1997.

The Fine Gael party swept to power in Ireland in 2011, surfing a wave of disgust with a political system rotten to its core and an economy blown apart by years of nod’n’wink political mismanagement under Fianna Fail. While there are some tasks faced by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government that are extremely troublesome, such as growing unemployment, a nightmare-inducing financial sector and government expenditure much higher than taxation income, some tasks are remarkably simple, like avoiding the corruption of their predecessors to a level where even the hint of corruption should be the equivalent of a “Danger” sign hitting them in the face.

Enter James Reilly, appointed as Minister for Health by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in March 2011. Reilly was one of Kenny’s core supporters in the challenge to his party leadership in 2010. When the challenge failed, Reilly reaped part of the benefit, being appointed deputy leader of Fine Gael. Without the actions of Reilly and Michael Noonan (now Minister for Finance) in supporting Enda Kenny throughout that challenge to his party leadership, Kenny would now be sitting on the parliamentary back benches, watching someone else lead the country. Irish political careers rely on grace and favour as much as they ever have. James Reilly’s reward was to be appointed as Deputy Leader of Enda Kenny’s party and as Minister for Health when the party came to power after the next general election. There was a debt to be paid for his support and that debt was paid.

The Irish health system is in a mess and has been for some considerable time. It has a budget out of control. Its accounting practices have failed to meet recognised standards. Confidential medical records have not remained secured. Tallaght Hospital is using a bank overdraft to remain open. Some of these problems can be blamed on the previous government led by Fianna Fail. Others are indicative of a system that is behaving like an unbroken stallion, with James Reilly standing at the edge of the paddock, praying that it will calm down.

On its own, all that this would indicate is a lack of ability to have any aspect of control over the Irish health system. The previous Minister, Mary Harney, had little direction to give the unbroken stallion, failing to keep spending to a reasonable level in a government department that had its budget expended year-on-year, even as administrators promised to get spending under control. Mere lack of competence isn’t usually enough to be declared Idiot of the Week.

However, Reilly’s actions go beyond the apparent inability to control a scary monster. For almost a decade, Irish governmental policy on healthcare is to supplement a diminished number of hospitals with primary care facilities, which are intended to house teams of doctors. The more expensive hospitals will then cater exclusively for serious medical cases. Selection of locations for additional primary care centres has been high on James Reilly’s task list since taking office. When the list of selected locations was published in September, the list of thirty locations selected by the HSE had five additional locations included, two of which were in Reilly’s electoral constituency. Based on the selection criteria, Balbriggan was in 44th place and Swords was 130th (both in north Dublin, from an initial list of 200 locations). Between the “final” selection and the release of the list, both locations almost magically jumped the selection order and became part of a new list of 35. While Reilly attempted to explain the change in the rankings as a result of changes to the criteria made by junior Minister Roisin Shortall, the Irish Times demonstrated that the rankings were not affected by her decision. Her later decision to resign as Junior Minister affected much more: it brought the magical ranking changes into public view.

James Reilly added extra primary care sites, including two in his own constituency, without explaining to anyone why these had been added. An explanation still hasn’t been provided, apart from a statement that the criteria had been changed back to earlier requirements. and calling it a “logistical, logarithmic progression” (which in political-speak generally means either “I don’t know” or “I’m not telling”). Changing these requirements had the added convenience of including two care centres in his own electoral area. Defending his decision in Dáil Éireann, he said that the two towns had been selected as important locations for primary care before he became Minister for Health. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn backed Reilly’s position, saying that the site had been selected by the previous Minister, Mary Harney. Unfortunately for Quinn’s statement, it turned out that the previous minister had been looking at a different site. Ruairi Quinn later got angry that he’d misled elected representatives by being fed false information. Reilly admitted that what he’d said wasn’t correct.

The owner of the site, Fine Gael supporter and property developer Seamus Murphy claimed that he knew James Reilly “from the television“. A picture was found and published of the two of them smiling in a picture at a fundraiser. Reilly insisted that he has no business relationship with Murphy. I suppose it depends on the definition of the word “business” – he used Murphy’s premises as an electoral base in at least one election.

James Reilly is now in the position where his actions and reactions can be seen as incompetent at best. To political commentators, they smell of guilt. Worse still, he’s acting as the focal point for the growing belief that when Irish citizens elected the government of which he’s a part, they merely replaced one group of self-serving corrupt incompetents with a similar group brandishing a different logo.

It isn’t even enough to be clean – after the years of corruption under their predecessors in government, they have to be seen to be clean. The current Irish government has failed on both counts. With vague answers, incorrect retorts and a relaxed attitude to misleading his own parliament, he current Minister for Health has failed on both counts. If it is “stroke politics” and “I’ll sort ye out, lads”, it’s precisely what the electorate expressed disdain for at the ballot box. If it isn’t stroke politics, it idiotically looks just like it, walks like it and even quacks like it. Either way, Ireland’s health minister either qualifies as this week’s Idiot of the Week or is, amazingly, overqualified for it and, thus, deserves the award with double oak-leaf clusters. He’s provided a smorgasbord of idiocy. It would be an injustice to give this week’s award to anyone else.

Dishonourable mentions:


Barack Obama – worst foot forward

Barack Obama has never been the world’s best debater. His debate win against John McCain in 2008 happened largely because McCain peppered his speeches with bursts of “my friends” as though the watching audience was engaged in a chorus of “Kumbaya”. In this year’s first presidential debate on October 3, Obama forgot to mention the weaknesses in Mitt Romney’s tax policy (specifically the parts that involve borrowing 5 trillion dollars to pay for it), didn’t mention Romney’s career with Bain Capital, ignored Romney’s infamous comments about the 47% and generally allowed the former Massachusetts governor to blow by him like a rogue pilot stealing a fighter jet. Ignoring these obvious points and shuffling his shoes gave Romney a debate win that was so obvious that even Democrats couldn’t argue with it. Gallup polling showed that Romney scored what is probably the biggest debate win in recorded post-debate polling history. Reportedly, Obama thought that he’d won the debate. Er, no, he didn’t. We all have off-days (I spent most of last Sunday sleeping, eating cheese and watching Men In Black 3) and one poor performance in a single debate will not cost Obama the election. However, another two similar performances in the remaining debates probably would.

Twelve hours later and still in Colorado, Barack Obama had the quips and answers that he needed the night before (youtube video: 7 minutes). 70 million people watched the Romney/Obama debate. Far fewer saw Obama’s jokes about Big Bird on C-Span the day after. Zero points for timing. Based on Romney’s ability and attitudes, this election race should have been over weeks ago, rather than warming up now. Somehow, in 42 minutes of talking, Obama made it a contest again. Obama came as Uncle Fluffy rather than Dr Jekyll and allowed Romney’s Mr Hyde to run rings around him. Twelve hours later, Obama effectively emphasised that he’s far better with a teleprompter telling him what to say. While some commentators are desperately pushing the notion that it’s a ploy from the Obama camp, another ploy like that may result in Barack Obama booking a house-mover for January 2013. It’s not quite enough to be Idiot of the Week but it’s first in the runner-up list.


Ah, Todd, you’re at it again.

Remember Todd Akin? By now, you may have forgotten his comments about “legitimate rape”. If you, have, never mind – he’s got new things to make him noteworthy. Speaking at a town hall debate on September 28, Akin declared his opposition to equal pay when asked about pay differences between men and women. His comments came a single day after he offered his view that incumbent senator for Missouri Claire McCaskill was “much more ladylike” in 2006. The same day, one of Akin’s consultants compared him to David Koresh… and meant it as a compliment. With friends like that (charging by the hour), who needs enemies or opponents, especially when reporters are choosing, of all people, fellow Missourians Jeff Smith and Rod Jetton to give their views on Akin’s gaffes. Here’s the bit from the town hall:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “You voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Why do you think it is okay for a woman to be paid less for doing the same work as a man?”
AKIN: “Well, first of all, the premise of your question is that I’m making that particular distinction. I believe in free enterprise. I don’t think the government should be telling people what you pay and what you don’t pay. I think it’s about freedom. If someone wants to hire somebody and they agree on a salary, that’s fine, however it wants to work. So, the government sticking its nose into all kinds of things has gotten us into huge trouble.”

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was a small but significant piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives and Senate in January 2009. Arising from the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), it changed the conditions under which a 180-day statute of limitations on filing an equal pay lawsuit. Akin’s beef isn’t with the Ledbetter Act. He’s got a problem with women being paid the same amount for doing the same work – in other words, his problem is with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While in an ideal world, employers and employees would be able to negotiate freely on pay, that same ideal world wouldn’t have discrimination based on sex, race, religion and so on. When we get the latter, the former may be possible. Akin’s views on the inviolability of freedom appear to extend only to the convenience of paying a woman (or a black person, a legal immigrant, someone of a different religion, take your pick) less than a WASP or preserving his ‘A’ rating with the NRA. It doesn’t apply when someone wants an abortion (yes, I realise that there are some rational people who are anti-abortion but if you’re going to cite “freedom” as a convenient basis for non-interference by government, it’s either all-in or nothing-in) or when he says that his opponent is “aggressive” and not as “ladylike” as last time. In other words, “freedom” is a word that Todd Akin likes to use when it coincides with his own views. When it doesn’t, it might as well be something from the pit of hell. Speaking of which…


Evolution, embryology, big bang: lies straight from the pit of hell

Congressman Paul Broun (Republican – Georgia) had some harsh words to say about evolution, embryology and the big bang at a speech in front of supporters at the Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. Specifically, he called them “lies straight from the pit of Hell”. Although his speech was made at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet last month (September 27), the video of the event was made public by talkingpointsmemo this week. Broun said: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

Yes, embryology is what you think it is – the scientific study of the development of an embryo between egg fertilisation and fetus stage. Broun will be aware of that because he’s a practising physician and points out several times on his own web page that he’s a doctor.

As a Republican congressman from the great state of Georgia, one would almost expect Broun to have misgivings about evolution, the big bang and the earth being older than a few thousand years. That’s par for the course where the sun rarely shines. Declaring that dinosaur bones are real loses a lot of votes in some places. But calling embryology a lie “straight from the pit of hell”? He’s a doctor, with a degree in chemistry. For a doctor who doesn’t spend his time conjuring rain for his villagers, that’s like denying gravity or heat energy. Somewhere along his life path, someone must have hit him on the head with a big clawhammer. He’s running unopposed for Congress in Georgia’s 10th district. A petition to oust Broun from his position on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee has picked up 40,000 signatures in the past few days. No Democrat would run against him in the election. With an election in a month, that’s the only paper vote that counts. In other words, he’ll be voting on federal legislation for at least another two years. Best of luck with that, folks.

The full video is here but you just want the good bits so here (youtube link: 1min24sec) you go. Just remember – Paul Broun: Congressman, lawmaker, doctor, chemistry degree-holder, embryology denier, running unopposed this November. Residents of Georgia, you built that.



China: New aircraft carrier! Whoops, no aircraft to land on it.

China has launched an aircraft carrier (purchased from Ukraine and refurbished) to protect Chinese waters and show off Chinese military power. Unfortunately, they don’t have any aircraft capable of landing on the ship and don’t have any pilots trained to land the non-existent fighters, even if they had them (which they don’t). The Chinese Ministry of Defence said that the aircraft carrier will help the country “to effectively protect national sovereignty, security and development interests”. American Navy officials have previously said that they would encourage China to build its own aircraft carrier as it would be a waste of money. China, you fail at being scary.


Hotel “won’t be open to Chinese”

While China fails at being scary, French fashion designer Thierry Gillier might be wary of visiting Beijing any time soon after he declared that a new hotel he’s designing “won’t be open to Chinese tourists“. He made the remarks to Women’s Wear Daily magazine when describing the luxury hotel scheduled to open in Paris in 2014. Mr Gillier reportedly urged the magazine to change his words from “Chinese tourists” to “busloads of tourists”. Chinese weibo users were not impressed.


Video Games – also from the PIT OF HELL

Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen is shocked, shocked, horrified! that state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz spends some of her time playing an Orc in World of Warcraft, stabbing creatures in video games rather than stabbing prostitutes, or other things that I just made up as an assumption of what he’d prefer.

In fairness, Lachowicz probably shouldn’t have typed “I like stabbing things” (not mentioned in this report but it has been in others) as it looks bad from someone running for office. It’s more than balanced by Sorensen talking about her “bizarre double life” though as though she’s some sort of Jame Gumb character. David Sorensen nominated a fake slate of Ron Paul delegates at the Maine GOP convention last May in an attempt to fiddle the results. Maine’s been troublesome for the Romney campaign. He may just have put Colleen Lachowicz in the position of getting some extra votes from people who like to play games, even if they’re not usually Orc-friendly.


This is a bomb. Meep Meep! PS: where’s the camera guy?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took his chance at the UN General Assembly to warn the world about Iran’s nuclear programme. To the joy of the world’s political satirists, he demonstrated his worries using a picture of a bomb (youtube link, 3 minutes) that might have been designed by the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. In case no-one knew what he was talking about, he pointed out that it was a bomb, that it had a fuse and that a red line should be drawn on Iran’s nuclear programme. He even drew a red line on the picture, using a thick red felt pen. In case you’re wondering, that red line needs to be drawn near the top, near the fuse and certainly before Iran’s coyote gets his hands on a large elastic band or a sign reading “Oops”.


Mahmoud Amhadinejad, president of Iran, had his own little embarrassment following his UN speech (I could include the speech but you already know it condemned the West and Israel for being warmongers so it’d be like watching a re-run of a suspense movie that you’ve already seen). Having brought a delegation of 140 people with him to New York (in fairness, someone has to make the tea, someone has to carry the tea, someone has to buy the unobtainable basics…), his cameraman defected to the US while he was there. Hassan Gol Khanban told fellow delegates that he was nipping out to the drugstore and never came back. The United Nations’ reaction was “meh“.


Hey, doesn’t the piping on that blouse look a lot like a…

Online fashion retailer ASOS somehow thought that this would make an excellent addition to their Autumn collection. Yes, it’s a woman’s blouse with a (presumably unintentional) penis design on the front. To be fair, ASOS describes its collection thus: “Directional, exciting and diverse, the ASOS Collection makes and breaks the fashion rules.” Yes, folks, it does. Machine washable.


Wanted: Female for Dungeons and Dragons stag night. Topless preferred.

An unidentified chap in Maryland is running a stag night for a few friends and advertised on craigslist for a “woman with Dungeon Master experience in Dungeons and Dragons… preferable that cup size be at least C or greater.” One of them is getting married but has somehow never before seen a woman or known how to talk to her about anything other than trolls or boobs. I suspect that there is no wedding. Don’t all rush at once.

The Also-Rans


Fiti Aina and Rocky Tua, two prison officers in Pago Pago (American Samoa) were charged last week with letting prisoners go free, after they sent them on beer runs to a local store. When the prisoners weren’t buying beer for their guards, they were filling coffee and cookie orders. The beer runs were revealed when beer was found in a prison cell.

The Red Flower Chinese Restaurant in Williamsburg, Kentucky, has been forced to close because it got caught bringing road-kill into the kitchen in a garbage can. Customers noticed when workers at the restaurant left a blood trail after the bin they were pushing. Car-killed deer. Yummy. Still, at least it wasn’t a stray cat.

Ke$ha claims to have had sex with a ghost. No, dear, you haven’t. That was your imagination. She didn’t mention whether he looked like Mick Jagger or was kicked to the kerb, which is what the world really needs to know.

Some fans of One Direction are a bit nuts. It should be noted, though, that this is what happens when you repeatedly try to reach out to the, um, kool kids by swearing at them, like “The Voice” (it’s a singing competition on the telly) host Eoghan McDermott does. Eventually, they talk back to you in the same manner and no-one is all that surprised except for journalists who write about twitter.

The Fars News Agency in Iran republished a report that said that rural white Americans would rather vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (president of Iran) than Barack Obama (president of the United States). Unfortunately for the remaining reputation of the agency, it was a verbatim reprint from The Onion. In some parts of the midwest, it may well be true but that’s not the point. Link includes a screenshot.


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 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.

This week’s Idiot of the Week winner is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Con artist, piss artist, idiot. We don't shoot people for idiocy. Idiots, however, do.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Con artist, piss artist, idiot. We don’t shoot people for idiocy. Idiots, however, do.

Nakoula is the writer and producer of “Innocence of Muslims”, a film intended to do little more than cause reactionary Muslims to react.

Filmed last year, the footage was uploaded to Youtube by Nakoula last July. It went largely unnoticed until early September, when Egyptian-American blogger Morris Sadek uploaded trailers for the film dubbed into Arabic. Sadek also emailed journalists with links to the 14-minute version of the film. Following the September 8th broadcast of excerpts of the Youtube video by Egyptian Islamist station Al-Nas TV, riots resulting in deaths broke out on September 11th in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. Smaller protests, some of them peaceful, were reported in other countries. The peaceful protesters are probably overreacting but the violent rioters are idiots. Dangerous, misguided, murderous idiots.

While Nakoula has claimed that the movie was funded by $5 million in contributions from a hundred Jewish donors, ABC News reported that he financed the effort with about $50,000 raised from his family in Egypt. He adopted the alias ‘Sam Bacile’ when funding and making the film, claiming to be an Israeli real estate developer. This was the latest in a string of about fifteen aliases he’s used in a career that has previously spanned tax evasion, illegal drug manufacturing, identity theft and bank fraud.

Cast and crew members involved in the film released a statement on Wednesday, saying that they “were grossly misled about its intent and purpose.” The casting call in 2011 for the film called it ‘Desert Warrior’, saying that it was a historical drama set in Arabia. Nakoula redubbed the film, adding a Mohammed character and drastically changing the storyline.

Ali Hosseini Khameini, former president of Iran (1981 to 1989)and current Supreme Leader, blamed “evil Zionists” and the US for the film. As we know, Iranian Ayatollahs tend to equate the two and, in any case, Khameini views the world in the simplistic manner of a toddler. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current President of Iran, is basically a nutter (seriously, folks – last week, he accused Iran’s enemies of destroying rain clouds before they reach Iran) so it worries me greatly that he’s the sane one at the top of the Iranian regime. As Israeli leaders also have a tendency to view the universe in simple black and white terms, the entire area is no more sane than it’s ever been.

Nakoula and Khameini are two blokes who wouldn’t particularly object to a holy war between Muslim extremists and non-Muslim extremists, with everyone else caught in the crossfire. It would be easy to put Nakoula in the box reserved for common or garden idiots if he just made a bad movie by himself without realising that angry people would get violent. What Nakoula actually did was rather more sinister. He adopted an alias (not for the first time) to con actors and technical personnel into making a movie that was significantly different from what they believed they were making and has probably put them in some danger from the crazy sort of religious groups who come to your door carrying an axe and pitchfork. One actress featured in the film has already stated that members of her family have been threatened. While protection of freedom of speech is just as important when considering bad art as it is when considering good art, it’s not as though Nakoula was responsible for anything as meritorious as ‘The Satanic Verses‘. (I have a paperback copy. It’s a tough read and not as good as ‘Midnight’s Children’)

Regardless of whether his film is a genuine attempt to depict how he sees Mohammed, a straightforward attempt to annoy all the Muslims on the planet or a quick Producers-style con attempt to take a few million from investors and use $50,000 of it to make a bad movie that no-one wants to see (unlikely but possible), no-one can dispute that he’s put innocent people in harm’s way, both directly (people involved in the film he made, thinking they were filming something else) and indirectly (victims of the riots and attacks caused by the film’s publicity). On that basis, his actions are beyond idiocy and are probably in the stupid tosser loon category, but I don’t award a prize for that each week. He deserves the Idiot of the Week prize, with oak clusters.

I don’t particularly care who makes a movie depicting Mohammed as either a deceitful slave-owning military butcher who married his seven year old cousin or a genuine prophet personally advised and guided by a genuine deity. There should be nothing wrong with considering whether his revelations were real or, if they weren’t, whether they came from his subconscious or were a deliberate attempt to deceive his followers. This could and should be true of anyone who claims to have been spoken to by burning bushes, visiting angels or golden tablets. In large parts of the Middle East, that’s not the case and, mostly, that’s their problem. I’ve never particularly understood why God doesn’t do his own smiting if there’s a need for it but, apparently, that’s not an issue for many people.

If you feel like wasting thirteen minutes of your life (be honest – you’ve watched at least one Adam Sandler comedy), you can check out what’s been released of the movie here. But be warned: it’s pretty bad. I don’t mean “blasphemous” bad. I mean critically awful in a way that makes ‘Jack and Jill‘ look good by comparison. But you may as well know what caused all the hullabaloo.


Dishonourable mentions:


And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for some meddling kid

Mitt Romney continues to push himself out of contention in the US Presidential elections. was sent a copy of a semi-informal talk he gave on May 17th at a Boca Raton fundraiser and released the video footage on Monday. You can watch his remarks on the 47% of voters that he thinks will vote for Obama rather than him, regardless of policies, here (it’s just over a minute long):

This is the sentence that will haunt him: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” After a late-night scramble by Romney personnel, the candidate said that his comments were merely “a snippet” and quoted out of context. So I’m including the whole video here.

If you have time, the full video is available in two half-hour segments. Here’s the first half-hour:

Here’s the second: reported that the video recorder was inadvertently turned off between the two segments, resulting in about two minutes of Romney’s words being lost. The site was thorough enough to offer a text transcription of the entire speech.

On Saturday, former candidate for the Republican Party nomination Rick Santorum was busy telling attendees at the Values Voter Summit in DC that the media and “smart people” will never be on the side of conservatives: “We will never have the elite, smart people on our side.”

Since Romney’s comments were leaked, the presidential candidate has stood by what he said. He may have forgotten to tell his vice-presidential running mate. Backing Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan called Romney’s comments “obviously inarticulate”.

Here’s a map containing the states with the highest proportions of people who don’t pay federal income tax:

It probably won’t come as a complete surprise that most of these are states that Romney is depending on for votes. Without these states, he can’t win the election. The Washington Post highlighted how dependent Romney is on what they termed “moocher states“.

Now, let’s check out who’s not paying federal income tax and why. 46-47% of Americans don’t pay federal income tax. About half of these people aren’t liable for it because their incomes are low (see this report from the Tax Policy Center) so  the federal government’s tax exemptions and allowances exclude them. Of the remainder, the vast majority are old people who get an extra deduction and low-income working families with children.

I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m not entirely convinced that Romney actually wants to win this election. He’s taken the time to insult a large chunk of voters, many of whom live in states that are expected to vote Republican in November. Rick Santorum is off his leash and is implying that dumb people vote Republican, while Paul Ryan is calling Romney “inarticulate”. As I’ve said before, this is not how a winning campaign is run. This isn’t how I’d run a presidential campaign unless I planned on losing. In particular, Matt Rhoades and Gail Gitcho (campaign manager and communications director) need to take a long hard look in the mirror and pull the reins on their candidates and associated hangers-on – in other words, do what they’re supposed to be doing. If Romney actually wants to win this election, it would help him greatly if he stopped shooting himself in the foot. The dance that follows isn’t particularly enticing to voters. It may even be too late for him to steal from Clinton’s 1992 tactic to make the election about the economy. The hardcore conservative Republicans probably don’t care as Romney isn’t quite right-wing enough for them anyway. They’d probably be happy to lose a hundred elections as long as they can slide someone backward enough for their liking into the job just once. Every time Romney’s opened his mouth in the past few months, all he’s done is lose votes. Perhaps a pledge of silence might help, though he’s probably beyond redemption by now.


My neck? That’s definitely not my battered girlfriend

Chris Brown (well-known as a singer and domestic violence practitioner) swears that his new neck tattoo is a representation of a Mexican sugar skull, commemorating Dia de los Muertos. To the rest of the world, it looks like a near-perfect representation of his ex-girlfriend’s face after he beat her. Perhaps he asked for a sugar skull. Maybe he still thinks that it looks like a sugar skull. In any case, it looks like a beaten woman. I prefer to think that the tattooist deliberately made it look like Rihanna’s beaten face as a permanent reminder to everyone what Chris Brown is like when he doesn’t get his own way. There are some women who since 2009 have tweeted that they wouldn’t mind if Chris Brown hit them too. They’re also idiots. Stickers were placed on Chris Brown albums in the Cambridge branch of HMV last week by a women’s group at Cambridge University, asking people not to buy his CDs as he “beats women”.


Kelvin MacKenzie eats hamsters but only because he’s told to

Kelvin McKenzie‘s long been a figure of controversy in British media circles. As editor of The Sun between 1981 and 1994, he rarely (if ever) had a problem running stories that were later proved to be untrue. His crowning moment probably came in April 1989, when he ran a front page about the Hillsborough Stadium deaths at the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Under the main headline ‘THE TRUTH’,  the paper claimed that Liverpool fans had urinated on dead bodies, picked pockets of dead fans and attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims. While The Sun wasn’t the only national newspaper that printed the accusations, it was the only national daily that made it clear that they should be believed. MacKenzie overruled his own journalists and insisted on framing the report as an accusation. Having expressed regret in 1994 for the front page report, MacKenzie withdrew the apology in 2006, saying that Sun owner Rupert Murdoch had forced him to apologise and that “all [he] did wrong there was tell the truth”.

The (probable) final apology from MacKenzie came last week, following the report (PDF link) of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which had been instructed by the British government to investigate the disaster. The panel found that the cause of the deaths was a lack of police control, exonerating the fans that had been accused by The Sun. The newspaper itself had already apologised for the accusations in 2004 and issued another apology last Friday, two days after the panel released its report. Liverpool residents are unlikely to be impressed by the apology – circulation of the newspaper in the city has been tiny since the initial accusations and most newsagents refuse to sell it. Kelvin MacKenzie’s apology, somewhat typically, blamed everyone else: “I too was totally misled. Twenty three ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium. I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster.” The full text can be read here.

Steve Bell, cartoonist for The Guardian, offered his pictorial view of the apologies from The Sun and Kelvin MacKenzie. Trevor Hicks, the chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, summed up his feelings towards MacKenzie’s apology quite simply: “It is too little, too late. He’s a low-life. A clever low-life… but a low-life.” MacKenzie belongs on this list for one simple reason: not his initial front page (after all, newspapers make mistakes and sometimes they’re large mistakes) but rather his continued insistence that his front page was correct and fair, years after everyone else recognised that it was anything but. He still believes that it wasn’t his fault. On Tuesday of this week, Channel 4 news reporter Alex Thomson tried a more pointed approach to get a comment from MacKenzie. He didn’t get very far.



Leave the gun, take the cannoli. No gun? Just take the cannoli.

Cannoli dealers in Boston can breathe easy, now that knife-wielding tourist Robert McTernan is returning to the auld sod of Ireland. The 25 year old tourist was convicted on Monday of brandishing a knife as he stole two cannoli from Bova’s Bakery in Boston’s North End neighbourhood. The judge ordered him to return to Ireland and do 50 hours of community service. Mr McTernan is a chartered accountant. There’s probably a slight regret at the UCD Quinn School of Business that he’s featured in their current prospectus as a highlighted former student but they’ll get over it, Things cannoli get better (yes, I know, I’ll get my coat).

The also-rans

The UK Independence Party (usually known as UKIP) is dropping the pound sign from its logo and changing its name to UKIP, in an attempt to broaden its appeal. Yes, they’re changing their name from UKIP to UKIP.

Vladimir Putin, winner of last week’s Idiot of the Week award, has admitted that some of his camera-friendly wildlife stunts are staged, mainly for the benefit of six mostly-blind Russian pensioners who may have thought that he’s actually a bear-wrestling, tiger-shooting superman who’s loved by endangered cranes.

Late update from the Democratic National Convention: as retired Admiral Nathman honoured American veterans in Charlotte, the ships on the screen behind him emphasising US naval power were actually Soviet warships. Nathman’s men probably fired shots at some of them and definitely stalked them at night in darkened submarines. Now they’re creeping behind him at political party conventions.

Halliburton has lost a radioactive device (link includes a picture) somewhere in west Texas. If you trip over it, you’ll wish that you had stayed 25 feet away from it. Don’t eat it.

Two German master criminals had to make do with two chocolate bars and a piggy bank containing 20 cents when they robbed a shop in Dusseldorf last weekend. Police are searching for two men carrying chocolate and eating a plastic pig.

Every news outlet that published nude photos of the Duchess of Cambridge. The woman has breasts. So does every other woman on the planet. Get over it. Let’s call a spade a spade: anyone who bought a paper to see Kate Middleton’s nipples is an idiot. Whatever about models, actors or actresses who strip off and get paid for it, encouraging photographers to take pictures of people who are out sunning themselves disrobed with reasonable privacy expectations is plain sick. Regardless of whether that person is famous, not famous or got married to someone who lives in a big house because his ancestor won the battle of Bosworth Field. No, I don’t care if you feel insulted by that.

Trial to watch: Kweku Adoboli, a former trader with UBS in London, is accused of gambling away 2.3 billion dollars in unauthorised trades and hidden transactions between October 2008 and September 2011. There’s also a more recent update on the trial from the Washington Post. They’re the sort of concealed losses that make Nick Leeson‘s hidden trades in Singapore look like chicken feed. This would be leading every news report if we weren’t used to commodity traders treating the financial markets as a convenient place to urinate.

This week’s Idiot of the Week is Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

What Putin really thinks of cranes. Photo from his trip to the Construction Design Bureau in Tula in 2009. Photo via KPA / Zuma / Rex Features.

What Putin really thinks of cranes. Photo from his trip to the Construction Design Bureau in Tula in 2009. Photo via KPA / Zuma / Rex Features.

Putin’s most recent “look at me!” stunt, last Wednesday, was a motorised glider attempt to lead endangered cranes to start their annual migration to their winter homes in India and Iran. Reporting for the BBC, Daniel Sandford called it “his latest action man stunt(link includes a video). Fewer than twenty Western Siberian white cranes are believed to survive in the wild so the trip was rather important for species survival. Mariya Goncharova, a biology student working at the bird sanctuary, claimed on Russian social networking site that two of the chicks died and several others were injured in the haste to prepare the birds for Putin’s arrival. She said that “One more broke a beak and stripped its claws off on bad netting, and many simply flayed themselves”. Her post was deleted a few hours after it was posted. Less a flight of mercy or hope and more a straightforward photo op, then. It’s fine when politicians have their picture taken next to a toothy girl grinning inanely but if it was a genuine effort to restore the birds to the wild, then it was little more than an idiotic effort with Putin’s involvement.

Having faced ridicule from some Russians for his latest photo-op, Putin hit back at naysayers on Sunday, saying “It’s true that not all flew right away, but the ones that didn’t fly were the weak cranes.” On Putin’s first attempt, only one crane followed him into the air. His second attempt was more successful, with five cranes following his glider but only two birds remained in flight for the full fifteen minutes of his flight. Putin appears to have forgotten that his supposed purpose was to guide endangered birds into the air, rather than engage in a modern form of Spartan population culling.

On Thursday, Putin was pondering the benefits of group sex. Not that anyone actually asked him what he thought of multiple partner rumpy pumpy but he decided to tell everyone anyway: “Some fans of group sex say that it’s better than one-on-one because, as with any collective work, you can skive off”. Yes, Vlad, we get it. You’d like us to remember that you have any Russian woman you like. And if they’re not that willing initially, you can send their families to a gulag or to the darkest part of the matryoshka doll factory where they do nothing but paint noses. You’ve got your finger on the button for all the Russian nuclear warheads that haven’t rusted away and we’re pretty sure that, deep deep down, you want to launch a few just for kicks. Though at least while Putin is flying with cranes or fighting sickly bears, he’s not invading small countries to make awesome displays of Most Feared And Unified Russia so perhaps we should be thankful.

Putin may see himself as the latest man of steel to rule over the steppes (and beyond) but to the rest of the world it just looks like he’s overcompensating for being kicked in the schoolyard in his youth. Those Вовочка jokes (“Vovochka” is a diminutive form of Vladimir) so loved by Russians may not have helped. He’s ruling over the world’s largest organised kleptocracy, with a penchant for corruption that would make Al Capone proud. Unfortunately, his control over the Russian press and the ballot box keeps him in power. While that still exists, we’re likely to see quite a few more years of Putin continuing his testosterone compensatory outings while corruption continues unabated and possibly a few more decades of it if he finds someone to replace him. He’s this week’s Idiot and I expect him to feature at the top a few more times before he pushes off. One day, I’ll post one of these pictures but not quite yet.


Dishonourable mentions:


DNC delegate would like to kill Mitt Romney

Julia Rodriguez, a New York delegate at last week’s Democratic National Convention, has been questioned by the US Secret Service after declaring on camera that she’d like to kill Mitt Romney. Asked on the convention floor for her views by a reporter from, she said “If I see him, I would like to – to kill him(link includes 50-second video of the interview) in relation to Romney. Presidential candidates are assigned Secret Service protection for the duration of the campaign. In the video, she’s wearing a giant hat, which has been a clown tradition since the middle ages. While Ms Rodriguez almost certainly threatens her local shop clerk with death on a weekly basis for not bagging her eggs correctly, she shouldn’t have been that surprised when the secret service came knocking on her door. She probably was, though.


Jury asks judge what “unanimous” means

Jury members in the Joliet, Illinois murder trial of William Peterson last Thursday had to ask the judge what “unanimous” means. Judge Edward Burmila sent back a note defining the word as “its common meaning. It indicates the agreement of all on the matter at hand.” Ninety minutes later, the jury found Peterson guilty of killing his third wife. 85 of those minutes were probably spent on interpreting the judge’s note. Peterson’s fourth wife is still missing, presumed dead.


Irish judge in plonkerism shocker

Athlone judge Seamus Hughes (for non-Irish people, Athlone is in the middle of Ireland and mostly exists because if you’re going to build a bridge over a river, you build a town with it) did the reputation of the Irish legal profession no favours last week when he included the following in sentencing an arsonist: “Nobody has indicated it to me, but I suspect he comes from a certain ethnic background that would give him even more form given the type of behaviour in which some of them engage… As I’ve described it before, they are like Neanderthal men living in the long grass, abiding by the laws of the jungle.” Judge Hughes may have thought his comments were cleverly oblique but he was obviously referring to Irish Travellers. Unfortunately for the judge, he made his comments without checking to see if his stated suspicions was correct. Also, he’s created a situation where anyone who is a member of that community can now legitimately claim that he’s prejudiced against them and, thus, should recuse himself from judging any case against them. He’s made a mess.

While Irish judges are renowned for their off-the-cuff asides, Judge Hughes has some form even by general standards. In July of this year, he declared that “It’s like handing snuff around at a wake the way social welfare is handed around in this country” when it emerged that a man convicted in his court of copyright offences was claiming social welfare after leaving Ireland. In September 2010, he ordered a man convicted of shouting abusive comments at a female police officer to climb pilgrimage mountain Croagh Patrick as contrition. In March 2011, he offered support to vigilantism not typically expressed by a legal justice during a trial following a farm equipment theft when he said: “It takes a Mayo man to put an end to that sort of thing and I’m not talking about myself. I’m talking about the venerable Pádraig Nally” (Pádraig Nally was acquitted of manslaughter in 2006 after he shot a burglar).  There are other examples of his faux-hilarity but he’s had enough space here already. A Fianna Fail TD for Mayo West between 1992 and 1997, Judge Hughes was appointed as a District Court in 2009. Slow as I am to put myself in a situation where I have to carefully check every speed limit as I drive through the judge’s jurisdiction, Judge Hughes could do well to leave his editoralising until after he leaves the bench.


Arizona judge has existentialist view on sexual assault

Completing the trio of court-related stories this week, Arizona judge Jacqueline Hatch told a victim of sexual assault that “If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you”. While the judge said that the victim, unnamed by the press, was not to blame in the case, she added: “I hope you look at what you’ve been through and try to take something positive out of it. You learned a lesson about friendship and you learned a lesson about vulnerability.” Robb Evans, convicted of sexual abuse in the case, had drunk eight beers, before driving to a local bar and flashing his police badge to gain access. Standing behind the victim, who was a friend of one of his friends, he put his hand up her skirt and rubbed her genitals. Following the judge’s comments, the victim pointed out to the Arizona Sun newspaper that if she had not been there, “it probably would have happened to someone else”.


Is that a monkey in your trousers or…

Three unnamed people (the Hindustan Times calls them “three boys“, the BBC “three men” – either way, they’re three idiots) were arrested in Delhi on Monday when small primates were discovered in their trousers during a flight stopover. Red slender lorises were concealed in polythene bags in the trousers of two of the individuals, who were flying from Bangkok to Dubai. After the first loris was found, a second member of the threw his concealed primate in a nearby bin in an effort to evade detection. The animals were sent to a local zoo for treatment. The animal-smugglers were arrested at the airport. The single member of the trio without a primate in his pants was permitted to continue to Dubai. Lorises, related to the better-known lemurs, mainly live in forest regions of south-east Asia. This was the second incident of animal smuggling discovered in India in September. Last week at Mumbai airport, a man was caught with ten turtles in his underwear. He was accompanied by two other men helping him to smuggle six Persian cats, three tarantula spiders and eleven eggs of unknown birds.


Darwin nominee: Dangerous stunt spins out of control

A German man, identified only as “Tobias” was killed last week in the Bavarian town of Oberviehbach when a dangerous playground stunt went wrong. With the help of three friends, he duct-taped himself to the carousel. His friends then ran a rope from the carousel to their car before driving off, spinning the carousel quickly. The carousel was spun at such a high speed that the duct tape failed to secure the man. He was flung a distance of six yards, landing face-first into the ground and breaking his neck. He died at the scene. He was a member of the “Bavarian Dumbasses”, who are known for videoing dangerous stunts and posting them on the Internet. The victim’s father said: “I wish these video on the Internet would be banned — these are dangerous actions.” Police have since removed the carousel from the playground. Commentary: Obviously it’s sad that he died but this was a stupidly dangerous stunt carried out without any proper effort at safety control so the tragic result isn’t entirely surprising.

The also-rans

In Ashburn, Virginia, middle school substitute assistant teacher Jaqueline Barnes was sent home for coming into school drunk on her first day of work. The local sheriff charged her with being drunk in public. People don’t tend to be very kind towards being drunk if you’re supposed to be teaching children.

Scott Douglas Jury, of Grove City, Florida, forgot that bank ATMs have cameras when he filed a police report saying that someone had withdrawn $1,515 from his bank account without his knowledge. After accusing his son of withdrawing the money, police examined footage from the banks. Jury confessed to withdrawing the money himself, using it to pay bills and for illegal prescription drugs. He’s been charged with filing a false police report.

Kanye West has been plumbing new class-lacking depths by bringing up his girlfriend’s sex tape at every opportunity. I’m not really much of a fan of celebrity for celebrity’s sake and I couldn’t tell one Kardashian from another (and that probably includes the non-Kardashian living with them who used to do the decathlon) but if you’re going out with someone you like, continually banging on about their sex tape shows a lack of class. Even from Kanye West, whose idiocy is pretty much beyond parody.


And finally…

A survey carried out at St Patrick’s University Hospital in Dublin, Ireland appears to indicate that 20% of Irish people think that people suffering from mental health problems are of below average intelligence. It’s unfortunate that a chunk of people know so little about something that affects so many but you’re not that surprised, are you?

This week’s Idiot of the Week award goes to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign team.

The Romney campaign team, pictured in Tampa

The Romney campaign team, pictured in Tampa

Every major party convention has its idiots and idiocy. I fully expect there to be some nuggets of hilarity during the Democratic National Convention. Assuming that there are, they’ll be included here next week. However, the RNC last week gave us far more “Sweet lord beelzebub, wtf” moments than any three-day media rehearsed convention should. While the convention is formally organised by the Republican Party and the Tampa host committee, Mitt Romney was going to pick up more than 90% of the delegates’ votes and, thus, his campaign team played a massive part of convention arrangements in the past few months. As the most recent major-party national convention where the result was in doubt before delegates arrived was at the RNC in 1976, these days national conventions are essentially free network advertising for the candidates. The job of any campaign team at a national convention is to display their candidate in a manner that makes that candidate likeable, worthy of votes and to have as many people talking about that candidate in as sympathetic a light as possible when the convention is over. Did the Romney campaign team manage those things? Er, no.

There are always the crazies who churn into party conventions. As much as we’d like to hope that politics attracts only worthy, hard-working, committed intelligent people, it frequently tends to also attract complete loonballs who retain the political views of their grandparents for no reason other than that’s how they do things where they come from, power-hungry nutters who’d step over their dying grandparents to gain another inch of influence and the dumbest of the dumb, who avoid being committed only because someone owes them a favour, probably in cash.I prefer to think of myself as a good-natured skeptic rather than a confirmed cynic but sometimes the cynic wins.

Delayed by a day due to Tropical Storm Isaac (despite Rush Limbaugh maintaining the week before that the tropical storm was a sneaky collaboration between Obama and the National Hurricane Center), the convention began with the usual speeches by the party faithful.

While the people on stage were mostly sticking to the “Romney/Ryan equals wunnerful” script, the crazies were having a field day in the crowd. Two attendees were witnessed on Tuesday throwing peanuts at a black camerawoman working for CNN, while shouting “This is how we feed the animals”. CNN decided not to air a report on the incident but it was caught by other journalists, who did.

Current TV anchor David Shuster was first in breaking the news. got an interview with Shuster later, where he made it clear that security guards evicted the peanut-throwers from the room when the CNN journalists complained. He added: “All of us were convinced that this was not representative of everybody at the convention and I think there were still some details to be flushed out.” Patricia Carroll was clear in her only interview on the incident that she believes that what happened to her at the RNC could just as easily happened at the Democratic National Convention or on the street corner. The problem for the Romney campaign team was that it didn’t happen at the DNC (at least not yet) or the street corner – it happened on their watch, at their convention and it made headlines. The GOP already comes with a recent reputation as the hideout of choice for racists. This didn’t help.

Zoraida Fonalledas, chair of Puerto Rico’s Committee on Permanent Organization, had her speech repeatedly interrupted by chants of “USA! USA!”, while nearby journalists and delegates were reduced to “a stunned silence”, according to Jack Hitt of Harper’s Magazine. The Republican National Committee contacted Hitt to stress that this was a response to other chants by Ron Paul supporters protesting against an RNC decision not to seat members of the Maine delegation rather than a racist chant. Meanwhile, Jamilia Bey, writing in the Washington Post, cast some doubt about the Ron Paul supporters explanation. Again, though, it’s not helping Romney’s cause. While a campaign team can’t control the universe, they should at least be able to act as a controlling influence in their own convention.

Again on Tuesday (hell of a day it was too), RNC Chairman Reince Preibus and House Speaker John Boehner forced through two binding resolutions on amending party rules between conventions and giving candidates the power to replace their own delegates without taking a proper vote on the proposals. An amendment to the delegate replacement proposal got enough signatures to get a floor vote. The amendment was ignored and a voice vote was called on the delegate replacement proposal. Objections were skipped over and the proposal was deemed passed anyway as a binding resolution by John Boehner. It doesn’t get much more crooked than that. Additionally, the result was put on the teleprompter before the vote was even called.  Don’t just take my word for it. There’s a video.

That’s essentially a rule passed (or deemed passed) just to keep Ron Paul’s supporters quiet and stop splinter groups (or, specifically, Ron Paul) from getting his name on the ballot. Regardless of your feelings on Ron Paul and his philosophies (personally, I think they’re nuts), passing a general rule to take care of a specific problem is bad politics and bad rule-making. Fiddling the vote so that a general rule is passed to take care of a specific problem is extremely short-sighted. They’ll regret it in the future but that’s their next problem.

Vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan put fact-checking centre-stage with his Wednesday night speech in Tampa. Assertions from both sides of the political hairline have been largely accepted by news networks over the past few months. After his speech, everything changed. Ryan, who’d already hit some bumps over subtracting 50 minutes from his personal best for marathon running, had a list of assertions in his speech debunked by Salon went head-on, running a story with a headline of “Paul Ryan’s brazen lies“, sayig that “his Republican National Convention speech was stunning for its dishonesty”. Wolf Blitzer (not usually acclaimed for taking notes) on CNN said that he “marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward“. The Washington Post called the speech “misleading“, making their own list of deliberately misleading inaccuracies in the speech. In the same newspaper, Jonathan Bernstein went even further, calling Ryan’s speech “a staggering, staggering lie” and suggested that he be called out for “telling flat-out lies to the American people”. The Huffington Post’s Miles Mogulescu wrote that “Ryan lies like a hooker telling her john that she loves him”, adding “given a media that tends to cover the horse race rather than the substance, there’s a good chance he could lie his way all the way to the vice presidency.” I highly recommend that you read the link. I’ve included it above but here it is again.

Completing the hurricane that hit the convention (as opposed to the tropical storm that didn’t) there was Clint Eastwood‘s twelve-minute performance on Thursday, featuring a poorly-worked routing involving the actor pretending to talk to an invisible Barack Obama sitting in a chair. Whether you believe that Clint Eastwood’s speech was a stunning avant-garde routine or the vague ramblings of an old guy ranting at an empty chair, his performance drew public attention firmly away from Romney. That might be a good thing if the candidate has challenged the press to follow him around and then gets photographed on an unfortunately-named boat in what might be a compromising position. It might be a good thing if the candidate has a history of extra-marital affairs. But when your candidate is Mitt Romney and is behind in the polls, when you’re trying to humanise him and make voters like him it’s never a good idea to allow the attention to be drawn off by anyone else, especially not an old guy verbally duelling with an empty chair. Especially when that verbal duel includes “I mean, what do you say to people? Do you just — you know — I know — people were wondering — you don’t — handle that okay”, which means that the chair is probably winning. I’ve spoken incredibly well in public and incredibly badly in public. I’ve done both often enough to be able to tell the difference. Clint Eastwood’s chair improv had all the success of the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

The tweets came hard and fast from the media, many of them sympathetic but virtually all of them damning.

Donald Trump, of course, loved it.

Then again, Donald Trump would have loved it even more if Clint had pulled down his trousers, defecated al over the chair and then asked it for its birth certificate. That’d be pretty avant-garde.

Within hours, there was an @InvisibleObama twitter account, which picked up 42,000 followers by the end of the next day. In the same period, Mitt Romney gained just 23,000 extra followers.

That got retweeted over 4,000 times. Clint Eastwood’s performance caused a tweet containing nothing but ellipses to be retweeted 4,000 times.

Clint was invited to speak by Mitt Romney himself, after the actor gave him a full endorsement in Idaho. Campaign advisers didn’t organise rehearsals or agree on a script. They handed him a few talking points and pointed him to the stage. Even by community theatre standards, they shouldn’t be in charge of a junior school production of Christmas carols. Eastwood was an odd choice in convention speakers as he’s pro-abortion-choice, pro-gay marriage and an old-fashioned fiscal conservative. Ideologically, he has little in common with Romney’s stated vision of the United States of the future.

The most frustrating thing for Republican Party mandarins is that if Clint had largely limited himself to the text of the closing three minutes (CNN video link) of his speech, his job would have been done. Even if he’d just left the chair-accompanied improv at the convention door, his appearance would have been worth it. No channelling of Bob Newhart’s empty chair routine, no faffing around on stage like an addled senior and no orgasmic gushes from comedy show writers sitting at home. Romney’s acceptance speech would have been the focus of the twitterati and writers for The Daily Show would have been limited to making comments about Paul Ryan’s poor grasp of reality. Republican Party political consultant Mike Ryan managed to summarise the problem with one short tweet:

Despite Eastwood’s well-simplified soundbite stating that “when somebody doesn’t do the job, you’ve got to let them go”, every media outlet in the United States was discussing his with-chair improv the next morning. Almost none of them were discussing Mitt Romney’s far longer acceptance speech. Cause of that failure: the Romney campaign’s lack of script and lack of rehearsal.

The Romney campaign spent $120,000 on buying #RomneyRyan2012 as a trending topic on Twitter as the convention reached its close. This ad spend promptly blew up in their faces when it was used as a hashtag to criticise the campaign, the candidates and the Republican Party in general. The critical comments were re-tweeted hundreds of times due to their prominent placement, paid for, of course by the Romney campaign fund. From their perspective, the money would have almost as well used if they’d taken it out the back door of the Tampa Bat Times Forum and set it on fire.

Tempting as it is to shovel the criticism solely at Matt Rhoades (Romney’s campaign manager) or Gail Gitchco (the campaign’s communications director), this was a failure of the entire campaign committee in failing to control the message leaving the convention, failing to control what was going on at the convention and, ultimately, making it less likely that their candidate will be elected. Nominating conventions are intended as boost platforms for a candidate. All the GOP convention managed to do was to get people talking about Clint Eastwood. That’s a total failure. That’s incompetence. That’s supreme idiocy. Even ignoring the continued insistence of the campaign team on running an election with a line as simple as Bill Clinton’s in 1992 (“it’s the economy, stupid” – and for Romney, it should be), the entire Romney campaign deserves to be this week’s Idiot of the Week. So it is.


Dishonourable mentions:

It’s easy to find yourself caught in the wilderness without maps or survival gear. Having it happen once is completely forgiveable. What isn’t forgiveable is having to call mountain rescuers on two successive nights when you should have learned your lesson the first time. A 73 (also reported as 75) year old man and his daughter had to be rescued by three teams of mountain rescuers in Cumbria (UK) last Friday when they got lost in the Lake District. They were using a guidebook to find their way around rather than a map. Proving that not everyone learns from their mistakes, the man’s other daughter joined them on Saturday and they managed to get lost again a few hours later, resulting in another night out for mountain rescue teams. The BBC report doesn’t give their names, which is a pity as they probably shouldn’t be allowed outside again. Here’s the incident report from Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue for the second call-out. The annoyance drips through the page, though, if anything, the person filling out the report is being diplomatic. The group was last reported as travelling east, along the Coast to Coast walk.

Bringing a new meaning to “finding yourself on holiday”, a tourist who had been reported as missing in southern Iceland last week joined her own search party before she realised that they were looking for her. Described as “Asian, about 160cm, in dark clothing and speaks English well”, the search began on Saturday afternoon when the bus driver thought that she had not returned to the tour bus. Before returning to the bus, she had changed her clothes. Search and rescue teams scoured the Eldgjá volcanic canyon until 3am on Sunday when it occurred to the woman that she might be the person that they were looking for. I’m not sure which is the real idiot here: the bus driver who miscounted the passengers or the woman who searched for herself for half a day. Rescue teams along Cumbria’s Coast to Coast walk are probably terrified that she will choose to holiday in northern England next year.

The Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management has spent AUS$684,000 on an egg-shaped pile of rocks that is designed to “blend into its environment” (in other words, fall apart and have trees covering it) in the Conondale National Park on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Not content with that, the sculpture was placed at the end of a 56km trek that has been reported as “taking experienced bushwalkers four days to cover”.  Essentially, they’ve spent 700k on a sculpture that almost no-one will see, even before it fulfils its design of being hidden.

Randy Lee Tenley of Kalispell, Montana was killed last week while attempting to fake an after-sundown Bigfoot appearance on a Montana highway. Wearing a military “ghillie-suit” (a camouflage suit designed to replicate heavy foliage), he stood on the road so that drivers would call  in a Bigfoot sighting. Highway Patrol Trooper Jim Schneider said: “According to his companions, he was out there in the ghillie suit attempting to incite a sighting of Bigfoot, to make people think they had seen a Sasquatch.” Wearing the dark camouflage suit had the unfortunate consequence of making it difficult for drivers to see him. He was struck by two cars driven by teenagers. Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry told the New York Daily News that Mr Tenley “was just a normal guy with a sense of humor that didn’t serve him well.”

Parents of a baby born on an Emirates flight travelling from Dubai to Manila have decided to name their new child ‘EK’ in honour of Emirates’ airline designator code. I could add fifty words to this about the involvement of the airline’s staff in the baby’s birth but, as the baby was delivered by two Filipina nurses that happened to be on the flight, there wouldn’t be much point. They named their child after the airline because he was born on a plane. He’s going to spend most of his childhood being beaten up because of that. Well done, parents. Just as well that he wasn’t born on a Kingfisher Airlines flight as their code is ‘IT’.

Aiming for this year’s “World’s Worst Mother” award, South Carolina resident Gretchen Lynn Kinnear is currently facing child negligence charges for giving her four-year-old son shots of beer at her local bar. When police were called, she admitted to giving the child at least three shots of beer while at the bar. Her son told police officers that Ms Kinnear gave him “tea” that tasted funny and made him laugh a lot. He added that she gives him the same kind of “tea” at home. The mother acknowledged that when she has wine at home, she allows her son to have some. He’s currently in the care of people who babysit him on a regular basis.

Romantic as it might seem, mailing yourself to your girlfriend in a giant box is not a good idea. To celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday, Hu Seng (from Chongqing in southern China) thought it might be a lovely surprise to mail himself to her. When the courier company mixed up the addresses, a thirty minute quick delivery turned into a three-hour ordeal in a box with no air holes. Apparently Mr Hu didn’t want to spoil the surprise by calling out for attention. When the box was opened, he was found unconscious but alive.

A clothing store named ‘Hitler’ has been opened in an upmarket neighbourhood of Ahmedabad in India. Co-owner Rajesh Shah insists that the store was named after his business partner’s grandfather, who was nicknamed Hitler “because of his strict nature”. And, you know, for attention, which he’s now getting.

In Burlington, Vermont, restaurants are adding an 18% gratuity fee to bills if the diners are foreign. At least they haven’t called it a “freedom tax”. Watch those accents and be careful not to speak a foreign language, folks.