Stupidity: A never-changing constant throughout history

southern 2-8-2 Mikado Locomotive

Among history’s reassuring staples is man’s ability to act like an idiot.

We’re not talking about odious acts or abhorrent misconduct – though there has been that aplenty over the millenia. I’m referring to the garden-variety foolishness that seems rampant today thanks to the Internet and social media. We may be better able to track today’s idiocy than in the past, but it’s unlikely the spirit behind such inanity is different from that of yesteryear.

Consider a story that appeared in the Spartanburg (SC) Herald in the late summer of 1939.

Under the headline “’Borrowed’ Locomotive Wrecks and Two Union Men Land in Jail Cells,” the paper detailed an incident in which a couple of (figurative) clowns went for a joyride on a 284,000-pound steam engine, with the locomotive ending up in a ravine in Union, SC.

The unnamed pair – it doesn’t mention just how liquored up they might have been – were walking across the Upstate South Carolina town at night looking for something to do when they noticed a Southern Railway locomotive sitting on a track at the rear of a water works plant.

One of the two decided he wanted to blow the train’s horn.

The duo climbed into the engine’s cab and pulled a lever, but instead of sounding the horn, the train, which likely had been left idling so that it would be ready to go the following morning, began moving backward.

The pair, unable to stop the locomotive, jumped from engine, which continued moving backward, picking up speed. It eventually travelled 600 yards to the end of the spur, near the old Union Mills warehouse.

It then left the tracks and plunged into an earthen embankment.

It took approximately 24 hours for railroad workers to get the engine up and back on the tracks.

The two men were confined to the hoosegow – one in the county jail, the other in the city jail – while Union police officers conferred with railway police to determine what charges to lodge against the duo.

They were eventually fined an undisclosed amount.

What may have helped lessen the severity of their penalty was that the incident took place on Aug. 31, 1939, and made the papers the following day. Attention was likely drawn away from the two knuckleheads shortly thereafter by events in Europe, as Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, officially initiating World War II.

(Top: A Southern Railway 2-8-2 locomotive, likely similar to what a pair of lugnuts inadvertently drove off the rails in the late summer of 1939 in Union, SC.)

Amid ignorance, compassion and humanity shine through


Because we in South Carolina haven’t had enough strife over the past month, what with the racially motivated killings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 and the ensuing polarizing debate about removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, a pair of dubious groups from out of state descended upon our capital over the weekend to try to add fuel to the fire.

The North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at the Statehouse this past Saturday, as did the Florida-based Black Educators for Justice, described as a subset of the “New Black Panther Party.”

While there weren’t more than a few dozen members from either group on hand to spread their bizarre brand of fanaticism, there were as many as 2,000 individuals who protested the interlopers.

Yet, among the foolishness of two groups who seemed hell-bent on stirring up odious emotions for the sake of publicity was at least one inspiring moment.

In  a scene caught by a civilian photographer, a black police officer came to the aid of an older white man, overcome by heat, who was garbed in a Nazi t-shirt during Saturday’s activities.

In the above photo, provided to the Associated Press by Rob Godfrey, the former spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, S.C. Department of Public Safety Chief Leroy Smith helps an unidentified man wearing National Socialist Movement attire up the stairs of the South Carolina statehouse.

The image showed “who we are in South Carolina,” Smith told the Charleston Post and Courier.

One never knows what’s in the heart of individuals such as the character who was assisted by Smith, but it can only be hoped that the latter’s actions might force the former to at least reconsider his long-held positions on matters such as race. Stranger things have happened.

Beware of those who divide the masses for fun and profit


One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.

Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A few recent headlines:

Seventh Black Church Burns In South Since Charleston Church Shooting” – CBS News.

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.

Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.

Fires at Black Churches in the South Raise Hate-Crime Fears” – NBC News.

After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.

This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.

In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.

“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.

While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.

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Police: Don’t mix bears, booze, dull hatchets and stupidity

black bear

Wise words from officials in North Adams, Mass.:

“The North Adams Police Department is urging everyone to NOT chase bears through the woods with a dull hatchet, drunk,” the department informed residents of the western Massachusetts community through a May 11 post on Facebook. “Yes that really did happen tonight. We understand there are bears in the area. If you see a bear, LEAVE IT ALONE and call us.”

While North Adams authorities declined to identify the intoxicated wannabe frontiersman or his ursine prey, they explained the consequences of such actions while admitting the affair left them just a tad bewildered.

“We certainly don’t need anyone going all Davy Crockett chasing (a bear) through the woods drunk with a dull hatchet,” the Facebook post continued. “It is just a bad idea and not going to end well. It will however, certainly end you up in jail … which it did. The hatchet man was taken into protective custody due to his incapacitation from the consumption of alcoholic beverage. We are still trying to figure out his end game.

As the Boston Globe helpfully pointed out, Crockett, the famed 19th century American backwoodsman, hunted bears with a “team of attack dogs, guns and a sharp knife.”

To paraphrase an old saying, don’t bring a dull hatchet to a bear hunt. Or, better yet: go home, you’re drunk.

Great Nickel Caper evidence of penny-ante criminals at work

boxes of nickels

Not only is it not quite on par with the Great Train Robbery or the JFK Lufthansa Heist, but the Great Nickel Caper of 2015 may be among the most irrational crimes ever committed, at least in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Recently, 183 boxes of nickels were purloined from a residence in North Naples, Fla., during a house party. The value of the 360,000 5-cent pieces was $18,000. The weight of the nicked nickels? Nearly 4,000 pounds. (Among questions that come to mind is why anyone would have 360,000 nickels in their home?)

The coins were stored in blue and white boxes the size of large bricks, according to a South Florida television station.

Detectives are asking the public to be especially alert at places where individuals can redeem change, such as at banks or grocery stores with coin-counting machines, reported WFTX-TV.

Thieves also made off with a .12-gauge shotgun, a .45-caliber firearm and miscellaneous ammunition, possibly to protect their ill-gotten booty as they made a very, very slow getaway.

In all seriousness, what does one do with 360,000 nickels? I suppose you’d never have to worry about having money for parking meters, but other than that – and heading to a gambling casino to play the nickel slots until your arm falls off – it seems like you’ve bought yourself more problems than the $18,000 is worth.

Then again, criminals usually aren’t noted for being deep thinkers.

And the casino scenario isn’t even realistic. Besides loading up a U-Haul, how would you get the money to gambling establishment without attracting undo attention?

On the plus side, one supposes the nickel nabbers have a great start on a coin collection, narrow though it may be.

(Top: Boxes of nickels similar to those stolen from a North Naples, Fla., home last month.)

Why ‘most corrupt’ title may not fit Mississippi

welcome to mississippi sign

Determining America’s most corrupt state is not unlike trying to ascertain history’s most prolific forger: In the latter, the counterfeiter too skilled to be caught remains forever unknown, while in the former, the most dishonest state is one that has tolerated and even declined to prosecute dishonest behavior.

That’s not the argument that Mississippi officials are putting forth to dispute a recent study that ranks the Magnolia State as the most corrupt in the US, but it would make sense.

Instead, Mississippi officials are arguing that the study by two public policy researchers – Cheol Liu of the City University of Hong Kong and John L. Mikesell of Indiana University – fails to take into account the state’s recent anti-corruption efforts.

The pair looked the rate at which public employees in each of the 50 US states had been convicted on federal corruption charges from 1976 to 2008 to determine which state was the most corrupt in the union, according to Fortune magazine.

They concluded that Mississippi had the highest ratio of public workers who were censured for misuse of public funds and other charges. The researchers looked at the hard numbers – federal convictions – to control for differences in spending on law enforcement and the rigor of state corruption laws, according to Fortune.

But Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering argued in an interview with Fortune that the study relied on old data and didn’t take into account the state’s anti-corruption efforts.

Pickering contended that many Mississippi laws have changed since he took office in 2008, with the state legislature putting an investigative arm into the state auditors office.

What makes just as much sense, however, is the idea that truly corrupt states – think Nigeria, Liberia or Russia – simply decline to prosecute corruption.

It’s not unlike the purported actions of law enforcement in bad areas of certain metropolises, which, often at the request of politicians, underreport crime in order to either create a false sense of security or to give the impression that crime is declining.

Put another way, if every county in your state but one chooses to ignore speeding laws, is it fair to label the one that enforces the law – provided it does so justly and impartially – a speed trap?

Those caught speeding may not be happy, but that doesn’t mean the county following the rules should be singled out as the problem.

Does Mississippi have challenges? Yes. Is it the only one? No. Is it the worst offender? Probably not.

California: Swimming pools, movie stars and an 8-foot gator


Over the years, California’s San Fernando Valley has been known for its motion picture studios, aerospace technology and nuclear research.

One thing “The Valley,” located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, was not recognized for was alligators. Until this week, that is.

Officers from the Los Angeles Animal Services Department discovered an 8-foot alligator Monday inside a wooden crate at a home in Van Nuys, where it is believed to have lived for nearly 40 years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We tried to give him a good home,” said Ron Gorecki, 53, who was among those caring for the gator, named Jaxson, for the last two years. The alligator’s original owner was Gorecki’s brother-in-law, who died last year. “He loved him; it was his pride and joy.”

The alligator was purchased at a Los Angeles pet shop 37 years ago. At first, Jaxson lived inside the home, Gorecki said.

Once he grew, Jaxson became a decidedly “outdoor” pet.

The alligator’s presence was something of an open secret in the neighborhood: “Everybody knew Jaxson,” Gorecki said.

When investigators arrived at the home Monday, the crate housing Jaxson was covered in foliage and other debris, according to an official with Animal Services.

Along with the alligator, animal control officers found two cat carcasses inside the crate. One suspects that there weren’t a whole lot of strays in Jaxson’s neighborhood.

The alligator was then taken to the Los Angeles Zoo, with zoo staff helping with transportation. Once at the zoo, Jaxson underwent a health examination but results weren’t immediately available.

Animal Services is continuing a criminal investigation and anticipates forwarding the case to the city attorney for prosecution, according to a statement from the department.

Keeping wildlife without a permit is illegal in Los Angeles, and department Commander Mark Salazar said the home’s occupants lacked a permit for the alligator.

It’s unclear what species Jaxson is, but American Alligators typically live 65 to 80 years in captivity, the Times reported.

(Top: Jaxson, the 8-foot alligator found in a San Fernando Valley home earlier this week. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Department of Animal Services.)