August 4, 2011

Dumbth and Good Jeer

Hatched by Dafydd

Comedian and humorist (and old-timey liberal) Steve Allen coined the term above. Dumbth is a combination of stupidity, ignorance, and pig-headedness typical of petty bureaucrats and other authority figures throughout society; but it easily adapts to the arrogant arguers, condescending confabulators, obsessed obscurantists, and preening presidents we must interact with, or at least listen to at (great) length, every day.

A couple of really good examples drove me to create Dumbth as a standard category; they seem to pop up with fearsome frequency.

The house-divided homily

To some, the observation that in an election, if one side is split between two candidates, it's at a disadvantage, seems like a revelation of the ages. Splitting votes between two candidates might allow the unified opposition to be elected -- who'd'a thunk it!

But here is none other than Rudy Giuliani passing this hairy, old nut off as Deep Thought:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday a rift in the GOP pitting the tea party movement against more traditional stalwarts of the Republican Party could hand President Barack Obama the 2012 election.

"It will hurt if it continues," Giuliani told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. “I mean, the reality is I’m going back to 2007 when I ran -- at this point, we had all devastated each other and it was much more bitter. So, I mean, if there is a certain amount of debate about how far to go, how fast to go there, how much to compromise, that’s OK.

"But if it becomes a real, real battle then we hand the presidency over to Obama." Giuliani said.

Huh. I'm sure that has never occurred to us non-pols before... thanks, G-man!

But he goes on to offer some more sage advice; and this one is certainly far too complex for us mere mortals and civilians to suss out:

"And if we nominate somebody too far out that can’t occupy the middle and win independents -- then we’re going to lose. The election, as you know, as you point out often, these elections are won by who gets the independents."

Words to live by, Mr. Mayor.

The circular syllogism

The next example comes from the realm of science -- proving that no sphere is safe from the deteriorata of dumbth. A research team believes it has discovered seasonal flows of saltwater on Mars. But lest the unwashed and unlettered become over-excited, another establishment voice rushes forth to pooh-pooh any significance to what would will be a momentous discovery -- if confirmed:

The lead scientist of a proposed new mission to drill into the subsurface Martian ice said the saltwater find is interesting, but probably not applicable for a search for life on Mars.

"Water salty enough to be liquid on Mars today is too salty for life," planetary scientist Christopher McKay, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, wrote in an email to Discovery News.

Mr. McKay, how do you know?

Evidently, what he means is that the water is too salty to support any life we have ever found anywhere in the universe. But of course, what that really means is that it's too salty to support any life we've found on Earth, the only planet upon which we have ever stood.

Or to phrase it another way, no life found on Earth is already adapted to the conditions found on Mars, a planet that living Earth creatures rarely get a chance to visit.

But why on Earth would it be? Isn't it glaringly obvious that Earth life is adapted to life on Earth; while Martian life, if it exists, would be adapted to life on Mars instead? It's like fishy scientists who live in an ocean planet reassuring each other that dry land must be barren, because how could the gills found on all life possibly extract oxygen from thin air?

A somewhat more imaginative fishentist might suggest that land animals must use some other mechanism besides gills; but there will always be the aquatic version of Christopher McKay to dismiss such a fanciful notion with a bubbly wave of his fin. Hey, none of that imagination stuff; science is serious business!

Two good examples of dumbth. You're all encouraged to comment with your own nominations for dumbth on parade. But remember, mere wrong-headedness is insufficient to deserve the label; to be true dumbth, the stupidity or ignorance must be of the inexplicable, colossal kind that reduces readers to wondering, "What were you thinking?" (If anything.)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 4, 2011, at the time of 5:55 PM

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