The Genius of Slightly Smarter Than Stupid

BEFORE THERE WAS the digital sludge of conjured bullshit roaring through the internet, there was a kind of brick and mortal bullshit ensconced in the pubs and taverns of the world. Like the internet, these watering holes routinely peddled outlandish theories, often to people who, as they got comfortably tight, were just as likely to accept without question outrageous explanations from some drunkie as they were from an anonymous “internet expert.”  Everything from secret political motives, microchipped vaccinations, high crimes and misdemeanors, news of the weird, financial schemes and whatever else were explained with virtuosic bravura. We audience could only nod our heads in baffled agreement. 

It was at one such establishment that a friend of mine told of an interesting anecdote from the other side of the world. 

To wit: 

The Italian government, in an effort to give law enforcement an advantage over fleeing criminals, had actually invested in a fleet of Lamborghini cop cars. The reasoning was that these super fast roadsters could not be outrun. City officials reckoned that felonious escape would soon be reduced to zero. On the surface it seemed like a fine idea. That is, until the criminals figured out that while they couldn’t outrun the police, they could outlast them. Since the Lamborghini burns through fuel like a NASA rocket and will come apart like wet toilet tissue if it tries to ram anything off the road, all a carload of thieves had to do was keep driving until the cops, pursuing from a safe distance, eventually ran out of gas. Then as the official sports cars conked out, one by one, drifting to the side of the road, the criminals would escape to the safety of their hideouts to unload their stolen goods, kick their heels up, open a bottle of Fernet Branca, and toast to law enforcement’s rather limited foresight. Some of the more brazen getaway cars would even turn around and do a celebratory lap past all the stalled Lamborghinis littering the side of the road as the cops watched helplessly, shaking their fists at the perpetrators. Perched on the hoods of their fine Italian automobiles, the police could do nothing more than sulk and sip on the bottles of Fernet Branca that came standard in all Italian police cars and await backup and, more importantly, a can of gas. That’s the beauty of Fernet, though. Perfect for both criminal celebration and embarrassing defeat. 

Fernet: Delizioso Per Tutte Le Occasioni 

I never bothered to check the veracity of the Lamborghini story. I’d simply decided that I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true and left it at that. I tend to accept stories showcasing humanity’s failure to anticipate certain consequences, and likewise I usually reject conspiratorial narratives in which a handful of diabolical geniuses can perfectly concoct a scheme that has every unforeseen consequence accounted for with oracular precision. If the Ponte Morandi bridge could turn to rubble one day because some civil engineer forgot to carry the one, then it’s entirely reasonable to accept a fleet of police Lamborghinis that get five miles to the gallon and bankrupt the Roman economy with the maintenance costs. 

Must be why I’m a bad candidate for conspiracy theories like Q-anon and Pizza-gate and such. These folks give way too much credit to the governmental confederacy of dunces. In this world one needn’t be smart, just smarter than stupid, a relatively low bar that a surprising amount of citizens still trip over. There are flaws in every scheme and the bigger the scheme the bigger the flaws. Don’t listen to me, though. Here are some words from history’s sharpest literary minds. 

“Nothing succeeds as planned” —Joseph Heller

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”—John Lennon 

“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry” —Robert Burns

“Nothing bears out in practice what it promises incipiently” —Thomas Hardy 

“It was surprised as hell to have happened” —bastardized quote from Marcus Aurelius 

I also found some other quotes that were a bit shocking.  

“Fuckin kaboom!” —The Hindenburg 

“Warble, warble, warble, smash” — Tacoma Narrows Bridge 

“Vroom, splutter, crash, [crickets],” — 1961 B-52 crash that accidentally dropped two undetonated atomic bombs in Goldsboro, North Carolina. 

“ZZZZZZZZZ,” a sleeping Captain Joseph Hazelwood, overseer of the Exxon-Valdez oil tanker spill. 

The list goes on and on. The reason evil geniuses are so hard to pin down is because, for the most part, they don’t exist. Sure, some people will be able to pull off a con for a while, like the Enron fellas and Madoff, the Prince of Ponzi. But that is due more to general gullibility than their own atomic brilliance. They aren’t smart, they’re just smarter than stupid. 

While I don’t pay much attention to the internet, I do still sit in bars and listen to all manner of opinion, wrapped in protective virus gear and drinking therapeutic Fernet Branca to avoid the masterful laboratory manufactured COVID-19, ingeniously planted in a wet market in Wuhan, China and traced by sadistic reverse-epidemiologists through the world with God-like precision to topple elderly western potentates. How diabolically brilliant of them to infect their own country first, giving the world a heads-up that went largely ignored. 

That’s dumber than stupid. 

Now, if I were a brilliant germ-peddler, I wouldn’t have wasted my time in Podunk, China. I would’ve dropped my superbug in Times Square, San Francisco’s Castro, West Hollywood, Michigan Avenue, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and a few other choice Occidental crossings. Of course I would’ve been smart enough to develop a preemptive inoculation for my own followers, so there would be no need to close any borders, thus ensuring my robust economy coasted on, unaffected, and the health, prosperity and happiness of my loyal populace continued unabated. 

Luckily it’s not possible to be that smart and that stupid at the same time. 

More Alembics….


IT WAS A rather quizzical moment, but then again it’s been a rather quizzical year. Still, when the world seems to have come loose from its moorings, and the general public is suffering from desperations and hostilities so intense that solitude is the only dependable companion, I can always count on my morning run to give myself a healthy dose of fresh air and a good old fashioned rush of serotonin. The body becomes limber, the extremities are oxygenated, I feel better about things in general, and I can exchange a few waves with the neighborhood without getting locked into some tedious conversation about virus conspiracies, doomsday economic projections, or at the very worst, national politics. Runners move in a different orbit than the casual pedestrian and as such are usually left alone to their focus and momentum. 

Today was mostly desolate. Not many people out, although it was a beautiful morning. Sunny, mid-sixties. I was cruising along on a quiet stretch of backroad when a rather rundown Toyota Camry sped by me, Lyft sticker prominently displayed, and the driver yelled, “Drunk!” at me. 

I spent the rest of my jog completely mystified. 

True, I’d been known to have a drink now and again; and by now and again I mean now and again five minutes after now and again and again and again and again. Still, it wasn’t like I’d polished off a few beers before setting out. I was actually, for the moment, sober. I chalked it up to the driver chiding me for absently drifting a bit from my path, or weaving a little as I trotted along. Maybe he was drunk, and he was just letting me know to watch out for him in his shabby taxi and his compromised condition. Lyft, as I understand it, has a very loose criteria for its driving candidates. They will accept a licensed driver with no more than four DUIs, they may only smoke weed in between fares unless the passenger gives his express consent, and they drive like the mother of their children is chasing them down for child support. The cars themselves leave a bit to be desired, too. Loose bumpers, dents all around, poor exhaust, cum stains abound, upholstery hanging down in tatters, and bungee cords repurposed as seat belts. They boast that their cars have four wheels, an engine, a general trajectory, and a reasonably safe delivery rate provided too much stuff doesn’t get in the way of the path of travel. 

I got home and stretched out for a cool down, still curious about the driver’s weird exclamation of “Drunk!” Something was off about the whole thing. I couldn’t let it go, until I was hit with one of those moments of clarity when I realized he hadn’t yelled “Drunk!” He’d yelled, “Trump!” 

Still weird, but now at least his outburst made a bit more sense. It’s election season, after all, and this lone canvasser was doing his part to ensure his favorite president got to kick it around the White House for another four years. Then I started wondering whether he was rallying me as part of the loyal base, or trying to antagonize me with a looming right-wing victory. I pondered how I’d been interpreted. I wasn’t wearing a mask so perhaps I seemed pro-Trump. I was wearing blue shorts, the color of the Democratic party, which could be construed as anti-Trump, but that was only because my others were in the wash. I’m white, which could definitely be interpreted as pro-Trump, but I was also exercising, which is obviously anti-Trump. I have a shaved head and tattoos, like a skinhead, which could be interpreted as pro-Trump, except I was steeped in quiet poise and concentration, which is definitely anti-Trump. I was in the South, which is the land of the Confederacy and certainly pro-Trump, but I was outside instead of being glued to Fox News, presumably anti-Trump. What a curious enigma I am! 

More than likely it was an indiscriminate clarion call. Animal, vegetable, and mineral would’ve gotten an earful of his “Trump!” endorsement. I considered him, then, the enthusiastic ward heeler. From the looks of his car he’d most likely not gotten a piece of the big payoff promised in 2016. Now, if he’d cruised by me in a Bentley with a top hat and a big old stogie shouting his support for the president, I would’ve accepted his support as a solid testimonial from an obvious success story. Maybe he’d felt gypped, and believed the president needed another four years to truly deliver on his prosperity gospel to all of his supporters, and not just the ones who were already rich. Then I started feeling sorry for the doomed son of a bitch, since more than likely he was simply an indoctrinated squawk box doing the bidding of billionaires, with little more to show for it than an old clunker and a carful of masked strangers complaining that the seats are sticky and the music is too loud. Like that fellow from Florida who sent those bombs to all those liberals, and who went from living in his van to living in the similar square footage of a prison cell, there is not much room at the top for even the most devout followers from the lower sections of society. The politicians need them but they don’t really want them, at least not too close. The only benefit of a Trump victory for this ride-share chauffeur would be no waiting period for the rifle that he would be purchasing, no abortion for his girlfriend, and the same general income and cost of living. 

This line of thought was depressing. Forget all that. I changed my mind, deciding that I’d actually heard him yell, “Drunk!” as a simple, exuberant suggestion for this most glorious of days. Smart man, and a terrific idea, as I removed the cork from a bottle of Don Julio. It’s great to be alive, but it’s a little greater to be alive and “Drunk!” 

Some things, thankfully, do not rely on elected office. 

More Alembics to come.