Thursday, January 25

Vintage Darwin Awards

Honoring the devolution of U.S. (and a few other nations') human intelligence since 1994.

Named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by happening upon ever new methods for removing themselves from it.

In other words, award-winners are the most intelligently-challenged among us who also sacrifice themselves--though rarely voluntarily--for the greater good, a peculiarly uncharacteristic American personality trait.

If you are at all intellectually honest, you must agree with me that it is remarkable for George W. Bush's not to appear among Americans to date so honored.

Below are some "vintage" Darwin Awards. As you read, here's a question to keep in the forefront of you mind: "What would Darwin do?".

Here's an account (titled "Sizzling Scaffolding," though Darwin reports it published it without confirmation) that appeared in a 1982 edition of the Amarillo Daily News, a paper in a Texas town that is, as they like to say in the Southern U.S., "just down the road a ways" from Bush's ranch in Waco.

(1982, Texas) At the Amarillo Fairgrounds, some buildings were in need of a coat of paint, so local contractors were hired to do the job.

Because of the slope, the wheeled painter scaffolding tended to roll downhill, so the painters removed the wheels on the scaffolding. They were in the process of moving the scaffolding, when the metal structure met a transformer. The painters were killed.

The story made the headlines. The town was abuzz with talk of the tragedy, how it had come to pass, and whether the city was liable for damages. The city officials decided they needed to conduct an investigation.

With much fanfare, they arrived at the scene of the incident, prepared to personally recreate the circumstances. Two officials grabbed the scaffolding in the exact same location as the two painters, began to move the scaffolding... and were promptly electrocuted.

The next account (titled "Where's the Chute," which Darwin did confirm) appeared in the Washington Post.

(North Carolina, 1987) Ivan, an experienced parachutist with 800 jumps under his belt, was videotaping a private lesson given by an instructor for a single trainee. He had attached the video camera to his helmet so that it would capture the entire day of instruction, and the supporting power supply and recorder were in a heavy satchel slung on his back.

The group went up in the plane, and the instructor led the enthusiastic beginner through preparations for the jump. Ivan carefully documented the lesson, which needed to be perfect for the sake of posterity.

When they reached the jump site, Ivan jumped from the back of the plane and filmed the student and instructor jumping from the front of the plane. A few heartbeats later, tape still running, Ivan realized that he had been so focused on filming the jump that he had forgotten to strap on his own parachute. An FAA spokesperson said that the video equipment strapped to his back may have been mistaken for a parachute.

In the footage salvaged from the camera and spliced together, the student and instructor are shown in freefall befire they pull their ripcords and recede rapidly from view. Then the cameraman's hands reach for his own ripcord. When Ivan realizes he has no ripcord, ergo no chute, his hands are seen to flail about wildly, then the camera pans down towards the approaching earth....

Darwin also confirmed the following story ("Mile-High Club Failure," for its 1994 awards) as true, though a complete understanding required translations of clinical euphemisms endemic to federal agencies.

(23 December 1991, Florida) This account of an aircraft accident is quoted directly from the National Transportation Safety Board report, with comments added in [brackets] for clarity.

Aircraft: PIPER PA-34-200T
Registration: N47506
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

The private pilot and a pilot rated passenger [two pilots] were going to practice simulated instrument flight. Witnesses observed the airplane's right wing fail in a dive and crash. Examination of the wreckage and bodies revealed that both occupants were partially clothed and the front right seat was in the full aft reclining position. [The pilots had converted the co-pilot seat to a bed.] Neither body showed evidence of seatbelts or shoulder harnesses being worn. [They were lying on the bed.] Examination of the individuals' clothing revealed no evidence of ripping or distress to the zippers and belts. [Their lack of clothing seemed to be voluntary.]

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The pilot in command's improper in-flight decision to divert her attention to other activities not related to the conduct of the flight. [The pilot and co-pilot were having sex, and nobody was flying the plane.] Contributing to the accident was the exceeding of the design limits of the airplane leading to a wing failure. [The lack of a pilot caused the plane to fly erratically, over-stressing the wing and leading to a crash.]

These selections only only scratch the surface of the twelve years of Darwin Awards available in the left margins of any of the stories I've excerpted here. Enjoy.

Perhaps Bush's name will appear among the 2007 batch of recipients whose self-sacrifice serves the interests of others. But that doesn't sound like anything Bush would possibly ever get around to doing.

Postscript: Though the "Dumb Criminal" captured in the surveillance video clip technically neither qualifies for a Darwin Award (the guy doesn't die) nor as "vintage," you realize he will be denied access to women of child-bearing age for a long time, which means his DNA will be indefinitely removed from the gene pool.

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