Friday, January 27, 2023

Unclear on the Concept: A Blog by Warren Bull

 Image by Robbin Higgins on Pixabay

“We are all born ignorant but one must work very hard to remain stupid.” Benjamin Franklin

We all do things that backfire, or at least leave us aware of how badly a good idea can go. It is humbling to examine examples and to remember our own lapses such as the ones noted below.

Al Gore, when Vice President, attended a meeting with Asian-American business people in 1993 that was later criticized as possibly encouraging future campaign contributions from non-citizens. His reaction included the statements, “I did nothing wrong” and “I will not do it again.”

Kari Lake, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate is suing the state for election fraud and using attorneys who are presenting the same evidence, that, in an earlier case was described by the judge as “false” and resulted in Lake’s team being told to pay court costs for both sides as well as the judge referring the attorneys for professional sanctioning.

In 2021 u/ilan555 Posted “The moon is more useful than the sun since it gives light during the night, when it is dark. The sun shines only in the daytime when it is light anyway.

A caller phoned a talk radio program suggesting that highway road signs saying “Deer Crossing” should be relocated since there had been a number of accidents at those places and the deer must not have been reading the signs.  (I heard the call.)

“Yes, I’m sure the gun is unloaded.”

I did an evaluation for involuntary hospitalization with a person who would not answer questions, repeatedly shaking her head and pointing to her ear. It seemed to me to be a way to avoid being evaluated. As if it was a standard practice, which it was not, I handed her a pencil and motioned signing her name on a release of information form. She waved her hands around and said. “I can’t because I’m blind.”

39-year-old Charles Vacca, an instructor at an Arizona firing range showed a nine-year-old girl how to shoot a single bullet from an Uzi machine gun. After one shot, he took the weapon from her and switched it to fully automatic mode. The girl was unable to control the weapon. She shot and killed her instructor.  

Bullywatch, an organization that donated all its proceeds to families of bullying victims, came up with their own distinct wristband to be worn by anyone who was against bullying as a gesture of unity against the bullies, they had their heads in the right place. Unfortunately, one important thing they failed to consider was how a bully’s mind actually works. What others may have seen as a pretty powerful message against bullies and harassment, the bullies saw as a marker for who to bully next. Students wearing the wristband were much more likely to be targeted by bullies than students who did not.



Photos of dead marine animals found on the beach make their way into the viral cycle every couple of months or so these days, though back in 1970, something like that was less “further proof of everything bad we’ve done to the oceans” and more, “Huh, what the hell is that?” So, when a dead whale washed ashore in the town of Florence, Oregon, in 1970, the authorities tried to find the best way to get rid of it without causing any trouble for the nearby beachgoers. How did they go about it? By blowing it up with dynamite. 

Yup, a bunch of adults, presumably people qualified to deal with such situations, figured it would be better to just blow up one of the biggest mammals on the planet and act like nothing happened instead of just putting it back in the water and letting the natural ecosystem dispose of it or at least calling other authorities. They also used a lot of dynamite so as to vaporize the small chunks of the exploding whale. Needless to say, the incident was a disaster; the sprayed bits not only showered the people nearby with some unwelcome and presumably stinking whale fluids but also severely damaged one of the cars parked there.
Whenever colonization is mentioned, the Brits get most of the blame, as they admittedly had the biggest empire of them all. Yet, many other European powers dabbled in it, many times reaching close to or even overtaking Britain as the most prolific colonizer of them all. France was one of them, with the jewel of their empire in Hanoi, Vietnam (then known as Indochina).

Hanoi was set up to be one of the best cities under French rule, though there was a tiny problem: rats because of the 14 kilometers (9 mi) of sewer pipe the French had set up under the city to keep things in order, rats could now reach any part of the city through them, making the problem worse. Finally, having had enough of it, the French decided to put a bounty on the pesky creatures and asked the people to bring them dead rats for a small amount of money. Understandably not willing to go through rat carcasses at government offices, they decided to ask for only the tails of the rats.

At first, it seemed to be working quite well, as many tails were showing up, suggesting that the rats were dying, too. That wasn’t the case, though, as there were now even more rats than ever in the city. Unfortunately, the locals of Hanoi had actually turned it into a lucrative business, where they would only take the tail off the rats and let them go produce even more baby rats for profit. Because of that botched bounty scheme, rats remain a big problem for the city of Hanoi even today. 

Tasked with the problem of elementary school students who excitedly got out of their desks upon the slightest excuse, the young (anonymous) psychologist developed a plan seemingly without flaw. Every time a student resumed his or her seat, they got a gold star on a prominently displayed poster in the classroom. What could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, the problem was with the concept of “resuming.” In order to resume the sitting position, one had to out of the desk. The program brilliantly increased the wrong behavior. When the program was reinvented so that staying in the desk was rewarded, the desired behavior increased.  

What’s more: no rats were harmed under my new plan.


  1. There is no end to the entertainment human behavior provides, as you’ve shown, Warren.

  2. Interesting and discouraging at the same time.

    I remember my son's first grade classroom which had no desks. Instead, kids stood at activity centers or did their work on the floor or in a bean bag chair. Heaven for twitchy boys.

  3. One of my favorites was when Great Pyrenees dogs were introduced to large flocks of sheep in the US as an experiment to see if they would protect against predators, which they did quite effectively in Spain, not so much by fighting them off but by discouraging any attacks at all.

    One of the first ranchers to try it complained that it certainly was not working against coyotes, since the only time coyotes ever came around was when he had the dog off at the vet, never when the dog was there to actually confront them.

    They are now used extensively and prevent livestock losses while seldom killing any wildlife.