FOOLS & FOLLIES FILES
In News & Commentary from All Over
In my book Fool: Identifying and Overcoming Character Deficiency Syndrome, I examine the different levels of folly, i.e., character deficiency.  With distressing regularity I come across reports or commentaries in the public media that remind me of these points.  Some of them I’ll post on this page.  Please understand that my purpose is not to make a judgment about these issues, and even less for the trivial purpose of entertainment, but to illustrate the principles of Scripture.
Tax cheats: Single, young and male*
*CNN Money.Com, March 27, 2011
According to an annual survey by DDB Worldwide Communications Group, the typical American tax cheat is male, single and under the age of 45.
And that’s not even the most interesting thing about the study—at least not from the point of view of Character Deficiency Syndrome.  According to the article written by CNNMoney staffer Blake Ellis, the survey found:
Many cheaters also try to justify their behavior. Far more tax cheats said they are 'overall better people' and that they are 'special and deserve to be treated that way', compared to the people who said they don't cheat.
And it's not just taxes that they are dishonest about.
"Their willingness to cheat is not limited to their taxes but spans a wide range of situations and behavior where they are looking to get away with something," said James Lou, U.S. chief strategist at DDB.
...Self-proclaimed cheaters are also much more likely to keep the wrong change given to them by a cashier, to ask a friend to pretend to be a former boss for a reference check and to lie about their income to qualify for government aid.
Many of them also said they would wear an outfit once and return it, file false insurance claims, keep money they see someone drop on the floor, or lie about finding something inappropriate in their food just to get a free meal.
Tax cheaters are even more likely to steal money from a child. The survey found that while only 3% of non-cheaters would ever take money from their child's piggy bank, 28% of cheaters said they would.
"While it's understandable that no one likes to pay taxes, we were surprised to find that tax cheaters' overall willingness to engage in other unethical and illegal behavior is perhaps justified simply by their belief that they are special and deserve special treatment," said Lou.
The significance of this observation for Character Deficiency Syndrome is not pegged to any one level of folly, but indicates the kind of self-centeredness characteristic of folly in general.  That it also becomes the marker for a particular social trend and demographic grouping is especially alarming.

 A Colossal FAIL in Character Assessment
Headlines from the UK Guardian, Sunday, August 1, 2010:
US couple held as serial killing suspects in Panama paradise
 Bodybuilder William Holbert 'confesses to seven murders'
• Wife Laura Reese asks for lawyer after fleeing Bocas del Toro
The story details the shocking revelation that the cheerful husband and wife who ran a Panamanian hostel confessed to be serial killers who murdered up to nine people for their property and money.
Despite his arrest, the subject was nonchalant. “Before disappearing into a cell, Holbert, 30, appearing upbeat, told a local TV channel: ‘The people of Panama are very friendly, and I like living here.’ Asked about the deaths, he laughed and said: ‘I need to speak to them [the authorities]about that. I just want to say, thanks for the trip.’"
This man represents a clear case study in the Aggravated 3rd Degree of Character Deficiency Syndrome, viz., The Shameless Fool (Nabal).
According to the report, Holbert’s use of steroids as a bodybuilder increased his aggressiveness. He also became fascinated with white supremacy and Adolf Hitler.
But what particularly caught my attention in the story (which details a long career of sociopathic behavior) was the following:
Holbert briefly managed a gym ... and impressed the boss despite stealing $25,000. 'If only he could have focused himself, he had a brilliant mind,' Kevin Hoover, who did not press charges, told the Associated Press.
If only he could have focused himself?!?!  
This is a colossal and unfunny FAIL in character assessment.  After getting away unpunished from this theft, Holbert fraudulently sold a $200,000 coastal home and a car, neither of which he owned. Using aliases he “eluded authorities in six states, once escaping in an off-road, high-speed chase in Wyoming, and landing a spot on America's Most Wanted.”
Then fleeing to Panama, Holbert and his wife posed as wealthy entrepreneurs who ran a hostel. “The couple allegedly befriended residents before shooting them in the head, burying them and taking over their homes and businesses. ‘He picked out his victims after making their acquaintance," [the prosecutor] told reporters. ‘Knowing that nobody would ask about them, he got rid of them.’”
A brilliant mind and a criminal heart--that’s a bad combination.  
 Darkness Begets Dishonesty, Study Finds
A dimly lit room can facilitate a loss of integrity.  That’s the conclusion of study carried out in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.  The research, detailed in an article in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that darkness or even dim lighting imparts a psychological illusion of hiddenness and anonymity.  It is an illusion strong enough to lead people to do things they would not do if they thought people were watching.
The studies are summarized in an report by Jeanna Bryaer in LiveScience.com (March 1, 2010) 
In one experiment, 84 college students were placed in a dimly or well-lit room and were given two envelopes - one containing $10 and the other empty. Participants then had five minutes to complete a test in which they had to pick out two numbers that added up to 10 from each of 20 matrices. For each pair of numbers correctly identified participants could keep $0.50 from their money supply. The catch: Participants scored their own work, and they figured out how much money they got to keep, and transfer to the empty envelope, at the end of the experiment.
They all fared the same on the tests, though participants in the dim room cheated more than their counterparts. While those in the well-lit room reported an average of 7.8 correctly solved matrices, the dim-room students indicated an average of 11.5 correct responses. That resulted in a $1.85 difference in payout.
In another experiment students wore sunglasses or clear glasses while playing a money game in which they had to allocate some portion of $6 to a random stranger. Those wearing shades acted more selfishly, giving significantly less to partners, an average of $1.81, than did those with clear glasses who gave about $2.71 to partners.
Another round of this game with a different group of students showed that participants with sunglasses felt a greater sense of anonymity than those with clear glasses. For instance, the sunglass wearers were more likely to agree on average with statements such as: I was anonymous during the study; my choice went unnoticed during the study. And they were more likely to disagree with: I was watched during the study; and others were paying attention to my behavior during the study.
Darkness is a trap for the simple fool in particular.  Compare this study with a passage from Fool in which I describe the importance of darkness as the simple youth is lured by sex to the destruction of his future in Proverbs 7:11. 
The darkness is an important element in this scene.  Sin...likes dark environments.  Darkness alleviates inhibitions.  Darkness creates anonymity.  Darkness fosters the illusion that sex is purely a physical act in which the soul is not involved.... If the simple one persists in his quest for the ultimate sexual experience, there will probably come a time when he is sufficiently desensitized to his conscience so that daylight will be as good as darkness.  Until then, however, the darkness has always provided a sense of safety and security for the practice of immorality.  This, too, is a lie.
Wisdom: “It don’t come easy”
 Bad Behavior in Youth Linked to Career Problems Later
The importance of an early start in shaping a child’s character is driven home by a cluster of recently published studies.  The basic question was, What happens to young kids who are behavior problems in school.  Surprisingly the study found that, academically, they can do all right, they can learn what they need to learn.  The problems come in later.  “if the bad behavior persists until age eight, education can be compromised, and professional success later in life is less likely.”
Specifically, “persistent behavior problems in eight-year-olds are powerful predictors of educational attainment and of how well people will do in middle-age, according to Rowell Huesmann at the Center for the Analyses of Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood (CAPCA) at the University of Michigan.”
These studies, whose results were published in the journal Developmental Psychology, “found that children who engaged in more frequent aggressive behaviors as eight-year-olds had significantly lower educational success by their 30s and significantly lower status occupations by their mid-40s.”
On the other hand, “researchers also noted that popularity and positive social behavior in childhood and adolescence predicted higher levels of educational attainment in early adulthood.”
[Source: LiveScience.com, 11/26/07]     
The Fatal Attraction of Folly
 [Watch this space.]
The Clueless Life of the Simple
The Simple are those who engage in misbehavior or get involved in disastrous projects because it doesn’t occur to them that their actions and commitments will have destructive consequences.
Teens Using Cell Phones to Send Nude Photos 
On June 4, 2008 Newsday.com published an AP story by Stephanie Reitz documenting a disturbing new trend in adolescent folly: taking nude pictures of themselves and passing them around by cell phone. It was one of the earliest notices that the adult world had taken of the youthful misuse of a fast-spreading technology.
We live in an age where everyone wants to be a star--even if it means being a porn star.
Reitz’s story relates several examples of this kind of indecency, including a few that resulted in felony child pornography charges.  What marks the story, however, and make it of interest to us here is the carelessness and naiveté of the young folks who do these things.  It’s so easy to use these camera phones, it doesn’t seem to occur to them that once the image is in someone else’s hands it is out of their control.  Or that their nakedness might end up in full view of the whole world, literally, via the Internet.  Or that possessing the image of underage persons can make them liable for possession and distribution of child pornography—even if they themselves might be underage.
Connecticut police Sgt. Jim Smith, who investigates cybercrime and online child pornography, conducts seminars in which he warns parents about the use of cell phones to send nude pictures. "It's often so spur of the moment that they're not thinking about where those images might end up," Smith said. "They might think it's just fun and games at the time they do it, but these images can really spread like wildfire."
A PTA mom makes the observation:  
“It used to be that kids would make mistakes, and it was local and singular and everyone knew it was part of growing up. Now a stupid adolescent mistake can take on major implications and go on their record for the rest of their lives.”
The story dutifully gives us the humanistic diagnosis:
Psychologists say the phenomenon reflects typical teenage hormones and lack of judgment, with technology multiplying the potential for mischief. It also may reflect a teenage penchant for exhibitionism….
We, however, may call it what it is: the very definition of the folly of the Simple--complicated by a culture that has been increasingly pornified.
Since then the trend has become a fairly common activity, and it has a name: “sexting,” and the most current news reports are also carrying discussion and debate about the legal quandary posed to law enforcement and prosecutors.
CNN broadcast a story of an 18 year-old male (do you want to call him a man or a boy?) whose “sexting” of his 16 year-old girlfriend has landed him on a sex offender list (CNN, 4/8/09).  A columnist laments how “the very child porn laws written to protect children from being exploited by adults could wind up having a devastating impact on the lives of children who, while acting stupidly, have no criminal intent” (Larry Magid, Palo Alto Daily News, 4?7/09).    And a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial actually compares the controversy over sexting to “an earlier generation’s opposition to that sexy rock ‘n’ roll” (“Sexting Overkill,” 4/6/09).
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
The Evan Trembley “Missing Child” Hoax
Last August (2007) a missing child alert email began circulating, seeking information and prayers for 15-year old Evan Trembley.  It was a hoax.  There really is such a lad, but he never was really missing.
The kicker in this story is that the hoax email originated with--Evan Trembley!  It seems that he used an already existing such hoax email as a template, and wrote himself into it, including a personal photo and making it seem more real by including a (fake) police officer contact.  He then sent it as a joke to a few friends, who apparently also forwarded to a few friends, and so on, and so on....
When Evan’s family started getting phone calls it was bad enough, but when the police in his home city began receiving calls and emails to a non-existent detective, they got involved and things got a bit more serious.
This is a beautiful illustration of the kind of trouble the simple get into.  Doubtless young Evan intended no harm, and certainly it never occurred to him that something like this could get out of hand.  Exactly.  It never occurred to him! Simple!
 “Spanking children can lead to problems later in life” - Headline
Only the Simple take headlines at face value.  Often they accept it as a fact because, well, it wouldn’t be in a headline if it weren’t a fact.
For once the headline is less juicy than the story. We’re not just talking about problems in general, but sexual problems. It’s from a Reuter’s report (2/29/08) on a study by Prof. Murray Straus, University of New Hampshire. He analyzed the International Dating Violence Study and “found that children who are spanked or experience other corporal punishment have a raised risk as teenagers and adults to verbally or physically coerce a partner into having sex.”
The good professor found that “men who had experienced corporal punishment were four times more likely to physically coerce a partner into having sex, than those who had not experienced a lot of corporal punishment.”  Moreover, “Both men and women who had experienced corporal punishment as children were less than 10 percent more likely than those who had not been spanked to verbally coerce sex from a partner.”
Of course this stands squarely against the biblical admonitions that a father’s love is shown through “chastening” of his son, even with the rod if necessary.
Now I don’t have either the survey nor Prof. Straus’s analysis in front of me, but there are some indications in the story of flaws that I would pursue if that were my field and I were going to offer a formal critique.
#1, There is evidence of the “correlation equals causation” fallacy.  The assumption is that the occurrence of corporal punishment caused or contributed to--no, let’s just say it caused the “sexual problems” in later life.  Assuming all the findings of the survey are valid, the conclusion does not follow.  Could it be that both the corporal punishment received and the sexual acting out indicate the same aggressive personality type?  It could be argued that aggressive behavior in children draws more corporal punishment than non-aggressive behavior. That argument is not in evidence here.
#2, There is evidence of pre-study bias.  That’s a polite way of saying that often scholarly conclusions are drawn first, and then evidence is found for it.  “Straus said studies have shown that corporal punishment leads to low self control and self esteem, as well as aggressiveness, antisocial personalities and the understanding that violence is okay which may lead to sexual coercion.  He added that there are alternative ways to discipline children that work better and do not have side effects.”  In other words, we’ve already decided that spanking constitutes child abuse, we’re just gathering more evidence for the prosecution.
#3, While the story indicates a clear definition in the study of “sexual coercion,” it is vague on the definition of “corporal punishment.”  Any measure of degree here?  Any distinction between a stinging spanking that brings tears and a thorough beating that leaves whelps?  Suppose that matters?
#4, Speaking of vague, how about this statement from Dr. Straus: "It's more evidence that parents should not spank if the wellbeing of their children is at stake." So what does that mean?  Is he saying go ahead and spank if the wellbeing of the child is not at stake?  But the Bible says to spank because the future wellbeing of the child is at stake.
#5, As a result of activist propaganda and lawsuits that characterized extreme examples of true abuse as the norm, corporal punishment in schools has largely lost social acceptability and become legally risky. Where is the study that compares the rate and severity of school discipline problems before and after the era of corporal correction?  I don’t have it, but I can give you some anecdotal data on it (and it doesn’t look pretty).
#6, Just one more thing: Dr. Straus characterizes the point and purpose of corporal correction as “coercion.”  But the Bible doesn’t portray it as coercion, but the application of a deterrent to rebellion.  To a certain degree, we have agreement with behaviorists here.  The idea is that it is healthy to associate rebellious choices with pain rather than success--that it’s better for a child to experience mild, non-injurious pain applied by a loving hand, than when he is older to experience the crushing retribution of the consequences when his character veers off course.
For a concise review of what the Bible actually teaches on this matter (as opposed to the false caricature secularists give), see Fool, pages 157-158.   
Beware the Self-Confident Fool!
The Self-Confident Fool is no longer naive.  He’s seen others go down because of wrong or unethical choices, but he’s experienced enough success at it that he thinks he can avoid the consequences.  He thinks he’s found a way to beat “the system,” and that what has happened to others will never happen to him.
 Fake essay costs girl concert tickets
I started to put this in the Simple category, but when you read further into the story it becomes creepier.  This is definitely the work of a Self-Confident Fool. Here’s the AP news story verbatim:
Associated Press (12/30/2007)
GARLAND -- A 6-year-old girl who won four tickets to a Hannah Montana concert with an essay that falsely claimed her father died in Iraq won't be going to the show after all.
The contest's sponsor, Club Libby Lu, withdrew the prize Saturday and awarded it to another unnamed winner.
"With this decision, we hope to revive the intended spirit of the contest, which was designed to make a little girl's holidays extra special," Club Libby Lu Chief Executive Mary Drolet said in a statement Saturday.
Officials with the Chicago-based chain surprised the girl Friday at a Club Libby Lu store in a suburban Dallas mall. Club Libby Lu sells clothes, accessories and games for young girls.
The girl won a makeover that included a blond Hannah Montana wig as well as the grand prize: airfare for four to Albany, N.Y., and four tickets to the sold-out Hannah Montana concert Jan. 9.
The opening line in the essay was: "My daddy died this year in Iraq."
But the girl's mother, Priscilla Ceballos, admitted later Friday that the essay and the military information she provided about her daughter's father were untrue.
Ceballos had told Club Libby Lu officials that the girl's father died April 17 in a roadside bombing in Iraq, company spokeswoman Robyn Caulfield said.
She identified the soldier as Sgt. Jonathon Menjivar, but the Department of Defense has no record of anyone with that name dying in Iraq.
"We did the essay, and that's what we did to win. We did whatever we could do to win," Ceballos said in an interview with Dallas TV station KDFW on Friday. "But when [Caulfield] asked me if this essay is true, I said, 'No, this essay is not true.'"
The Associated Press was unable to find a phone number for Ceballos on Saturday.
Committed to Folly
The Committed Fool is neither naive, nor blindly self-confident.  He is rebellious.  He doesn’t care whether there are going to be consequences.  Folly, moral rebellion (in at least one area) is now part of his nature and character--he’s committed to it.
The Unhappy Case of Andre Smith
It’s more complicated than it looks
The sports news leading up to the 2009 NFL Draft has featured incredulous reporting on the amazing fall of Andre Smith of the University of Alabama.
Here's an example of how one may demonstrate the behavior of a Committed Fool, yet not necessarily be a total fool. 
Andre is one of the most talented and physically gifted men to play his position - the award-winning best among his peers in all college football. He was projected to go high in the NFL draft, maybe #1.
Then he showed his character, and pro teams began backing away from him like crazy. Why? Because not only has Andre shown a commitment to his own slothfulness, but also an arrogant sense of entitlement. His tryouts have been listless, and he has walked out before the end of his workouts.  This is not the kind of thing that encourages NFL owners and coaches to invest in a player.
Thus he may end up forfeiting something he's worked for since he was a kid, because he is committed - maybe only in a limited way - to folly. Granted that there may be a part of the story that hasn’t (yet) been reported.  Even so, the choices he is making indicate an aspect of character that is not easily undone. This is Character Deficiency Syndrome in the 3rd Degree, applied not to one’s entire character, but crippling a part.
Unfortunately, the part tarnishes the whole.  “As dead flies cause the perfumer’s ointment to stink, so does a little folly outweigh wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1)
NY Gov. Spitzer Scandal Illustrates Character Deficiency Syndrome
Amidst all the election year follies of March 2008, none got more play in the headlines than the scandal surrounding NY Governor Elliot Spitzer.  What got my attention was how his case brought out some key indicators of 3rd Degree Folly and the Committed Fool.  They go together: Smug self-righteousness before being caught, smug self-righteousness after being caught, and hypocrisy.
Gov. Spitzer made his reputation as a corruption-busting prosecutor.  One of his most significant targets was high-end prostitution.  That is where he was caught in the process of a federal investigation--involved with a high-priced call-girl ring.
We all may act hypocritically at times, but hypocrisy is the lifestyle of the Committed Fool.  Gov. Spitzer was snared in the very thing he so vigorously prosecuted--and evidence shows he was engaging in his illegal activities even while he was prosecuting them.
In all of his “apologies” he minimized his offense and maximized his own virtue.  (He stopped short of blaming others and self-pitying declarations of persecution--so far.)  Think “Ken Lay” and “Enron.”
This kind of behavior is the mark of the Committed Fool.
 Church affection program allegedly included spouse sharing
Folks, this one is really creepy.  The setting is London, Ontario, and the source is a news story by Jane Sims in the London Free-Press, March 4, 2008.
It seems there is a trial going on of a certain preacher there named Royden Wood, former pastor of the now-defunct Ambassador Baptist Church.  Pastor Wood has pleaded not guilty to 13 charges--three of them sex-related charges involving 2 females and the rest of assault involving 3 boys who attended the church’s alternative school from 1985 to 1987.  Hmmmm.
But that’s not what the story is about.  Instead it centers on the testimony of one woman, whose identity is sealed by a court order, who took the stand to talk about the church.  
It seems the church had a special “affection program” in which women were encouraged to share their husbands.
Any red flags waving and bells going off for you yet?
The woman giving testimony “said she wasn’t the jealous type and agreed to allow her friend to share physical affection, coffee and dates with her spouse.... But as the program went on, the two friends’ relationship deteriorated and the woman’s friend’s husband left and wouldn’t return unless the program stopped.”  She also said she received unwanted affection from men in church, but “I was expected to go along with the program.”
What she proceeded to describe includes a strange mixture of immodesty and licentiousness with prudishness and legalism.  (The following condenses the text of the story.)
“I was not pleased that there were no spousal limitations set,” the woman said, adding there were no restrictions on other women kissing her husband on the mouth or sitting on his lap or holding hands.  In church there was hand-holding, back massages, teasing and tickling.  Even Wood, she said, preached from the pulpit that some members should be getting “speeding tickets” for going too fast.
Wood also taught an unusual view on adultery — and said it wasn’t that serious of a sin. The most harmed, he said was the person who committed the adultery.
Women had little status and were taught to submit to their husbands, she said.  Makeup and jewelry was discouraged. So were pants.  At swimming parties, people swam in their clothes.
When the woman asked about makeup and jewelry, Wood would speak about it “severely.” Her husband asked her not to ask questions. “Just go along and don’t make waves.”  The woman recalled that at one point, every woman would come to church in long denim skirts, running shoes and sweatshirts.  Wood said latest fashion was “ungodly” and by dressing down the homeless and addicts would feel comfortable sitting in the church.  “We did that to look separate from what we called ‘the world,’ ” she said.
Wood told the congregation women “should be treated like princesses” and a woman’s body was “a thing of beauty.”  The woman said Wood taught it was acceptable for men to look at other women.  Not doing so might result in erectile problems that would cause a man to lose his relationship with his wife.  Birth control was also discouraged, she said.
Wood was in control of all aspects of the church and warned he would veto any decisions he didn’t agree with.  He would raise “negative innuendoes” about all the families that left the church. He called them “thumb-sucking Christians” and spoke of them in a poor light.  Members were discouraged from speaking to people who left.  “God’s quitter department was full,” [he] would say.  “We were in fear of bringing anything to him because we would be negatively spoken of by him,” she said. 
After charges were laid, there was a “hands-off” policy at the church, which she said was a “complete change for Wood.”  He told the congregation he was “being persecuted by people because he was doing God’s work.”  “He was getting rewards in heaven because he was being persecuted and he was happy because of it,” she said. She said about one-third of the congregation “still sides with Roy.”
Okay, there’s a lot going on here I could comment on, especially with regard to abusive churches (something I got several letters on after Christianity Today published an article I wrote on the Restoration Movement.)  But I’m going to stick to topic here and focus on folly.
Understand, I’m not invoking judgment either in the court case or regarding the personal salvation of the people involved.  I’m looking at the quality of the fruit being produced here, and it stinks badly!
There are essentially 2 kinds of fools at work here.  Above all there is the committed fool, the abusive shepherd.  After that there is a whole flock of simple fools who are following him because he’s offering them guilty pleasures without the guilt.
But yes, this story belongs in the category of the Committed Fool.  In order to lead people astray, you have to first be convinced that you are right to do so.  Pastor Wood has made a positive commitment to folly, and I do hope he finds repentance.  
What would lead a Bible-believing pastor to commit to ideas and practices so clearly foreign to the New Testament, and thus bring such shame to the cause of Christ?  I’d say there’s a 90% chance that the man is deep into pornography.
Anyone want to challenge that?
Shameless Fools
The Shameless Fool is the Committed Fool gone to seed.  He doesn’t even care about the social blowback from his misdeeds.  He flouts morality, and is blatant about his unethical and immoral choices.
 [Watch this space.]

Scorner’s, Mockers, & People Under the Influence
The Scorner actively works to tear down the moral standards of others as though it were his mission in life.  
We also include here the influence of alcohol and other drugs that work to suppress the image of God in man, taking our cue from Proverbs  : “Wine is a mocker,” i.e., alcohol has the capacity to turn an otherwise well-meaning person into a Scornful Fool.  As for example in this story:
 [Watch this space.]

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