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The world’s most expensive orange

Here in the good old U.S. of A., where you can’t turn on a TV or go to the supermarket or surf the Internet without being inundated with the latest “news” about Brangelina or Brittany or Brittany’s pregnant 16-year-old sister, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have a monopoly on stupidity. (The harmless kind, that is; I’m not talking about the sort of violent cretinism afflicting places like Darfur and Myanmar. That’s a whole other level of stupid.)

Compared to us, most other ethnicities seem, if not exactly more intelligent, at least more dignified. The British are very staid and proper. Asians are hardworking and not grotesquely obese. Germans, though humorless, are industrious and technologically savvy, and the French are … well, maybe the French could give us a run for our money, but they’re certainly in the minority, or so it would appear.

Not true. Sure, we Americans may have elevated imbecility to previously unimagined heights here at the start of the 21st century, but a couple of recent news stories prove that people in foreign lands can be every bit as dumb as we can be, individually and on a governmental level.

For an example of institutionalized idiocy, one need look no further than Zimbabwe. I know that seems as obvious as pointing out that the sun rises in the east, given all the horrors wrought by Robert Mugabe’s regime, but I’m not even talking about the political killings, rigged elections and stolen farms that make the news there on a daily basis.

No, I’m referring to the Zimbabwean government’s answer to that country’s inflation rate, which is currently 2.2 million percent. As a “solution” to the high prices of goods and commodities, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe started issuing large bank notes back in December for “the convenience of the banking public and corporate sector,” according to Gideon Gono, the governor of the RBZ.

It started with a $250,000 note, and by January the RBZ was issuing denominations of $1 million and $5 million. Apparently those weren’t big enough to keep up with inflation, though, so last week the RBZ introduced bank notes worth — put your pinkie to your lips and do your best Dr. Evil impression — ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!

That’s right: $100 billion. Not thousand, not million. $100 billion.

So what can one buy in Zimbabwe for $100 billion? Victoria Falls? A massive herd of elephants? The neighboring country of Botswana? Try four oranges.

The $100 billion note, it seems, isn’t even enough to buy a loaf of bread and is equal to roughly one U.S. dollar. That’s what 2.2 million percent inflation will get you.

Just remember that the next time you start thinking you’re poor, like I do on a daily basis — if you have 10 dollars, you would be a trillionaire in Zimbabwe. And really rich Americans, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, would be — just a second while I do the math — really, really, really rich Zimbabweans. (Sorry. My calculator can’t handle numbers that big.)

But enough about that. Stupidity in Zimbabwe is hardly news, after all. On a smaller moronic level, I’d like to direct your attention to a story that made headlines a few weeks ago in Japan, which I’m sure we can all agree is among the last places we’d expect to find stupid people.

The story concerned a homeless woman who lived undetected in a man’s closet for a year before he wised up. Apparently the man became suspicious when he finally noticed that food kept mysteriously disappearing, so he installed security cameras, which filmed the woman while he was out.

According to the story, the woman even dragged a mattress into the closet and took showers — she was described by police as “neat and tidy” — all without her unsuspecting “roommate” catching on.

Now I know what you’re thinking: This is the sort of thing that could easily happen in some gargantuan starter castle in Aspen, where the absentee owner probably has closets he doesn’t even know exist, but this was not the case. The Japanese man actually lived in his house, and, while the home had several rooms, it was only one story. How the heck can you avoid noticing a mattress and a person in your closet in a one-story house for an entire year?

I’ll tell you how: good old-fashioned stupidity, the kind we thought only existed in America.

Maybe we should make that guy an honorary citizen. Oh, and let’s send the woman to Zimbabwe with 10 bucks in her pocket so she can be a homeless trillionaire.

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Todd Hartley

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07 2008

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