Six Fascinating Historical Ironies - 6/20/11
Recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drew criticism when he condemned the violent suppression of government opposition in Libya and supported the anti-government factions in Egypt... all while using security forces to repeatedly crush opposition protests in his own country. Ironic? Or maybe he was just being a politician.

Irony is one of those many-definitioned concepts everyone loves to argue about, but few seem to be able to get right. It would be so much easier if everyone just gave examples, like a fire station burning down, or a tow truck being towed.


Regardless of our ability to understand irony, the world is chock full of it. (Note: Most of the following examples -- and the two silly ones above -- fall into the "situational irony" category, before angry commenters warm up their caps fingers to tell us the difference between Socratic and Dramatic Irony). Here are six of the most cosmically, forehead-slappingly ironic turns of events in history.

Hint: None of them is an Alanis Morissette song.


Ronald Reagan Is Shot By His Own Bulletproof Limo


In 1981, Ronald Reagan became the first president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt, thanks in part to prompt medical attention, and to the fact that his would-be assassin was insane (well, more insane than people who try to shoot the president usually are). John Hinckley, after becoming obsessed with actress Jodi Foster and the movie Taxi Driver, decided he would impress the actress by killing the president. Because apparently girls are into that.

As Reagan exited a luncheon address in D.C., Hinckley fired six shots, wounding three members of the president's staff. The sixth bullet hit the side of Reagan's limousine and, rather than stopping there (as happens with most people's limos) ricocheted off the bulletproof armor and lodged itself in Reagan's chest. Reagan was rushed to a nearby hospital and thankfully made a full recovery, but not before a vehicle specifically designed to protect the president from gunfire... ended up getting him shot. Though some argue he had it coming, for Reaganomics and/or the film 'Bedtime for Bonzo'.


80,000 Safety Buttons Recalled For Being Unsafe


In 1974, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was busy forcing toy recalls and ruining the fun of children everywhere. Zulu the Needle Gun, Sniffy the Dagger-Eyed Death Dog ... These great toys and more were banned as the United States took giant steps forward to becoming a safer, lamer place where watered-down children play with safety spoons and drool themselves to sleep at night.

The zealous group went so far as to distribute 80,000 lapel buttons promoting toy safety, and therein lay the rub. The buttons were soon discovered to be unsafe, and universally recalled, because somehow they went out without the Commission noticing that they had sharp edges, paint that contained way too much lead, and tiny clips that could be broken off and eaten by children.

But at least the buttons were safer than the original version of the buttons, which came with spikes and cyanide coating.


Health Guru and Jogging Author Jim Fixx Dies of a Heart Attack While Running


Jim Fixx was one healthy dude. He wrote "The Complete Book of Running", thought it's hard to imagine how this book was more than a couple pages long (Chapter One: Running Fast. Chapter Two: Running Slow). He lectured about how running and a healthy diet promoted longevity. And then, in 1984 at age 52, he dropped dead from three massively blocked arteries during a routine jog.

Comedians afterwards joked darkly about the fact that the jogging and fitness legend had died of a heart attack, but Keith Richards was still alive (and still is). Perhaps there's something to that old, rock-star adage about the more drugs you do, the longer you live.

Maybe that's what Charlie Sheen is going for.


Cane Toads Meant To Help Australia's Ecosystem... Destroy Australia's Ecosystem


In the 1930's, people in northeastern Australia had a problem worse that just living in northeastern Australia. One of their major crops, sugarcane, was being ravaged by cane beetles, particularly the greyback beetle and the frenchi beetle (Note: not a derogatory term for a beetle from France). The chemicals that farmers were using to battle beetles at the time were very primitive and capable of doing lot of environment damage, so the Department of Agriculture hatched a more eco-friendly plan: toads.

Having heard cane toad success stories from Hawaii and other places, Australian officials introduced a few hundred cane toads into Queensland. The toads quickly spread, aided by their lack of natural predators, and by 1980 there were more than 200 million of them. Problem was, they didn't control the cane beetle. There were other, easier sources of food, which the toads won by out-competing Australia's native frog species, and the cane fields didn't offer much daytime protection from what few native predators (birds, etc) DID learn to hunt the toads. So the toads stayed away from the cane fields. But they went everywhere else.

Since the 1940's, there have been marked reductions in numerous Australian snake, reptile and crocodile species. Since the toads are poisonous, there are constant cases of pets and humans being injured from toad toxin, and various water and fish supplies have been contaminate. Not to mention, nobody wants their country coated in huge, disgusting toads. Cane growers had no choice but to go right back to chemicals to control the beetle population. As for controlling the toads, farmers have hatched a number of plans, including one that involves releasing parasites to curb the toad population.

Sounds like a solid plan. What could go wrong?


Daredevil Bobby Leech Dies From Slipping on an Orange Peel


On July 25th, 1911, circus performer Bobby Leach became only the second person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, back before the X Games made it an official event in 1912. Despite riding the monstrous falls in a metal barrel with minimal padding and fracturing both kneecaps and his jaw, the invincible Leech recovered and went on to a life of surviving swims in whirlpool rapids and generally being a man among men.

...Until 1926, anyway, when Leech was touring in New Zealand and slipped on an orange peel, injuring his leg. The leg became gangrenous, had to be amputed, and Leech died in his bed just after the operation, the opposite death you'd expect from an iron-bellied daredevil. At least Evel Knievel died of heart complications from too many blood transfusions after his spectacular wipeouts. Bobby Leech died from a fruit skin.


The Unsinkable Titanic... Well, We All Know How This Ends


Although fewer people than we think were actually running around describing the Titanic as "virtually unsinkable", there was no lack of hubris surrounding the design of the cutting edge boat. The ship was named after the Titans, the only group in Greek mythology ever to defeat the Gods. The vessel was also never christened, and was an Olympic-class liner, as in Mount Olympus, down from which the Titans threw Zeus and his family of Gods... you get the idea. It's almost as if the architects of the Titanic were literally sticking up a big middle finger directly at The Almighty.

There may have been other ironies involved with the Titanic, like "safety features" trapping people into rapidly flooding compartments, that the ship may have been better off it had just hit the iceberg head-on rather than turning and allowing the iceberg to rip a gash along the side, but it's hard to say what is true and what is post-event speculation. One interesting tidbit is that, ultimately, the sinking of the Titanic may have been GOOD for the cruise industry: the December 1997 release of the film was followed by one of the cruise industry's best years ever, luckily undoing the damage caused by the previous summer's release of Speed 2: Cruise Control. (Note: Titanic made over $1.6 billion, enough to build four Titanics today. So really, the ship paid for itself. Or rather, it paid James Cameron).

Carol Spencer Brown of CruiseCritic.com speaks of, "the boost that the tragedy has given to contemporary cruising... The fact that a ship sank and lots of passengers lost their lives has paled in the face of the romantic image that it portrays." In other words, people associate the Titanic less with a fear of dying in a shipwreck than with the hope of getting jiggy on a boat with Kate Winslet or Leo DiCaprio

In 2012, Miles Morgan Travel has scheduled a Southampton-to-New York cruise to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic (and possibly to serve as an ark when the world ends, around the same time). So next year, several thousand people will be stepping aboard the MS Balmoral, to retrace the Titanic's path across the Atlantic.

Wouldn't it be ironic if THAT ship sank?


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