Greek Tragedy and the “Twinkie Defense” | Theory Of Irony

tragedyIf you were to think politics has evolved a long way from the rough and tumble time of Sophocles, consider the Greek tragedy that unfolded when a former marine, Oliver Sipple, saved the life of American President Gerald Ford on a fall San Francisco day in 1975.  By complete coincidence, this man happened to notice an assassin leveling a gun at Ford and he lunged at the assailant, resulting in the bullet just missing its target, but striking someone else.  Sipple, suddenly a hero to a hero-hungry nation, got a letter from the President acknowledging this unique act of courage and personally thanking him.  But as unwanted media attention continued to grow, Sipple…

Source: Greek Tragedy and the “Twinkie Defense” | Theory Of Irony

Sutton Hoo?

sutton.hoo_.helmetIn 624, at a windswept English coastal town with the comical name of Sutton Hoo, the royal ship of an Anglo-Saxon King was loaded to the gunwales with treasures beyond compare. Its manifest would list piles of precious metals, jewel-encrusted odds and ends, rare coins, arms from the far north, tableware from the far south and above all, a spectacular golden war helmet. The whole shining ship, 90 feet of overreaching opulence from stem to stern, mocked the dusk into which the sovereign’s world was lapsing. When at last, every artifact had been neatly stowed and the King brought aboard, the vessel embarked upon one final voyage home. Its strange journey did not head out over the seas, but rather into the Earth and covered over with dirt until a mound rose up from the hole. The ship traveled into a darkness very much like that which Western Civilization itself was falling, for this was the…

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World War II in Four Paragraphs | Theory Of Irony

250px-Fotothek_df_ps_0000010_Blick_vom_RathausturmWorld War II started out, if you believed the Fascist propaganda (and nobody did),  as a limited Polish border dispute.  But soon Germany and its vassal States overran most of Europe and Northern Africa, plus a big chunk of Asia – as they liked to brag, from the Sahara Desert to the Arctic Circle.  A very lonely Britain sent up a few hundred pilots who faced odds approaching absolute zero, but against all expectation they started to win the battle for the skies.  During this airborne mayhem one particularly bad German pilot accidentally bombed residential London and Britain retaliated by unloading on municipal Berlin.  In knee-jerk response, an enraged Hitler switched to civilian targets – just when the British military was reaching the verge of exhaustion.  While this went on, Germany made the most catastrophic blunder in recorded history and attacked its nominal eastern ally, the Soviet Union.

The tide turned in ways that could never have been predicted.  The Germans got so far as to occupy nine-tenths of Stalingrad, really a second-tier military goal, but one of immense psychological importance to the The Soviet Union rebounded with the same tenacity it showed at Stalingrad, grimly took back Eastern Europe and started pounding on the gates of Berlin.  A brief digression is needed here to explain that, 200 years before, a Russian Czarina…

Source: World War II in Four Paragraphs | Theory Of Irony

The Albatross | Theory Of Irony

Originally posted on Theory Of Irony.

In 1901, the daydreaming of an obscure Austrian piano maker named Wilhelm Kress embodied the collective enthusiasm and wisdom of Victorian-era Europe. He had won a contest, it seems, to design a fantastic new craft that would attempt what many of the time thought impossible. With the prize money as payment, Kress ordered a new and lightweight engine to power what might be pictured in the mind’s eye as a giant twin-hulled, mechanical albatross. And so masked by enthusiasm, he failed to note on some subconscious level that the engine’s growl was a little too loud as the great bird came to life? Or perhaps this man repressed the voice in the back of his mind – drowned out by adrenalin – which tried to convey that the albatross glided across the water a little too fast? Whatever mental process should have alerted him that things were starting to go amiss, Kress failed to heed it. He continued to pilot his craft as it began to rise out of the water as if being pulled heavenward like Haghia Sophia’s dome by the hand of the Almighty.

Then fate intervened. The instant before Wilhelm Kress’ gossamer bird stopped kissing the water and launched into the sky, that voice…

via The Albatross | Theory Of Irony.

Ancient Rome and Modern Pittsburgh | Theory Of Irony

Originally posted on Theory Of Irony.

Proud Rome rose mightily from its humble origins. The so-called “Eternal City,” once a sad and swampy little clump of huts, had been founded according to tradition way back around 753 BC. It was established, depending upon whom you believe, by either the Greeks, the Trojans, the Etruscans or by two sociopathic orphan boys – named Romulus and Remus – and a wolf (please don’t ask). Whatever the true origin, this hamlet by all accounts grew over time into a powerful City-State and then it evolved into a sprawling Empire. So by the third century AD, mother Rome had given birth to a large brood of colonial, garrison towns speckled across Europe, places looking much like its own former self. Of course, the Empire eventually fell and these garrison towns – like abandoned children in a way – matured into Cities with familiar names like London, Paris and Bonn. And they themselves became capitals of great colonial Empires like France, Britain and Germany.

Nearly two millennia went by when a couple of these Roman orphans – Britain playing Romulus to France’s Remus – came to blows. It seems Britain had colonized places on the American coast, like Philadelphia, and an affronted France had settled further inland at sites…

via Ancient Rome and Modern Pittsburgh | Theory Of Irony.

Paradox of Chartres Cathedral | Theory Of Irony

Originally posted on Theory Of Irony

More than 1600 years before all the New York City skyscrapers, the matt-haired and rag-draped farmers of northern France built a simple wooden church – which, burned down.  The good people, faithful and diligent though they were, replaced it with another, which burned down, and another, which burned down, and yet another – which also, burned down.  The year now 1144, they rebuilt with stone, working on a Romanesque design, with towers of such height and sculptures of such beauty as had never, on completion in 1164, been seen before.  It too, largely burned down, but this time the towers, the front façade and the crypt survived. So, starting on these foundations in 1194, the locals rebuilt again using a new Gothic style of architecture.  To this end an army of illiterate peasants descended from all over France, joined by the equally illiterate nobility and they volunteered for work crews en-masse.  Stories exist of the whole lot hitching themselves up to carts like farm animals in order to haul supplies and stones from a distant quarry.  With a spirit and humility lacking translation, they put up a new Cathedral in near-record time and it was basically completed by 1220.

The various fields of science, often unfairly cast as the bane of religion, saw advancements which now allowed for better Church construction. Architects started with soaring, pointed arches where low, semi-circular ones had in the past supported the laborious weight of stone. To these arches, the architects slapped on a system of “flying buttresses,” sort of external supports which distributed horizontal loads away from the sides and downward to the ground. Builders, consequently blessed with higher and thinner walls, questioned, “What could be done with all the new wall space?” They were answered with stained glass windows, which conveyed…

via Paradox of Chartres Cathedral | Theory Of Irony.

Council of Nicaea | Theory Of Irony

The stage was set, in 312 AD, for one of the most surreal, maybe miraculous events in history. The Western Caesar Constantine started marching his army of perhaps forty thousand over the Alps and into Italy, the home turf of his nemesis, a Roman Usurper named Maxentius.  It may have seemed suicidal to Constantine’s men who were outnumbered perhaps four-to-one, since conventional wisdom holds that an attacking force itself needs a three-to-one advantage.  But, they did absolutely everything right and what happened next depends upon whom you believe.  Constantine, some say, saw a heavenly vision – a cross of light superimposed over the sun.  Or, he saw some rare, natural phenomena like a sun devil which he earnestly perceived as a heavenly cross of light superimposed over the sun.  Or, the impending battle caused Constantine to hallucinate a heavenly cross of light superimposed over the sun.  Or, Constantine sensed the now undeniable momentum of the Christians and so, came to convince himself that a heavenly cross of light had been superimposed over the sun.  Or, he lied and made the whole thing up.

Maxentius, by contrast, did absolutely everything wrong.  He lost a series of preliminary battles.  Then, fearing the same paranoid subterfuge inside Rome which brought him to power, he abandoned the City’s walls, which he had only recently strengthened, to confront his adversary outside.  In doing so, Maxentius quizzically abandoned a strategy that had twice saved him.  Only now, he followed his generals instead of leading them and lost the opening skirmish at nearby Via Flamina.  The Usurper, and his remaining troops, fled with all the decorum of ostriches running into the wind to a place called Milvian Bridge.  There, everyone from the doe-eyed believer to the squint-eyed cynic agree the stars altered in their courses.  In the following minutes the once undefeatable Maxentius stampeded with…

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Bizarre Dinosaur-Fish, the Coelacanth | Theory Of Irony

The South African naturalist and self-taught museum curator, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (1907 – 2004), was something of an odd duck.  She pursued an obsessive compulsive fascination with fish to such an extent, that she begged bemused fishing boat captains to phone her if by chance they should reel in any strange species.  So it happened, one day back in 1938, Ms. Courtenay-Latimer came to recall, “I saw a blue fin and, pushing off [a pile of aquatic entrails], the most beautiful fish I had ever seen was revealed….It was five feet long and a pale mauve blue with iridescent silver markings.”  She immediately wrote to rock star-ichthyologist, Dr. J.L.B. Smith of Rhodes University, who as fate would have it, was away on vacation sunning his dorsal fin.  Meanwhile, in a desperate and futile attempt to preserve the rapidly decomposing carcass she wheeled it around from morgue drawer, to meat locker and finally to a taxidermist.  Courtenay-Latimer stunned Dr. Smith upon his return, since her description violated the laws (then known) to science.  She seemingly stumbled upon an extinct beast that long…

via Bizarre Dinosaur-Fish, the Coelacanth | Theory Of Irony.

Antikythera Mechanism | Theory Of Irony

In October of 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kondos sailed into a worsening storm, the kind which survivors regale while guzzling ouzo in Mediterranean seaport bars.  He commanded a fishing vessel making for home, but wind and waves now rose to threaten his boat, his crew and his life.  Kondos knew from experience that off the Greek coast sat an island called Kythera and beyond that a smaller island with the almost mythical name of Antikythera, a virtual pinpoint of stone in an eternity of angry blue.  He figured, as had sailors for eons, that the sheltering side of the island would give a fighting chance, if only the waves did not grind his boat against the rocks.  There, the Captain rode out the passing maelström and vowed to make the best of a bad situation by diving for sponges after the gale abated.

When this came to pass, Dimitrios Kondos watched things go from bad to worse.  He sent a deckhand down in a canvas diving suit and old-fashioned helmet, but no sooner had the man touched the sea floor than a tug on the line signaled an emergency – what now?  Kondos hoisted up a completely different soul, this one a panicked lunatic ranting about ghostly remains of men and horses haunting the sea bed.  The Captain had seen this too, the result of oxygen depletion while…

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