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Irony in US Literature and Life, contemporary

By Dan Byrnes (an Australian)

Latest entry: And following this reading of Time Magazine [in 2009] there's another irony. The magazine has a quite interesting article on the background of the 2008 world financial crash by way of discussion of a cultural trend in the US finance sector - computer modelling of risk handling.
Modelling which failed. What the article does is come nowhere near mentioning is this - when the US finance boys were bundling up their packages of subprime mortgages, derivatives, etc, and selling them overseas, the US was in effect exporting its poverty. Yes, ways had been found of repackaging likely debt (mortgages unlikely to be repaid), and selling it. This webpage would like to observe that if India, which has considerable poverty, had found ways to repackage and sell its poverty abroad, and had done so, the world would be suitably appalled. There is then, no reason at all why the world should not be appalled at what the US had done, that came undone, in 2008. Ironic, then, that the world's wealthiest country brings the world undone by finding ways to export its own poverty. Only in America, it appears.

Preamble: This website (being a tad literary) has long wondered about the lack of irony in the sense of humour of the USA. Shortly after the election of Barack Obama as president in November 2008, we noticed that when Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, Republicans (and even liberals) quickly pointed out how "ironic" this appointment was, as Emanuel has a reputation for being a tough political operator. Ironic? Really? Are the Republicans just sore losers? We have no idea if the appointment was ironic or not. But we think that to see irony where no irony exists is - unintended irony. And if there is one thing that clever irony is not, it is - unintended.

We here in Australia possibly agree with the fine old English definition of a gentleman - the man who never hurts another person's feelings - unintentionally.

So we felt reminded about "irony in the USA", or lack of it, and we decided to keep a watch on the progress of the use of irony by US folk in their communication patterns during the Obama Era as it unfolds.

Shortly we did a google search for "irony in US literature" and the resulting matches were appalling: boring, bland, pedantic, bereft of wit, neither literate, funny nor ironic. You can try it for yourself. Go google for "irony in US literature" and see if this page comes up!

Why do we like irony ourselves? It's because irony is built-in, hard-wired into the Australian sense of humour that we grew up with. The dictionary definition of irony is: "a figure of speech in which the literal meaning given is the opposite of the meaning intended." This can sometimes be achieved by clever understatement. The use of irony is generally playful. Or, irony can be used to express ridicule - strongly or weakly where different effects are sought by the ironist. Bearing in mind that in Australia, and it often confuses migrants and vistors no end, we like to indulge in what is charitably called, "affectionate abuse".

Irony can be "simulated ignorance in a discussion". In theatre, irony is used when the audience has become aware of situations or workings in the action of the play, of which the actors themselves are so far unaware, and have yet to discover. At which point, the audience begins to wonder how the characters will react when they do become aware. Oh dear, the suspense that irony can keep us in! "Will we be able to cope?" say the folks in the good ole USA. "What would Jesus do?" they plaintively ask. The Ancient Greeks could do it, cope, but the good ole USA still just cain't. Sad, ain't it?

Irony is also found where outcomes of events are markedly different to what was intended or expected. The word "ironical" has a Greek root meaning dissembling by way of pretending to be ignorant, feigning ignorance. An ironist is one who makes much use of irony. (Oscar Wilde via Ireland was a dab hand with irony.) The humourless Friedrich Nietzsche disapproved of irony, and that was maybe because, as someone once said, "Irony is for victims".

Someone else has said that the two peoples in the world most given to uttering (or even enjoying?) irony are the Australians and the Yiddish of Middle Europe. So we gather, that USA folk have been sheltered from discovering irony by lack of victimhood in their lives, and a sadly-misguided Puritan determination to be and to remain correct. Meanwhile, apparently, it is only the US comedians who use irony by feigning ignorance.

One of the friends of this website manages a humour website on misuse of the apostrophe in the English language, and has done for years. He tells us that the website has had e-mails from people in North America pointing out the apostrophe errors evident on his website's main page and asking, "Are you for real?". This is the kind of sense of irony that is so sadly lacking in the US.

So of course, if it needs to be said aloud, and we hope not, the existence of this webpage is ironic, meant to ridicule.

How to interpret irony properly as an Australian might

In the movie Crocodile Dundee is a famously ironic line, "That's not a knife, THAT's a knife." Australian bushman Dundee has just been accosted by a street-wise gang in New York. Their leader a young black thug wields a laughably small knife. So Dundee pulls out his own knife, usefully large for any knife fight, which looks larger than a Bowie knife, and shows the thug what a serious knife looks like. Ironic? Dundee instantly gives the thug a seriously unexpected outcome, humour, not fear. He indicates how the thug is somewhat ignorant of what a large knife looks and feels like. He turns the thug into an instant victim by slicing across his chest, slicing his clothes but not his skin. The gang scuttles off as one into the night.

Much of the humour of Crocodile Dundee comes from laconic understatement, plus Dundee's habit of mocking himself. (And to be laconic, one must always remain suitably relaxed in the face of the storms of disappointment that life gives us. It is of course, profoundly un-American to be disappointed; just ask any audience of Death of a Salesman.)

As an Australian bushman, Dundee is of course, wonderfully ignorant of ways of life in the US. This allows his scriptwriter to use Dundee's tendency to self-mockery to make ironic jokes about life in the US. Great fun.

So we proceed ... how is irony lately doing in the USA? We find though, the USA is not a totally irony-free zone. Some courageous ironists in US life include: Mark Twain ("reports of my death are exaggerated"). (And in April 2019, a historian excoriated Pres. Trump, who is so happily excoriable, by quoting none other than Mark Twain, who said, "Politicians and diapers must be changed often -- and for the same reason.")

President Abraham Lincoln sometimes used irony, as during the Civil War, when he wrote to a failing general, and asked him if he wasn't going to use his army, could Lincoln borrow it and use it? The New York wit, Dorothy Parker. The Marx Brothers. Bob Hope (who grew up in England and delivered many a line it is impossible to top, who when asked why he had moved to the USA, explained that he had left England when he discovered that he could never be king!). Moviemaker Woody Allen. Actor and writer Steve Martin. Mel Brooks' production, Springtime for Hitler, about the time Hitler was at the top of his game, is gloriously ironic (though in a Yiddish way, perhaps?). Blazing Saddles is a movie wonderfully shot through with irony. The movie Apocalypse Now is very serious and sombre indeed, but it displays occasional irony like flashes of sheet lightning on an ultra-still night-time horizon.

One particular cultural feature of US life works against the use of irony - American gigantism. Quite simply, it's hard to make an understatement about giant things, or constructions, or locations (such as the Grand Canyon).

Take Moby Dick for example. It is of course ironic that a skilled whaler like Captain Ahab makes an enemy of a lone white whale, a dumb animal which ends up killing Ahab and then sinking Ahab's ship. But the whale is too large a creature for the point to be laboured: the point is made quickly, the story retreats ever deeper into Puritan seriousness, rather like a diving whale. Even the white whale is vengeful and unforgiving, seriously non-playful. One of Ahab's deeper existential problems is that he is totally humourless. So the sheer size of the whale as Ahab's nemesis renders the irony of the story quite weak (and even to make the comparison is itself weakly ironic).

US gigantism is just one of the many cultural enemies of irony in US life. But having said that, we move on, bouyed up as we are with hopes that the Obama Era will somehow encourage good work from US ironists while inflicting no further damage on US people and institutions.

George W. Bush perhaps used unintended irony when he asked, "Why do they hate us?" He didn't know? Was he feigning ignorance? Was he just, seriously bewildered? Will we ever know for sure?

And we find, that one of our friends recently looked up the USA website, conservapedia (the trustworthy encyclopedia. You can maybe find remarks on this website if you google for "sarcasm conservapedia")

Our friend found, that Conservapedia finds, and is disturbed about, "There is a thin dividing line between sarcasm and irony." And he said, "Of course what I found most intriguing about conservapedia was the news that sarcasm is used to cause physical, mental or social harm! And that some people have difficulty distinguishing between normal speech and sarcasm! Let's hope that there isn't too much physical harm caused by irony ... especially considering the dangerous thinness of the dividing line between irony and sarcasm." After all, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, isn't it?

Our friend was right to worry. It now seems as though there is a brain development problem inherent in the USA system, in USA culture, somewhat akin to old China, when women's feet were bound to keep them tiny. The idea seems to be that people's brains in the USA are somehow prevented from developing a faculty for irony recognition (or even sarcasm recognition?).

Prevented by what, is hard to say. One is tempted to diagnose, excessive optimism (?). The American Dream (?) which has turned into a nightmare (if we can believe Pres. Trump!). The education system?

At least, we can cite a report from an Australian newspaper (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May, 2005, per The Guardian), headlined, "Sarcasm is highbrow after all (Jest kidding)". Our brains, new research suggests, use higher brain functions to handle interpretation of the lowest form of wit. Our frontal lobes and right-side brain functions process an interpretation of a speaker's intentions and check for contradictions between literal meaning and social and emotional contextuality. Our right ventromedial prefrontal cortex works as "a sarcasm meter", and makes decisions based on a person's social and emotional knowledge of a verbal situation. The researchers involved were led by psychologist Dr Shamy-Tsoory, University of Haifa, Israel. (See journal Neuropsychology, May 2005).

Dr Shamay-Tsoory (a she) says, "Sarcasm is related to our ability to understand other people's mental state. It's not just a linguistic form. It's also related to social cognition." Our brain areas interpreting sarcasm and irony are used to process language, recognise emotions and help people understand social cues. But we rather thought that the good doctor was going out of her way to NOT say, that irony arises (often spontaneously) in person-to-person conversations. Which means, it is part of normal social life. If so, really, what's wrong in the USA?

The research project behind this finding had tested people who were mildly brain-injured for their ability to sift neutral versus sarcastic comments. Those with damaged pre-frontal lobes struggled to identify even mild sarcasm. Test subjects had trouble with "indirect" speechways such as irony, idioms and metaphors and tended to take things literally. And what is required to understand irony is a three-stage neural pathway, plus awareness of past experience, so that good comparisons can be made quickly.

Dr Shamy-Tsoory shyly ventured the opinion that the English have a more subtle and complicated sarcasm that the Americans, say, are not used to.

Which rather reminded us of what Winston Churchill once said, and he had an American mother - re England and America, they are two countries separated by the same language.

(And, as of 12-12-2008, it seems that newly-publicized research in Australia has just found that elderly dementia patients (in early stages) also lose their ability to discern the meaning of sarcastic comments, and take things more literally. There is little by way of new research that bodes well for cultural life in the USA, it seems, neurologically speaking.)

Here in Australia, we really don't know, if the overall cultural situation in the US is so severe that the USA will fail to develop a reasonable foreign policy till its citizens develop properly-working sarcasm meters as a neurological pre-requisite. But we fear so. Meantime, we have no fears about US comedians, and we're glad to hear more from those of them who grow rich, like Bob Hope did. (Except that he was born in England.) We earnestly hope those comedians are not lonely in their private lives. We rather fear that it is true that English irony and wit is streets (or should that be, neural pathways?) ahead of the wordplay of the USA.

We think, though the argument is long and dry, that this success comes from as long ago as England's Magna Carta, the agreement by the King that barons and nobles had the right to challenge his pronouncements from time to time. Thus, the basis of the English parliamentary system. The political English developed wonderfully scathing wordplay, a healthy respect for good, solid, healthy criticism, for a healthy insult, a good respect for not taking life too seriously. Along with developing an empire, the English developed a healthy respect for what they call, "His Majesty's Loyal Opposition", the recognition that the decisions of the king's favourite ministers could and often should be challenged by any elected group of critics.

And what did the folk in the USA develop regarding the most powerful man in the land? An uncritical little ditty for presidential occasions titled Hail to the Chief.

In the USA, the critic of the president tends to be regarded as unpatriotic; there's no skerrick here in US politics of the common-sense of having a band of loyal critics contending usefully for the good of the country with the president on a variety of issues. A sure way for any country to neuter itself, its wit, and its delight in irony and wordplay, and to poison itself with political vitriol unsweetened by humour and understanding - and irony.

It's no wonder that in terms of comedy, US cinema history so much values the sight gag! What we mean is, too little wit and humour means less progress for the American empire builder. Sorry, American empire builders, you had a dream misbegotten for lack of a due sense of irony. So, after the 2008 great US financial crash, a crash of US money-gigantism, lacking a sense of humour isn't so funny now, is it?

Question. Will the new President Obama be able to use mere words to reach deeply enough into the American psyche to be able to massage the irony-recognition spots back to health? Should he employ some specialist speech writers to write material designed for this very purpose? If so, we recommend two names. Australian comedian Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage). And UK comedian John Cleese.

But where were we? What's happening in the US as we speak? Strange things do happen with words in the USA. We read up on wikipedia, in the article on Fox News, how Rupert Murdoch, an Australian who traded in his identity for freedom-from-irony, tried to copyright the phrase "fair and balanced", and prevent others from using it. This sort of copyrighting mania is all too prevalent in the US, and is decidely unfair and unbalanced. Language is a free good, and can't be copyrighted. No person with a healthy sense of irony-appreciation could ever contemplate copyrighting a word or phrase in common usage. And we wonder too, why an employer of journalists, of all people, would consider trying this sort of stunt? Is there something anti-irony in the water of the USA that is unique to its weather zones, its time zones? Its climates? Its landscapes? What would Jesus do? indeed!

Joshua Kupetz is a US poet and a teacher at University of Colorado who is still relatively young. Like us, he's interested in "the intersection of literature and popular culture" and has noted the following gem on his blog at: -

It seems that Lynn Forester de Rothschild, wife of a member of the banking family, Rothschild, has had the weight of the world on her shoulders as she confronted an impossibly difficult decision. In 2008 she decided to back Senator John McCain, as she disliked Obama since he is an elitist, and has given her no reason to trust him. Mrs Rothschild is a CEO, of a holding company called El Rothschild, which has businesses around the world. She is the wife of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, born 1931.

And what can we say? She lives in an irony-free zone somewhere above where she lives, which is both London and New York. (Maybe high above the spot where the Titanic sank?) Mrs Rothschild, we'd like to know, which address is your city home, and which is your country home here? London or New York? We imagine, London, since England is a smaller country than the US, and strolling London, admiring the flowers in their pots in street-front windows, must be an excellent rest-cure from the stresses of living with American gigantism.

Business ... Before we forget, before we leave 2008 behind us, one of our Australian friends is wondering when Sarah Palin is going to do the obvious, leave politics and go into business? She's a wonderful brand opportunity, has good looks, and rapidly became a household name world-wide. He thinks she ought to start with a pharmaceutical product, perhaps an anti-headache powder. "Oh, you've got a headache? Go and take a Palin then."

Perhaps, the Palin Pregnancy Test Kit, usable in any bathroom? She could also consider a line of underwear. Palin bras, which provide that specially uplifted feeling. The phrase "Palin panties" just rolls off the tongue so lightly, so rightly, doesn't it? She could also go into media. With a good producer, she could become the Oprah Winfrey of the Right, scourge of liberals, the politically-correct and ironists alike. So we agree with our friend here ... Palin ought to leave politics and paddle into PR, branding and marketing. Only-in-America. (Get a life, right? I told you so, Sarah Palin ...)

Irony and Academia

What else can Google tell us? Only-in-America? There is, apparently, no truth in the rumour that everyone in the USA was given an irony-bypass at birth. In America, after making research efforts, a few earnest pedants have been writing academic treatises on irony (a great way to destroy irony, we think, on the grounds that if a joke has to be explained, it's not worth the effort, stop trying).

We find that, "No one has yet demonstrated the existence of a language or culture that does not make use of verbal irony." Really? What then explains so little irony used in America? What makes this treatise on the use of irony so stunningly useless (so Mickey Mouse?) is that the researchers are not in the least interested in whether an example of irony actually makes anyone laugh, or not! What's the point? Logic, without doing neurophysiology? We say again. Logic? Without doing neurophysiology?

Because, we think, that to laugh at a contradiction is to display intelligence. And university people who can't laugh with or at, can't discuss laughter, must therefore be ... it's your call here!

On contemporary popular US TV, apparently, there were four instances of verbal irony used every half hour. That many! (Really? That little of irony per hour would make any Australian writhe and die of boredom!)

This means that anyone in the US who watches two hours of TV per day will hear about 5,800 examples of irony per year. Really, that many? Some of this is ironic criticism (sarcasm), or ironic praise. Little of it is irony for the sheer fun of wordplay, or the joy of laughter. But moving along to a more intelligent area, apparently, contemporary American literature will provide one instance of irony every four pages. We think, this is an unbearably long time between jags of irony. Unbearable. Why be so earnest? Don't US folk know that irony can be fun?

What kind of American freak is Woody Allen then? It does rather seem, you know, that the drastic irony-reduction seen long-term in US culture - TV, film, literature and pop culture - has something to do with dire, innerly-feared, social and spiritual workings associated with the social control of the potential for violence in society, from childhood onwards, quite apart from anything which might ever be said about gun laws and the NRA in the USA. In particular, philosophies of the socialization of children are involved. We wonder, if this is not the downfall of American social psychology, in general?!

But anyway, we find that there is "a tinge theory" (Dews, Kaplan, and Winner, 1995; Dews and Winner, 1995; go figure) about the use of irony. Socially, people find that using ironic criticism (sarcasm) is perceived by the victim as being less confrontational than literally-worded criticism. So, the use of irony is a conflict-reduction tactic. Sarcasm contains that all-important ingredient for brisk and bracing social interaction, the zing of sting.

It can also invite a sarcastic reply, opportunities for some verbal tennis, verbal frisbee throwing. The scholars meanwhile meander on with their non-witty examples of the use of irony, kiddy-stuff really, and conclude that understanding irony is no different from understanding literal language.

But there's a catch. There might be a time difference in the processing of ironic versus literal messages (?). We don't even care, since we prefer to deal with people who get jokes quickly. Beware (a trigger warning here): This is called, "elitism of the ironist".)

But mostly here, we have just learned that there are a variety of theories about the use of irony in American life. We think, good thinking, Number 99, we simply didn't know that the violin case was loaded. We had no idea! We also think, that irony studies in the US have not yet jumped the shark. But we live in hope (as with The David Letterman Late Show from New York), and hope that a TV chat show about irony will surface on US TV soon. We even humbly suggest a title for it, "Cruel But Fair".
(Which we will soon copyright so no one else, anywhere it the world, can use it, ever, just like a humourless US corporation about to employ some lawyers, again.)

To continue the fray with another reference to British humour. we read UK physician and acerbic, (nay, right wing), social commentator (that is, reluctant humourist) in a column week of 10 May, 2008, Theodore Dalrymple. Dalrymple, who is suitably well-read, has made a media career out of criticising contemporary UK social mores, or lack of them: he is quite a good barometer of changing styles in social and cultural life, more so for being unforgiving. This particular week, Dalrymple mentioned that Benjamin Franklin warned us that there are two immutables in life, death and taxes. Moving along, Dalrymple asks, what about drivel? Especially, drivel today? And he's got it in one!

Here is another great enemy of irony in the US - drivel. And he's right. Forget the UK, where the national psyche is rotted by celebrity worship. The US national psyche is also rotted by celebrity worship, the retailing of drivelish gossip, by fiction of all sorts including the alleged wonders of the life of The Simpsons. Dalrymple also finds another enemy, banality-plus-untruth. Things not to forget as we move deeper into the non-ironical wastelands of life in the USA. Beware the evils of drivel, banality and untruth. (That is, before he ran for president, before he even had a serious idea of ever running for president, beware of Donald Trump!)

Irony in America - praise and blame

We find from googling that "The novels of Philip Roth, for example, portray the Jewish-American family with relentless irony." We approve, and have enjoyed some of Roth's works.
Irony can be feared at certain stages in any nation's cultural life, and on one website we found the phrase, "search for relief from irony". But we still wonder why the USA's relentless search for relief from irony is so permanent, more so re US history since say, the time of Richard Nixon (?). Or the US Civil War?

We found a webpage on Irony in Modern American Religion, and this looked very juicy. This web-writer has apparently produced four volumes titled Modern American Religion: The Irony of It All. (Could it really be so comprehensive as it sounds?) One Samuel Hynes, apparently, noted that irony represents "a view of life which recognizes that experience is open to multiple interpretations, of which no [single] one is simply right, and that the co-existence of incongruities is part of the structure of existence."

We know of a Chinese writer who once said a very similar thing about incongruities (ambiguities), this view is actually international, and as old as time. And this is fine with us, as it points us for example to what is most wrong with the American Republican Party today, long may they repent in the wilderness, eating locusts, once General Motors is reorganised right before their very eyes as America on the world stage makes its craven flight from belief in the ideological workings of "self-correcting market forces" - that do not in fact exist.

Someone else says that irony, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; so some kind of aesthetic, even a morality, might be involved here for ironologists (?). Related might be a theory of history, or a choice of theology. There is a view drawn from a biblical quote, no less ... "God was "a divine judge who laughs at human pretensions without being hostile to human aspirations." (But how did God tell the difference?)

The ironist looks at the illusions developed by the innocent, the virtuous, those with wisdom, those with power, and wants to understand the contradictoriness of outcomes. (A worthy aim, such a worthy aim, so deeply worthy!)

Things can become paradoxical, as when wisdom becomes folly when it does not know its own limits. Things can go pear-shaped when we discuss topics such as "American Exceptionalism", or become apologists for any kind of exceptionalist absurdity in history. (Although we do think that USA folk are exceptionally irony-deprived, more so when they actually believe in American Exceptionalism.)

Ironists looking for irony in history have been called "irony hounds". Ironologists are literary people who search literature for irony. (We didn't know this, but we wonder if irony hounds can also be called, collectors of incongruities, a term we dreamed up just now and grow more fond of the more we ponder it.) Both of these sub-species of irony buffs have commented on religion in the US. Reinhold Niebuhr (we've never heard of him) once wrote a book, The Irony of American History. Sounds juicy. Gee, where can we buy it?

Then there is the irony of fate, basically, when outcomes are the opposite of what was intended. (Here, we are unavoidably reminded by our Irish heritage of the drastic old Irish saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions.")

There is a variety of irony suitable for discussion of religious issues termed "romantic irony, or "humane irony", where the speaker adopts a stance outside of, or a posture superior to, that of others about whom he is speaking. With this variety, the speaker probably has less-than-sympathy for those he discusses. Meaning, probably, they, or you, are the sinners, I'm not, and I told you so, I warned you. (?). Ok?

But have you ever seen an old US movie starring Burt Lancaster, titled Elmer Gantry? About a shonky Christian preacher in the good 'ole Southern USA? If not, see it soon. It's very "romantic irony" story about religion in America. Based on a novel by Sinclair Lewis. Not much has changed since it was made. And more's the pity for that.

Obama Era Irony No 1

It's only 10 December 2008, only a few sleeps, really, since Obama became President-Elect, and Irony No. 1 is incoming already. The governor of Illinois, Mr. Rod (expletive bleeped) Blagojevich, is a bright-looking young guy (and also a rather handsome one), who noticed that Obama as a Senator for Illinois had become President-Elect, thus vacating his Senate seat. So Gov. Blagojevich thought he would auction the vacant seat to the highest bidder. He was fingered by somebody (FBI? Dept. Homeland Security?) and is now being asked to answer for this.

Gov. Blagojevich remains so far arrogantly defiant. He thinks that all this smacks of the persecutions of the Nixon era. But he doesn't agree with this website that it is himself who should be ironically persecuted (or is that, persecuted with irony?). Whatever, there is now dissension about really, how corrupt is politics in Illinois, very, very very, or very very very (?). We thought so. We told you so. Only in America. (3 Nov, apparently, as Obama looked set to win his presidential campaign race, young Rod said on a nicely-tapped phone, the Senate seat "is a (expletive) valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing," ... "I want to make money", ... and so on. Golly gee, three governors of Illinois have been jailed in the past 35 years for "corruption". The beat goes on, and the average is undisturbed. Golly gee, is this sort of corruption seen as, just, well, fashionable? Really?)

Thus we see, how the Obama Era irony-thing began just about a day before late 4 November, when we knew that Obama had indeed become President-Elect. Such touching faith from Blagojevich in the voting system is truly inspiring, no? And so we begin to see how and why irony is so avoided in the USA. Really, who wants to plumb the bottomless pits of "only-in-America"? And the truth is, it's the Americans, most of all, who can't face it. The rest of us in the world just have to interface with - the actual irony. ("Only in the rest of the world?")

A shoe-in: Do not despair, all irony is not lost in the USA. Irony lives ok on the streets of the country, ok. By 16-17 December 2008 in Australia has been screened, at least twice, a US TV journalist's vox populi interviews on the quickly infamous shoe-throwing incident (shoe-icide incident?) involving President George Bush at a press conference in Iraq. One older white woman interviewed for the piece said she thought that the shoes in question should be captured forthwith, and auctioned-off in the US for the benefit of the US auto industry. We await with interest what the people at eBay might have in mind here!

By 17 December 2008: It now looks like Governor Blagojevich in Illinois might face impeachment proceedings for putting a vacant senate seat on sale. But gossip is that he had been talking to Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, about "whatever". Maybe those disgruntled Republicans mentioned above when Emanuel was first appointed were not as irony-free as we first suspected? If so, this webpage itself falls victim to irony. But, oh well ... we live in days so far beyond satire.

Mission statements of ten US banks: Thankfully, Time Magazine (issue of 22 December 2008) is not an entirely irony-free zone. In a section on Top Ten of the year, for movies, songs, books, and even major new stories that were under-reported, is a section Top Ten Bank Slogans:

  1. "Whoo hoo!" = Washington Mutual
  2. "Where vision gets built" = Lehman Brothers
  3. "The strength to be there" = AIG
  4. "You can count on us" = IndyMac
  5. "What's in your wallet?" = Capital One
  6. "No family left behind" = World Financial Group
  7. "World wise" = Morgan Stanley
  8. "Protection" = Nationwide
  9. "Invest with confidence" = T. Rowe Price
  10. "Smarter money" = Security Pacific Bank

Power irony from Robin Williams: 1-1-2009, and an Australian friend passes along a Robin Williams clip on Obama found on YouTube: Williams says, "Obama, is an old Kenyan word meaning 'Kennedy'." and, that George W. Bush has good prospects of developing a post-presidential career in stand-up comedy, since he has eight years of such amazing material!

Here is some of that material ...

The 'misunderestimated' President George W Bush

(Per a BBC UK website page dated 7-1-2009 per a website friend in Brisbane, Australia)

All politicians are prone to make slips of the tongue in the heat of the moment - and President George W. Bush has made more slips than most. The word "Bushism" has been coined to label his occasional verbal lapses during eight years in office, which come to an end on 20 January 2009.

Here are some of his most memorable pronouncements.


"They misunderestimated me."
Bentonville, Arkansas, 6 November, 2000

''I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe - I believe what I believe is right."
Rome, 22 July, 2001

"There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on me ... shame on you. Fool me again - you can't get fooled again.
" Nashville, Tennessee, 17 September, 2002

"There's no question that the minute I got elected, the storm clouds on the horizon were getting nearly directly overhead."
Washington DC, 11 May, 2001

"I want to thank my friend, Senator Bill Frist, for joining us today. He married a Texas girl, I want you to know. Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."
Nashville, Tennessee, 27 May, 2004


"For a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times."
Tokyo, 18 February, 2002

"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorise himself."
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 29 January, 2003

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
Washington DC, 5 August, 2004

"I think war is a dangerous place."
Washington DC, 7 May, 2003

"The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the - the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice."
Washington DC, 27 October, 2003

"Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat."
Washington DC, 17 September, 2004

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
CBS News, Washington DC, 6 September, 2006


"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
Florence, South Carolina, 11 January, 2000

"Reading is the basics for all learning."
Reston, Virginia, 28 March, 2000

"As governor of Texas, I have set high standards for our public schools, and I have met those standards."
CNN, 30 August, 2000

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
Townsend, Tennessee, 21 February, 2001


"I understand small business growth. I was one."
New York Daily News, 19 February, 2000

"It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."
Reuters, 5 May, 2000

"I do remain confident in Linda. She'll make a fine Labour Secretary. From what I've read in the press accounts, she's perfectly qualified."
Austin, Texas, 8 January, 2001

"First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're willing to kill."
Washington DC, 19 May, 2003


"I don't think we need to be subliminable about the differences between our views on prescription drugs."
Orlando, Florida, 12 September, 2000

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."
Poplar Bluff, Missouri, 6 September, 2004


"Will the highways on the internet become more few?"
Concord, New Hampshire, 29 January, 2000

"It would be a mistake for the United States Senate to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber."
Washington DC, 10 April, 2002

"Information is moving. You know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets."
Washington DC, 2 May, 2007


"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
Saginaw, Michigan, 29 September, 2000

"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."
LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 18 October, 2000

"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law."
Tucson, Arizona, 28 November, 2005

"That's George Washington, the first president, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three - three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting?"
Speaking to reporter Kai Diekmann, Washington DC, 5 May, 2006


"I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together."
Bartlett, Tennessee, 18 August, 2000

"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best."
Washington DC, 18 April, 2006

"And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is, I read it, and [Tony Blair] read it."
On the publication of the Baker-Hamilton Report, Washington DC, 7 December, 2006

"All I can tell you is when the governor calls, I answer his phone."
San Diego, California, 25 October, 2007

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."
Washington DC, 12 May, 2008

Gettin' in and out of Gitmo: Early January 2009: This irony is really due to the perversities of human nature. Just as the USA looks set to close its notorious Guantanomo Bay prison in Cuba, journalists in both the USA and Australia get seriously lazy, or short of space, it's hard to say, and now render reference to the prison as "Gitmo". We are supposed to know what "Gitmo" suddenly means here, and fear among cliches-in-general that this tragic usage of language is both a tad crass, and not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Meantime, re the inmates of Guantanamo, the US has suggested that other countries, including Australia, could take a few of the suspected terrorists to be released. This Australian website doesn't think so. This website thinks the US government has gotta lotta nerve with this proposal, and just maybe, the US Government ought to institute a new government department, called, Dept. of Foreign Affairs, which would have a brief to keep the mind of the US Secretary of State clear about the total number of people in the world, and the President, whose brief is to just further the interests of the USA.

That's right, just when it is about to do a useful thing, and close Guantanamo, maybe the USA could do something useful, and start studying foreign affairs from less self-interested points of view. Ironically, it seems, the USA, world superpower, greatest military force in the world, isn't wealthy enough, big enough, confident enough, hasn't got Homeland Security enough, anything enough, to cope with its own decision to close Guantanamo, or as it turns out, whatever gumption it took to open it in the first place for "terrorists".

The US of A, apparently, can "rendition" terrorism suspects all round the world at great expense, but after regaining virtue and ceasing to torture various of the said suspects, it feels helpless to know where to put them. This website thinks that this is simply learned helplessness on the part of the USA. It's ironic, but it isn't funny. Though as one Australian cartoonist, Bill Leak bleakly put it, "Gitmo convicts: Bound for Botany Bay".

Mad Mad Madoff: 6 January 2009: Major New York fraudster, Madcap Bernie Madoff, is in trouble again in the media for giving away rich-bitch presents during the recent holiday period. A great many people think he should be in jail already. A US TV reporter on this story adds that Madoff is currently under house arrest. Or rather, he's under "penthouse arrest".

Next incoming irony to be reported here as soon as it happens/arrives ...

Subject: Windows vs Ford

(This is an oldie from the 1990s but a goodie. The friend who sent us this in mid-2016 commented: FYI. This sort of stuff has been around for years, but it's still true ... And the Editor agrees, having lately experienced Windows 10 - which is a nonsense and merely a sales aid for the fix-your-computer folks - Ed)

For all of us who feel only the deepest love and affection for the way computers have enhanced our lives, read on:-
At a recent computer expo - COMDEX - Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, "If Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."
In response to Bill's comments, Ford issued a press release stating:
If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics (and I just love this part):
1.. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash.........twice a day.
2... Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
3.... Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.
4..... Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
5...... Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive - but would run on only sixty five percent of the roads.
6....... The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation" warning light.
7........ The airbag system would ask,"Are you sure?" before deploying.
8......... Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
9.......... Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
10.......... You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.
PS - I'd like to add that when all else fails, you could call "customer service" in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself!

... And in general, please feel quite free to email on any topics you find treated on these websites. Especially on irony. I mean, we'd really hate to think that there's anything we missed ...

Phone mob: 0478 644 736.
Dan Byrnes,
Unit 4,
145 Marsh Street,
Armidale NSW 2350.

ABN 27 526 974 374


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