We make little mistakes every day. It's why all the baristas at Starbucks call you "Dorba." But sometimes a little mistake can escalate into terrible mayhem -- the kind that doesn't just get you fired from a coffee shop, but sets you, the shop, and its adjoining buildings on fire. For example ...
Anyone who's ever mistakenly deleted a file knows that particular feeling of dread. Now multiply it by about a million, and you'll still be nowhere near what one mechanic felt when he unintentionally armed a fighter jet and caused $40 million worth of damage in a few seconds.
In a chain of events straight out of a bad comedy, two mechanics were servicing an F-16 at Florennes Air Base in Belgium when one of them brushed the button activating the plane's Vulcan cannon. Instantly, the 20mm gun exploded in a hail of bullets, obliterating another F-16 parked in front of it. And right when the tech was figuring out how to spackle a million bullet-sized holes before his supervisor noticed, the plane exploded, damaging yet another fighter jet in the process.
At this point, it should probably be mentioned that the price tag per F-16 is around $19.6 million, so if you add up the two busted planes, the full tank of jet fuel, and about infinity rounds of 20mm ammo, it amounts to a big "You break it, you buy it." The canons and explosions were so loud that the two mechanics had to be rushed to the hospital with severe damage to their eardrums. Which might actually have been a kindness, given how many in the chain of command were lining up to yell at them.
In 2010, a 19-year-old rugby chap named Sam Ballard swallowed a live garden snail on a dare. So far, so laddish. But when Ballard woke up the next day, he felt terrible. He started experiencing leg pains, dizziness, and severe vomiting. Pretty common for a rugby player who likes to drink and do stupid dares, but what wasn't common was the meningitis Ballard had developed in record time. In fact, eosinophilic meningoencephalitis is very rare. And that's a good thing, because after mere days, it plunged Ballard into a horrific 420-day coma (both the most and least chill 420 thing imaginable).
Since this happened in Australia, you're probably thinking the snail was something terribly poisonous, like 96 percent of all animals there. But no, the slug was literally garden-variety ... as was the parasite festering inside. The charming rat lungworm takes over the nervous system of a host rat and then bursts out of the pulmonary artery like a home-cooked xenomorph. It looks like this:
Once the rat lungworm got into Ballard's body, it went straight for the brain and immediately trashed the place like a '70s rock band. After over a year of being comatose, Ballard finally woke up, but he was paralyzed from the neck and required around-the-clock care. Then, in early 2018, the lungworm finally drained the last bit of life out of him.
So the lesson here, surprisingly, is not "Avoid Australia like the hellmouth it surely is," but rather "Don't eat slugs, even if your friends triple dog dare you." But also maybe avoid Australia anyway. Just to be safe.
In 2011, 75-year-old Hayastan Shakarian was digging around near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, trying to scavenge some copper. But she soon got more than she burrowed for when her spade hit a large underground cable transmitting Georgia's internet. All of it.
The damaged cables, which carried the service of the country's main internet providers, caused its entire internet to black out for several hours. Aside from their own services, Georgia also provides about 90 percent of Armenia's internet, meaning the outage cut off its entire 3.2 million population (and even some of Azerbaijan) as well. In all, the outage lasted over five hours, caused massive economic damage, and left countless Facebook posts tragically unliked.
Georgian police quickly found the elderly "spade-hacker," who claimed she had only gone out to collect firewood, and didn't even know what an internet was. Unconvinced, the cops arrested Shakarian, but then decided to release her "on account of her old age." And if you've ever tried to explain the internet to a 75-year-old, you understand why they figured it wasn't worth it.
Nigel Lang was a happy husband, parent, and drug recovery worker who had helped countless teens deal with addiction and sexual exploitation. All in all, a rather damn decent kind of fellow. Which is why it was such a shock when police barged through his door to arrest him for owning and sharing child pornography. Lang denied the charges right away, but who's going to take the word of a pedophile?
After searching his house and seizing his laptop, the cops released Lang on bail under the condition he stay at this mother's house until the investigation was finished. He was also not allowed to see his family without supervision, as according to police, he posed a risk to his two-year-old child (social services even told Lang's wife they'd take the kid away if they deemed she had not sufficiently protected their child from him).
But then, as quickly as they appeared, the charges were dropped. The police couldn't find a single bit of evidence on Lang's laptop. Of course, the damage had already been done. The Lang family had been traumatized and smeared, and Lang himself was so emotionally scarred that he quit his job, fearing that a single troubled teen with a chip on their shoulder could get him a one-way ticket to a prison hospital ward.
A year later, Lang's lawyers finally got the truth out. All of this happened because someone from the Hertfordshire Police Department had mistakenly added an extra digit to the IP address of a suspected child molester in the area, and that new string of numbers led to Lang's doorstep. Lang sued the police, and after "six years of fighting," he received about $80,000 in compensation and a letter of apology. Seems about right for a destroyed life.
On April 23, 1991, Gerald Ratner, CEO of British jewelry giant Ratner's, was set to give a speech at the prestigious Institute of Directors conference. Ratner figured he'd spice things up with a bit of comedy.
Ratner opened his speech by quipping, "People say, 'How can you sell this for such a low price?' I say, 'Because it is total crap.'" And when the stuffy crowd laughed so hard that they nearly shattered their monocles, Ratner decided to follow up with a real zinger: "We even sell a pair of gold earrings for under 1 pound, which is cheaper than a prawn sandwich from Marks & Spencer. But I have to say that the sandwich will probably last longer than the earrings." It was comedy gold ... which was all the wealth he would have left after people got wind of this speech.
The media immediately jumped on the prawn sandwich joke, and when shareholders figured that nobody would want to buy a luxury product that was just officially labeled cheap by the CEO himself, Ratner's shares plummeted, wiping out 500 million pounds (nearly a billion dollars) of the company's value.
The prawn joke ruined Ratner's life. His name was taken off the label, and he was kicked out of the company a year later. After several failed business ventures, Ratner now makes a living as an online retailer and motivational speaker. Hopefully, he leaves the comedy to the professionals.
E. Reid Ross has a couple books, Nature Is The Worst: 500 Reasons You'll Never Want To Go Outside Again and Canadabis: The Canadian Weed Reader, both available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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You don't make astonishing amounts of money without ending up a jerk in some way.
Being at the top of your game can really drag you down.
Sometimes our big, dumb brains are just flat-out wrong.