August 29, 2008

Conversations With Greatness CXCVI

I'm off to London today, and Dubai tomorrow, and then getting dropped right back into term and teaching the week after — so CWG is taking its annual two-week hiatus. We'll be back on September 19.

August 28, 2008

Aye For An Eye

From The Scotsman: Young Scots risk losing their sight in bid to get blind drunk

Just when you thought our national drinking habits couldn't get any more embarrassing...
Experts are warning about a new trend among young people that is aimed at speeding up the process of getting drunk – pouring shots of alcohol directly into their eyes.

Known as "one-in-the-eye", it involves using shot glasses in a manner similar to that of eye-wash.

Despite the risk of blindness, users hope that by absorbing the alcohol via the membranes of the eye, it will enter the bloodstream more quickly and have a stronger effect when it reaches the brain.
Presuming there is a brain there to begin with, of course.

Now, having just reached the end of the Fringe, I'm not exactly one to be talking about responsible drinking habits, but pouring vodka into your eye? Why not just smoke a cigar with your anus? At least you might get a few weeks of YouTube celebrity out of that.


August 23, 2008

Oh, Go On Then

I've had several requests for more Fringe blogging in the past few days, and though my show intake has been rather lower than usual this year I thought that, going into the final weekend, any Edinburgh readers seeking last minute tickets might benefit from a rundown of the best I've seen this year. So.

3. Elizabeth and Raleigh: Late But Live. I generally find Stewart Lee's stand-up to be overrated, but I think in large part that's because I don't really enjoy his utter-contempt-for-the-audience-and-general-situation persona (at least, I think it's a persona, but I suppose he really could be that bitter). In any case, this most recent of his comic "plays" involved him only at the writing stage, and without his dour dragging-down of the punchlines, it's an hour of delightful (albeit painfully pomo) material. The basic premise is that Sir Walter Raleigh is hosting an evening of entertainment for the assembled modern-day crowd -- which is an odd setup, as the characters are sort of half historically "accurate" and half selectively aware of the present (mainly as a vehicle for punchlines) -- but while that works okay, the real oomph of the show comes from Simon Munnery's turn as Elizabeth I. It's classic high-status/low-status conflict and Munnery milks it for all it's worth -- his Elizabeth is the most eccentric, haughty, demanding character I've ever seen on stage, and watching her make Raleigh jump through hoops is (pardon the expletive) absolutely fucking hilarious. Four pundigrions.

2. Adam Page Solo. Page is one of those loop-box musicians who seem to be a staple of pretty much every Fringe festival I've ever been to (you know the type: they sample themselves live and then loop them back and layer them to create the illusion of many different sounds going on at the same time). The difference between Page and the rest is that while many of his ilk rely mainly on the perceived novelty of the technique, he is a fantastic musician who plays fifteen different instruments and even a carrot (and while that latter one may sound like a cheap gimmick, it's actually a pretty cool sound). It's a very fun, very musical, very interesting hour. Five pundigrions.

1. Simon, Helen, Nick, and Pete Call a Conclave and Elect a New Pope. Does what it says on the tin: the four eponymous comedian friends open the house dressed as cardinals (and one archbishop) and proceed to write out nametags for each audience member. The audience are then also pronoucned cardinals, and the interactive show a conclave at the end of which one audience member is elected pope. There are jokes, challenges for the candidates, and lots and lots of ridiculous Catholicism trivia. It may sound a bit dubious but it's such a fun, light-hearted, and deeply funny show that I have no problem pronouncing it my favourite of the year. Five pundigrions.

August 22, 2008

August 17, 2008

Annals of Customer Service, Volume 4,213

The Edinburgh Fringe has a blanket no-refunds-no-exchanges policy on its tickets, except, obviously, in case of cancellation or other major venue cock-ups. Usually, though, those are not the reasons people give for wanting refunds; over my four years I've heard 'em all, from "It was listed in the comedy section but wasn't funny," to "It was advertised as a mix of comedy and DJing, but it's two hours of comedy and then two hours of DJing, which isn't really a mix," to "I was drunk and heckling, and got thrown out."

My job, as supervisor in the box office, is to enforce the policy, and it can often be quite unpleasant — though not for the reasons you might think. Getting yelled at doesn't bother me — indeed, when someone is being really disagreeable, it can be inordinately satisfying knowing that you're having an argument you can't lose — it's the people who just genuinely had bad luck and didn't make it to their show to whom I hate saying no. I mean, I'm not a monster — I can put myself in their position, and I know that if I'd dropped twenty quid on tickets for a show I didn't get to see, I'd be upset about it. But people try to cram so much into their schedules during the Fringe that a few missed shows are inevitable, and if we gave refunds to everyone because we felt bad about it, well, we wouldn't make any money, would we?

Anyway, like I said, it's the nice ones that bother me; but the people who get nasty are just asking for it. Case in point was a guy who came in a few days ago who had not listened to the calls for his show, had arrived late at the door, and had finally been turned away because of it. Naturally, he believed, this entitled him to compensation, and when I informed him this would not be possible he began to get rather confrontational; he spent twenty-five minutes (literally!) arguing about it, and tried just about every tactic he could think of to change our mind.

First there was the semantic wrangling over the nature of the situation: we say no refunds or exchanges, he claims that he is asking for neither a refund nor an exchange (just free tickets for another day); we say he arrived late, he claims that by his watch he had been on time. At that point he even shoved his watch over the counter at me, and proceeded to explain that when the big hand is on the eight and the little hand is on the five, it means that it's twenty to six. I'm not entirely sure why he thought being insulting would help his cause, but it was definitely his next tactic. Five minutes later, he broke out the classic line: "Look, thirty pounds is a lot of money. Not all of us can be flown over here on trust funds from America, you know."

That was about when I decided that I'd had enough of him. (Imagine being called rich and spoilt by a toff in corduroy trousers and a London Fog waistcoat!)

Then, the man who'd been standing in line behind him — who, after fifteen minutes, was also getting a little fed up — helpfully chimed in: "Fuck's sake, mate, they've already said no to you, give it a fucking rest."

At this Mr Toff turned around and said: "Fuck off. They haven't said no, yet, anyway." Which I (and my colleague Tom, who had also joined in the fray by this point) though was an excellent opportunity to say a decisive "No!" to him, in unison. Mr Toff and the other guy then resumed swearing at each other and probably would have gone to blows had Tom not led the other man away to handle his request.

But Mr Toff was not finished yet, and launched into his third tactic: "Look, there are how many different spaces in this building? And they all have the word 'Belly' in them. It's confusing. How am I supposed to know where the right stage is?"

And, having lost all my patience by this point, I replied, "I appreciate that it's confusing, sir, and I am sympathetic, but with all due respect there are fifty-six other ticket holders sitting upstairs right now who managed to work it out, and your confusion is not really our responsibility."

I could carry on describing the exchange, but I am all too aware of how tiresome this sort of conversation can become, so I will leave it there. In any case, it's time for my daily dive into my stacks of trust fund money.

August 16, 2008

The Strict Attorney

To ensure that I can help bring hope and change and whatnot to The Greatest Country In The World™ come November, I recently renewed my absentee ballot in Florida. As an added bonus of spreading democracy, I am back on the mailing list for a whole muck of campaign leaflets regarding a number of upcoming local elections.

Like the race for the office of State Attorney in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida. Hold on to your hats!

Taking a page out of Mitt Romney's book (now there's an election winner), our first contender is John F. Tanner. (I don't actually know if that's his middle initial, but it sounds good, don't you think?) His campaign slogan is the grammatically infuriating:
Re-Elect Tanner State Attorney.
Proven. Effective. Leadership.
Yes, that's right: vote Tanner. Adjective. Adjective. Noun. I mean, for God's sake, is this an election campaign or a linguistics experiment?

Tanner proudly boasts that his office has sent eighteen murderers to death row — which I guess makes pretty good sense as a campaign talking point in an election for state attorney between two Republicans, but still, doesn't it sound tawdry? "Eighteen dudes are going to die because of me. Vote Tanner."

Not that he has much competition, anyway, as he's a four-term incumbent with approximately four times as much money as his opponent, Asian immigrant Charles Tan. In fact, pretty much the only thing that could throw the campaign off course at this point would be the entry of long-time local lawyer Bob C. Tannest.

Okay, yes, sadly I made that up. His real opponent is JR Larizza, a former state corrections officer from Jacksonville. But frankly, the competition ain't too stiff. The most impressive boasts on Larizza's campaign website are probably these:
RJ has numerous extended family members and many friends whom he enjoys sharing his time with [sic] when the opportunity arises.

RJ follows the Latin phrase "Carpe Diem" - seize the day.
So, a social butterfly Latin scholar versus a murderer murderer. Who do we think stands a better chance?

Be sure to tune in next week for my coverage of the exciting race for West Volusia County Hospital Authority Group A, Seat 1, between Tracy Lunquist, Voloria Manning, and (this one I'm not making up), John Adams.

August 15, 2008

August 13, 2008

Cooked Apples

From Newsvine: Fire burns building at Apple HQ in California
CUPERTINO — Firefighters have put out a blaze that burned for more than three hours at the headquarters of computer maker Apple.
I guess fire is just a risk you have to take when your computers are so blazingly fast.

Firefighters had to use so much water to put out the conflagration that several rooms in the building were flooded. Staff then engaged in a spirited round of bobbing for Apples.


August 08, 2008

August 06, 2008

I'd Rather See Ladd Mags

From BBC NEWS | UK: Lad mags 'linked to social ills'

Loath though I am to side with the Tories over, well, almost anything, I find much compelling in a recent speech by Conservative MP Michael Gove.
"Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available," he said.

"We should ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men what they think they're doing.

"They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude."
I'm slightly less comfortable with his attempt to link the magazines to "relationship breakdown and fatherless children" — as if a magazine alone could do that! — and of course, a spokesman for lad mags (what a job, eh?) latched on to this second, more unreasonable suggestion in his rebuttal. Deftly ignoring the core issue — which is, natch, that lad mags are fucking disgusting — Jonathan Shephard said:
"Michael Gove raises deep and complex social issues which reach far wider than simply reading a magazine. To try to create an unsubstantiated cause or link between these issues and men's magazines is unrealistic. "
That's a bit of a cop out, I'd say, since these magazines are still part of the deep and complex culture that produces them, and reining in their worst offences certainly wouldn't do any harm. I'm not talking about pornography, really, but about the misogynistic attitude underpinning these magazines. At least Playboy publishes Joyce Carol Oates occasionally, you know? Nuts and Zoo are more like Hustler without all the vaginas.

Let's just take a brief sample from the Nuts website, shall we? On the front page alone you are invited to see "Ronaldo's NEW Babe Topless", to "Assess My Breasts" (yes, I had to read it twice, too), and to start a fight ("Fighting hurts! Have you got what it takes?!"). Zoo's isn't much better, offering "75 Real Girls In Bikinis!", "100 Best Bloggers' Boobs!", the "Top 20 Football Feuds!", and, of course, the eternal existential question: "Sammy Braddy: Britain's Best Boobs?".

(Obviously it's possible that all of the people who buy Nuts/Zoo consume it with as critical an eye as I do, and thus the magazines do not contribute to negative attitudes towards women as much as it might seem. But if the comments on that last article are anything to go by, it seems unlikely: "No way! Seren's boobs are the best in Britain, hands down, no contest! . . . Those nipples are rank! Same with the face!" opines one; "Why aren't more women so attractive," laments another. "It a curse for us all.")

And perhaps I'm just feeling a little jaded because of all the drunken twats that take up permanent residence in Edinburgh at this time of year, but when you have to encounter walking Nuts magazines on a daily basis, you really begin to wonder if maybe we shouldn't be a little more concerned about the generation they're breeding.

As usual, I am slightly horrified by the old crankpot I seem to be becoming.

August 02, 2008

They Should Practise Safe Sex

I was on my bike coming home from work last night, around 3:30am. Biking when the clubs get out on a Friday night in Edinburgh is not a particularly pleasant experience, as, evidently, the perceived hilarity in pretending to lunge dangerously towards cyclists increases exponentially with every rise in blood-alcohol level.

Shouting, "Look at that cunt on a bike," also seems pretty directly correlated.

But I was willing to forgive all of that because of what happened when I cruised into my neighbourhood's main street. A man and a woman were staggering home ahead of me, and as I neared them the woman turned around at the sound of my approach. At first she got out of my way, but then, as I slowed down to move past her, she thought better of it and shouted:

"Hey, you! Stop a minute!"

I slowed down even more and she put a hand on my shoulder.

"You don't have a condom, do you?" she asked, looking conspiratorially at the man walking along with her.

"Sorry," I said. "I really don't."

"For God's sake!" she said, falling back towards him. "Why don't guys carry them around anymore?!"

"Easy now," said her soon-not-to-be lover.

Already speeding up again and riding off, I looked back over my shoulder. "Good luck," I said, in their general direction. And I really meant it, too.

August 01, 2008