Monday, November 29, 2004

A tale of stupidity, blind luck, Thanksgiving, music, superheroes, further Zimbabwean madness and stomach remedies

On Thursday I went to Thanksgiving dinner at the house of an Indian friend (this is the Indian feminist that I was mildly criticizing a few weeks ago) of mine. The food was very nice, albeit just about as far away from traditional Thanksgiving fare as it is possible to get, substitute vegetarian curry for turkey and Bombay potatoes for mashed potato and you're getting close. My contribution to the meal was the supply of two bottles of wine, most of which I consumed myself. Anyhow, between the wine and the beer we had after the meal, by the time I walked home, at nearly three o'clock in the morning, I was moderately well sauced. Thursday night was probably the coldest night of the year so far, which meant that for the first time this year I was wearing a wooly hat. For some reason, the alcohol played a large part I imagine, I thought that it would be good idea to pull the hat down over my eyes and walk the last couple of blocks as though I was blind. (I can't explain why I thought this was a good idea, but at the time I did, I have done many things more stupid after an evening of drinking.) After a few lamppost collisions I managed to get to my apartment safely.

This morning while I was eating breakfast down at the cafe I discovered that one of my friends, a guy who works at the cafe, was robbed at gunpoint last night. He was robbed on the same street, at a similar time, that I was walking down 48 hours earlier. It did make me think what a lucky boy I was, and made me wonder what kind of a neighbourhood I'm living in. Although, I'm pretty certain that this is a very safe neighbourhood. Still, it's hard to believe that someone I knew got held up at gunpoint a hundred yards or so from my apartment. Lucky me, unlucky him I guess. Or lucky him as well, as he walked away unscathed and got his wallet back a few minutes later as the police caught the guys. Makes you think.

On Friday night I came over all cultural and went to see Women of Solofest, which is part of Myke Rock's MultiFestival. I went at the behest of one of the bartenders from Vic's, who was drunkenly approaching people on Wednesday and insisting that go see her play on Friday. It was a pretty interesting mix of music from solo piano (played by my assailant, although I must confess I was fairly willingly assailed) to rock to folksy-blues. For those keeping records, that made it two consecutive days which I went out somewhere which wasn't downstairs.

The remainder of my Thanksgiving weekend has been spent in the company of superheroes. Firstly, I have been watching the third (and first half of the fourth, after down-cough-cough-ing the episodes using bit torrent) season of Smallville (for those who haven't seen it, Smallville is like a poor man's Angel — which in turn was like a poor man's Buffy — but with a young Clark Kent, so it is littered with man of steel and fast than a speeding bullet lines). For what it's worth the third season is a bit shit, but the fourth season is much better. Then I've been reading (you know who's) 1602, in which the Marvel superheroes are imagined as they would have been if they had been incarnate in the 17th century. It's all very clever, but being as I'm not a true comic book aficionado I imagine I'm missing at least half the references. They've both been a pleasant escape from mundane reality.

On the off chance that anyone needs a reason for escaping reality, here's a happy tale about the decline of the Zimbabwean education system, coupled with the increasing media insanity that the Zimababwean government suffers from (banning cricket journalists?) . This happy tale coupled with the 'fact' I learned from Harper's Index that the , "Projected lifespan in years of a Zimbabwean born in 1989 and one born in 2002, respectively : 60, 34", highlight what life is now like in the worst country to live in.

Finally, a short treatise on stomach health. My stomach has been pretty much unhappy for the last three weeks. In that time I've been trying to use the judicious, or excessive, application of beer to fix the problem. Needless to say, this method has not been entirely successful. So last night I adopted a different strategy, this strategy was based upon the twin pillars of pharmaceuticals and advertising. I selected a product, "Pink, does more you than you think", that was purported to fix various stomach ailments, and tried it. Of course, my version of trying the product involved using it two minutes before going downstairs and drinking, but still little steps and all that. I'm not sure that my method of fixing stomach ailments is working, tonight I might try the reverse application of products. If it is not deadly, I might let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Amusements and oddities

The Office is bloody brilliant! I realise this is not news to anybody (with taste) who's seen it, but still it is bloody brilliant. The reason for my exclamation is that I've just watched last year's Christmas finale, some 11 months after the lucky inhabitants of Blighty got to see them. It somehow managed to keep faith with the two series and still draw everything to a satisfying conclusion.

One thing I realised whilst watching the two episodes was that I might be something of a soppy romantic under my hard cynical shell. (Well, I'm not sure I really have a hard cynical shell, but sometimes I like to pretend I know what kind of a shell I have.) The reason for the soppiness questioning is that even before I watched it I was hoping Tim and Dawn would get together and then when while I was watching I was hoping for the same. And then... well I won't say.

In other comedy news, Spaced is also very amusing. The only reason I bought Spaced was because it was from one of the creators of, the really very excellent, Shaun of the Dead. In fact I like Spaced so much that Jessica Stevenson has now been added to my wish list. 'Cause funny girls — very attractive.

Turning attentions to more serious matters, the situation in Ukraine is very interesting. I thought the change in Viktor Yushchenko's appearance (you have to scroll about half way down the page) was fascinating and now we have mass protest in the street it's all very interesting. What I find particularly interesting is how some people (something I read on, the frankly strange, Planet SuSE) equate what's happening in Ukraine to the recent American election, which I find to be an astonishing leap. I'll agree both countries have recently had an election, but that's probably where the similarity ends. For instance, despite what the Republican's may say I don't think there was overwhelming media favouritism for one particular candidate. Being here, as a (somewhat) impartial observer, I didn't notice any large scale intimidation or widespread voting irregularities. Sure there were a few isolated instances and some things which were not as well done as the could have been. But the fact of the matter is that a clear majority of Americans who voted preferred Bush. Now whilst I don't fully understand why, I'm pretty confident that that is what happened. Of course, maybe I'm just unenlightened.

Oh, it was nice to see that red-faced Mr Ferguson winning his 1000 game in charge of Man. Utd.. Although if the bastards would have scored one more I'd have won a couple of quid. Still, never mind though.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

An unnecessary observation?

As I mentioned before, I use the (insert positive adjective here) Mozilla browser, Firefox. It has a nice new feature called Live Bookmarks, these take RSS feeds and provide easy access to headlines and news stories (well to anything that someone has made an RSS feed for, like this blog for instance). Anyhow, to cut a dull story short, I just read this headline from my Guardian live bookmark, Prince Charles's household 'elitist'. I found this very amusing (the headline not the story, I couldn't be bothered to actually read the story). A prince's household elitist, whatever next?

In case anyone is interested, and to try and proved I'm not just a Guardian reader, my other live bookmarks are: BBC News, Slashdot, Neil Gaiman, Telegraph (News, Sport, Football, Expat, Art and Books), Guardian (News, UK News, World News, Sport, Football, Books and Film), BBC Sport (Front Page, Football, Cricket, Rugby, Motorsport, Cycling and US Sport) and The Register. The BBC ones are very strange the news feed has some huge number of headlines, whilst all the sport ones only have three headlines.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

It's spam... or is it?

I just got an email with the subject Prize Winners Session 2003/04, I thought yet more spam, I wonder why the filter didn't pick it up. For some reason rather than deleting the email I had a look at it, you know how you do with some spam to see what the crafty buggers are trying these days. I was shocked by what I discovered in the email. It turns out I had actually won a prize, in particular I'd won (or maybe I co-won, I'm not really sure) the Carey Foster Prize for research in physics. It was all somewhat surprising. I didn't know the award existed, I don't know what the criteria are (standard pick a name out a hat, would be my guess), and I didn't even know who Carey Foster was.

[Some minutes of Googling].

It turns out that G. Carey Foster was, at one stage at least, an old bearded guy who was a Professor at UCL and he invented a bridge — of the type that measures resistances, not crosses rivers — and apparently back in 1869 he even lectured to ladies.

I'm still none the wiser about the award though. But anytime somebody wants to give me an award I'll be happy, particularly if the award comes with a cheque (yea, I might have enough English pounds to pay next months student loan payment).

I guess it pays to read spam sometimes.


This weekend marked the end of the short life of my second American chair. I know it's sad but try to hold back the tears. This post (and the last one, which I wrote a draft of last night, but typed this evening) were made sitting cross-legged on the floor, with my laptop sitting on the coffee table.

For the record, the furniture remaining in my apartment is: one futon, one coffee table, one TV stand and two shelving units. A little sparse you might say. Still it does give me an excuse to go downstairs to the bar, when I want to sit on something which isn't the floor.

Pornography, alcohol and boyfriends

Last night I watched an episode of (the BBC comedy) Coupling on BBC America (if you haven't seen it imagine six people drinking and talking about sex, but imagine they do it in an amusing way). I was quite surprised to discover that it is really quite funny. I even laughed out loud (alone in my empty flat, mind you) a few times, which is quite rare when I'm watching a sitcom — normally they just make me smile, or maybe chuckle if they're good.

Anyhow the main thing that came out of me watching the show was that I realized that I was failing the men of the world. You see, I have a dangerous lack of pornography. There are all those guys out there who a trapped in an enforced pornography free, or pornography rationed, world, due to the wishes of their womenfolk. I'm talking about those men who can not have pornography openly displayed in their abode, those poor men who have to go to convoluted lengths to hide their paltry porn stash. And here I am, living the porn lover's dream, a single guy living alone in my own apartment. It should really be part of my duties, to my fellow man, to have an excessive quantity of pornography, out of sympathy for those who are pornography deprived. Every room in my apartment should be a shrine dedicated to an unhealthy obsession with the unclothed female form. There should be pictures adorning every wall in the flat, wherever one's eyes linger they should linger on a barely clad lady. Instead, I am sad to report, I only possess one solitary pornographic magazine. And what is worse I didn't even purchase the one magazine I own (it was a Christmas present, in case you're interested). So, if you are a man suffering from pornography rationing, I apologize for my lack of due diligence in the pursuit of pornography.

At what point does one start to think that they are drinking too much? Or does one just start to think that they are spending too much money on drink? And which is worse?

I can't remember the last day when I didn't have at least one beer downstairs, and a few people have suggested to me that maybe I am drinking too much. Of course, these are often the same people who chastise me when they go to the cafe and don't find me in it. For example, there is one customer (she's a girl, for what it's worth... and I probably should have described her as a friend and not just a customer of the cafe, but never mind for now) who in the last seven days has, complained I drink too much, complained when I didn't get a beer when she did, told me not to drink when I was ill this weekend and then told me not to listen to her telling me not to drink when I was ill... is it any wonder that I don't comprehend the human (read female) mind.

On the subject of the inherent incomprehensibility of the female mind, why do nearly all the women I know complain about their boyfriends to/at me? And when they do, what exactly am I supposed to say/do/think about it? I mean are they telling me, a male, because they want to see if I'll defend their boyfriend's actions. Or am I supposed to play the sympathetic to their plight "Oh girlfriend that is terrible" (drag queen impersonation optional). Or am I just meant to 'listen', where 'listen' is defined as paying attention to what they say, nodding in the right places, hmming, huhhing, and the occasional, well placed, "really" or similar. Or is it just intended as the ultimate slap in the face to my manliness — my boyfriend cheats on me, beats on me, sacrifices children and kittens to the devil, mugs grandmothers, rapes great-grandmothers after he mugs them... and he's still better than you.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Power of Nightmares

You might have heard about the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, tonight I watched it. Well actually, I watched the three-hour series with an interval of The O.C., which made for an interesting switch of pace and context. Anyhow, if we can drag ourselves away from the tawdry world of teenage romance and high school drama and concentrate on the tawdry world of international terrorism for a while, it was a very interesting few hours. (I should probably mention that my watching this show was the result of some actions of dubious legality, DMCA anyone? Not that I would recommend such actions. For some reason, while I would never download a film, I don't have any problems downloading TV shows that aren't available on DVD. I think of it in the same way I would think of my Mother videoing said show and sending me the tape. Similarly, while I don't think one should download songs from one of the mass file sharing networks, I see no problem in borrowing a friends CD and making a mp3, or m4a, copy of it. I'm not sure that the relevant authorities have quite the same flexible interpretation of what's right and wrong.)

The documentary contrasted the rise of the neo-conservatives and islamists over the last 50 years. The filmmakers traced a very interesting path, starting with a high school dance in America and ending with dirty bombs (which are apparently a crock of shit). I was particularly interested in the portion of the film that concentrated on the Soviet Union. It started by explaining how the neo-conservatives lied about the power and influence of the Soviet Union, and ended by explaining how the Soviet Union crumbled under its own corruption, with very little effect of outside influence. Which reminded me of the conversation I was in at Hallow-e'en, strange little circles the world forms.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short the documentary was very well done. But being as its main point was one that I believed in already, the threat of terrorism is grossly exaggerated, I'm probably a biased observer. The documentary went in to a lot of detail discussing particular, well publicized 'arrests' of terrorist cells in the UK and US and pointed out how the cases fell apart under closer examination. In one such case a home video of a trip to Disneyland was used as evidence that a group of young Arabs were planning a terrorist attack there, and the fact that it looked so much like a home video of a holiday was used as proof that it was something more sinister. Lack of evidence being used as a proof evidence existed was a recurring theme throughout the documentary, with the neo-conservatives applying it successively to the Soviet Union, Bill Clinton and now the terrorists. Also despite all the hoop-la surrounding the Tube attacks in London, the only terrorists who have been prosecuted in Britain since September 11th 2001, under the anti-terror laws, were members of (Northern) Irish groups.

I wrote some of this post in the bar this evening (and some of it I tidied up on Friday morning). This prompted several conversations about nightmares. I recanted my childhood nightmare in which the world changes from it's normal form into one in which everything has the consistency of cooked pasta, this was somehow terrifying. And I was told, by one of the barmaids, about two of her nightmares, a fist fight in which you can not hurt your opponent and trying to run away but being unable to move. If I wanted to psychobabble I'd probably say that her nightmares focused on inadequacy, or helplessness, as they each involve not being able to do something, but I'm not quite sure what my pasta nightmare is supposed to symbolize.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Assorted bits and pieces

You know how it is, there are lots of little things that don't quite merit a post on their own and then they sort of fall through the cracks. So here are some of the results of my Autumn cleaning:

Firstly, my favourite piece of spam from the past couple of weeks, it was sent to me by if any of you English ladies, between 16 and 35, are interested in getting in touch with Tony.

This might seem like an unusual Email.

My name is Tony and I live in Clearwater, FL in the United States.

I am very interested in being introduced to a girl from England for travel experience and possible marriage.

I hope you might know several girls affiliated with University College London who might be interested in meeting an American guy.

I am 36 years old and sell advertising. I make a very good living.

I am open-minded and age is not the most important factor. I am open to talking to ladies between 16 and 35 years of age.

I am 100% serious about this. I would prefer to meet a girl that can come here, possibly on a tourist visa. For the right girl, under the right circumstances I might be willing to go to England.

If you help can me with this I will forever be indebted and ryan james nichol will always have a friend in me.



Sadly, I can't think of any girls affiliated with University College London who might be interested in meeting Tony. I'm sure he's just a poor mis-understood man, or a psychopath, or one of the more convoluted con schemes I've heard about.

Two reasons why, the Football365 feature, Mediawatch is excellent? Firstly it speaks ill of the dead, by reporting the following quote from Tommy Smith about the recently deceased Emlyn Hughes, "We used to call him thrush. Why? Because he was an irritating cunt." (ETA: I discovered today that American's don't call thrush 'thrush', or more specifically they only call it thrush when the infected area is the mouth, typically the mouth of somebody with HIV, when the infected part is a vagina — or a woman's vagina, as the OED likes to put it — it's just called a yeast infection.)

Mediawatch also keeps me up to date with the latest, good and bad, headlines from the papers. As in today's effort from the Sun, 23-Ton Truck Rams Rooney (And Miraculously The Truck Survives), and from earlier this week an animal related pair, Police dog wanted slash but found stash and Cat Shot For Second Time. (Of course none of these come close to the legendary Knicker Nicker Nicked.)

Today I received an email from the Office of International Education, here at Ohio State. They were waffling on about some student run international film festival, the mail included the following paragraph:
Films from the following countries will be shown: 11/13 India; 11/14 Iran; 11/15 Turkey; 11/16 Central Africa; 11/17 Argentina; 11/18 Iran; 11/19 China; 11/21 India. (No film on Saturday, November 20.)

At the time I read it I was going to make some snide remark about how the Office of International Education should really be able to distinguish a region from a country. But then I discovered the Central African Republic, which I had somehow managed to forget, or never know, about. A little further digging and I uncovered a plethora of (well three) other African countries of which I was unaware: Comoros, Guinea-Bissau and, Sao Tome and Principe.

Finally, I'll end with a couple of adverts. Firstly, everyone should really be using the new Firefox browser. It does everything a browser should, and it does it all well. My new favourite thing is the extension, which is a frankly genius idea. For those of you who don't know, and why don't you, is a website which maintains a library of logins for those annoying web pages that require mandatory logins (e.g. newspaper sites, speciality sites, etc.). The extension adds an entry to the right-click menu, which automatically selects a username and password from the BugMeNot website and fills it in. Thus speeding me through the annoying logins and maintaining my privacy.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Friday evening from a bloody cold flat

This week I discovered what the initials 'WWJD?' stand for. On Wednesday I was sat at one of the tables downstairs, as opposed to being sat at the bar itself, and there was a sign on the table. It was a homemade, handwritten sign that said something like, "?MORALS? WAR VIOLENCE GREED REVENGE INTOLERANCE HATRED ?WWJD?" (there were a few other words, but I don't remember what they were). My first thought when I saw the sign was why didn't they use an inverted question mark, like they do in Spanish. My second thought was what the bugger does 'WWJD?' mean. I was thinking along the lines of WMD, and couldn't quite work out what the middle letters could stand for.

Anyhow, being as someone had gone to the time and effort to cut out a piece of card and scrawl upon it, I felt compelled to keep the sign propped up on display. This was the cause of several conversations throughout the evening. During the first, or second, of these I was informed that 'WWJD?' stands for "What Would Jesus Do?". Now, I'm not sure that I have the time, patience or vocabulary to fully discuss the utter inanity of this statement. If pressed, I would say my best guess would be that he would get thoroughly confused by the magic of television, automobiles and automatic rifles and that he wouldn't add much to his 30-odd years. But apparently some people believe that we should stop and think about what the 2000 year old, kitchen table inventor (according to that crazy man, Mr Gibson) would do when we make decisions. Fair enough, if it gets you to stop and think that is probably a bonus. But can't you stop and think: is it a good idea? Will it make the world a better place? How many peoples lives is this going to fuck up? Or anything? By all means follow the man's teachings, if you wish, but do try and make decisions on your own.

In other news, I printed out a copy of the Daily Mirror's front page from Thursday, and taped it in the window of my front door. This is the front door I share with my Bush supporting neighbours. It's now sitting where their Bush/Cheney 04 sticker was, prior to the election (no, I didn't take it down). Hopefully when they see the poster they will take it in the good humour in which it was placed, I did think it was a rather amusing front page. I particularly liked the (soon to be trademarked) vacant look on Bush's face and the "U.S. Election Disaster Pages 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 11" caption.

For the record, I usually dislike the Daily Mirror. There's the usual criticism of all of the UK tabloids: sensationalism, over-simplification and dubious journalistic habits. Then there is also some more specific criticism, former editor Piers Morgan is a fairly noxious individual and of course there were their fake Iraq abuse photos. But I still find Thursday's front page amusing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Last political post, probably

At noon today I made a small wager. I bet the princely sum of £3.72 on the Democrats to win the US presidential election, if he does I stand to make a profit of £5.06. So the odds at the time were favouring a Republican victory, now six hours later the odds are favouring a Democrat victory. In fact as I type this at 17:51 you can get 2.5 pounds for each pound you wager on a Bush victory. I find this rather encouraging, although twenty minutes ago the odds of a Bush victory were even longer, so who knows.

In case you're interested the betting site I'm referring to is Betfair, although all the major UK bookmakers are favouring a Kerry win at the moment. It's kind of hard to tell what to make of it as the odds are just determined by what people are willing to gamble on. But they probably represent a pretty good guess of what's going to happen, after all there's been close to 8 million pounds traded on this market so far.

Oscar Wilde election (mis-)quotes

To horribly mis-quote Oscar Wilde:
"To lose once, America, may be regarded as misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."

No paraphrasing this time:
"The basis of optimism is sheer terror."

Monday, November 01, 2004

Ryan's first American Halloween

This weekend marked my first Halloween in America — incidentally tomorrow is the first anniversary of my incarceration/freedom/sentence/job/arrival in America (delete as applicable, note applicability changes frequently).

Fortunately, I missed the little kiddies dressing up and knocking on my door asking for stuff part of Halloween, as I was at a John Kerry rally on Thursday evening. The rally was quite an interesting experience. They could have done without their generator breaking down and plunging the 30,000-50,000 strong crowd into an hour long silence before we got to the main event. The main event of the evening was, obviously, Bruce Springsteen playing a couple of songs and introducing The Next President of United States of America. At this point confetti rained down upon the stage and some people in the audience started to leave, well a few people also left during the unplanned intermission. Kerry didn't have anything particularly interesting to say, or at least didn't have anything much to say that I haven't heard a few times before. He, or his scriptwriters, tried to illustrate a few of his points by using local examples, job losses in Ohio and that sort of thing, which gave it a slightly more personal feel. But most of the time it was like watching a repeat of the Kerry half of the debates. Springsteen on the other hand was quite an eloquent speaker, but maybe that was just because he came after the very old sounding John Glenn (but hell he's 80 and has been to space so we can probably forgive him for sounding a little strained and frail). In case you were wondering I didn't have to sign a loyalty oath, I just wasn't allowed to bring any banners or signs in with me, not that I wanted to.

Most of my entertainment for the evening came from a small troupe of banner waving Bush supporters, who congregated just outside the rally enclosure, and their interactions with the Kerry supporters. I was particularly amused by the guy who was dressed up like a character from Aladdin, big red turban and princely robes, holding a sign saying "Make me safer. Vote for Kerry". Now I guess he was trying to be a terrorist, and suggesting that terrorists would be safer under Kerry, but instead he looked like a pantomime character (I used to go to the pantomime every year when I was growing up, my mother still goes every year. For those of you haven't had the, dubious, pleasure, you get men dressed up as old women, women dressed as young men, two men dressed as a donkey or cow, and lots of singing, dancing and bad jokes. Oh and he's behind you.), so I was trying to work out why pantomime characters/actors would be endangered under Bush. It really was quite a ridiculous costume to wear if you were trying to make a serious political statement.

Since Thursday night, every night has been taken up with some amount of Halloween partying and staying up late, although the closest I got to fancy dress was putting on a Hawaiian shirt. The highlights of the parties included: the large number of women who came as angels, or leather clad cops; repeatedly talking about gay marriage (For the record I just don't understand it, and can't conceive of how two guys getting married could possibly effect me or my marriage, if I was married. For that matter I can't understand why they'd want to get married, but telling them they can't seems entirely unfair. But surely there are other issues that people should be paying attention to and not wasting so much time with this smokescreen?); being told that the reason for September 11th, the attack not the date, was McDonalds and rap music (I have no witty comment to make, just "Huh?"); listening to a former resident of communist East Germany arguing with a former marine about how much influence Reagan had on the fall of communism in the Eastern-block (none and all, were the initial positions); listening to the HooDoo Soul Band, they were very very good and 12 hours later my ears are still ringing; being taken for one half of a gay marriage; pretending to be an Alabaman pastor pretending to be an Englishman (long story, the guy I was talking to was both drunk and annoying so I decided to start lying to him, okay not that long a story); not getting home before three o'clock all weekend and just generally enjoying myself.