If you get all of your news from, well… us, you might not know that Turkey and Egypt are having somewhat of a tiff. The two countries haven’t been on speaking terms since Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power by a military coup back in 2013.
This ongoing diplomatic breakdown was quite inconvenient for Iranian-Azeri magician, Aref Ghafouri, who found himself in need of anti-venom after being bitten by an Egyptian Cobra during a rehearsal in Turkey. In hospital, he was told two things you really don’t want to hear after being bitten by a snake. First: that the venom could cause death due to respiratory failure, and second: Turkey didn’t have the right kind of anti-venom to treat the wound.
Now, it might seem obvious that Egypt would be pretty high on the list of places you might find anti-venom for the Egyptian Cobra, but this is where that aforementioned diplomatic breakdown comes in. Unfortunately, asking someone you’re not talking to for anti-venom is, like, totally awkward, so Turkey opted to ask France for help instead. Discussion between the two countries was slow, and it eventually turned out that France’s Pasteur Institute had stopped producing the antidote back in 2015. Meanwhile, Ghafouri’s hand started to swell to cartoonish proportions, as they are wont to do after being bitten by a giant goddamn snake.
Ghafouri, who was quite well known in Turkey following a successful appearance on Turkey’s Got Talent, realized that waiting for the wheels of diplomacy to start turning was likely going to be hazardous for his health and amazing for his snake’s self esteem, and chose to travel to Egypt himself. He promptly ran into an issue obtaining a visa, and had to wait in an ambulance plane at Antalya Airport for hours.
The Turkish government meanwhile was still trying to get an answer from France when it learned of the delay in processing the magician’s visa. Calls were made. The visa has since been approved. Ghafouri was flown into Cairo and began his treatment earlier today.
There’s a certain type of fiscal conservative unique to the United States that takes great issue with public spending on the arts, and indeed, seems to believe that every government dollar that isn’t spent on road maintenance or predator drones may as well have been shovelled into a great pit and set ablaze.
The latest target of this faux-concern for the taxpayer’s dime is the Circus Center in San Francisco (of course it’s in San Francisco) which claims to be the only school for the Circus arts in the US. The Centre has racked up roughly $175,000 in government funding since the turn of the century. That’s the best part of ten grand a year, the latest instalment of which was in the form of a $10,000 NEA grant in 2017. The money helped fund The Clown Conservatory, “24-week program, taught by master clowns, circus artists, and circus historians.” The course costs a steep $6,000, and includes classes and workshops on slapstick, physical comedy, mime, musicality, props, and other avenues of professional buffoonery .
This wasteful government spending has attracted the ire one Craig Eyermann, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and creator of MyGovCost.org: Government Cost Calculator. To be fair to Eyermann, his concern about wasteful policies and governmental overreach seems non-partisan, but his particular disdain for what he amusingly dubs “clown college,” seems particularly wrong-headed.
Eyremann’s core argument against the grant, which he implies is the strangest thing the government spends money on (it isn’t), is that people just don’t like clowns any more, to wit:
Aside from providing this core program of training for America’s next generation of political leaders, the Clown Conservatory represents taxpayer dollars being wastefully directed to sustain something that the public really doesn’t want. Because if it did, there would be a growing international job market for clowns fed by growing public demand, and there simply isn’t. The evidence for that can be found in the stagnant membership numbers of the World Clown Association, which has consistently counted some 2,400 people in its ranks since 2004.
This would be a compelling point, if the point of arts spending was to produce marketable entertainment products. There’s already a source of funding for popular entertainment, it’s called the free market. Arts grants are literally designed to allow art and culture that might not be financially viable to continue to exist. Indeed, that clowning is a dying art is the exact reason why the government should maybe spend the occasional $10k on keeping it alive. You might not respect clowns or clowning as a performance art, but there’s a long, rich history to it, a history worth preserving. As Circus Center executive director, Barry Kendall, put it when asked why American taxpayers should fund a school for clowns:
Paying taxes is a deeply patriotic act and supporting the preservation and advancement of American culture is one of the patriotic uses of those dollars,” said Kendall. “Circus Center is proud of the unique contributions that our professional clown training program makes to the cultural life of our nation, and we are delighted that Clown Conservatory was recognized through the NEA’s competitive application process.
For your edification, I crunched a few numbers and came to the conclusion that for the price of one predator drone, clown college could produce 4,200 clowns, enough to fill the nation’s clown stockpiles for decades to come. That’s a joke, obviously, and I know I’ve been banging this drum pretty hard throughout this article, but when your country spends well over half its federal budget on defense and that number is likely to go up in the next few years, quibbling about a few clowns in San Francisco being able to have extra soy milk in their lattes seems nothing short of petty.
Ultimately, The Circus Center will always be an easy target for anti arts-spending rants. It’s weird, it’s niche, it’s difficult for the public to relate to, and it lends itself to obvious jokes about politicians graduating from the clown program. In fact, Eyermann liked that joke so much he made it twice. And that’s why we need Clown college, my friends, because any clown worth his oversized shoes will tell you that humour comes in threes.
Last month, a crowd of professional clowns clad in white took to the streets of Acapulco to demand an end to the Mexican resort city’s staggering rates of homicide and violent crime.
Salvador Alarcón Arizmendi, better known as “Noodle of the Watery Soup,” began the march with a speech lamenting the recent violent deaths of two of his fellow clowns, and the spread of crime to the city center, once considered off-limits for gang violence.
While the entire country has seen an increase in violent crime in recent years, largely due to an escalation in gang and cartel activity following police crackdowns, Acapulco has been hit particularly hard. The once glamorous city was a popular holiday destination for the Hollywood elite in the 50’s, but has since been dubbed “Mexico’s murder capital,” due to its 6-year run as the most deadly location in the country.
While tourism has “remained steady,” largely due to plummeting prices attracting less affluent holiday-goers willing to risk their necks for a bargain, the clowns claim that the violence is damaging their livelihood. Bookings for clowns are down by more than 50%. Residents are just too afraid to throw parties, fearing any sign of affluence will attract criminals.
In January, the US state department Travel Advisory began officially advising US citizens not to visit the state of Guerrero, including Acapulco:
“Do not travel due to crime. Armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travellers. U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to the entire state of Guerrero, including Acapulco.”
We talk to @pennjillette about being tall as shit, being handpicked by Trump for Celebrity Apprentice, what Trump is really like, crowdfunding his new movie "Director's Cut," and the secret life lesson in magic. pic.twitter.com/oBhCxEtowC
— DESUS & MERO (@desusandmero) April 27, 2018
Not one to mince words, Penn Jillette had a simple answer when asked for his opinion on Donald Trump in an interview with Vice’s Desus & Mero.
Penn met the gameshow-host-turned-leader-of-the-free-world during his time on The Celebrity Apprentice.
I was told… I guess there’s shame in this now, but I was told Donald Trump himself wanted me on. As the season went on, Donald Trump liked me less. I was asked if I would support him for president, and after I calmed down from laughing, I said, “absolutely not.”
When asked what the current President of the United States is like in person, Penn’s answer was characteristically blunt:
He’s an asshole. You have to remember if he weren’t president we’d be talking about how great he is. Because one thing, to be on television, especially on a reality show, you want to have almost no filter, you want to be capricious, you want to be unpredictable. Those are really good things, that’s what you want.
But those aren’t the qualities Penn wants in a leader.
The idea to have those same qualities going to a president is insane. You want someone who’s measured.
The short interview also covers Penn’s experience crowdfunding his new movie, Director’s Cut, and what it’s like being really tall. Spoiler: It’s great.