Archive for the ‘Top 5s’ Category

Buddhism solved

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Given that religions are essentially mysteries, it is odd that no one has attempted to solve them. It’s a bit much to ask me solve all of them in a morning, but I’ve just about got the patience to deal with Zen Buddhism. Here are the answers to five Buddhist koans. Tomorrow I deal with Islam (cue sense of humour failure and threats of death, etc).

1. “Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?”
Answer: a faint wafting.

2. “Without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born”
Answer:

Winston Churchill (who, as everyone knows, is the model for all unborn children)

3. “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west?” Traditional answer: “The cypress tree in the courtyard.”
Answer: Wanderlust and idle curiosity. And don’t call me Bodhidharma. (The only person who calls me that is my mum when she’s angry.)

4. “What is Buddha?” Traditional answer: “Three pounds of flax.”
Answer: Three pounds of flax, and a man with a fondness for heavy linen trousers.

5. “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
Answer: No. Ask yourself, does Buddha does have dog nature? Hey, get off my leg.

Too many proverbs spoil the broth

Friday, June 1, 2007

How on earth am I supposed to memorise enough proverbs to lend myself an air of seasoned wisdom? There are simply too many. I suggest, therefore, a programme of proverb rationalisation that will neatly reduce their number without diminishing their pithy truthfulness, viz

1. A stitch in time waits for no man.

2. An early bird in the hand loves to hear himself sing.

3. You can take a horse to water, but don’t look him in the mouth in mid-stream.

4. An eye for an eye is no robbery.

5. Where there’s muck, there’s a sow’s ear.

Top 5 sectarian chants

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The problem with sectarian chants at football matches is that they don’t make much effort to pinpoint the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. When Glasgow Rangers fans taunt Glasgow Celtic fans by singing “Have you had your chicken supper, Bobby Sands?” in reference to the death, 26 years ago, of the hunger-striking MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone, they seem to have lost the idea altogether. Chanting about a political event in the early 1980s that was part of a distant and dormant conflict is no way to cheer on your team.

Here are five suggestions that put the schism back into the stands:

1. You’re not transubstantiating any more

2. The referee’s not infallible

3. You only make church sacraments when you’re winning

4. Hate the idea of women conducting the Eucharist, oh we hate the idea of women conducting the Eucharist

5. There’s only one apostolic succession (Yes, there’s only one apostolic succession etc)

Top 5 observations about Latvia

Saturday, November 18, 2006
  1. Nobody uses handbrakes.
  2. More than one in four young women wears knee-length boots.
  3. The only people who will ever talk to you on the street in Riga are foreigners. In my case, a German.
  4. Trendy clubs have English names, such as Club Essential. Not-so-trendy clubs have English names, but put an extra “s” on the end of the noun (so that it can be declined into genative, dative etc) such as Clubs I Love You.
  5. The nation’s relatively short existence (1918-1940 and 1990 onwards) means that there is a paucity of figureheads to put on currency. The one-lat coin has a fish and the 20-lat note has a tree.

(more…)

Size matters

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The National Trust and English Heritage have come up with a jolly wheeze that shows they’re down with the kids and up with technology. They’ve announced a plan to create the “biggest blog in history“. Marvellous. But hang on, what is the point? A blog is one of those things that does not improve with size. It’s like manufactuing the world’s biggest steam iron. A feat of engineering, certainly, but not much use for ironing shirts. What are the top five things that, while not intrinsically bad, are not better when bigger?

1. Noses. Rare is the rhinoplast who has been asked to give a patient the “largest nose you’ve got”.

2. Horses. Horses are wonderful creatures. They gallop, they whinny, they look good in nosebags. But Frankie Detorri never won the Gold Cup on a Suffolk punch.

3. Germany.

4. Post-It Notes. I’m not just looking round my desk. Well, I am, but it’s true. The world’s biggest Post-It Note would be rubbish. Even as a novelty door it would be a dreadful fire hazard.

5. Icebergs. Beautiful to look at and ideal for polar bears, but when Frederick Fleet, lookout on RMS Titanic, shouted “Iceberg right ahead!” he did not add: “Mind you, it’s a bit on the small side.”

Offentsichtlichegelehrsamkeit

Monday, June 26, 2006

Football coverage is often criticised for the vapidity of its post-match analysis, but I find it comforting. Commentators who muse that “At the end of the day, it’s all about scoring more goals than the opposition” or “The important thing is to just get out there and play football” show us that anyone can be an expert on the game. No matter how many years of professional sport you have behind you, there will always come a moment when what you think is an incisive comment is actually a paraphrasing of the rules.

It needn’t be limited to football. Other sports could benefit from obvious punditry or, as the Germans call it, Offentsichtlichegelehrsamkeit. Here are my top 5 suggestions:

1. “Obviously, you can’t win a match without hitting the ball into your opponent’s side of the court so that he can’t hit it back.”

2. “When all is said and done, you need to get your curling stones nearer to the centre of the target than the other team’s curling stones.”

3. “It’s all about getting a higher score, except at the end when you have to get a double.”

4. “You’ve just got to get over the bar and land on that mat.”

5. “At the end of the day, you have to get more runs than the other team while ensuring, obviously, that there is enough time to get their batsmen out twice by catching, bowling, and running them out or forcing them to block the wicket with their legs.”

Top 5 hate figures I have never met

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

It is difficult to hate people you haven’t met, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It is possible these five are kind and upstanding folk, but I would still give the benefit of the doubt to anyone arrested for defecating through their letterboxes.

Aaron Feuerstein - fleece inventorAaron Feuerstein
At first glance it would seem that this elderly gentleman is guilty of no greater crime than resembling Christopher Lloyd in his role as Dr Emmett Brown in Back to the Future, but that is before you know he ran the factory that invented the fleece. I have written a fuller explanation of why this is evil, but for brevity’s sake it should be sufficient to say that fleeces represent the triumph of utility over aesthetics, the aspiration towards mediocrity and the grateful acceptance of the values of middle age. Shame on you, Feuerstein.

Keith AllenKeith Allen
It is difficult to choose between Allen and his co-composers in the pop group Fat Les, which rose to dubious fame with its hateful “anthem” Vindaloo. It is a song that celebrates the twin English virtues of macho overindulgence in curry restaurants and the sort of aggressive, graceless chanting that you associate with people who drape flags over their shoulders and wear “comedy” felt hats at sporting events. I have long wished to see Allen, Damien Hirst and Alex James trapped in a soundproof room and forced to listen to their song repeatedly until, weeks later, they would be released as broken, repentant men. However I have met Hirst (who is surprisingly gentle and courteous) and James is at least able to boast that he never starred as a nauseating thug in an advertisement for mouthwash.

Edward EvansEdward Evans
Edward Evans leads a largely blameless life. At least, until he logs on to his computer and becomes “giant_squid”, pretty much the only consistently unfunny person on the otherwise excellent pop culture website b3ta. Every week the website invites people to submit pictures for its themed competition, which can be anything from Hollywood films remade for the children’s market (eg The Texas Jigsaw Massacre) to parodies of the awful computer games of the 1980s. For no discernible reason, Evans responds to every competition by pasting a badly drawn bird called Mort onto a vaguely relevant background. I thought for a while he might be mentally ill, but a bit of research shows he is just a nerdy student at Nottingham University, where he passes time as a member of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

anne turdface geddesAnne Geddes
Not only is she the embodiment of mawkish and slightly disturbing baby fetishism practised by broody women, but she is also a friend of Celine Dion. It is enough to make the John Stuart Mill want to campaign for capital punishment.

zeta turdface jonesCatherine Zeta Jones
I wanted to include in my list Michael Lerner, the American inventor of the Baby on Board sign, but I could only find pictures of his two namesakes, the Hollywood actor who played the mayor in Godzilla (“Negative impact? That’s the goddam Chrysler building we’re talking about”) and a very ugly rabbi. Zeta Jones is almost as bad, however. She is annoying in many ways, not least because of her hastily adopted American accent and her hypocrisy in complaining that she felt “violated” by unauthorised photographs of her wedding when she had tackily sold the rights to other photos to another glossy magazine for £1 million. Armando Ianucci summed it up best when he expressed surprise that she claimed to be offended most by the snatched pictures because they showed her eating. “I would have thought she would be more offended because they showed her getting married to a giant dried apricot.”

Top 5 villains’ careers before they were typecast

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Ming the Mercantilist
Prior to growing his beard to a point and investing in a chest-revealing wardrobe, Ming was a single-minded advocate of a system of political economy based on accumulating bullion, establishing colonies and developing industry to attain a favorable balance of trade. However, he soon came to regard these as the follies of youth and adopted a fiscal policy based on the destruction of planets other than his own.

Conan the VeterinarianConan the Veterinarian
Despite five years study and two years in the field, Conan abandoned his interest in animal husbandry after catching his tiara in a cow’s vulva during a complicated breach birth. With a calf’s death imprinted on his conscience and a hoof-shaped indent imprinted on his ankle, he felt he had no choice but to hang up his stethoscope and take up the sword.

Vlad the Wholesaler
Before training for his better-known career of plunging stakes through Hungarians, Vlad had a plunging stake in a badly managed timber wholesaler.

Ivan the ConstableIvan the Constable
Ivan was poorly suited to life as a village bobby and he was soon kicked off the Force for insisting on both summary justice and capital punishment for traffic offences. His sacking proved fortuitous, however, since he arrived at the Job Centre just as an advertisment for Tsar of Russia was being put on display.

Mack the Midwife
Before his association with cutlery and multiple marriage certificates, Mack was more familiar (if not a dab hand) with a pair of episiotomy scissors and a sphygnomanometer. It was only when he began to get regular orders for afterbirth omlettes, a dish he was prone to overcooking, that he began to diversify into larceny and murder.

Top 5 things in restaurants that make me feel like Gordon Ramsay

Sunday, November 21, 2004

1. HKLP (Holds Knife Like Pen) is a habit so derided that it has a commonly recognised abbreviation, but that doesn’t stop diners (including people I count as friends) ineffectually sawing at their food as if dissecting a hitherto undiscovered species of hummingbird. There isn’t a watertight argument as to why HKLP is unbearably naff, but it is a dainty affectation comparable to embroidered bogroll covers, raising your little finger when drinking and putting circles instead of dots above the letter ‘i’.

2. Lavatory attendants, and more specifically, their little metal dishes for the placement of coins, drive me to the sort of anger you associate with Wolf from Gladiators. The idea that I would tip a man whose job is to make sure I don’t snort coke from the bogroll dispenser or invite my dining companion for a quickie against the cistern is nothing short of preposterous.

3. Apologising to waiters is unforgivable unless you’ve done something extremely gauche (holding your knife like a pen, for example). If you have inconvenienced a waiter you should leave him a bigger tip, but never imagine you will be friends. Like proctologists and tramps, you want waiters to be friendly, not matey.

4. Deliberating over whether to see the pudding menu is a needless wrinkle to a social occasion. I never refuse even when uncomfortably distended because I can’t bear the awkward eyebrow semaphore required, when a waiter is present, to find out whether your dining partner secretly wants a plum duff but is concerned not to appear greedy.

5. Short of “Is that a meal?” when you ask for a burger without chips in a fast food chain (correct answer: “Not in any meaningful sense of the word”) the most irritating question in a restaurant is: “How is your meal?” It is a wrong-headed attempt at improving service in the most disingenous and cosmetic way. Normatively, the kitchen should be so confident in its output that the question is unncecessary, and a good waiter would have anticipated any subsequent requests when he brought the food to the table. Positively, a chef that doesn’t make sure his dishes are satisfactory when they leave the kitchen won’t give a stuffed fig about their condition when they are half-eaten.

The revolution will not be…

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What was Gil Scott-Heron thinking when he declared, in his most famous song, that the revolution would not be televised?

The phrase doesn’t work either literally (revolutions of any significance since the song was written in 1975 have all been televised) or as part of a more detailed argument. viz

(a) The revolution will not be televised because there will be no demand for coverage. Clearly untrue. Even if every last protester was out on the streets, including the elderly and infirm, there would still be a television audience among those under siege from the revolutionaries. Besides, when you got home from the riots, you would want to sit back and watch the highlights.

(b) The revolution will not be televised because there won’t be a revolution, since would-be revolutionaries are too busy watching television. A circular argument if ever there was one. It assumes that there must be potential revolutionaries to justify the existence of a revolution. What is a potential revolutionary, anyway? It’s like a non-practising prostitute.

(c) The revolution will not be televised because counterrevolutionaries control the media and will suppress it. Television companies might be owned by a group of unsympathetic tycoons, but it would still be in their interests to cover the revolution. It might not be televised objectively, but it would certainly have screen time.

(d) The revolution will not be televised because there will be a power shortage. Scott-Heron may have believed that the revolution would be started during an electrical workers’ strike similar to the British experience in December 1970, when the Electrical Trades Union slowdown did indeed cause programmes to be stopped mid-broadcast. However, neither this strike nor any subsequent ones amounted to a revolution.

(e) The revolution will not be televised because it will be slow and organic, and thus unsuitable for television coverage. In that case, it’s not a revolution at all, but an evolution.

(f) The revolution will not be televised because by the time it happens a new form of broadcasting will have usurped television’s role. It has been 30 years since the song was written and television is still the dominant medium. Scott-Heron didn’t give a time frame, but three decades is a bit of a stretch for a political commentary, wouldn’t you say?

But I don’t want to be a stick in the mud. Lots of people like The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, so why not just tweak the lyrics a little? To finish off, here are some ideas for alternative titles. Other suggestions welcome…

The resolution will not be televised. A problem I myself had recently when trying to connect my PC to my television set.

The devolution will not be televised. John Prescott’s failure to get enough votes for a North East regional assembly spells curtains for the sale of broadcast rights.

The restitution will not be televised. Let’s face it, the Elgin Marbles are never going to go back to Greece.

The absolution will not be televised. Not unless the Catholic Church has a radical rethink about the nature of confession and strikes a deal with a reality television company.

The red solution will not be televised. Adding oxalic acid to ammonium thiocyantate and iron(III) chloride hexahydrate is unlikely to make good television, even on Tomorrow’s World.

ps: this is not serious. If you are a race warrior who believes that violence is the only solution to inequality, go and harass someone with a less-developed sense of irony.