Friday, 25 February 2011

The Black Mamba

This Robert Rodriguez-directed short for Nike is just inspired. Love it.

David Cameron Pretending to be Common

Because he's like so totally one of us. Click here.





Banana!

This is an extra on the Despicable Me DVD. And it's the cutest thing ever.

Interactive European history map

Click here and learn yourself up some knowledges.

Angry Birds cake

Playable cakes are the future. Srsly.

Irina Werning: Back to the Future

The level of detail in this wonderful photo project borders on OCD. Click here.



The genius of leisure

The best ideas often come from having too much free time, as these videos demonstrate:



Visit "Sunny" Porthcawl

With web design as striking as this, who wouldn't want to visit "sunny" Porthcawl? Click the image and be astounded...



The little dancing gifs are particularly special.

One-liners & catchphrases

Compelling viewing.

Food Mourn

...is the opposite of food porn. Click here and feel slightly better about your dinner.





Cravendale mourning

The world of filtered milk advertising will be rather less surreal without Cow, Pirate and Cyclist.

The Force is decrepit in this one

Geriatric lightsaber duelling is what the world needs. (See the original video here.)

Ouch.

Belinda Heggen is a stone cold bitch.

Smack My Beatles Up

You may be surprised to learn that this is 100% genuine footage. All of this actually happened.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

2011 Valentine's Day emails

In the seven days prior to our love-themed annual staff meeting, I ran a competition featuring digital mash-ups of various colleagues. (If you don't work at Leo Burnett London, you probably won't know who any of these people are.) Here are the emails in full, and in order:

Love is a rubbery emotion - it can express pleasure, affection, compassion, arousal, intimacy, oneness and devotion. And no-one knew more about love than the Ancient Greeks: they had numerous separate distinctions of love, each as splendid as the last. ‘Agape’ refers to an idealised love, a purity and love of the soul. ‘Eros’ is a more underpantsy kind, as you can imagine, while ‘Philia’ is a loyal and virtuous love (one which acted as a brilliant suffix for centuries until the Daily Mail got hold of it). ‘Storge’ is the kind of natural affection that a mother would feel for her child, while ‘Xenia’ is, um, an oversexed femme fatale from the 007 movie ‘Goldeneye’.

So which of these kinds of love do you think applies to the image below?

As you can see, two of your colleagues have been mashed together in unholy digital union. Can you figure out who these hapless souls may be? If you can, there’s a prize in it for you…
Every day from now until our glorious love-themed annual staff meeting next Thursday, you’ll be receiving one of these disturbing images. If you can correctly identify who’s in each picture, we’ll stick your name in a hat and draw out some lucky winners to receive prizes in the meeting. Cool, huh?


>>>>

The statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus is the subject of much conjecture, rumour and folkloric chicanery. Erected in 1892 to commemorate the philanthropy of Lord Shaftesbury, the old story goes that it was placed where it was so that the arrow was pointing up Shaftesbury Avenue as a sort of visual pun. The fact that it clearly isn’t pointing that way now leads to a further urban myth – that the statue was moved after World War II from the centre of the Circus to the southwestern side (which is true) and that the workmen accidentally put it up facing the wrong way. Probably not true. In fact, there’s no way of proving that the statue was meant to be Eros anyway, and he looks more like Anteros (Eros’ brother) who is the god of requited love, not the sexual kind, so the whole shaft/Shaftesbury gag doesn’t even work.

See, love’s confusing.

I’ll tell you what’s also confusing… this photo. Can you work out who’s in it? If you get these right every day, there could be a prize for you at the meeting next week.


>>>>

Al Capone was probably the least romantic man who ever lived.
What kind of thing do you normally do for a loved one on St. Valentine’s Day? A fancy gift? A big bunch of flowers? Dinner, maybe? A little trip somewhere? A well-intentioned card? To be honest, it’s the sentiment that really matters, but even if you were to do absolutely nothing at all you’d still be way better at St. Valentine’s Day than Al Capone, provided that you manage to keep the kill count to zero.

Capone and his men lined seven rival gang members up against a wall and shot them on February 14th 1929. Pretty unpleasant, right? So when you inevitably forget to make a sweeping romantic gesture on Monday, all you need to do is utter the words ‘Al Capone’ and your lover will be glad that you haven’t pumped them full of lead. (With a gun, I mean.)

Unbelievably, an even worse abomination than the above events has befallen us. I refer, of course, to the attached photograph.
Who can these godless gargoyles be? Answers on a postcard, there could be a prize in it for you…


>>>>

Glory be, it’s St. Valentine’s Day! I trust you all delivered cards to your spouses/partners/victims before work this morning? (Aside from those of you who are destined to spend your lives alone, obviously. This must be a shit day for you.)
So, with a song in our hearts and pink fluffiness on our minds, there is but one logical thing to discuss: Quality Street.

This is one of the two times of year when it’s acceptable to buy a tin of Quality Street – it’s now or Christmas, so you might as well grab one on the way home or it’ll be a long wait.
Now, I have controversial views on Quality Street. No-one ever agrees with me, but I think the best one is the Coconut Éclair (in the shiny blue wrapper). Thankfully, these are always in plentiful supply as everyone else hates them. My second favourite always used to be The Purple One, until they replaced the massive chunky Brazil nut with a rather less satisfactory hazelnut. The idiots.
The Caramel Swirl and Strawberry Delight are usually next to go, along with the Orange Crème, but here’s a little tip: never, under any circumstances, take the Toffee Penny or Chocolate Toffee Finger from a full tin. They will always be left till last, by which time your snacking rivals may have lost interest (or will be slipping in and out of a sugarcoma), leaving you to reap the benefits of strategic Quality Streeting.

On to something that isn’t remotely sweet: this photo. What fresh hell is this? Surely the gods will be angered by such Photoshoppery? Identify the two unwilling participants, you could win a prize in this Thursday’s Love Meeting…


>>>>

Did you buy flowers for anyone yesterday? This is the time of year when that’s traditionally rather a popular thing to do.
You know what used to baffle me as a kid? The Interflora logo. Not being the sort of child who really paid attention, I used to assume it was some kind of aggressively-stanced archer. It was years before I noticed that it was a balletically prancing mincer grasping a bunch of daffs in a manner that suggests the blooms are way too heavy for his limp wrists to handle. I used to picture him having a slapping match with that bugling ponce from the old BT logo. Imagine that, it’d be brilliant.

Here’s something that no-one would ever buy flowers for: the attached image. Who can these two freakish ghouls possibly be? Answers on a postcard, there could be a prize for you on Thursday…


>>>>

It’s interesting that love is generally associated with the heart, isn’t it? A heart is basically just a pump, and it has enough to do without concerning itself with matters of love. Wouldn’t it make more sense to associate love with the brain, where all the thinking and decision-making happens? Or the genitals, which work enthusiastically to physically manifest the brain’s ideas of love? Obviously saying things like ‘I love you with all my vagina’ is unlikely to elicit any kind of positive response beyond a raised eyebrow and a wry smile (unless you say it to a teenage boy, in which case it will definitely, definitely work), but it does make a lot more sense than ‘I spurt blood internally for you’. Or ‘my myogenic muscular organ’s brachiocephalic artery wants to take you out into the alley and nail you behind the bins’.

Physiological arousal is accompanied by increased heart rate, so perhaps that’s where we get the notion from? Seems likely.
Speaking of physiological arousal, check out the attached image. Sexy, huh? See if you can work out who the two people are and let us know. There could be a prize in it for you. (Then track down the two people concerned and try and make something like this happen for real. Go on.)


>>>>

Love, ethereal and airy-fairy as it may be, has a distinct chemical basis. Or so some people claim. Combinations of certain chemicals in the brain (such as serotonin, oxytocin, testosterone, estrogen and dopamine) can create an impression of love – after all, emotional perception is just a series of chemical reactions.
Of course, the chemical to be really scared of is pheromone. In themselves, pheromones are rather lovely little things, creating interactions and social responses between people. The scary thing is that you can buy them in a can. Just ask Paul Lawson. I’ve seen him on more than one occasion hiding in the shadows beside the doors of nightclubs, carefully timing his squirtings to ensure that the targeted conquest of the evening walks through a fine mist of pheromone spray moments before he slides into her field of vision.
In these cases, however, the presence or otherwise of pheromone spray is entirely academic, as he then tends to throw a rough hessian sack over their confused heads and bundle them into the boot of his car (this is why he sold his 911, obviously), to take them for a night of unspeakable violation on some East London wasteground.

Speaking of harmless banter, here’s the last of our spooky mash-up photos. Can you identify these two folks? If you’ve got them all right thus far, you could be in for a prize at the Love Meeting this afternoon… get your answers to me by 2pm. Ta.


Correct answers:
Day 1 – Katie Lee & Andrew Edwards
Day 2 – Sally Macmillan & Jim Bolton
Day 3 – Kit Patrick & Gary Munns
Day 4 – Diana Cawley & Mark Tomblin
Day 5 – Craig Denyer & Janet Carpenter
Day 6 – Ian Thomas & Chloe Belskaia
Day 7 – Marc Giusti & Julia Chalfen

Friday, 18 February 2011

18/02/11 - AdBerks

Criticising telly ads these days is like shooting fish in a barrel. There’s just so much shit on TV. Look at how many stylistically indistinguishable ads there are at the moment that rely on nauseating catchphrases and not a lot else: Compare The Market, Envirofone, Go Compare… these adverts are shown seemingly more than any others because the people they’re targeting are too stupid to remember anything that they haven’t been told within the previous fifteen minutes. And what sort of person is reckoned to be sucked in by a fat obnoxious cunt shouting ‘wonga!’ or a scrawny puppet rodent making shit (and vastly over-stretched) jokes about how affecting a borderline-racist accent can supposedly make ‘market’ sound a bit like ‘meerkat’? The sort of mindless cretin that finds Michael McIntyre funny, that’s who. Unfortunately for normal people, there are a lot of dickheads about that need to be figuratively slapped in the face with a fish and told it’s supper.

But if there’s one series of adverts that irritates more than any other, that really makes you want to claw your eyes out and shove them deep into your ears in an effort to alleviate the despicable multi-sensory violation that’s being forced upon you, it’s the godawful Halifax ads.
Seriously, in the days of the ‘Howard from the Halifax’ commercials – poor bastard, he’s going to be called that for the rest of his life – it was hard to imagine how advertising of any form could possibly be any worse. But by George, they did it.
I don’t know what sort of fevered imagination it must take to complete the thought process behind it, but it would have to be along these lines: ‘OK, we made an ad with a real Halifax employee. He was annoying, but thick people thought it was funny, and we need to go after easily-influenced thick people to peddle our wares. You know, the sort of people who are too dense to do any actual research into their financial products, and just want a turgid catchphrase character they can relate to. But real employees are a bit ordinary-looking – look at those terrible B&Q ads. So, what we need is a series of really, truly terrible, unskilled actors to pretend to be overly-smug Halifax employees. Then, for no obvious reason, we can put them in a studio and pretend they’re doing some kind of Halifax radio show. Don’t worry, no-one will question the fact that it’d have to be the kind of show that nobody would ever choose to listen to, or wonder why they’re masquerading as DJs rather than actually doing any banking. And look, if we put the Halifax ‘X’ on the roof, it’ll look like the X Factor logo. People like the X Factor too, don’t they?’
Fucking hell. It really pains me to watch. There’s a few of them, but by far the worst of the lot (and possibly, now I think about it, one of the worst things that has ever happened full stop, bar the holocaust and one or two of the more brutal natural disasters) is that ‘ISA ISA Baby’ one.
I’m not one to condone violence in general, but if I saw that head-bobbing bitch in the street, she’d be under a bus in no time. No question, no hesitation.
There’s absolutely no way in hell that I’d ever use Halifax for anything at all; those adverts have proved that they’re not worth bothering with.

Moronic advertising strategy can be equally infuriating for brands that we already know are worthless and shit. Have you seen the new Daily Mail adverts? They’re hilariously inappropriate. It’s a given fact that the average reader of the Daily Mail is an apoplectically outraged middle-class berk who feels the need to be really quite angry about something, isn’t exactly sure what (but it’s probably something to do with Muslims or immigrants or the Labour party or something), and is happy to believe anything they’re told. C’mon, stupid – just because it almost looks like a real newspaper doesn’t mean there’s anything worthwhile inside. Unless you’re actively looking to repopulate your ‘what do I need to hate?’ list on a daily basis and don’t have the time to sort out your misguided prejudices for yourself.
So I reacted in quite a complex and dangerous way when I saw the latest ad for Richard Littlejohn’s ‘column’ (quotes intentional, as I’m sure he has a random generator for bilious pseudo-incendiary rhetoric rather than actually giving his bullshit any kind of logical thought); I coughed up a little vomit at the sound of gunfire while the keyboard was hammered at – what a charmingly sensitive image – and then sucked said vomit back into my lungs in the ensuing disbelieving laughter at the endline: ‘Upgrade with the Daily Mail’. This advert is so bad, it actually nearly killed me.
I’m sorry? ‘Upgrade’? From what? Wiping your arse with the palm of your hand?
There’s another ad in the series that shows a white family driving their white car through an entirely white landscape. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

I was going to rant on for a while about other adverts that have annoyed me recently, but that Daily Mail business has got me all fired up. I’m going to have to go out and flick rubber bands at a mosque or swear at a gypsy.

Dylan wrote everything

Did you know that? He did. He definitely did.

Lemmings!

Fuck yeah, there goes your afternoon. Click the image to play.

The Royal Wedding Planners

I like to believe that this all actually happened.

Lustin' 4 Justin

This is the only good thing about the existence of Justin Bieber.





An open letter to Stephen Fry

She makes a good point - that DNA is too precious not to share.

Detroit's Robocop statue

This is by far the best project I've seen appear on Kickstarter. Click here.

Misery Bear...

...double bill. Here he is on Valentine's Day:



And here he is going to work:

Waterloo rush hour - 1970

Aw, it's all old and stuff.

Phantom Flex in Vegas

This is just amazing. What a brilliant way to arse around.

Locked in a Vegas Hotel Room with a Phantom Flex from Tom Guilmette on Vimeo.

Who is Arcade Fire?

...nobody knows. Click here. See?





Friday, 11 February 2011

11/02/11 - Who is Graham Parker?

Musical tastes are, I think, at either end of the same spectrum as your parents' – you’re either positively influenced by them and form your own tastes accordingly, or you rail against it, call them saddoes and listen to exactly the opposite just to annoy them. I’m an example of the former.
When I was a nipper, my folks were always listening to The Rolling Stones, Ian Dury, Dr. Feelgood and Graham Parker. These are the musical stakes in the ground that all of my ensuing aural interests orbit around. So it’s interesting to me that so few people have heard of Graham Parker. And in a belligerently not-funny-but-slightly-informative JuicyPips this week, I’m going to tell you who he is.

GP played in various pub bands in the late sixties and early seventies, and recorded a set of demos in 1975 with a backing band called The Rumour (featuring a guitarist you may have heard of named Brinsley Schwarz). Graham Parker and The Rumour performed regularly with a horn section called The Rumour Brass, including a saxophonist named Ray Bevis, who I’m not related to but might start pretending I am.
The band released their first album in ’76 on Stiff Records (future home to Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Madness, Devo, The Adverts and many other awesome acts) – it was called Howlin’ Wind, and received much critical acclaim. The highest charting single from the LP was Don’t Ask Me Questions:


Surfing the tide of proto-punk critical success, they quickly followed with their second LP, Heat Treatment. However, despite the love from the critics, Top of the Pops appearances and suchlike, popularity wasn’t translating to album sales, so GP embarked upon the first of many changes of stylistic tack. The band’s third album, Stick To Me, broke the album chart top 20 in the UK, but was aimed squarely at the American market. Here’s the title track:

The album also featured the track Watch the Moon Come Down, which has always meant a lot to me as my dad used to sing it to me as a lullaby when I was a baby:

Interestingly, Stick To Me was originally recorded with an 80-piece string section; due to a technical problem with the master tapes, the entire album had to be scrapped and hurriedly re-recorded to meet the release deadline. Fans generally agree that this was ultimately a good thing, as the stripped-down, raw production perfectly suits the punk sound of the era.

Commercially, things were going OK, and their seminal live performances were epitomised by The Parkerilla LP. However, GP was increasingly pissed off by the poor representation offered by his US label, Mercury Records. This came to a head with the bitter 1979 b-side Mercury Poisoning:

That same year saw the release of the album Squeezing Out Sparks, widely agreed to be the finest album of his career; Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘500 greatest albums of all time’ placed it at #335, which is pretty impressive when you think about it (and was a mere three places behind The Beatles’ Help). This was Parker’s most successful album in the US, breaking into the top 40 and, amusingly, has been reissued by Mercury Records with Mercury Poisoning as a bonus track…
The album’s R&B-flavoured punk marked out GP as a talent to be reckoned with, but the highlight was the fragile, haunting track You Can’t Be Too Strong, possibly the finest song ever written on the subject of abortion:

The Rumour Brass had been let go by this point (but remained together as a performing unit, later working on The Clash’s London Calling LP and Katrina & The Waves Walking on Sunshine). The Rumour’s keyboardist Bob Andrews left in 1980 and wasn’t replaced, and the next album, The Up Escalator was credited just to Graham Parker, rather than ‘Graham Parker and the Rumour’. It would be the last album they’d make together, although Brinsley Schwarz and bassist Andrew Bodnar would subsequently reunite with GP on future works.

The Up Escalator developed a more commercial sound than previous works, and featured Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals and various members of the E Street Band as well; it has one of my favourite Parker songs, Empty Lives:

Despite the departure of The Rumour, the eighties turned out to be a pretty good decade for Graham. The 1982 album Another Grey Area saw a return to having an enthusiastically large brass section and, while track names such as Big Fat Zero, No More Excuses, It’s All Worth Nothing Alone and Thankless Task may suggest a certain anger at the world, it’s actually rather a lovely little thing. Check out standout single Temporary Beauty (and compare and contrast with what you’ve heard thus far!):

(I know, the ice-stroking is a bit unsettling…)
1983’s The Real Macaw LP reunited GP with Brinsley Schwarz and, while the album’s commercial success was middling, it’s always been a personal favourite just because we used to listen to it in the car a lot when we were going on holiday as little kids. Anniversary, Life Gets Better and Last Couple on the Dancefloor are genuinely beautiful tracks, while Sounds Like Chains is just as aggressively in-your-face as his late-seventies stuff; however, it was 1985’s album Steady Nerves (credited to Graham Parker and The Shot) that heralded a decent return to the charts both in the UK and the US.

There were various record label machinations in the mid-eighties, which explains the number of escape-the-contract compilation albums in the back catalogue. (Parker’s ill-fated stint with Atlantic Records, for example, saw him releasing no studio records at all.) Having signed with RCA, the next album, 1988’s The Mona Lisa’s Sister, centred around another shift in songwriting style; a cover of Sam Cooke’s Cupid symbolises the record’s R&B tone. One of my favourites is the track Blue Highways:


Following the release of 1989’s Live! Alone in America LP (a glorious showcase of GP, his guitar, and nothing else – an album I can listen to over and over again), Parker kicked off the nineties with Human Soul. It featured ex-members of The Attractions (i.e. Elvis Costello’s band) and was a diverse offering that introduced elements of reggae and folk into the established R&B/rock ‘n’ roll mix. Daddy’s a Postman is quite a cheery little thing:

1991’s Struck By Lightning was very much cut from the same cloth; Wrapping Paper is beautifully tender, The Kid With the Butterfly Net (about his daughter growing up) is among his most moving works, and Weeping Statues is brilliantly vitriolic:

The next album, 1992’s Burning Questions was very far from being a commercial success, and GP was subsequently dropped by Capitol Records. I find this odd, as Burning Questions has some fabulously heartfelt stuff coming across in Worthy of Your Love, Long Stem Rose and Oasis, while the ire of Here It Comes Again is addictively venomous.

Still, this could all be seen as a positive, as it meant that GP could move to the rather more supportive Razor & Tie label and release arguably his best album since ’79: 12 Haunted Episodes.
Tackling the dichotomy of being an angry punk troubadour and a cheerfully married father, the album effectively acts as a love letter to his wife, and it’s exactly as lovely as that might imply. Closing track First Day of Spring is pretty much my favourite ever song. When I die, play this at my funeral.


…Episodes was followed in 1996 by the Acid Bubblegum LP, featuring the lyric ‘I don’t appeal to the masses, and they don’t appeal to me’. Fair enough, really. Starring Blondie’s Jimmy Destri, the album was a total stylistic departure from its predecessor and allowed GP to confront his lack of commercial success in a positive don’t-give-a-fuck manner, with tracks such as Get Over It and Move On, Sharpening Axes and They Got It Wrong (As Usual) letting him effectively get the frustration out of his system. It would be the last album he’d release in the nineties.

…and I’m afraid that’s where my knowledge dries up; I have to admit that I don’t own any post-nineties Parker. GP returned to songwriting in 2001 with the critically-acclaimed album Deepcut to Nowhere, but it’s not an LP I know well; the same goes for subsequent releases Your Country, Songs of No Consequence, Don’t Tell Columbus and Imaginary Television. But my dad likes them and, of course, I have him to thank for my Graham Parker obsession anyway, so I really should get off my arse and investigate the newer stuff. But there you go – if you hadn’t heard of GP before, hopefully the above videos should give you a taster of what you’ve been missing. You’re welcome.

(Also, it's my dad's birthday today. I wrote this for him, really. Just to show him I was listening.)

Evolution of the Screwball Scrambler

This is how everyone feels about Screwball Scramble.

IS Parade

This is the most awesome and brilliantly pointless Twitter thingy I've seen. Click here and have a go...

Wayne & Garth's Oscar picks

I'd make a Mila out of her Kunis.

Detroit Lives

An interesting exploration of just how dead (or otherwise) Detroit actually is.

***edit***

I've unembedded these videos as they auto-play. But click here and have a look, it's genuinely fascinating.

The United Kingdom Explained

Everyone should be forced to watch this.

Seriously Solutions

All kinds of handy products can be found here. Gift ideas for all the family...



Naughty Creme Eggs

This is what they're doing on the supermarket shelf while you're not looking.

A tour of Chernobyl

Click here for a photographic tour of Pripyat - the city built to house the employees of the Chernobyl nuclear plant which, for obvious reasons, hasn't seen a lot of action lately.







The unholy pairing of Richard Keys & Ulrika Jonsson

Brace yourself for some of the most awkward pseudo-banter you've ever seen.

'Sex with...'

Part of Seth Macfarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. (Which is basically Family Guy/American Dad, without the central characters.)

The shouty Skins influence

Been watching Skins? Then, if you're inquisitive, you will have been led to these videos already...



Single White Feline

The not-altogether-shocking truth about single women and cats.

Toy Division

Joy Division's Transmission, as performed in stop-motion by Playmobil men. Probably took ages.

Fireman Sam: It's Tricky

Exploring the Paris Metro

A fascinating story of an exploration of the Paris Metro, discovering the abandoned stations and trying not to step on the live rails. Click here.





Friday, 4 February 2011

04/02/2011 - Which religion is right?

This week JuicyPips attempts to answer rather a significant question: which of the major religions is actually right?

I know, it’s a biggie. But bear with me, I’ve given it a game stab.
I’ve never really been a fan of organised religion; when I was young and had fire in my belly, I used to proudly proclaim that I found the entire concept ‘ridiculous’. I’ve stopped doing that now, having realised how enormously and unnecessarily offensive it is. In part, at least, it also made me a massive hypocrite. How so? Well, as a white middle-class boy born in 20th century Britain, all of my reference points for day-to-day life exist within a Christian society. Phrases like ‘oh my God’ or ‘Jesus Christ’ immediately leap to the tongue when I hit my thumb with a hammer or see a particularly cringeworthy X Factor audition.
Growing up under the Church of England, it’s natural to celebrate Christmas and Easter. At school, it didn’t seem odd to unthinkingly bring in old cans of beans for harvest festival. Singing hymns or carols didn’t create a logical pathway in the brain toward any particular religious sentiment, it was just something people did.

My dad was the headmaster of a C of E school. This meant that I had to go to church a fair bit as a child. In hindsight, I suspect that this is largely what has put me off organised religion, rather than any cynicism toward the specific beliefs and principles; I resented having to get out of bed on a Sunday morning in order to go and hang out with a bunch of mental pensioners and sing about how much I loved (yet was scared of) a fictional wizard. I’d far rather have been watching Red Dwarf and eating a sausage sandwich, or whatever else I used to get up to at that age. What did make itself constantly apparent, however, was the lack of logic in the tangled mass of contradictions, unpleasant pronouncements, intolerance, vindictiveness and plain nonsense that made up this holy book. Are we really supposed to believe that this tome, created quite a long time after the claimed events happened, can in any way be accurate? (If you were to write a book about something you’d heard might have happened in the seventeenth century [and didn’t have the benefit of the internet to check your facts as you went], how true to life do you think your story might be?) And furthermore, is it not just phenomenally arrogant for the champions of these storytellers to say ‘OK, all this happened, this man is your messiah, now you have to live your lives by the principles laid out in this book or you will be condemned as a bad person for eternity’? That’s just fucking mean. Surely a far more pleasant pronouncement would be ‘you only live once, the world is a pretty spectacular place, just bloody enjoy yourselves and stop worrying about what a speculative deity may or may not be judging you for’, no?
Therein lies my fundamental problem with religion: it’s about power. And to a lesser extent, money and property. But largely power. People blindly believe what they’re told, and it can ruin lives.

Now, this might seem like a nasty viewpoint and I’m not some kind of unpleasantly dictatorial atheist. If I were to say to you ‘you shouldn’t believe in any kind of god, it’s all nonsense’, that would make me just as morally reprehensible as somebody who said ‘you should believe in this, because… etc’. In many ways, I think religion is rather a beautiful and helpful thing. People who are dying of horrifying incurable diseases, or whose families have been wiped out in genocide, or whose homes have been swept away by tsunamis… they might turn to a higher power as a way of making sense of the world. And that’s brilliant. If such a concept can make people happier with their lives, or feel safer or more loved, then that can only be a good thing. It’s just that for me (and I can only speak for myself here), I find the crutch/fiction ratio a little too skewed away from plausibility for me to happily embrace.

But look at me waffling on. You’re busy, you just want to know which religion is the right one so you can get on with your lives, yes? OK, here goes…

Christianity
It’s interesting how the Church of England has evolved from a blood-and-retribution revolt by a tyrant king into something altogether more about woolly cardigans and nice cups of tea.
For the sake of simplicity, it’s easiest to say here that Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox interpretations of Christianity - as diverse and complex as they may be - are basically different shades of the same thing. (Although I wouldn’t say that to the UVF.)
Followers are told to live their lives by learning from the thoughts and actions of a carpenter’s son who was killed by Romans for saying subversive things. A rich and bloody history of slaughtering non-believers and stealing land suggests that behaving yourself and doing unto others that which you’d have done unto you can only go so far before the greed and powerlust take over. But at least they have a strong moral code – harsh punishments are fully justified for doing things that the Lord would consider to be a bit naughty; y’know, like buggering choirboys.
Also, wasn’t Jesus a Jew? Shouldn’t that mean that, by default, all Christians should, er, practise what they preach and convert to Judaism?

Judaism
If Jews were around before the whole Jesus thing kicked off, it makes sense that their beliefs have a greater claim for being true, right? I’m being flippant and simplistic, but it makes chronological sense.
The militancy of blindly sticking to the text can be side-stepped by steering clear of Orthodox Judaism and easing yourself in with a bit of Conservative or Reform Judaism, which make day-to-day life in the modern world a bit easier, saying that the tenets of Jewish Law are really more a set of guidelines than anything. Although that’s a slippery slope; Henry VIII had the same feelings about Christianity, and look at the mad shit he got up to.

Hinduism
There are some nice ideas in this one, not least that which is perennially annexed by Hollywood: karma. That’s the concept that every other religion wishes they had a simple word for. Too late now.
Hinduism pulls together a history of diverse Eastern beliefs and philosophies, so it doesn’t really have one notable forefather or central text; furthermore it encourages absolute freedom of belief and worship. There’s no such thing as blasphemy or heresy with Hindus, as their beliefs encompass all other beliefs, if that makes sense, making the human race one lovely whole. Their concept of ‘god’ is a little confusing, bordering the notions of henotheism (worshipping one god while accepting the existence of others), monotheism, polytheism and pantheism, but basically you just believe what you want to believe on the understanding that everyone is, to a degree, right. There’s a load of stuff about devas and yogis too, and lots of nice bright colours.

Islam
Ha. There’s no way I’m publishing any kind of commentary on Islam. I’ve seen what can happen.

Buddhism
Buddhism is basically about being nice to each other, which knocks Christianity into a cocked hat. It’s largely based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama – a.k.a. Buddha – who said some pretty sensible things: the Four Noble Truths state (in abbreviated form) that 1) life is suffering, 2) suffering is caused by craving, 3) suffering ends when craving ends, 4) you can end craving by doing what Buddha suggests. And what does he suggest? Being nice to people, telling the truth, not hurting anyone and having a clear awareness of reality. That all sounds pretty good to me.
I’m not too sure about some of their ideas though, like the concept of being reincarnated as animals, and the claimed existence of various ‘Narakas’. These are a variety of hells, one of which is Arbuda, a frozen plain swept by blizzards in which one must exist naked and alone ‘for the amount of time it would take to empty a barrel of sesame seeds if one were to remove a single seed every hundred years’. Sod that.

Shinto
No religion in the world has cooler buildings, outfits or beards than Shinto. The indigenous faith of Japan, it’s basically a set of lifestyle guidelines to link modern Japan to its past. A lot of Shintoists are also Buddhist, which is jolly accepting of them. (It’s pretty common that life is dealt with by Shinto and death/afterlife is picked up by Buddhism.)
Purity is an important concept – you always need to be showing that you’re grateful for the gift of life, as dying without gratitude will see you damned forever – daily purification rituals are commonplace. Shamanic dances and protective amulets give it all an interestingly cartoonish feel, and there’s a lot of living on a knife-edge of respect for fear of accidentally condemning your soul. Shinto, happy and respectful as it is, can be bloody hard work.

Sikhism
Sikhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, so it could be a good bandwagon to jump on if you want to make friends.
It’s a monotheistic faith with quite a sensible framework, its teachings coming from ten gurus who, as the name suggests, have a lot of knowledge to work with, each one reinforcing and adding to the thoughts of the last. The eleventh guru, the Guru Granth Sahib, is the final and perpetual guru in that it wasn’t a person, but rather a kind of conceptual embodiment of the Sikh faith. There’s a lot of communal meals and no-one’s really judging each other, and they’re discouraged from fasting, going on pilgrimages or worshipping idols, which all sounds pretty sensible. However, there are a lot of rituals, with morning and evening prayers taking up about two hours of your day. If you want to convert to Sikhism, you’ve got to really mean it or you’ll miss out on a lot of lie-ins.

Jainism
This is an Indian religion based on a central belief in non-violence, which is a strong start. It does go a little downhill from there though. Jain doctrine states that Jainism has always existed and will always exist, although historians pinpoint its beginnings to somewhere between the 9th and 6th centuries BC. (Although Jains wouldn’t say ‘BC’, of course.)
Further core beliefs are that everything has a soul (every one of which is potentially divine), excessive possessions are unholy, followers should ‘enjoy the company of the holy and better qualified’ and ‘tolerate the perversely inclined’, and celibacy is positively encouraged. Sounds a bit iffy in principle – largely elitist, and without a real future if no-one’s allowed to have any of that dirty procreative intercourse.

Chinese folk religions
Shenism is largely grounded in Chinese mythology, and relies on the worship of ‘shens’ (deities, spirits, awareness, consciousness…) including cultural heroes, ‘city deities’ and, er, dragons. It’s pretty similar to Shinto in everyday life. Taoism is the form of Shenism that is most popular in the West, and champions the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation and humility. A common Western metaphor for Taoist principles is Winnie the Pooh (seriously).
These folk religions are very traditional yet are constantly evolving, and have a huge number of gods and goddesses. It all gets a bit complicated. But hey, there are a lot of people in China, maybe they’re right.

Scientology
…is ridiculous, and that’s the one ‘religion’ I’m happy to say that about. L. Ron Hubbard is some kind of evil genius in convincing his followers that a) they’re all immortal beings from space and b) they should give him all of their money. Bonkers. The Church of Scientology encourages followers to cut off all contact with friends and family who don’t believe, which is a pretty cuntish way to behave. Have you seen that episode of The Simpsons where they join the Movementarians? Yeah, it’s basically that. Pseudo-spiritual bullshit for crazy people.

Wicca
This is a Neopagan religion, and a form of modern witchcraft. It’s not as mental as it sounds: Wiccans ‘regard the cosmos as alive, both as a whole and in all of its parts’, which, on an atomic level at least, is pretty much scientifically accurate. However, there’s a lot of arguing about whether their core views should be fundamentally mono-, duo- or pantheistic, and you kind of get the feeling that any other Wiccans you meet will be either angsty teenagers or batty middle-aged women who just want to draw pentagrams in the dark and experience the heady thrill of buying a pig’s heart from the butcher’s. If that sounds rude and intolerant, please feel free to find a Wiccan to correct me.

Rastafari movement
Quite a new one, this – it only dates back as far as the 1930s. Followers worship Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia, believing him to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. So they’re kind of like traditional Christians, but much happier as they have a sense of catharsis. They proclaim Zion (Africa) as the birthplace of all humanity, which you can’t really argue with, and vehemently encourage the spiritual use of cannabis.
Whatever you do, don’t refer to it as ‘Rastafarianism’ – Rastas find this pretty offensive, as they don’t like being pigeonholed as an -ism. A lot of Rastas would actually argue that it isn’t a religion at all, but a way of life. And that’s fair enough.
(If I was a devout Christian, I’d definitely consider converting – Rastas can get on with life and enjoy themselves knowing that they’re not going to be hanging around indefinitely waiting for their saviour to rise again. Takes a lot of the pressure off.)


In spite of all my Christianity-bashing, I guess I’d technically call myself a Christian (which is what gives me carte blanche to be so rude about it). Not that I particularly believe in or agree with anything that it has to say, just that growing up in a Christian society has made it so. I celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm. I got married in a C of E church and I meant every word of what I said. I enjoy the iconography and architecture of the Christian faith, and the comfort it seems to give people.
I always used to tell people I was an atheist, but that does imply a certain effort on my part, when it’s actually the case that I rarely bother giving religion any thought at all. I’ve also always said that life’s busy and complicated enough without having to worry about religion as well, but I can certainly see the benefits of belief.
So what of the original question? Which religion is actually right after all? Well, somewhat predictably, none of them seems to be totally right (or wrong, depending which way you look at it), but if you feel the need to live by a set of unusual historical guidelines, I’d suggest a combination of Buddhism, Rastafaria and Hinduism. The mixture of friendly behaviour, relaxation and comfort with oneself and general acceptance of one another sounds like a winner to me.

There we go, that was patronising and offensive. But hopefully a little informative too.

Perodic table of the Middle Class

A work of sublime genius, this guide characterises all of the diverse facets of middle-classdom in a surprising amount of detail. Click the image to see.

Bill Bailey's FACE

I really want an 'I eat food' t-shirt.

Stewart/Colbert signs

OK, so we're a little behind the times with this but hey, better late than never.
Click here for a variety of amusing placards from the Stewart/Colbert rally.







Matrix + Terminator = Robot

This is the most fucking ridiculous action sequence ever. Batshit mental.

Sticks - Miss Marble

Ornament Key

Simple but addictive puzzle game - click the image to play.

Basketball virals

Two of these this week. Behold:



This is America

A nation's cultural core distilled into a gallery of televised craziness. Click here.





Mid Morning Matters - episode 7

Partridge is back, hooray!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Ad of the week - Lynx 'Angels'

Phenomenal. Doesn't make me want to buy Lynx, but a stunning piece of cinematography nevertheless.