BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for November 11, 2007 - November 17, 2007

Your letters

16:17 UK time, Friday, 16 November 2007

So, it turns out that British nuclear weapons were protected from being armed from nothing more than a cylindrical lock as used in many cycle locks. Has no-one noticed that these look to be exactly the same technology as those widely reported in the motorcycle press as being easily circumnavigated by using a popular brand of biro in less than ten seconds?
Pev, Frome

Re How to terror-proof shopping centres and other buildings, could someone please explain to me how a "water wall" would stop a terrorist car bomber? All I can picture is a man with a hose spraying everyone outside of train stations and this surely can't be what the PM means!
Andrew Rowntree, England

It's obvious to James Russell (Your letters, Thursday 15, November) that the pictures whose captions he sneers at are of a woman and a man, respectively, because he can see the pictures. It wouldn't be so obvious if he was using a text-only browser, had images turned off because he was on a slow link (not everybody in the world has high-speed broadband) or was partially-sighted and using a text-to-speech program. In any of these circumstances, the "alt" tag (for "alternative") would tell him what was in the image that he couldn't see. Internet Explorer rather redundantly displays the "alt" tag when the mouse is hovered over the image; Firefox doesn't bother because no alternative is needed and there is a `title' tag for captions.
David Richerby, Leeds, UK

I started off when reading this article feeling sorry for the down-on-their-luck middle classes of Detroit. However, my sympathy was tempered by their expectations for outrageous portion sizes: how sorry can we really feel for someone who says "To find myself in a position where I couldn't afford a gallon of milk ... it was very humbling."
Adam, London, UK

Re Paper Monitor (Friday, 16 November)
Two Arab karaoke machines
Six binoculars
Four Persian rugs
And a partridge in a pear tree.
Is it too early for that?
Karl, Nottingham

Re "Rapper Jay-Z dissing the dollar", I hate to point it out, but if 50 Cent does switch to €s, than it will make no difference to his name, except it will be worth a lot more!
Elaine, Eutin, Germany

Should 50 Cent decide to switch to euros as well, then surely he would have to rename himself into 34 Cent, given today's currency rate?
Johan van Slooten, Urk, Netherlands

Having dispensed with polluting roads and incorporating a threatened species, this story surely heralds the advent of a new era of environmentally aware jokes. Therefore I would like to be the first to ask: Why *did* the squirrel cross the lake?
Sue, London

Morph is 30?
Doesn't look a day over 21 to me. Has he had plasticine surgery?
Stu, croydon


10 things we didn't know last week

13:26 UK time, Friday, 16 November 2007

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Snippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Superstitious people in rural India sometimes organise weddings to animals in the hope of warding off curses.
More details

2. Janet and John were named Alice and Jerry in the United States.
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3. Until the late 1990s, the RAF's nuclear bombs could be activated using a bicycle lock key.
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4. Qwerty is a regular on lists of most-popular passwords.
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5. Residents of Middlesbrough are 25% more likely to suffer from heart disease than the UK average.
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6. There is an average of 90 suicides a day in Japan.

7. Landfill rubbish sites in the UK cover in total an area of 109sq miles.
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8. Twelve per cent of people with no religion pray sometimes.
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9. Cats can be police constables.
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10. The next generation of chip will pack more than four hundred million transistors into an area the size of a postage stamp.
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Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Alan Highley for this week's picture of 10 letters.

Paper Monitor

12:09 UK time, Friday, 16 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's a Friday, there are no more sleeps until the weekend and the papers are feeling funky (younger readers may wish to avert their eyes as Paper Monitor grooves to the internal beat of Fool's Gold).

Steve McClaren enjoys a rare moment of levity in the Daily Express as he channels the spirit of Travolta circa 1977, one arm aloft and head turned aside in the iconic disco move from Saturday Night Fever.

And Metro, which likes to think it can still kick it with "ver kids" (in its case, afternoon freesheets like thelondonpaper and London Lite), devotes page three to explaining the moves to Soulja Boy's Crank That, the synchronised dance craze of the moment. But it does rather show its age by explaining one step thus: "A brief jig ending in a Fonzi-style pose..." and by posting the exact same article on the website of its sister publication, the Daily Mail.

Paper Monitor is less than convinced that this is how the 17-year-old US rapper might describe the move. And sure enough, in his YouTube instructional video, he explains the step as: "You gotta lean wid it...one, two..."

Which just goes to show how vivid a picture original source material can paint. The Smoking Gun website knows this well, reproducing the backstage riders of pampered stars.

And now the Guardian is giving original court documents the same treatment, only in this case it's the backstage riders of Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf, the Saudi ambassador to Britain. A former aide has listed 13 pages of items he claims he bought for the prince and was never reimbursed for, including:
• Beretta guns, gloves and knives
• two Arab karaoke machines
• six binoculars
• four Persian rugs
• magazines and an XL woollen cardigan

No sign of any Ferrero Rocher chocolates, though.

Random Stat

09:17 UK time, Friday, 16 November 2007

A government survey of 115,000 pupils in England aged 10 to 15 has revealed that 80% of them say they have never taken illegal drugs. A slightly higher proportion, 83%, say they are healthy, and 50% say they hope to go to university.

Your Letters

16:10 UK time, Thursday, 15 November 2007

How exact do you have to be to be "almost exact"? It's an awful phrase in itself, but surely September 1988, just over 19 years ago, is not even almost almost exactly two decades ago?
Dan Hassett, Folkestone

Re: Defence Made Pretty. Great job, now every terrorist wannabe just has to make sure their truck full of explosives is at least seven tonnes to gain access to the Emirates stadium!
Stephen M, Leeds

Perhaps I am too liberal, but I was shocked to hear that a man was prosecuted for having sex with his bicycle. Now if he was forced to marry his it?
Phil B-C, London

I'm sorry, but this story tops both dog and goat marrying. "Sheriff Colin Miller also placed Stewart on the Sex Offenders Register for three years." Um.....are they banning him from bicycle contact? Warning bicycles near where he lives?
Naomi, Sussex

We see offered further evidence of BBC giving us all a gender identification lessons, as the labels in the two pictures (top and bottom, ignore middle) in this article show. Hover cursor over picture, and prepare to be educated!!
James Russell, Birmingham

No matter what your politics about the man, surely Abul Hamza has a better press shot than this.
Stoo, Lancashire, UK

Dr Reece Walker (Wednesday's letters): Google is your friend. It took me just a minute or so to find the cartoon.
Adam, London, UK

Random Stat

13:13 UK time, Thursday, 15 November 2007

We're supposed to eat one portion of oily fish - like salmon, mackerel or trout - a week but 70% of people in the UK don't, according to a YouGov poll.

Paper Monitor

12:40 UK time, Thursday, 15 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

How do you feel about the word "trendy"? Ok, it's not as cool as nang, beast, mint, book but these days even "cool" isn't very cool.

Yet it's a word you might mutter as a compliment in the company of friends without fearing you'd committed social suicide.

In the hands of the press, or certain newspapers at least, when applied to teaching, it's an insult of the highest order. Classrooms, after all, are places where old-fashioned techniques such as discipline are back in, er, fashion.

Witness yesterday's Daily Mail: "Charles launches fight back against trendy teaching".

Today's Times deploys the "T" word with equal venom on a different story: "Private schools set to abandon 'too trendy' national curriculum".

But there are bigger fish to fry in today's Times. So far, Paper Monitor has maintained a discreet distance from coverage of the Meredith Kercher case, despite the press going to town on it.

But sometimes the sensationalism of the headline just doesn't match up to the story itself. Take today's Times which tells us "Meredith suspect wrote to mother but only talked of going shopping".

Yet, in the story itself, we're told the suspect, Amanda Knox, told in her letter that she was "shocked" and "nervous" and that she couldn't "think about anything else"… before going on to mention shopping.

Finally, honourable mention to the subs at Metro for recycling a joke that dates from the Jurassic (Park) era. On the man who spotted an errant dinosaur bone at the Natural History Museum, which millions of others hasn't noticed… "No one saurus".

Your Letters

14:34 UK time, Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The daily mini-quiz says there are XXX nations [censored so as not to spoil the fun]. But where is this taken from? The UN has 192 members and there are more than one seeking membership or keeping out. Perhaps the YYY option censored so as not to spoil the fun] is in fact nearer the mark.
Martin Dalton, Leeds
Monitor note: XXX [censored so as not to spoil the fun] is the answer National Geographic was after. And the clue to their expertise is in their name.

OK, so we Brits aren't so bright when it comes to knowing how many countries there are in the world. But I'll bet that a higher proportion of Americans either:
1) also got that question wrong or
2) were confused by the lack of an option for "five" (i.e. US, Russia, China, Europe and Iraqistan).
Bob Jones, London, UK

Can I introduce a new competition - to be the first to report when the man marries dog and man marries goat stories occupy the top spots of the "most emailed" league. I'll go for 16 November.
John, Surrey

Following on from Dan Wilkinson's sterling work to produce a Facebook graph predicting *when* our letters will be published, I've done some thinking about predicting *which* letters will be published. So, to all you frustrated wannabe-contributors, here are the top five ways to get published, as demonstrated by Tuesday's letter writers:
1) Make it clear you've gone away and done a lot of work on your letter - stand up, Tom Webb.
2) Our old friend pedantry - give us a wave, Teresa.
3) Did you notice two unrelated but comically confusing stories on the BBC news website - let us know, Dick Hobbs.
4) Don't hold that pun in, Edward Green.
5) A recent favourite gaining ground: are you bothered by a caption on a photo - shout about it, Lydia.
If all else fails, pretend you're Kip.
Nicky Stu, Highgate, London

Along with iPhones, can I add Eurostar to the list of PR masquerading as news. You can't open a newspaper (or click on the BBC News website) without a story about the new St Pancras, the old Waterloo, etc.
Andrew, London

What can we say about the state of our transport system when Eurostar arrives in Paris on time is considered newsworthy?
Elaine, Newcastle

Ta-dah! Here I am, thundering over the brow of the hill to the BBC's rescue. Slash! It wasn't a superfluous caption on Potter stars react to gay twist. Cut! Some international readers may not recognise Emma as a girl's name, and thus would need to have Emma Watson pointed out in a group photo. Parry! There. Job done, I gallop back off into the sunset. Wish I had a horse though. Cue William Tell Overture.
Rob, London

Re Spain royal sex cartoonists fined: Oh, come on. Show us the cartoon.
Dr Reece Walker, London

Paper Monitor

10:56 UK time, Wednesday, 14 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

There are few who can outdo Paper Monitor in admiration of the great Nick Robinson and all his works. The man's a genius. He's unflappable. Industrious. Perspicacious. But why oh why has his Newslog been ignoring the issue of the day?

Thankfully the Times tells us what he has strangely omitted. It's about the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. "I bring you news on an issue of national importance," writes Ann Treneman. "I speak of course of the cleavage. Ever since Ms Smith told the world of a terrorist attack while dressed for success in a singles bar, this subject has been top of the pop questions. 'How's the cleavage,' has become the standard first query whenever Ms Smith appears at the Dispatch Box."

Yesterday apparently there was a cover-up, with a "stripey blouse". But the paper's cartoonist Peter Brookes more than makes up for it by turning Ms Smith into a flu-y turkey, with an enormous avian breast plump enough to serve Christmas dinner for the whole Cabinet.

Making a real meal of the analogy, the Guardian's Simon Hoggart notes that Ms Smith had "no intention of turning herself into a tasty snack" when savaged by her Tory shadow, David "Jaws" Davis. And he goes on to add that although prime ministers generally dislike surprises and those who bring them surprises, "Smith does not look like anybody's lunch".

Mmmm.. All this talk of food has left Paper Monitor quite peckish...

Random stat

09:34 UK time, Wednesday, 14 November 2007

More Australians would like to see the opposition leader Kevin Rudd naked than Prime Minister John Howard - 34% to 16% - in a poll of 1,200 voters taken two weeks out from the general election and published in Zoo magazine.

Your letters

16:58 UK time, Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Re Random stat, I was intrigued by this seemingly massive increase in rates of liver disease, and that increasing taxes on alcohol, an idea being floated around by the government, will help turn this around. But to see how big a problem this was I checked the National Statistics site (PDF file here) . And of all the deaths in 2005 only 0.8% seemed to be caused by alcohol related liver diseases. Although this is surely terrible for those with the illnesses and their family and friends, it does not seem like we have an epidemic. But when you see that the drinks industry is worth £36bn in this country, it is all the more appalling that the government would use such emotional issues to increase their tax revenues.
Tom Webb, Epsom, UK

Never mind passwords. As a webmaster for a company which holds registration details for over 250 organisations, I have had more problems with people having their "SECRET ANSWER" guessed. The reason for this? Well, your secret answer could be for example "Mothers Maiden Name", hard for just anyone to guess admitted, however, when people are prepared to reply to chain letters telling you to forward your "jedi" name in the subject, which is your mothers maiden name backwards + your pets name, you find that people immediately have access to two of your potential answers. I ended up removing the "forgot my password" feature from my site, as so many of my users were silly enough to fall for these tricks.
Adam, Manchester

I just wanted to say that the article about children of the Great War, and in particular Donald Overall's story, was the most moving thing I have ever read on the BBC News website - and I read it a lot. I will think about him and his dad when I put my one-year old son to bed tonight. I already knew how lucky I am, but that's really driven it home. Thanks, all of you who made those sacrifices.
John Bratby, Southampton

Re the debate on adverts on BBC.com, the trouble I find with the adverts for us international readers is the delay they cause in the page loading which makes it skip upwards after a few seconds. The number of times I find I've clicked on a link a good three inches below the one I was aiming for.
Spike, Canberra, Australia

To all the overseas readers who dislike advertising on the BBC website, might I suggest a compromise. How about paying a subscription to see the pages in their original, unadulterated form,. The fee could be a nice round number, say, £135.50 a year?
JFK, UK

Re allowing international perusers to subscribe to the BBC website. I say "hear, hear!" I would love to be able to watch BBC TV online, and keep up with my favourites, but can't. So I have been waiting two years for the second series of Life on Mars and our local channel chose to replay the first and haven't even scheduled the second.
Emily, Adelaide, Australia

So Paper Monitor berates Monday's Daily Mail for gratuitous use of a Nigella photo. Erm. pot-kettle-black, anyone? And I'm glad Monitor readers have pointed out that Spock's mum was from Earth (Monday letters). But it takes a true Trekkie to point out that, by coincidence, Kirk's mum was called Winona.
Alex D, Southampton, UK

May I volunteer another candidate for the needless caption underneath a picture?. Hopefully, for Emma Watson, people can be trusted to guess the female.
Lydia, Lancaster

At 1745 on Monday, two consecutive headlines in the video and audio news section of news.bbc.co.uk were "Aardman releases new animals" and "Kangaroo runs amok in city". Where's Gromit when you need him?
Dick Hobbs, Punnetts Town, UK

To be even more pedantic than Bas, London (Your letters, Monday), the phrasing is "it has a mass of 1kg", not "it masses 1kg". I'll get my labcoat.
Teresa, Norwich

Despite striving earnestly to make as many bad puns as possible, the article on Tutankhamun's queue-jumping lovers fails to note the final irony - that as a result of the pharoah's exhibition, Maja herself became a mummy.
Edward Green, London, UK

Paper Monitor

13:11 UK time, Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Due to a combination of several unavoidable factors, Paper Monitor has taken leave of itself for one day only. It will return tomorrow.

Random Stat

12:43 UK time, Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Alcohol liver cirrhosis rates have risen 95% in the UK since 2000, according to the Alcohol Health Alliance.

Your letters

16:55 UK time, Monday, 12 November 2007

So, scientists are trying to find out why the more curvy the female, the more intelligent the child ("Curvy women may be a clever bet"). Might it not just be evolution and the survival of the fittest? In our culture today, the curvier women are seen as the more attractive, and have the pick of the men. If being intelligent is seen as being socially and financially desirable.
Rob Falconer, Llandough, Wales

I see that the "curvy women" story is the most e-mailed. To those who contributed to this statistic, I admire your bravery.
Caroline, London

The more I see of your advertisements ("carrying adverts" - Editors' blog) the less I like them. Flashing adverts is NOT the BBC style! They are offensive and detract from your content, and it is the content I am looking for. Please, please, rethink this approach!
Carol Stone, Berkeley, CA USA

I agree with Owain Williams comment about allowing international users to pay a fee to subscribe. As I expressed in a prior e-mail, I am concerned about the content and integrity of the news from an organization that depends on "ratings" for revenues. CNN went from being an incredible resource to becoming just another Fox News wannabe. Just looking at the nonsense we get on the BBC America cable channel versus the offerings on your real channels doesn't give me a warm fuzzy about this change. You are an incredibly valuable resource to others in the world. Please don't trash what you do.
Paul Olson, New Smyrna Beach, FL, USA

To be even more pedantic than John Airey (Friday letters), Le Grand K never weighed any kilograms at all, as a kilogram is a measure of mass, not weight. Hence it "masses" 1 kg. I'll get my anorak.
Bas, London

To John Airey, if we are going to be pedantic, then Le Grand K doesn't weigh anything in kgs, since kgs are used to measure mass, and weight (a measure of gravitational force) is measured in newtons. Le Grand K weighs approximately 98.1 newtons.
Rich, London

That's a truly alarming picture of a panda (Daily Telegraph - linked to from Paper Monitor). No matter how I look at it, it still seems as though the poor creature is impaled on the far branch of the tree.
Peter Collins, Belfast

What a disappointment. I turned to the story "Magnum at 60" (pop-up picture gallery) really looking forward to a catch-up. Was he still driving the Ferrari? Had Higgins loosened up at all? But no. Some guff about a photo agency. Whatever happened to real culture?
Chris, Oxford

Concerning your random stat today, I would be intrigued to know if any of my ex-girlfriends have spotted any of my numerous contributions to your letters page and been left devastated by the loss of one so obviously witty as I. They should feel free to write in and express this devastation as they wish.
Yours in prescient despair and deflation.
Dylan, Reading, UK

Admit it, MM - you only printed David's letter about Winona Ryder (Friday letters)to see how many Trekkies write in to point out that Spock's mum was an earthling, didn't you?
Rob Churchill, Worthing, West Sussex

Tony (Friday letters), if you click on the vote button without first selecting an option, you go straight to the results without having made a vote yourself.
Dave Barrance, Dublin, Ireland

Tony, a "see results" button would introduce bias into the DMQ - other more easily led people could be influenced by others' votes. One thing we do need, though, is a link to old quotes of the day. When I finally get round to reading the letters on Friday and see old comments about old quotes I can never work out what they're talking about! Was Thursday's quote something to do with the rugby, judging by John's letter?
Sarah, Oxon

It's Monday morning, and it's a Diana spread on the front of the Daily Express. Normal service has been resumed.
Mark Ivey, Hartlepool, UK

Paper Monitor

11:08 UK time, Monday, 12 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

What is it they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? Well, Paper Monitor is more than a little flushed at the sycophancy of the Times. Why? Well, does this front page headline from today's Times ring any bells in the minds of the Monitor faithful: "How to sum up Britain in just five words"?

Ok, here's some more from page three: "It must have seemed such a simple wheeze to Gordon Brown: a motto to capture what makes Britain great…"

In the words of the great Harris, can you guess what it is yet?

No? Then, here's the clincher: "However, before the wording of Mr Brown’s motto has even been agreed… the public seems to have rumbled him. Hundreds of suggestions have been submitted by Times Online readers, in response to an invitation by Comment Central blog."

Yup, the Times has been hosting a "send in your mottos for the UK" forum. Sound familiar… like very familiar… like facsimile familiar? Bashful creature that it is, Old Ma Monitor has asked to let this one pass. But as its younger, rasher, more indiscrete progeny, Paper Monitor has no such qualms about modesty and dutifully wishes to draw readers' attentions to this slice of interactive merriment from a couple of months ago - 1,000 mottos for the UK.

"Dieu et mon droit" indeed.

Over at the Mail, has news of the death of Norman Mailer – he who lamented feminists' desire to abolish the "blind, goat-kicking lust" from sex - failed to arrive? If so, then how does it explain the headline "As the world's most outspoken chauvinists target Nigella..."?

Sorry, Paper Monitor is forgetting itself. It naturally justifies said story… with a picture of La Lawson pouting, eyebrows cocked, over a saucepan.

Lastly, pandas and polar bears. Inscrutable and fearsome creatures respectively, but never underestimate their cuteness. The Telegraph pictures a panda atop a tree (or is it a pigmy-panda lodged in a boy's catapult (see here) to illustrate a story about extinction. The Mail has "Operation Bearlift" – polar bears being airlifted. And Metro, it needs no pretence of a wildlife story to justify a cute picture of a panda sliding down a hill on its back.

And even more lastly, honourable mention to a photo spread in the Mail which features pictures of huge swarms of starlings and suggestions of images they resemble… including Mick Jagger's lips.

Random stat

09:36 UK time, Monday, 12 November 2007

Twenty-nine per cent of adults using social networking sites have done so to search for ex-boyfriends and girlfriends. Two-thousand people were questioned by ICM for Get Safe Online.

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