BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for April 10, 2011 - April 16, 2011

10 things we didn't know last week

15:52 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

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

1. Ducks' bills reveal whether they have sexually-transmitted diseases.
More details

2. The average British home had 5.34 rooms.
More details

3. Dogs watch how how nice people are to others to work out who to approach to beg for food.
More details (Daily Mail)

4. Time travel storylines are officially discouraged in China.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

5. The first Dulux dog was called Dash.
More details

6. More girls than boys became scouts in the past year.
More details

7. Some dinosaurs did their hunting at night.
More details

8. The world's smallest ever music instrument is a guitar the size of a single blood cell.
More details (The Guardian)

9. There are 8.5 million football-related words in English.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

10. Male humpback whales play "Chinese whispers" across 6,000km.
More details

Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week.

Your Letters

15:22 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

Re the plus-one dilemma of inviting friends' partners to weddings, then you might have to invite friends' children too. Slippery slope...
Ian Oliver @BBC News Magazine

Weddings are supposed to be a celebration of a union - at mine all my friends, their partners & children where welcome - don't believe in this segregation rubbish. What I hate more is being given a highly expensive gift list to buy from.
Georgena Bowdidge @BBC News Magazine

Roz (Thursday letters), the point at which you realise your action will have an unstoppably bad outcome is called an ohno-second.
Anne, Fareham, UK

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, but how many people are aware of the Sunday before being Carling Sunday? Not the lager but small boiled peas eaten on the fifth Sunday of Lent. I remember up in North-East England them being put in bowls on the bars on this Sunday - a dentist's dream as they were rock-hard tooth-breakers. Children gathered them as the perfect ammunition for pea shooters.
Tim McMahon, Pennar/Wales

Susan (Thursday letters) says "Fwoor!" - but SURELY it's "phwoarrr"? Or am I just adding to the north/south divide?
Daniel, London

Shouldn't it be "phwoar"?
Basil Long, Nottingham

At last, Mat Dow (Wednesday letters), a fellow "stops at red lights whilst cycling" rider. I was beginning to think I was the only one.
Paul, Croydon

Graeme (Thursday letters), you've got the policy wrong. You're only allowed to fetch an item of clothing after you've delivered an imperceptible witticism, not a point of pedantry.
Rich, Titchfield Comon, Hants

What's the point in reading the news if I consistently score news quiz?
Chas Brickland @BBC_magazine

Like other Monitorites I always look forward to the Quiz of the week's news every Friday. However, I've recently been working over a US internet connection, and have noticed that another quiz (the Weekly world news quiz) is published at the same time. Excitingly, this doubles your chances to get 7 out of 7 each week. Unfortunately, and more realistically, it also doubles your chances to get 0 out of 7 as well.
Tom H, North London

Apparently comfy bunny slippers and laughing at nothing in particular (oh, alright - Paper Monitor) is no longer considered appropriate.
Rachel, Wayzata, US
Paper Monitor note: Why thank you (one thinks).

Caption Competition

13:01 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011


Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The competition is now closed. Full rules can be seen here [PDF].

This week it was German bicycle designer Didi Senft and his latest invention, the Royal Rickshaw. It is constructed from, among others things, the rear of a Trabant 601 car. It is dedicated to Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Rogueslr
Boris takes his first ride in the new Mayoral limosine and beats the congestion charge to boot.

5. Tremorman
William was expecting Kate to be late as she still had a couple of Pizzas to deliver.

4. Kudosless
This time last year Rodney ...

3. Clint75
She didn't have an invite, but Fergie turned up nonetheless.

2. Mman444
This was a £270k supercar before I lent it to my son

1. Raven
OK then, what idiot sent an invitation to Sir Clive Sinclair?

Paper Monitor

11:41 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It being Friday, and this week having felt especially long and arduous, Paper Monitor turns to the morning's newsprint in search of animal stories. PM is not left wanting.

The Daily Mail has a marvellous half-page photo of two red deer engaging in what its headline describes as "country dancing".

A glance further down the page reveals the pair are actually having a fight. PM is no less charmed. Because the Mail's subs offer further illustrations of two hares boxing in the Scottish Borders.

In the Times is an illuminating article about Boston, Massachusetts, which has witnessed the opening of no fewer than three luxury dog hotels over the past five weeks.

For up to $150 (£90) a night, canines can relax with the aid of en suite rooms, minibars stocked with treats and flat-screen televisions showing Animal Planet. At one, The Urban Hound, staff "will climb into bed with their guests".

For good measure, the article is accompanied by a photo of a golden retriever having a manicure.

Lastly, the Guardian has a picture of a group of swans feeding on grain in Dorset. No news peg is offered. But with the weekend looming, frankly, who needs one?

Your Letters

15:33 UK time, Thursday, 14 April 2011

Re Satnav bingo: How do routefinders find their routes? - mine is possessed & hopelessly optimistic.
Sarah Horrigan @BBC_magazine

Can't help thinking this sort of story (Son writes off his dad's £275,000 supercar) is the reason for this sort (Young drivers quoted up to £27,000 for car insurance).
Tom Webb, Surbiton, UK

I like the choice of phrase in Poster for The Walking Dead on funeral parlour wall (and Paper Monitor). It's as if "raised eyebrows" is a worrying condition for humans and therefore the poster had to be removed.
Tom Webb, Surbiton, UK

An apposite name for the farmer in this video. Nominative determinism strikes again.
Dan, Cambridge

Re Is dangerous cycling really a problem? Surely dangerous *anything* is, by its very definition, a problem. I'll fetch my hi-viz jacket.
Graeme Dixon, Guildford, Surrey

Monitor readers, is there a common term for this kind of "Ooops" moment? Do you think the young gentleman in question went back to the car to fetch his coat?
Roz, Sheffield

Phew! I just did really badly on the royal wedding quiz.
Sue, London

Bah! Stablehand! The royal wedding quiz is enough to turn anyone Republican.
Jo K, London

Amanda (Wednesday letters) how was it phrased? "Fwoor, nice bicycle darlin"?
Or was it phrased "good heavens, what a delightful velocipede, it is only surpassed in beauty by your good self"?
(I'm not sure which is worse.)
Susan, Newcastle

Popular Elsewhere

15:24 UK time, Thursday, 14 April 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites. 


The New York Times' most read article asks if sugar is toxic. Investigator in health policy Gary Taubes concludes at the end of nine pages that he's still confused:

"I'd like to eat it in moderation. I’d certainly like my two sons to be able to eat it in moderation, to not overconsume it, but I don’t actually know what that means and I’ve been reporting on this subject and studying it for more than a decade."

Readers of Australia's the Courier are catching up on a row about Aborigine rights. "High-profile indigenous" lawyer Larissa Behrendt tweeted that sex with a horse was less offensive than the Aboriginal leader Bess Price who supports intervention in the Northern Territory.

Ms Behrendt, a professor of law and indigenous studies at the University of Technology, Sydney and of Aboriginal heritage, is also suing newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt for racial hatred.

The article by Gary Johns from the Australian Catholic University argues that there are double standards in how the Racial Discrimination Act is used. He says Aborigines have carried out "20 years of racial hatred, against the white man".

Slate's most popular article asks how dinosaurs ever had sex given some of them were enormous. It admits to having its mind "in the gutter" but then finds out that paleontologists know very little about how dinosaurs mated, because soft tissue rarely appears in fossils. Further down the article we don't get any closer to the answer as "unfortunately, we know almost nothing about the size of other, more intimate dinosaur parts". Apparently it is an area of ongoing debate among paleontologists who "can't agree on very much".

Proving popular on Xinhua Net is an article about a glimpse into "The Dark Age of the Universe". The site reports an international team of astronomers announced they've discovered the oldest galaxy, formed 13.55 billion years ago. Johan Richard, the lead author of the new study said that they have discovered a distant galaxy that began forming stars just 200 million years after the Big Bang. This, he says, challenges theories of how soon galaxies formed and evolved in the first years of the Universe.

Ali Abunimah's opinion piece about efforts to get the Palestinian territories recognised as a state is popular on al-Jazeera. Mr Abunimah is a policy adviser with Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. He argues that the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to push for statehood are "nothing more than an elaborate farce". He says Palestinians should not be distracted by "this international theatre of the absurd" but instead should focus on building campaigns to "end Israeli apartheid".

Paper Monitor

10:40 UK time, Thursday, 14 April 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

In the Daily Mail, there is a very thoughtful piece about the gang culture blighting young people in London and other British cities.

It's by Harriet Sergeant, who is both freelance journalist and serious academic and has spent a year investigating gangs. Some familiar arguments are revisited, but the intro stands out.

Lips is a 15-year-old member of a South London gang whom I befriended two years ago.
"Harriet, I need your help, innit?" I imagined he was going to ask for my advice about a job or qualifications.
Instead, he held out six bullets. Would I look after them for him?
"The Feds [police] don't come to your yard [home]," he said, "and my mum wants them out of the house. She found them in the sugar."


That really is deep cover by the standards of the average Mail report.

Moving to lighter territory, there's a story that's impossible to resist.

The Sun, Metro and probably various others have a story of such exquisite loveliness it transports Paper Monitor back to its days on local papers.

A billboard firm has had to apologise after it placed an advert for TV drama The Walking Dead... next to a funeral home.

It was in the Northern Echo (Harold Evans' old paper) yesterday.


Your Letters

16:05 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Is dangerous cycling really a problem? Most cycle lanes are at the kerbside next to the pavement, that is a hazard in itself. Pedestrians need more education about crossing the roads (Green Cross Code). Nobody stops, looks left and right anymore or listens, they just step out. As for cyclist jumping red lights this maddens me because as a cyclist myself, I always stop at the STOP line and they shoot pass me. Police need to start penalising them more.
Matt Dow @BBC News Magazine

I wasn't aware professional interviewers weren't "ordinary people" too (a journalist writes). GuyClapperton @BBC_magazine

When is it OK to compliment a stranger in the street? I've been complimented on my bicycle by a man I didn't know. To be honest, intergender compliments *are* a minefield. I like the advice in the article (given by a man, to men), that any such compliment should be acceptable to "your mother".
Amanda Bates @BBC News Magazine

Is it OK to compliment a stranger in the street? Street, no. Bar or club, yes. Context.
Sproates @BBC_magazine

The award to the worst article to view whilst at work goes to...
Ellie, Oxford, UK

David (Tuesday letters), I can think of a slightly less fair test for humans. It's called life. We are all compelled to take part but the mortality rate is somewhat worse than 1.5%.
Sarah, Oxon

Re the explanations to why some men don't wear wedding rings (Tuesday letters). But shouldn't exactly the same logic/safety reasons apply to women as well? Yet more women continue to wear their wedding rings (at least in their spare time).
Jane, Midlands, UK

Why? Why did I read Tuesday letters? I know why wearing a ring in any form of mechanical/construction/sporting environment is a bad thing. Yet still I read.
Phil, Oxford

Oh Monitor, you had to ask didn't you! Feeling rather queasy now.
Jen, Chichester

Popular Elsewhere

14:50 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

'I escaped from Auschwitz' starts a popular Guardian article. It tells the story of Kazimierz Piechowski. He is one of just 144 prisoners to have broken out of the notorious Nazi camp and survive. Now 91, he recalls being part of a group of Polish prisoners in stolen uniforms and a misappropriated car. Mr Piechowski's group made one of the most audacious escapes in the history of Auschwitz.

Daily Mail readers prefer to hear about a survey which claims Britons are more likely to help a stranger than the majority of other nationalities. The story starts by implying that you are more likely to help a blind person cross the road if you are British. The article cites the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which puts Britain near the top of their international league table of kindness.

The New Yorker's most read story reveals what Chinese tourists are told in travel agents' ads and guide books to Europe. The Netherlands is sold as Big Plazas, Big Windmills, Big Gorges. But the guides focus on the practicalities:

  • "Don't travel with knockoffs of European goods, because customs inspectors will seize them and penalize you"
  • "You will see Gypsies begging beside the road, but do not give them any money. If they crowd around and ask to see your purse, yell for the guide"

According to the New Scientist's most read article an aloe vera extract gave rats tumours. The story stipulates that it is not yet clear what the results mean for people consuming products containing aloe vera as part of a "natural health" regime. It goes on to quote Lois Swirsky Gold, who studies cancer hazards at the University of California, as saying:

"People are consuming herbal supplements with the idea that they're beneficial. The truth is that we know very little about their benefits or their risks. Just because they are 'natural' does not make them safe."

A popular story on Russia Today reports that US Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has sent private investigators to Hawaii to look into claims that President Obama was not born in the US. Described in the article as an "active birther", the businessman is quoted as saying he hopes to uncover "one of the greatest cons in the history of politics and beyond".

Paper Monitor

12:22 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

One of the most notorious of the many dark arts of journalism is the "doorstep".

This term refers to the practice of making an unsolicited, face-to-face approach to an interview subject, whereby the hack's task is to try and wheedle a few usable quotes from the focus of their (usually unwelcome) attentions.

If a door is not opened or no answer is forthcoming, the reporter then sits outside their quarry's place of residence until they emerge so inquiries can be bellowed in their direction while a photographer - here Paper Monitor uses a technical term - "hoses them down".

It is an activity that few journalists surely enter the profession with a desire to partake in, yet it is not - as some might suppose - restricted to the tabloids.

Look at the Independent's page five lead, in which a reporter's encounter with the recently-deposed Ivorian leader is billed in print as "Daniel Howden meets Laurent Gbabgo, under guard in his Abidjan hotel" (the online edition is a little more circumspect).

Here is Mr Howden's encounter with the erstwhile leader in full:

The door to Room 470 is opened to reveal a scrum of soldiers, and there on the bed is the briefest glimpse of the 65-year-old who held this country to ransom on his journey from radical history professor to hackneyed African strongman. Then the door is slammed and the message is passed that Mr Gbagbo is in "no condition to receive the media yet".

Paper Monitor is impressed that the Independent realised the value of a good doorstep. Although it surely can't be long before the intrepid Gillian Duffy earns herself a staff job on Fleet Street.

Your Letters

15:59 UK time, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Monitor, normally if anyone asked me how weariong a ring contributes to finger loss I'd say: "You don't want to know". But obviously you do. It's known as "gloving" and a ring caught, say, on an edge at the top of a ladder can stay there and pull the skin and flesh of a finger off with it if the wearer slips and falls. It's very nasty and I'm sure you now wish you hadn't asked.
Mike, Helensburgh

Re: monitor's comment about how do rings contribute to finger loss. I know of two guys who suffered thus, one got his ring caught on a protruding screwhead when jumping down from a forklift cab at work (ripped the finger off at the second joint) and another who "de-gloved" (medical term for stripped to the bone) a finger in a similar way. Not pleasant!

Ruby, Leics

Regarding the risk of wearing wedding rings. The incident at my place of work some years ago was where someone tripped over and caught their ring on a metal post. I won't go into detail, just look up the word degloved. *shudder*
Ian, Redditch

Monitor, you ask how a ring can contribute to finger loss? It's not just mechanics who avoid wearing rings, when I served in the army it was also discouraged - for very good reasons. I know of at least two people who caught their ring on a piece of equipment whilst moving at speed (e.g. jumping off a tank) and the ring basically strips the skin, flesh and in one case a knuckle joint. The result is not much of a finger left. Gory, but instructive.
Dodie James, London, UK

Further clues to the Monitor's identity if they have no grasp of health and safety in a manual labour environment! A wedding ring could easily get trapped or caught in heavy machinery and cause the finger to be severed.
Kelly (Office bound, but with a foot in the real world), Oxford

The organisers of the Grand National claim that the race is a "fair test for horses". Perhaps they could name a "fair test" for human beings in which (1) people are compelled to take part and (2) approximately 1.5% of participants die as a direct result?
David Richerby, Liverpool, UK

The problem with this article is that the risk isn't to the people taking part, but to the horses carrying them. I'll bet that if the death toll for jockeys was this high, things would be seen differently!
Peter, Hemel Hempstead, UK

Re: Paper Monitor. A lot of "Meeja" do it. The BBC is a perfect example with "news" appearing year after year. Magazine Monitor is quite expert at digging up old articles/features and pushing them out again
Malcolm, Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom

John Bratby in Southampton (Monday's letters): you're out by several orders of magnitude - about three if you're comparing the length of Wales north to south to the diameter of the pin, or about 11 if you're comparing surface areas. Try comparing the population of Wales to the carrying capacity of 5 Routemaster buses.
Alexander Lewis Jones, Nottingham, UK

Popular Elsewhere

15:33 UK time, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A look at the popular stories on other news sites.

Time's most read article looks at how television's depiction of hospitals' emergency wards affects policy. It comes after a physicians' campaign against a proposal to reduce care. The article argues there are "clearly two prevailing views on emergency care". Firstly, those informed by emergency departments depicted on TV shows like ER and Grey's Anatomy, "on which doctors and nurses dramatically and consistently (ie.., pretty much on every show) save lives". It says the second depicts the emergency department as "a haven for abusers - who also make the occasional cameo on prime-time medical dramas - the dreary characters who seek primary, nonurgent medical care or drugs in the ED because it's free and convenient, dragging doctors and nurses away from the important work of saving lives."

The Guardian's most read story asks why more women are watching pornography. According to the article increasing numbers of women "admit to being hooked on internet porn". It quotes a 2006 study by the Internet Filter Review which found that 17% of women describe themselves as "addicted" to porn. It adds that Jason Dean from Quit Porn Addiction, the "UK's main porn counselling service", says almost one in three clients are women struggling with their own porn use.

Readers of Perth Now are catching up with the latest court case dealing with the global "sexting" trend. Debate prevails over how to deal with the increase of teenagers sending naked pictures of themselves via their mobile phones. Meanwhile, a 14-year-old boy in Australia is appearing in court after allegedly asking an 11-year-old girl to send him a naked picture of herself. The boy appeared in Children's Court charged with one count to procure a child under 13 years to commit an indecent act.

Slate's most read article asks how long we should cling to the original meaning of a word. On the one hand, consciously sticking to a word's original meaning may not get your message across and may make you look like a pedant. But on the other, if a word dies out, there may not be a synonym for it, meaning that losing that meaning will also mean losing a succinct way to express a concept.

Proving popular on the Economist's website is an account of Europe's oldest "frozen conflict". It is referring to the island of Cyprus's ongoing disagreement between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The article says "gloom has settled" over the most recent talks. It quotes the Greek Cypriot president of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias as saying "progress has been zero since [his Turkish Cypriot counterpart] Mr Eroglu was elected".

Paper Monitor

12:49 UK time, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Having ideas for features is one of the harder things journalists have to do.

Yes, it doesn't compare with the perils of war reporting or investigating the South American drugs trade. But still, it's just difficult to think of things. This is probably why features editors just use the same ideas over and over again.

Paper Monitor believes in the "two-year rule". It's the period you must leave after every piece before doing it again. It's the period by which all but the most elephantine of reader memories will have forgotten the last time.

Today's best example is in the Daily Telegraph. It's a lovely bit of writing from Max Davidson.

But the subject, how we love a British sporting loser, is as old as, well, Britain's first organised entry into international sport.

You can hear it echoing gloomily over morning news meetings all over the land every time England go out on penalties or Andy Murray wilts and then cries.

It's not a bad idea. It's a great idea as long as you're not a believer in the two-year rule.

The Daily Mirror has another peach on page 16 and 17. It's a charming feature in which they have employed lip readers to check which footballers were swearing on the pitch.

It's a lovely idea. So lovely that the Sun did it in 2008.

The point about this is that good ideas are often not wholly original. Sometimes they're just refinements of good ideas that surfaced just over two years ago.

Your Letters

17:28 UK time, Monday, 11 April 2011

Re workers being called "talent" (Paper Monitor): unfortunately in some organisations the ability to be nasty and unpleasant is regarded as a talent...
John Airey @BBC News Magazine

They are talent, just need to apply good or bad to that.
Kevin Symonds @BBC News Magazine

It says here that "[lasers] attack targets at the speed of light, which is many times faster than the speeds that missiles can travel". For us Monitorites, I think it's as many times faster as Wales is bigger than the surface of a pin-head. Roughly.
John Bratby, Southampton

I'm always surprised to see the old saw repeated that "loo" comes from "gardez l'eau".. In France, toilets were (and still are) called Lieux d'Aisance (places of relief). So going to the loo - going to the place (of relief). Please forward to Dan Snow.
Tim Clayfield, Zurich, Switzerland

Rob Falconer (Friday letters), many men, including my husband, refuse to wear a wedding ring for safety reasons. He's a mechanic and has known far too many men lose fingers to take the risk.
Sharon Cutworth, King's Lynn, Norfolk
Monitor note: Forgive the ignorant question, but how does a ring contribute to finger loss?

Congratulations to all involved but it made me wonder if Guinness World Records have a department set up specifically to deal with the Longest Journey By A Fire Engine record.
MCK, Stevenage

Rachel (Friday letters), start your day with a healthy bowl of porridge, drop in a few barely perceptible witticisms and, when you leave, don't forget your coat.
Luke L, London, UK

I can't believe my first ever published letter (Friday's letters) went unattributed. Curse you, technical gremlins.
Andy (wondering if it's worth filling this in...), Balham, London

Monitor note: This omission has been amended.

Paper Monitor

12:44 UK time, Monday, 11 April 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

That Lucy Kellaway, who dissects office life for the Financial Times. She. Is. Brilliant.

Searingly insightful, always witty, and oh so wise. She will no doubt be delighted at this, should she happen to be a regular reader of yours truly.

In her column in today's salmon-pink paper, she admits to being a praise junkie:

I am exceedingly fond of being called a genius; even though I prefer to have genius status granted for big things, I'm prepared to accept it for any achievement at all, even for pressing send on my computer.

But, she wonders, does being fulsome and frequent with praise risk "pushing a drug that turns people into demotivated, infantile, praise-dependent junkies"?

This is all a bit close to the bone for Paper Monitor, who learnt its craft at the whip of a "treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen" editor who threw out only cursory and occasional scraps of encouragement - an approach to staff motivation that is increasingly rare, says Kellaway.

In the UK, all workers are called "talent" no matter how profoundly untalented they actually are, and even this is not enough. At KPMG, every member of staff is a genius. "We have 138,000 outstanding professionals," it says on its website, an exaggeration so gross that I would think twice before allowing KPMG anywhere near my audit.

She recalls a Columbia University study of about a decade ago, in which one group of 10-year-olds were praised for being clever, and another group for their perseverance. The former gave up when the tasks turned a little tricky; the latter merely worked harder.

Think on that, parents who turn to the newspapers for Easter holiday inspiration.

The Guardian has restarted its Kids* pages with an interactive short story competition.

And Young Times* in the Times has word puzzles and an inventor talking about his top 5 gadgets, and one he wishes existed - a karate training robot.

Perhaps young ______ and _____ [fill in name of child here] might like to give it a crack now school's out til the royal wedding bank holiday. Bet they will do a marvellous job, seeing how clever he/she/they is/are.

(*Unfortunately Paper Monitor's blog builder does not allow for wacky typefaces in which to appropriately render "Kids pages" and "Young Times", so you'll just have to imagine your own. Come on, you can do it...
Well done. Good job!)

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