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Archives for September 16, 2007 - September 22, 2007

10 things we didn't know last week

17:07 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007

10shredder.jpgSnippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Being born without an ear is called microtia.
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2. Zsa Zsa Gabor is related to Paris Hilton.
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3. In Iceland, 96% of women go to university.
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4. Gordon Brown has broken prime ministerial convention by getting a mobile phone, but it does not take incoming calls.

5. It costs 100 euros to hire one of the prostitutes' windows in Amsterdam for part of the day.
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6. About 16,000 hyphens have been dropped from the latest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
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7. The Belgian army had to be called in recently to deal with an infestation of moths.
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8. Dinosaurs had creches.
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9. 'Conservative haircut' is economists' jargon for a form of loan collateral.
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10. Meteorites do not let off dangerous fumes - but on landing can expose rotting organic matter, filling the air with methane, hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide.
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(Sources, where item not linked: 4. Sunday Times, 16 September.)

Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Patrick McGarry for this week's picture of 10 scraps from the paper shredder).

Your Letters

15:33 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007

A bumper crop to make up for yesterday's non-appearance.

As the proud owner of a double-barrelled surname, I'd like to thank you for alerting me to an issue of great importance - the plight of the hyphen. I now plan to use it as much as is possible, lest we see it leap-frogging out of our grammar.
Sophie Bowley-Aicken, Ireland

I like that strikes by the Post Office are now so frequent that they are unveiled like a new product.
James Hayward, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Re the Friday Challenge. Norfolk Island's motto "Inasmuch" is actually pretty lofty, since it's a reference to Matthew 25:40: "Inasmuch as ye have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'" It's a good snappy motto and I suggest we pinch it instead of making up our own.

Woman spends night locked in loo reminds me of the rhyme:
Oh dear what a calamity,
Gwyneth Coles got stuck in the lavatory.
She could be there Monday to Saturday...
CB, Oxfordshire

Was it just me who detected a hint of sadism in the last sentence of Itching to get you? "Goodnight, and sleep tight." What after thinking about bed bugs? I don't flaming well think so.
Tom, Leeds, UK

Re the carbon footprint of a potato, if the Carbon Trust takes "several months working out that 75g of greenhouse gases are given off in the production of a 33.5g bag of Walkers crisps", then what is the carbon footprint of "several months" of carbon footprint calculation?
Iain C, Leamington Spa

Daniel Norgan (Wednesday letters), the potato's CO2 will return to the atmosphere after consumption so has no net affect, but the plastic packaging could be locked away in landfill for centuries. Is this accounted for in the figure?
Doug, Berkhamsted

Does anyone else play 'Guess the most read'? I look at all the stories and try to guess which will be in the top 5 most read. 10 points for each correct story and a bonus of 50 points if you have all 5 in the correct order. An unofficial, and therefore cannot be banned, game for the Monitor.

To all ya'll boasting about how quickly you can read (Friday letters), if I had the luxury to read fiction (I'm a history grad student) I wouldn't be inhaling novels. Rather, I would be savouring them like a fine meal. It is book abuse to be so wasteful of turns of phrase and imagery.
Veronica, North Carolina

I did everything right with my passport photo a number of years back but get stopped because of the hideous hairdo I had. Why didn't someone tell me I looked like Worzel Gummidge?
Emma, Germany

Whilst doing summer work in the Passport Office in the late 1960s I did see the photo which had to be returned to the lady as it showed her from waist up, naked. And one clerical officer had to be stopped from requesting another lady to attend in person to prove her "distinguishing feature" which she claimed was a mole on her upper inside thigh.
Keith, Lismore, Ireland

Re the mini-quiz - my left or their left?
Ian, Bristol

My passport photo

12:38 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007

passports416.jpgThey've shown you theirs, now we want to see yours.

It's always been a source of fun to sneak a peek at someone else's passport photo.

And now, because of stringent new criteria for biometric passports, it has become quite an undertaking.

By far the biggest challenge is to assume an expression sufficiently neutral to be rubber-stamped by the passport office, but one which retains a reassuring hint of warmth so as not to attract the wrong sort of attention at border control.

Even the tricks we were once able to use to look a little less like the mugshot on a WANTED poster are off-limits.

So the Monitor is asking readers to follow the lead of Jeffrey Archer, Kate Nash and David Cameron (above). Your passport photos can be e-mailed to and have the subject line "PASSPORT", with a description of no more than 100 words.

scarlett203.jpgUpdate: Day three
"I managed to do everything wrong in my passport photo seven years ago and yet they accepted it. It was only after I showed my new passport to my parents that I was told how lucky I was. I've never been stopped at passport control either; I'd like to think that's because of my cheeky smile."
Scarlett Trewavas

stephen203.jpgUpdate: Day two
"This was taken about 20 years ago on a day when my round gold-rimmed glasses broke and I bought a pair of used 1970s-style goggles that I found in a small shop that, amazingly, I could see through perfectly. Elton John would have been proud."
Stephen Ernest Smith, Missouri

10weeks203.jpgDay one:
"This was taken when my daughter was 11-days-old for her Dutch passport. It looks nothing like her but after trying for an hour to get a newborn to open her eyes for the photo, we took the first one we could. The poor thing has to have this in her passport for the next four years."
Jennifer ten Wolde

Paper Monitor

10:54 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007


A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's amazing, isn't it friends, that just 18 months ago, one could still go into a pub anywhere in the United Kingdom, buy a packet of cigarettes and openly smoke them. One could even exhale, quite legally. How odd that would feel now - and how quickly one comes to terms with shifting standards.

But reading today's papers feels a bit like wandering into a pub and finding people still cracking open another box of Superkings.

Here's what raises an eyebrow... is it acceptable in these discrimination-aware days to be rude to older people on account of their seniority?

Apparently, judging by how Sir Menzies Campbell is treated today. In their defence, the papers in question would no doubt say that Sir Ming himself mentioned his age in his speech and even promised to make age an issue in the next general election (a la Ronald Reagan).

One might have thought jokes based purely on one's age feel rather like something that have had their day. See what you think...

Peter Brookes, the Times's usually brilliant cartoonist, shows Ming needing a stairlift to reach the podium.

Ann Treneman in the Times, says she felt she should "ring NHS Direct" when a promotional movie showed him playing football with his grandchildren, adding: "Ming had had a revelation. He is no longer going to pretend to be young. Instead he is loving his wrinkles. Indeed, I hear that he asked make-up to make him look older. 'I don't want to look a day younger than 104!' he cried."

Cartoonist Schrank in the Independent shows Ming in a care home-style armchair with a blanket on his knees.

Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail writes: "He's old! He's angry! Sir Menzies Campbell , who usually embodies restraint, gave a speech to test anyone's denture glue."

Cartoonist Steve Bell in the Guardian has Ming so old he can't hear what his aides are saying to him.

Maybe Paper Monitor is out of step, but your views on this subject are genuinely welcome, via the comments button below. Perhaps we'll even learn something together...

Random stat

10:21 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007

Asked how long they could go without internet access and still feel OK, 15% of Americans said a day or less in a survey by the advertising agency JWT. Of the rest, most said they could only manage a few days.

Paper Monitor

12:48 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

The difference a day makes. Yesterday's Daily Star reported on a lottery win of an 18-year-old man from Folkestone, Kent thus:

"TEENAGE gang member has scooped £716,000 on the lottery. Oliver Kennedy, 18, today picks up his cheque - a share of Saturday's £3.5 million jackpot. On his Bebo webpage he boasts of being a member of the 'Dog Pound Crew' gang in his home town of Folkestone, Kent. He also lists his interests as 'goin out on the raz with the ladz' and 'gettin p***ed up'."

Last night's Evening Standard, a local paper in London, reported: "A hoodie who claims to be part of a street gang has won more than £700,000 on the lottery."

And yet Her Majesty's Press seems to be taking a different line today, having met the young man and his girlfriend.

Today's Daily Mirror goes to town on rehabilitating Mr Kennedy: "Two jobless young sweethearts yesterday toast the £700,000 win that will allow them and their baby to live together at last... The life-changing fortune means they can finally settle down properly. Ollie's mum, Louise, 46, said: 'Life's been a struggle at times for our family. Now Oliver and Kelly don't have to struggle any more. He's a caring, down-to-earth boy who will do right by his family.'"

Note to self: If ever vilified by press, don't panic. It might all be different tomorrow.

Elsewhere the Express tells us that the round glasses and blazer worn by Lily Cole, which were previously identified as making her look like Harry Potter, actually make her look like Billy Bunter.

And the Mirror tells us that the glasses worn by Britney Spears make her look like Olive, from On The Buses, a programme which presumably is beyond Ms Spears' frame of reference.

Thrillers make for a good read while commuting, and the Guardian, bless it, delivers with an article headlined: "The businesswoman, the £17m necklace and a criminal secret - Fish trader facing Italian jail sentence named as architect of Tokyo jewel robbery."

Now that has got it all. Paper Monitor is fond of headlines so comprehensive that there's no need to read the accompanying story, but this gem is in another league entirely. It's a crime novel condensed onto a single page, a twisty-turny tale of an international diamond heist, a Serbian gang, fake passports and - allegedly - a beautiful "Fiat-driving seafood exporter" who has been named (although not described in those words) in Italian court documents.

Michael Crichton - and crime reporters everywhere - eat your heart out.

Random stat

10:36 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2007

US researchers from the Society for Microbiology and The Soap and Detergent Association say that 77% of Americans wash their hands in public restrooms - down 6% on a similar study in 2005.

Your Letters

16:14 UK time, Wednesday, 19 September 2007

With the queues outside Northern Rock, why were there not hoards of muggers lying in wait for all the people openly discussing the fact that they were about to withdraw all their life savings?
Fi, Gloucestershire, UK

Re Send us your passport pics. When you read the rules for passport photos, I always expect to trundle up to Immigration and find a notice requiring me to glare at the passport officer - my photo may comply with the "neutral" expression but I always greet anyone with a broad grin.

I'm pretty sure that for passport photos you need to be directly facing the camera. If that's the case then everyone's favourite crooked Tory is once again flouting the rules...
Bob Pritchard, Farnborough, UK
Monitor note: A point made here.

Re the carbon footprint of a packet of crisps. One thing it didn't discuss was the amount of CO2 that is absorbed by the plant the potato came from. Is this accounted for in the figure? Any ideas?
Daniel Morgan, Kent, UK

Alice, my apologies for besmirching Oxbridge (Tuesday letters). By the way, it is spelt "fundraising". You can't buy that learnin.
Grant Thomson, Edinburgh

So 50 Cent announces he'll retire if Kanye West outsells him... then Kanye West sells far more records than 50 Cent. One can't help wondering if the first statement was directly responsible for the second statement.
Jay, Wales

Re the random stat - I'll know I'm rich when I don't have to own a mobile.
Trina, UK

Paper Monitor

11:29 UK time, Wednesday, 19 September 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's been a while since Paper Monitor has been able to indulge itself in the art of the parliamentary sketch writer, what with it being summer and all that. But now, with the LibDems in full flow in Brighton, all the pent-up energy usually spent on crafting and turning phrases to crushing effect is now unleashed.

You know the sort of thing - the kind of line which made the world realise the genius of Clive James (of this parish): Arnold Schwarzenegger being like a "brown condom full of walnuts". Creating one or perhaps two of those memorable phrases in an entire career is the point of becoming a sketch writer. Paper Monitor likes to think of the rivals meeting each morning, having fisked each other's efforts and keeping a tally of palpable hits.

So will today's efforts bother the scorers? Probably not.

Simon Carr, in the Independent, mentions that sign language in Welsh "looks like trying to plait fingers, with interludes of trying to throttle an angry swan. It's what they have instead of ballet." He also says that Lib Dem philosophy "bulges and sags like a shoplifter's tights".

Andrew Gimson in the Daily Telegraph pastiches the party's love of policy detail thus: "We are told that once you get absorbed in the details, the relative merits of site value rating and local income tax becomes so enthralling that they require no adornment, but we still deprecate the school of Lib Dem oratory that absolute earnestness is all that a speaker needs."

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail describes Brian Sedgemore, a former Labour MP who is now a Lib Dem activist. "He has taken naturally to his new party's codes of hygiene and sartorial tidiness. Invited to speak in the economy debate, Mr Sedgemore loped up to the stage with a vulpine grin, his clothes loose-fitting, his demeanour somehow managing to be both bald and shaggy. Mr Sedgemore is an exponent of the too-short sock which slumps to the ankle, betraying shiny shin and just a hint of varicose vein."

And Ann Treneman in the Times adds he is "a huge man, ungainly and awkward, a maverick whose rhetoric can be as wild as a rodeo".

Playing the ball and not the man is not, it seems, the done thing in this game.

Talking of which, the Guardian has now got into the whole Graeme le Saux debate. You'll remember that last week his autobiography, serialised in the Times of all papers, talked about how he had been abused simply because he read the Guardian. Well today at last the Guardian does the decent thing by the lad, giving him a leader column of his own: "In praise of Graham Le Saux". It had to happen eventually.

Random stat

09:38 UK time, Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Today's random stat is that 19% of British children think not owning a mobile phone is a sign of being poor. The study was commissioned by the Campaign To End Child Poverty.

Your Letters

15:39 UK time, Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Like so much that is still said about punk, your article about the return of the Sex Pistols indulges in the usual collection of half-remembered truths. Take the statement "Never Mind The Bollocks... caused uproar when it was released in October 1977...But it was one of the defining records of the punk movement". This seems reasonable on the surface but my memory differs. I'm pretty sure that by the time the album (belatedly) came out the Pistols had already had their day. Any furore over the record was really only about the title as the music had ceased to shock - or even entertain. If any of the Pistols' music was "seminal" then it was the preceding four singles - not the album. It got to number one for a mere two weeks barely punctuating a steady stream of Greatest Hits and soundtrack albums. No further singles charted from it. Anyone who quotes it as an influence probably wasn't around at the time because their singles, live performance and outrageous reportage were far more what gained them their notoriety than "Never Mind the Bollocks". In 1977 punk wasn't about albums.
Paul Clare, Nottingham

Regarding the queues outside Northern Rock offices. Could they be people trying anxiously to re-mortgage? After all, if the company I work for goes under and I can't pay the mortgage, the bank takes the house to clear the debt. Logically if the bank goes under, the debt is written off and I don't have to repay the mortgage. That's why the 30's helped those who survived - debt was written off. Or is that too simple?
Bob Connell, Shanghai

If I didn't know otherwise I'd think those queues outside Northern Rock were to deposit money not to withdraw it. With the government guarunteeing deposits and an interest rate of 6.71% at the last check it seems like a pretty good investment to me.
Jenny Em, Aberdeen

Grant (Monday's letters), are you still peeved that you didn't get an offer? Maybe your grades just weren't up to it. The only time my Oxford college asked about money is after graduation when they started to include me in fundrasing letters.
Alice, London, UK

Regarding the article 'Needless risks' in police chases. Copper Minister Tony McNulty says: "The key issue was that the majority of police chases were caused by suspects refusing to stop when requested." They are an unruly bunch these criminals, but what are the minority caused by? Answers on a postcard please.
Karl Turner, Chesterfield

I guess that the people involved in this were hardened criminals then? It's okay I have my coat.
Silas, London, UK

Paper Monitor

10:34 UK time, Tuesday, 18 September 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

The newspapers are treading a very fine line.

On the one hand they want to chronicle the Northern Rock crisis, capturing every last furrow on the brow of the anguished grannies queueing outside the bank's branches.

On the other hand, no newspaper editor wants to be responsible for a genuine financial crisis. In the Sun there is a heartfelt editorial headlined "Calm down!", while the Daily Mail opts for the positively puritanical leader "Time to start living within our means".

The newspaper carries a mere two adverts for credit cards, one for car loans, and one for cars featuring loan terms.

But none of the Northern Rock coverage is as attention-grabbing as the photographs of German female bodybuilder Jana Linke-Sippl in the Daily Express and the Daily Star.

Who needs any kind of peg when you've got a woman whose thighs are almost as muscly as Arnold Schwarzenegger's?

Random stat

10:17 UK time, Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Today's random stat, the Monitor's favourite beta feature, is that 63% of Brits would not be motivated to do more exercise if their lives depended on it. The survey was for the British Heart Foundation and 2,100 adults were interviewed.

Your Letters

15:13 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2007

Your story on Northern Rock features the following quote from Gill Whitelock: "As a staff member of Northern Rock I would just like to say that there is no need to panic - the Bank of England and all other authorities back Northern Rock 110%" With percentages being worked out like that, maybe that's what caused the problem for them in the first place.
Christian Cook, Epsom, UK

So, there's a rush on people withdrawing their money from Northern Rock. Has nobody seen "It's a Wonderful Life?" Northern Rock should have cardboard cut-outs of James Stewart prominently displayed in all branches.
Rob Falconer, Llandough, Wales

Are we still doing that 'begs the question' thing? If so, I'm wondering if the courts are likely to impose stiff sentences?
Sheldon Price, Manchester

Consumers 'confused about diet'? I'm not surprised, if you can report that a healthy diet contains only "2% meat, fish, eggs, beans, etc." Try 12% - that would fit the picture of the eatwell and have the advantage of making the total diet add up to 100%
Keith Edkins, Cambridge, England

Quote from the Australian Navy in the story about Australian sailors being given breast augmentation paid for with public funds: "We do consider the broader needs of our people." Say no more.
HB, London

While I understand Ben's frustration at the overuse of -GATE, he's managed to rattle my cage. If it's 'new' it wasn't improved. If it's improved, then it isn't new.
Caroline, Rochester, UK

Today's quote of the day gives an Oxbridge interview question, which asks: "Will the bag ever become empty?" I should imagine the answer they are looking for would be: "Not with my trust fund."
Grant Thomson, Edinburgh

Regarding Monday's quote of the day, I think this make a good subject for a special (one off, no-prize offered) competition.
Dave Godfrey, Swindon

Paper Monitor

11:53 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

So there's turmoil in banking. The queues are lengthening as people demand their life savings in cash. They are not going to be dispelled with an It's a Wonderful Life-style plea for people to calm down. Not when they've read today's Sun, anyway, which brings us "a man with a squeaky voice" who "has been barred from accessing his bank details by phone - because staff keep thinking he is a WOMAN". Things are obviously much worse than we feared.

You might have seen reports that FHM was censured by watchdogs last week for featuring topless pics of a 14-year-old girl. The magazine said it didn't know how old she was. Today's Guardian wonders why no papers other than itself reported the story. "There was not a word, for example, in the Sun, whose editor Rebekah Wade, has always been such a sturdy opponent of paedophilia. That wouldn't be - would it? - because the red-tops fear they might themselves be caught out one day?" asks commentator Peter Wilby.

As chance would have it today's Sun does however find space to report the "fury" that a 12-year-old girl is modelling "a string of revealing outfits" at fashion shows. Hmmm (finger placed thoughtfully on bottom lip) how can one illustrate that story? How about a picture of said girl in bikini? Cause anyone at Sun Towers any problems? Apparently not.

Elsewhere in the Guardian there is a real spat between TV historians. Last week Tristram Hunt criticised genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are?, and this week Alex Graham of the production company hits back in style.

Contrasting styles of show, Graham accuses Hunt of having prejudice in favour of "the middle-aged (or in his case prematurely middle-aged) presenter..." Biff.

Correcting Hunt's report of the order in which two TV shows were broadcast, he says: "Call me old fashioned, but I expect professional historians to at least get their dates right..." Kapow.

Comparing the ratings for Who Do You Think You Are with Hunt's own programmes, he says: "My message to Tristram is that there's room for both of us in the schedules. He can have his audience. We're more than happy with ours." Ouch.

Now that's a spat. Best draw a line under it here, boys, otherwise someone will resort to rhyming slang and that won't be pretty.

(Today, in a bid to restore audience trust, Paper Monitor presents some clarifications and declarations relating to today's entry. Firstly, the bank involved in the "We won't speaky to Mister Squeaky" story in the Sun was not Northern Rock. Secondly, this website was among those media organisations which did not report the Press Complaints Commission criticism of FHM magazine, though we are fairly sure that this was not because we feared being exposed as having published nude pictures of underage girls. Thirdly, there was an allusion in the final paragraph to an inappropriate rhyme and we would like to apologise.)

Random stat

11:50 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2007

Today's random stat, the Monitor's favourite beta feature, is that 20% of drivers confess to having driven barefoot or in flip-flops. Incidentally, three per cent said they applied make-up while driving. The survey was for Sainsbury's Car Insurance and was of 1,012 people.

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