BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for November 18, 2007 - November 24, 2007

10 things we didn't know last week

16:24 UK time, Friday, 23 November 2007

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

1. The word Blighty comes from "bilayti", the Urdu for homeland.
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2. Spotting a bargain releases "happy chemicals" like serotonin and adrenalin in the brain.
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3. Babies make moral judgements about people.
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4. Japan’s population will fall by 30% in 50 years.
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5. The Queen took her corgi on honeymoon.
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6. The brains of migraine sufferers are thicker in part of the cortex than those free of the severe headaches.
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7. Radiohead's Thom Yorke paid nothing to download his latest album (just like the two-thirds of his fans who also got it for free).
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8. The presence of kingfishers indicate that a waterway is in a healthy ecological state.
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9. Beer has fewer calories than a similar measure of wine, milk or fruit juice.
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10. Each economically active person is on 700 databases on average.
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Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Brenda Candlish for this week's picture of 10 keys).

Your letters

15:27 UK time, Friday, 23 November 2007

How about printing some letters that don't either (a) offer some trivial mis-reading of a news headline, or (b) end with the self-styled humourist offering to get his coat?
Clothilde Simon, Leeds

Gertrude Himmelfarb [in answer to Friday's Paper Monitor ] is the fierce advocate of social justice and old-fashioned morality who Gordon Brown admires (enough to have written the preface to her new book, according to the Indy). Therefore I reckon the reference to Gray's Elegy is Bagehot saying that Gordon Brown may actually do something to improve social policy and "spread opportunity fairly", in contrast to all those who have had the potential to be as Himmelfarb is, but remained "mute, inglorious" and never actually did it.
Mat, London

The phrase "mute inglorious" comes from Thomas Gray's "Elegy written in a Country Churchyard", referring to Milton's grave. Milton Himmelfarb was a respected Jewish-American sociologist, and his sister - Gertrude Himmelfarb - is known as the "Queen Bee of Neoconservatism". Gordon Brown is a big fan of Gertrude, and in particular her views on the need for a compassionate, redistributive element to politics (hence the reference to Brown's desire to "spread opportunity more fairly").
Rob Stanton, Kenilworth, UK

The position adopted by Jeff Powell [Friday's Paper Monitor ] is not necessarily contradictory. Ill-advised though his comment may have been last year, he has seen the error of his ways and now looks to the frozen bacteria on Mars to lead England to victory in the 2010 World Cup.
Nick Jones, Dorking

Times must indeed be tough for Guinness: judging by the cover of the Radio Times this week it looks as though Guinness have roped in the Queen to a spot of advertising for them.
Paul Davidson, Edinburgh

Proof that Britain is multicultural: A sign on my local butcher's shop saying "get your Halal turkeys in time for Christmas".
George, Manchester, UK

"We need to change attitudes towards condom use. It should be clunk clip every trip." I have absolutely no idea how Professor Borriello is putting on a condom but it doesn't sound like the proper way.
Basil Long, Newark Notts

James Spencer [Thursday's letters]: 300 billion stars per solar system? I find this a bit unlikely. I'd say the number you want is, on average, slightly more than 1. Or possibly you were after "galaxies".
Ben Jones, Kilburn NW2

Paper Monitor

10:57 UK time, Friday, 23 November 2007


A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Paper Monitor does not often cover matters sporting, but it has been suggested that we might have made more of England's embarrassment at the hands of a nation with a population of 4.7m.

The humiliating demise of a manager of England's football team is possibly the finest moment in the career of any tabloid sports sub.

Who can forget "SWEDES 2, TURNIPS 1" or "NORSE MANURE"?

This time subs can only hope that the likes of the Mirror's "I'll get me Croat" and the Mail's "A wally with a brolly" can enjoy the same sort of immortality. The Mail is so happy it follows up with "WALLY WITH THE LOLLY".

Other efforts like the Sun's "McCLAREND" and the Express's "End of an error" are barely worth a geddit.

And the departure is time for a little bit of columnist amnesia.

The Mail's esteemed columnist Jeff Powell says: "I am now past caring whether the new manager comes from England or Mars."

So who can it have been in the summer of 2006 who said of the possibility of another foreigner managing the England team: "It is heresy to suggest no Englishman is capable of running the national team." Well, his surname began with a "p" and it rhymes with "owl".

Steven Howard in the Sun seems to have forgotten the age discrimination laws that came into force in October last year. The headline "Who are these old f**ts, why are they picking our next boss?" is followed by a list of the ages of the FA Board [oldest Lord Mawhinney at 67 and Sir Dave Richards at 64]. Then there are references to bath chairs, walking sticks and Saga holidays.

But Howard of all people must know that older gentlemen can be responsible leaders of big organisations. For there is a company called News International, and it owns the Sun newspaper, and its leader is a man named Rupert Murdoch, and he is 76. He pays Howard's wages. For now.

Away from the field where men urge with speed the leathern sphere, there's a somewhat gruesome article in the Economist describing just how sausages are made. Odd, too, since the article is about Gordon Brown.

But even odder is this paragraph: "Probably [Brown] will fail to solve [the problems]. But at least he is trying. He truly wants to spread opportunity more fairly (all those mute inglorious Himmelfarbs...)"

Paper Monitor makes a point of being well-read. But what on earth does that last phrase mean? Any clues, please do use the comments form below to elucidate your fellows.

Random Stat

07:29 UK time, Friday, 23 November 2007

According to a survey, just 17% of us have received a love letter in the last year, and only 28% have had one in the last five years.

Your Letters

16:15 UK time, Thursday, 22 November 2007

To Dave Godfrey (Wednesday's letters): A "MB" is 1048576 "bytes" (or letters). Multiply this by the 800MB you can get on a modern CD then again by 2 for the number of CD's, and then divide by 25 million records you get about 67 letters per person. "zip" file compression would allow you fit say 4 times this in the same space, so that allows for over 250 characters per record. Plenty of space for a name, address and bank account.
Jonathan, Bury St Edmunds

Dave Godfrey (Wednesday's letters): Good question. I'll start by assuming you already know that we use CDs rather than floppy disks these days. I did a little experiment to see if the numbers make sense. I created a dataset with 25,000 copies of my own name, address, national insurance number, and bank details. It takes up about 1.3 MB on disk. 25 million records should therefore be about 1300 MB. A CD holds 650 MB, so there is in fact just enough room for 25 million records. It's a bit of a crude experiment, as I didn't put details of children on it, but I suspect children count towards the 25 million anyway so that probably doesn't make much difference. I'll get my anorak...
Adam, London, UK

Your obesity quiz is advertised as "A test on food, fat and health". However, most questions were related to percentages & statistics that have been reported in the media. I only got 2 correct because I hadnt read/remembered any of the relevant articles. Nothing in that quiz was useful to know, and is not going to help the problem of obesity.
Rhian, Nicosia, Cyprus

Ref: England failure 'may hit economy', Cheer up, there are some groups happy about last night's result, the Austria and Swiss police for one, all the other home nations for another.
Dec, Belfast

The Earth's Moon is 'cosmic rarity'? Is it really such a rarity considering there are an estimated 130 billion solar systems with on average 300 billon stars per solar system so that's 5% - 10% of 39,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planetary systems. I would almost certainly not consider that rare!
James Spencer, London

Here's an idea for a random stat: what proportion of the population has level knees? Judging by this pic not a lot.
Diane, Sutton

Once again I misread one of your articles. I was looking forward to finally some material recognition of my contribution to society (mainly writing these letters), but, no, Britain's getting obese, not OBE's.
Rob Falconer, Llandough, Wales

In respect of the DMQ, are we to confront that guitar boldly?
Pete Cundall, Burgess Hill, West Sussex, UK

Paper Monitor

11:21 UK time, Thursday, 22 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

As regular readers might know, Paper Monitor usually keeps its mind on higher things than mere sport (and certainly mere Daily Sport). But judging by today's Sun, things must be bad. It's done what's known (here at least) as an "Indy", replacing its traditional front page with just a single photo. In this case it's a punctured football, discarded forlornly in a gutter.

Given that England's failure was only certain shortly before 10pm, Sun photographers must have stunted up the daytime shot some time before - ie yesterday afternoon at the latest. Paper Monitor is not one to invoke superstition lightly, but given yesterday's Sun front page promised "We've got everything crossed", could England's fate have been preordained by the bad karma at Sun HQ?

Talking about the Independent, it contains the most unlikely of features. What unites Churchill, Tom Wolfe, Richard Gere, Marlene Dietrich, the Beatles and Cary Grant? Obviously that they all wore "suits that shook the world". It's not for Paper Monitor to say that this whole thing is beneath contempt. But the list includes Mao Tse-Tung and one wonders when it became OK to laud someone's dress sense even when they were responsible for the deaths of millions?

Anyway, it's all a welcome distraction from the mental image still burned into Paper Monitor's head by yesterday's Times story (don't ask). Though no thanks to the Guardian's G2 for going over the whole sorry tale again.

The row about the loss of the Child Benefit CDs goes on, but Paper Monitor's residual issues don't seem to have been addressed, namely:

1. Wow, isn't it amazing that names and address of half the entire country can fit on to two CDs when Paper Monitor has trouble squeezing more than a few songs on one (though only for back-up purposes)
2. Where does all the lost mail go?
3. Paper Monitor knew Paper Monitor was right to use a pseudonym.

There's lots else tackled, including a rather bizarre illustration in the Financial Times of a man with massive hands, tiny body, holding up a pair of binoculars, the lenses of which are covered by two CDs marked "Revenue and Customs Strictly Confidential". It's a very strange sight, but don't be alarmed, at the bottom of the image are the words "FT MONTAGE" (which sounds a bit like the name of a car).

These words are added just so that everyone can know that the missing CDs have not - contrary to what one might think - been stuck to the Revenue's official binoculars. In any case, who in their right mind would look for lost CDs with binoculars, unless they had been lost at sea? But the FT is usually impeccably sourced, and if its implicit allegation that they are using binoculars is true, someone needs to tell the government urgently to switch to some sort of magnifying glass instead.

Another national emergency solved by the Magazine.

Random stat

09:55 UK time, Thursday, 22 November 2007

Retailer Sports Direct saw its share price fall 13.3% on Thursday morning after England failed to qualify for the Euro championships. Sports Direct has an agreement to buy 65% of all England shirts that Umbro expects to sell in the UK in any given year, although the retailer says it would not be forced to stick by the deal.

Your letters

15:55 UK time, Wednesday, 21 November 2007

I must confess to feeling a little foolish after following this link, expecting to see a little Century Gothic or Bookman Old Style.
Nik Edwards, Aylesbury

Does anybody know exactly how much you get in compensation for a broken leg (as detailed in Wednesday's Paper Monitor? I expect the man doesnt get much but the girlfriend might just get enough for a new dress and shoes to go out on the town and find herself a decent boyfriend!
Susie, Oslo, Norway

Adam (Tuesday's letters) isn't too far off the point in at least one case I can think of. The Flaming Lips released a 4-CD set called Zaireeka, where the whole point of the experience is to listen to all 4 CDs at the same time through different stereos, and the individual discs don't make much sense on their own. There's even a cute little warning on the label to tell you about it. I'll get my coat and my four stereos.
Nicky Stu, Highgate, London

So, how much do these "smart meters" use energy-wise?
Karie, Glasgow, UK

Could somebody with tekkie knowledge help me out please. I'm having difficulty getting used to the concept of millions of individuals' records being downloaded to just two computer discs. That seems to me to be a hell of a lot of information.
Dave Godfrey, Swindon, UK

Animal rights activists are the first to be hit by a law that forces them to hand over decryption keys to police. Ah, so they understand the concept of encrypting data - can we sentence them to having to work for Revenue and Customs if they are found guilty of a criminal offence?
Sarah, Bedford

Paper Monitor

09:28 UK time, Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

La la la. LA LA LA. Paper Monitor can't hear you. LA LA LA FINGERS IN EARS. CAN'T HEAR YOU.


No, it's much much worse that than. It's a story which was reported in today's Times which was SO horrible and dreadful and horrifying that any number of tactics are needed not to think about it.

It was dreadful. It's OK talking about how bad it was so long as one doesn't actually talk about what the story was about. But it was so bad that on reading it this morning, Paper Monitor's hand spontaneously rose to Paper Monitor's mouth in pantomime-style horror, quite alarming one's fellow commuters.

So let's think about other things. Let's think about anything, to be honest. Let's fall back on a few staples. Like Ann Treneman, the super sketch writer whose column was just six pages away from the page that will not be mentioned. She rather amusingly points out that Alistair Darling always speaks quietly and in fact delivered the details of the government's ID fraud alert "with Poirot levels of detail".

Other things to distract. (Keep that volume up, brain! Don't let the dreadful dreadful details slip back in to the consciousness). Oh look, Russell Brand would like to kiss Morrissey. President Bush has been pictured with a turkey, an annual ritual which usually culminates in him featuring in our little-missed Caption Competition (can its return be far away?) This is good. It's almost working. Starbucks says it is planning an extra 100 branches in the UK, and that though it has a 10% market share in the US, it has just a 1% share worldwide. Oh look, a private equity firm wants to buy Northern Rock and pay off our £24bn loan over three years (actually this is getting a bit desperate).

There's nothing for it. One can run but not hide. You've got to be told the details. Avert your eyes if you are sensitive, while Paper Monitor hands over to a colleague who is of more robust material.

Colleague writes: "Honestly. What a fuss. It's just a sad story about a man who was staging a compensation swindle, trying to make out that his girlfriend suffered a broken leg when a wall fell down. Her leg was actually broken when the man, in the Times's words, "placed a brick under her leg and jumped on it with both feet. The scam was uncovered when police raided his house on an unconnected matter and found the completed paperwork with [a] phone containing a video of the stunt. Clearly heard on the soundtrack was a loud 'crack' as the bone broke." There, that wasn't so bad was it?

Random stat

09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 21 November 2007

In a survey by Lemsip, 32% of employees said they tried to look busy but didn't get much work done when heavy with cold. The company did not say how many people were polled.

Your Letters

15:51 UK time, Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Did anyone else read the piglet story and wonder why there was a duvet in the manager's office?
Bridget, Slough, UK

I think I might apply for a managerial position at Tesco now that I know you get to have a duvet in your office!
Jen, Wallasey, UK

"Muslims are not a monolithic people, they're every class, colour and creed" - surely not different creeds! If you don't follow the religion, how can you be a Muslim?
Mary-Ann, Cambridge, UK

Paper Monitor's calculations on how long it would take to listen to 1000 albums make an important assumption: that you listen to them sequentially. If you listen to several at once, you could get through them all much quicker. And I strongly suspect that, given the quality of most albums produced these days, your overall listening pleasure would not be affected.
Adam, London, UK

MM, of course they weren't suggesting you should illegally download the 1,000 albums, they were implying that you should borrow them from your local library. At mine, it's £1 per album for two weeks. And that's just a little bit awesome, I'm sure you'll agree!
Ben, Aylesbury

Spark up, PM! Surely, the Grawn is listing these albums to boost interest in its forthcoming super-duper freebie ALBUM GIVEAWAY!
Sam, France

"In this era of cultural relativism, darn, isn't every albums ever released just a beautiful manifestation of aural statement?" Who are you and what have you done with our Paper Monitor???
Helen C-W, Skipton

I read the article about "popping bubbles to treat cancer" to my dog and he was really upset that a sensor has been developed which can "hear" the tiny bubbles bursting at a sound which is a thousand times too high for dogs to hear. Since giving up sheep herding he had been considering a research career but now says he'll stick with farming. I'll get my coat and his lead.
Alan, Ramsey

Paper Monitor

12:18 UK time, Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Now here's a format that you’re unlikely to see in the Daily Telegraph – "1,000 [fill in the blank] before you die".

With its infinitely younger audience the Guardian has no such worries, hence this week's six-part supplement "1000 albums to hear before you die".

Excuse Paper Monitor for taking the Guardian strictly at its word on this occasion, but *1,000* albums!

Even rating the playing time of each one at a relatively slender 40 minutes each – the average length of an old LP – and discounting double albums and box sets (Bob Dylan's 3-CD Biograph being a case in point), that still weighs in at a total listening time of 666.66 hours, or 28 straight days of listening, uninterrupted by such trivial pastimes as sleeping, working, reading the papers etc.

And then there's the cost. Again, taking an arbitrary £7.99 average for a new album, that comes in at a rather credit crunch-unfriendly total of £7,990.


Is the Guardian implying that readers might come across these albums in a more nefarious manner? Downloading from the file-sharing networks for examples? Or ripping them from friends' CDs?

Whatever the practicalities, the point of this series is of course a chance for the paper to showcase the sheer breadth of its cultural embrace – from Ali Farka Toure to Duran Duran; Brandy to the Albert Ayler Trio.

But Paper Monitor is undaunted, feeling the Guardian has been a little mean capping its list at 1,000. In this era of cultural relativism, darn, isn't every album ever released just a beautiful manifestation of aural statement? Coming soon in the Monitor: "3,456,501 albums to hear when you become a transhuman".

Random stat

09:56 UK time, Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Rainfall in China's largest rice-growing province (Hunan) is down by 86% per cent since the beginning of October, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Your Letters

15:09 UK time, Monday, 19 November 2007

According to the story Queen celebrates diamond wedding the Queen and Prince Philip have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with a service which featured a reading from Prince William. I missed the coverage. Can anybody fill me in on what's written on Prince William?
Jack Hatfield, Brighton

Heroin for addicts? Changes to the benefits system? I predict today the forums and correspondence of this fair site will be rife with terms such as "scum" and "scroungers". Be still my softly beating liberal heart.
Dylan, Reading, UK

I'm sorry, but I preferred the headline "Jimmy Page 'excited' at reunion gig" before it was changed to "Led Zep guitarist 'excited' over reunion". The former sounded like a FAR more interesting story! Can I again extend my request for employment writing BBC online headlines... the job must be such a laugh. Cheap pun and/or double entendre and/or intentionally misleading the public into reading the article through fear or panic. Easy.
Kevin Langley, Derby, UK

Float like a butterfly sting like Garry Kasparov doesn't have quite the same ring does it?
Stu, Croydon

"Seventy-three per cent of people worry, according to a survey commissioned by health provider Bupa." Hold on, 27% of people don't worry? Ever? Crikey! We're better off than I thought.
Lucy Jones, Manchester

Re random stat: 27% of people don't worry... or do you mean 27% of people don't have anything to worry about?
Henri, Sidcup

Paper Monitor

11:05 UK time, Monday, 19 November 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It was a wet, cold and windy journey into work for Paper Monitor this morning and apparently it's only going to get worse. With the first winter snow falling in areas of the UK overnight, the Express has its usual weather scare story. Get ready for 100mph gales everyone.

But while some of the papers are sticking to their tried-and-tested formula, others are behaving very oddly. PM has checked and checked again, and then checked some more. Unbelievable as it sounds, it appears news that millions of pounds is being paid in benefits to people claiming to be unable to work because they are too fat or suffer from the likes of acne and giddiness has bypassed the Daily Mail.

Such stories are its bread and butter and PM was looking forward to the righteous indignation, but there is nothing in today's paper - nada. It's left to the Times to scream "TOO FAT TO WORK" at us from its front page and pick out the important statistics, like how many people don't work because of giddiness and leprosy. Heads will roll at the Mail.

Elsewhere there's a beautiful example of loving a headline so much you use it, regardless of what the story says. It's nestled on page 24 of the Independent. Essex Girl On The Road To The White House. It's got impact, you have to give them that. It's about Elizabeth Harper, who is married to Democratic politician and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich. And she has her tongue pierced.

Reading on you soon find out that Mr Kucinich has loyal supporters, but not that many. He is also opposed to the Iraq war, wants gun controls in the US, an end to the death penalty and reportedly want to replace the Pentagon with a department of peace. By the end of the article's third paragraph you realise she has as much chance of becoming First Lady as Jade Goody. Oh well, it's still a good headline.

Random stat

10:03 UK time, Monday, 19 November 2007

Seventy-three per cent of people worry, according to a survey commissioned by health provider Bupa. Some 2,060 adults aged 16 and over were surveyed by TNS Omnibus.

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