BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for June 28, 2009 - July 4, 2009

Your Letters

16:44 UK time, Friday, 3 July 2009

I couldn't help but click on the link "this very website five years ago" (Thursday's letters). Oh how much tidier the BBC website looked in 2004! Does that answer your constant query to readers on how much we have noticed about your new(est) layout?
JennyT, NY Brit (now a NJ Brit)

Have the BBC made an executive decision about WHICH day the moon landing occurred? I saw that it was documented as July 20th 1969 on this morning's Breakfast programme, but because of the time-difference between here and America, it was 3am on the 21st July in the UK when Neil Armstrong actually stepped onto the moon's surface. As the moon has no time zones, shouldn't UTC/GMT be used to describe this moment? That would make the date of this momentous event July 21st 1969.
Philip Meehan, Goring-by-Sea, UK

Apparently the photographer Kevin Mazur had an adrenaline rush like the first time he photographed Michael Jackson moonwalking. A PHOTO of Michael Jackson moonwalking? Er, wouldn't that look exactly like Michael Jackson walking?
Bob Peters, Leeds, UK

Re. the latest story on the Air France crash, which cites un-inflated lifejackets as evidence that the crash was unexpected. As everyone knows from pre-flight briefings, lifejackets should only be inflated after exiting a crashed plane so as to avoid hindering escape. The story reports that the plane "broke on impact" with a "strong vertical acceleration," so presumably there were no survivors to escape. A more important point, therefore, is: were the recovered bodies wearing lifejackets?
Tim Evans, Oxford, UK

It may be that professional sports people have a different concept of personal comfort from mere mortals but I venture to suggest that underpants you stick to are other than lucky.
Paul Clare, Marlow, UK

Having lost the little sweepstake we were having as to when you'd call time on the punny business names (I'd given it another day), we're now taking bets (based on the 5 year old letters page) as to how many 'I know the topic is closed but...' letters will appear in the next week.
Shiz, Cheshire, UK

Monitor: Shiz, you know Monitor would never stoop that low. When a conversation thread is over, it's over. O.V.E.R.

Seeing as you have now, thankfully, brought the shutters down on the punning shop name conversation, may I heartily congratulate one shop who resolutely stands firm against the overwhelming pressure to pun. It's a florist. In Epping. Called... The Epping Flower Shop. Bravo!
Matthew D, Lincoln

10 things we didn't know last week

15:06 UK time, Friday, 3 July 2009

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

1. Fred Perry was also table tennis world champion.
More details

2. Mrs Slocombe's first name was Betty.
More details (the Guardian)

3. The UK is developing a quarter of the world's wave technologies.
More details (New York Times)

4. Press-ups come in many guises, such as the "seal", "frog" and "donkey-kick".
More details

5. The keffiyeh, a chequered scarf worn mostly by Arab men, and made famous by Yasser Arafat, is now mostly made in China.
More details

6. Vegetarians are generally less likely than meat eaters to develop cancer.
More details

7. The Duke of Kent requested that players no longer bow to the royal box at Wimbledon, in 2003.
More details

8. Richard and Judy did not pick the books that featured in their book club.
More details

9. Michael Jackson patented one item - the special shoes he used in the stage version of Smooth Criminal.
More details

10. Saddam Hussein once hired the James Bond director, Terence Young, to make a promotional Iraqi film.
More details

Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Vic Barton-Walderstadt from Welwyn Garden City for this week's picture of 10 bales of hay near St Albans.

Caption Competition

13:37 UK time, Friday, 3 July 2009


Winning entries in the Caption Competition.bingoprotest_getty.jpg

This week, two women in Alistair Darling masks take part in a protest against bingo taxation in Parliament Square. But what's being said?

The competition is now closed. Full rules can be seen here [PDF].
Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. mcseaniew wrote:
'Hurry up, Edna, he says he wants this budget in by five.'

5. Rob Falconer wrote:
Hey! What if we can show that Gurkhas enjoy bingo too?

4. TheRealCatherineO wrote:
"..and your boy Zaphod has grown into a fine young man."

3. 21gardener wrote:
Look, here we are in episode 1 of Torchwood - I know they've cut the budget, but will anyone believe that we're alien invaders?

2. Kudosless wrote:
"According to the map, this should be a good place to sit under pigeons"

1. omnipotent wrote:
You forgot to carry the one, the GDP balances now!

Paper Monitor

11:50 UK time, Friday, 3 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Now that the news has sunk in and the public have had time to come to terms with the death of a pop icon, the papers have found their voice, and there's no shortage of follow-up material in the press... about the late Mollie Sugden.

The Sun gives a run down of Sugden's "favourite... pussy innuendos" alongside a story which notes that after Sugden's and Wendy Richard's deaths this year, there are just three surviving members of the Are You Being Served sitcom. Can you guess them?

Over at the Daily Mail, Jan Moir (she of the Wimbledon-hating fraternity) refuses to stoop so low as simply just listing all those pussy gags. Instead she frames it with recollections of watching the show and poignant thoughts on why it wouldn't make the cut in today's TV climate.

And at the Daily Telegraph, Melissa Kite, who Paper Monitor once had a humbling encounter with while out reporting the story of the fox hunting ban ... uses Sugden's death to reflect on the British love of the double entendre.

Were you to use such a phrase in front of a Frenchman, Kite reveals, he would have little understanding of what you were on about. A double entendre in French is actually called a sous-entendu (or "under-meaning"). Er, 10 things, are you listening?

Comedians today are too anatomical and lack the sort of richly layered subtlety that, er, defined Mrs Slocombe's pussy references, believes Kite.

A point that is perhaps proved by Andrew Collins's payoff in his Guardian tribute to Mrs Slocombe.

Sugden's death even makes the obituary pages of the New York Times, in a land where Are You Being Served proved to be a big hit.

Weekly Bonus Question

09:52 UK time, Friday, 3 July 2009


Welcome to the Weekly Bonus Question.

Each week the news quiz 7 days 7 questions will offer an answer. You are invited to suggest what the question might have been.

Suggestions should be sent using the COMMENTS BOX IN THIS ENTRY. And since nobody likes a smart alec, kudos will be deducted for predictability in your suggestions.

This week's answer is DOUBLING AS SAUNAS.

UPDATE 1800 BST: The correct question is, what have London buses been doing this week because drivers have been stopped from turning off the heaters during the heatwave?

Friday's Quote of the Day

09:43 UK time, Friday, 3 July 2009

"I will hate you till the day I die" - Alain de Botton responds to a bad review.

Monsieur De Botton is not the first person to respond with feeling to a bad review. Here Philip Hensher writes amusingly of the history of such contretemps. But it's clear De Botton was particularly upset by Caleb Crain's review of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.
More details (Caleb Crain's blog)

Your Letters

17:44 UK time, Thursday, 2 July 2009

Re Paper Monitor's thoughts on shorthand, as one of the swots who sits at the front of the class during speed tests, might I recommend using this: for "symbol"? Not having to take your pen off the paper rather helps with speed, too.
Sam Bannister, Portsmouth, UK

Unsung Heroes? Didn't Jackson Browne sing the praises of roadies in Stay?
Kieran Boyle, Oxford, England

Last night I got a rare seat on the train but was accused, and found guilty, of the crime of "getting off the train ahead of someone who had stood". What should my punishment be and what other commuter rules do readers think should be enshrined in law?
MCK, Stevenage

Re Schindler's Lifts - I'd always believed that there was an Otis (the lift company) office in Reading and when answering the phone they would say, "Otis, Reading". I was very disappointed recently to find its actually in Wokingham.
Paul, Plymouth, UK

So sorry, so very sorry, but I have to tell you that there is a mobile fish and chip van, regularly seen near here, called TA-DAH! The Frying Squad. The name has everything you could wish for - especially now I'm wearing my tank-top and platform soled boots. I just knew they would come back into fashion one day.
Roy Bennett, Abergavenny

The best punning shop name I've ever seen is a German florist on the corner of its street. For native German speakers its name simply means "Flower Corner", but English speakers and visitors are likely to chuckle at "Blumen Eck".
Chris Philpot, West Sussex, United Kingdom

Locally there's a hairdresser called Savoir Cheveux. Very few people know what it means or get the pun(s).
John Martin, Erie, USA

The punning shop names is an old old meme. I remember Dave Lee Travis doing them on Radio 1 when I was a teenager (that dates me!) I got a Radio 1 pen for giving him a fine example of nominative determinism in my local town: - One J. Weller, a Jeweller.
Caroline Brown, Rochester, UK

Monitor: LBQ keyring, Caroline?

There's a cleaning company in Surrey called Spruce Springclean which is clearly the winner of the best shop name pun contest, as documented on this very website five years ago.
Abigail, Brighton

Monitor: Which nicely brings the shutters down on this particular conversation thread. No more punning shop names, thanks.

Web Monitor

15:01 UK time, Thursday, 2 July 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Web Monitor clicks through the web to find the most interesting bits to document here. Make sure you share your best links with us by sending them via the comment box.

keffiyeh wearers• The keffiyeh, the checkered scarf made famous by Yasser Arafat, is now mostly made in China, not the Palestinian Territories, Mother Jones reports. Sonja Sharp charts the rise of this symbol of the intifada as a fashion accessory across the world, reaching tipping point in popularity as a form of "rebel chic" after the second intifada in 2000. For Monocle, Benoit Faiveley visited the last ever keffiyeh factory in Palestinian Territories and found that the complexity of exporting through the checkpoints made chinese keffiyehs cheaper in the international market. Sharp blames the "hipsters" for not being more discerning shoppers and finding out where their product came from. Whilst Sharp is annoyed fashionistas are not supporting Palestinians when buying Chinese, you may remember there was another keffiyeh kerfuffle last year around TV celebrity chef Rachael Ray in a Dunkin' Donuts advert donning what looked like a keffiyeh. Dunkin' Donuts pulled the advert after pressure from conservative bloggers like Michelle Makin.

• Forty years after the Stonewall riots, Mark Harris in New York Magazine looks at an apparent generation gap between gay men. He says that, although the gay community generally has had remarkable solidarity, for example in the fight of gay marriage, now public in-fighting between generations is increasing. Stereotypes of victimhood for older gay men are replied to with stereotypes of shallowness and ungratefulness for the struggle gone before the younger gay men. However, Harris remarks that although public in-fighting in minority groups is a taboo, a generation gap in any sub group can be a good thing as it's a sign of arrival.

• Conspiracy theorist is no longer a euphemism for someone with paranoia wondering which lizard-person to blame, according to Frank Furedi in Spiked. Furedi argues that the idea that someone somewhere is to blame for every misfortune has become respectable. Furedi blames Hollywood for making the blame-game mainstream:

"Conspiratorial thinking is encouraged by a powerful cultural narrative that depicts people, not as the authors of their destiny, but as the objects of manipulative secretive forces."
And if Furedi would like to know who to blame in Hollywood, there are too many theories online to mention here.

• Big brother isn't watching you, Cupid is. OK Cupid is a dating website and to best match people up with partners, it asks a very detailed range of questions from whether you would be bothered if your partner cross-dressed to your attitude towards burning flags. In its blog, OK Cupid is now using that data to tell the story of its users. One of many answers analysed is on personal hygiene - we've learnt that the further north in the US their users live, the less you shower. They're confident that the data is valid as the best questions have been answered over a million times. Chris from OK Cupid is now accepting requests for analysis and there are thousands of questions on their database to choose from. Let us know how you get on.

In Jews in Space Edmon J. Rodman asks if there are features of Judaism that make it adaptable to space and other planets. Rabbis have studied how Jewish people would live on other planets. This is not an unfamiliar subject - in Hebrew, "Mazel tov," literally means that an event is occurring under a "lucky star." Edmon argues that Jewish people would adapt well to a life in space:

"For an Earth religion to thrive extraterrestrially, it would need to be highly portable. Judaism, since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, has had to teach itself to adapt to new environments, becoming more time centered than place specific."

• Many a timekeeping self-help book, article or theory on a blog has, ironically, lured Web Monitor to procrastinate. But none has been as amusing as Cosmic Timekeeper Theory, as proposed in The American Scene blog. The Theory goes that when you've missed a deadline, Cosmic Timekeeper appears and gives you a chance to go back and try again, but not from the beginning - instead he transports you back to 5am, when you were tired and distractable and gave up, but this time you don't have to give up, instead you can think up strange time-keeping strategies.

Finally, yesterday's Web Monitor asked whether anyone could find a copy of Chris Anderson's new book, Free, which proposes a future dominated by free online content, available on the internet... gratis. Dan, from Cambridge, found a better deal than Web Monitor when combing through a certain large online book retailer. Cost £3.98. Philip, from "Can't Remember" helpfully points out that "FREE will be available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free when the hardcover is published on July 9th. "The ebook and web book will be free for a limited time, the unabridged audiobook will be available free forever."

Paper Monitor

13:19 UK time, Thursday, 2 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

To herald an article as "richly comic" is surely the kiss of death for any writer.

But the Daily Mail's subs know what they are doing. So when told to expect "a volley of excoriating (and richly comic) abuse" from star writer Jan Moir on why she hates Wimbledon - very counter-intuitive for the Mail - Paper Monitor decides to give her article the benefit of the doubt.

What will her laughter hit rate be? Will the speed of her service match that of SW19's biggest hitters?

Hold your sides in expectation of splitting, ladies and gentlemen.

"Last Wednesday... Maria Sharapova laid an ostrich egg on Centre Court while simultaneously treating the crowd to her impersonation of a constipated donkey."

Oh ho. Ho. Oh.

And Roger Federer (a tennis god, and very nice man to boot) in his courtside three-piece suit "looks like the senior purser on HMS Fruity".


The strawberries "glow with a ruby self-importance quite unfitting their modest, poly-tunnel background". Andy Murray's mum "practises her gurning exercises". And as for when that ball girl stepped in for a few sets last week, "Oh I say! It makes headline news." Yes, the front page in your very own paper.

Comedy gold? Perhaps you beg to differ?

But she does score a palpable hit when detailing the players' entourages. "That's their mum, spooky girlfriend, yoga guy, fitness coach, toe masseuse, muscle man, hit the ball harder trainer and vegan nutritionist."

But enough. Paper Monitor is off to gorge strawberries and shout at the telly. Come on Tim!

Thursday's Quote of the Day

10:32 UK time, Thursday, 2 July 2009

"The last time I had a pint was last Wednesday" - Andy Prior defending his claim to have seen a UFO.

The sales executive from Hertfordshire saw two strange objects over his head when he was in his garden late last Friday night. "They were above the clouds, swinging left to right," he says. "There was no noise whatsoever. I was absolutely gobsmacked. I have never seen anything like it before." He has reported the sighting to the Ministry of Defence.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

Web Monitor

16:28 UK time, Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

We're looking around the web for the most interesting sites for you to enjoy at your convenience. Make sure you share your best links with us by sending them via the comment box.

Michael Jackson • James O'Malley has issued a challenge to Web Monitor readers. He's started a blog, Local Jacko, to collect local newspaper articles on Michael Jackson. He is doing it to emphasise that "local newspapers have a long tradition of tenuously linking major news stories to local people". So far he's found such gems as Derby Telegraph's "Michael Jackson's album sales up by 500% at Asda", (that's Asda in Spondon, not across the UK, in case you were wondering). If like James O'Malley, you have a good link share it with Web Monitor by sending it via the comments box.

Malcolm Gladwell• If you journey onto James O'Malley's personal blog, you'll see a different plea: "Enjoy my blog? Then stop freeloading and help me pay my rent." That brings us onto a debate that is running between what the Times has labelled two heavyweight "pop-thinkers" about the future of getting the internet for free.
In the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell of The Tipping Point fame has been laying into the ideas expressed by the editor of Wired, Chris Anderson, in his new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. The idea in Anderson's book is that the money economy is on its way out as advances in technology allow many things to be produced for more or less nothing, leading to a flood of free goods. Gladwell took exception to this, citing YouTube, a free service, making hardly any money for Google. Gladwell says this is because Anderson has not taken into account that although technology is almost free, when 75 million people use it, that pushes the cost of almost free up quite a bit.

This has caused an internet furore, with Seth Godin on Anderson's side and, as Slashdot puts it, the Times awarding the prize to Gladwell on points.

The last word in this debate could go to Amazon - £8.54 is the price of Free. Web Monitor couldn't find a copy of Free for nothing on the internet. If you find it, send the link to Web Monitor via the comment box.

Hadley Leggett in Wired magazine isn't wasting his time learning a useless language. He's enrolled himself in a self-taught course in echolocation instead. That's dolphinspeak. The point? Well, according to Hadley, within a few weeks, humans can learn to "see" objects in the dark the same way dolphins and bats do by using tongue clicks to visualise objects by listening to the way sound echoes off their surroundings:

"To master the art of echolocation, all you have to do is learn to make special clicks with your tongue and palate, and then learn to recognize slight changes in the way the clicks sound depending on what objects are nearby."

Joe Kloc in Seed Magazine looks at the sticky business of studies into how the mind evolves. He looks at recent studies into birds learning how to make tools.
The researcher who did the study into rooks, satisfyingly called Christopher Bird, says:
"This suggests that they are using insight or rapid learning to solve these problems."
But Kloc concludes that disagreements over what the mind is leave him to wonder if they're even asking the right questions.

• Gabriel Martinez used to be a deaf gangster. Now he plays a deaf gangster on TV. Current TV follows his life of art imitating life in this most unusual of personas. Being deaf led to miscommunication with police and having to do favours in prison as he said he needed protection. After jail, Martinez didn't want to be in a gang any more but couldn't get a job so started off working for films to give them background information on gang life. Now he's an actor and has worked on more than 40 films.

• From moving on to a new economic system to reverting to an old one, Sarah Singer in The First Post asks is feudalism back? The question is spawned from the news that ex-newspaper tycoon Eddy Shah wants to rent out his land as allotments in return for 60% of the produce, which he would use in his restaurants. Singer points out:

"The allotments idea comes at a time when there is a national shortage with waiting lists of up to six months in the Wootton Bassett area of Wiltshire where Shah has his club. However, those who can get a council allotment in nearby Swindon can keep 100% of their produce for the princely sum of £39.25 per year."

Your Letters

16:06 UK time, Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Re: Why has Wimbledon dropped 'Miss'? About time too. The marital status of women is absolutely no one's business but their own.

Isn't the kettle dirty?
Pot, Birmingham, UK

I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering, yet I only got 2/7 on the GCSE design and technology quiz. Why? Because the questions were all based on food, clothes and electronic components. In my day woodwork and metalwork were the real DT disciplines, and they are not mentioned once. *Sigh*
JoeA, London

Can Scott Campbell (Giving up my iPod for a Walkman) write for the Magazine more often? There can't be many 13-year-olds who use words like plethora, impromptu, and bothersome. It needs to be encouraged.
Edward Green, London, UK

Ooh, I love a good meme. Thanks to Andy in Woking for pointing out A Salt and Battered. Further along Abbeydale Road, we also have a British Hairways, while on Fulwood Road, there is a Chinese take-away called Wok This Way. In Hillsborough, they're a little more risque - there's a furniture shop called Sofa King Cheap.
*Munches his cheese and pineapple stick, sips his shandy and snorts*
B, Sheffield, England

In Montreal, there is a restaurant that specialises in omelettes and other eggy things. The name is Planate Oeuf.
Uncle Roy, Leuven

Let's not forget Mister Bit the painter and/or hairdresser.
Andy, Balham, London

Not sure if the lady concerned is aware, but here in Jersey a portable toilet company has branded itself Rebecca Loos. Not a pun, but made me chuckle.
Emma, Jersey

Re Schindler's Lifts - to be fair, Mr Schindler set up his elevator company over half a century before his namesake compiled his list, and over a century before the film portraying the latter came out. If there's any pun it's in the name of the film.
Tim Barrow, London, UK

Ten ways to beat the heatwave my eye. Do you know how cold it is here in the southern hemisphere? Please repeat the item in December.
Al, Wellington, NZ
Monitor note: Perhaps you could bookmark it for future reference. Do let us know then if it helps.

Re The unmasking of a 7/7 conspiracy theorist. "Muad Dib", the pseudonym used by the individual in the story, actually originated from the novel Dune. Saying "Muad Dib" is a fictional character from the movie is like saying Harry Potter is a fictional character from the movies starring Daniel Radcliffe. Also, for complete accuracy, it should really be presented as "Muad'Dib".
James, Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom

Paper Monitor

12:45 UK time, Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

In journalism school, baby reporters learn shorthand. Paper Monitor's tutor was the well-upholstered Mary, fond of reprimanding her charges for balancing notebooks on knees and for insufficient practice.

And baby reporters are very fond of complaining about these classes, with the exception of a few swots who sit right at the front and have little competitions with themselves in the speed tests.

Once baby reporters stretch their wings and fly the coup, they realise Mary and the swots were right all along. Shorthand is useful, even in the age of mini digital recorder thingees. Batteries run down, you know.

But while you might scribble down every word uttered at, for instance, the press day for Jeff Koons' first UK exhibition, it can be a struggle to decipher the squiggles once back at your desk.

Which is what one imagines might have happened when the Daily Telegraph's arts hack typed up this story, quoting Koons as saying: "In our own life we're inflatable. We exhale and it's a simple death." (Paper Monitor's emphasis.)

But the Independent's article quotes him thus: "We take a breath in, which is a symbol of optimism, and take a breath out, which is a symbol of death." (Paper Monitor's emphasis.)

Which is correct? Koons is an artist, so he said "symbol". For definite.

teeline_226.jpgWhile the official shorthand outlines for "symbol" and "simple" are different (see illustration on right), perhaps you can see how a reporter in a hurry might miswrite, or misread, one for the other.

Of course, it's possible that shorthand didn't come into it, and perhaps low batteries on a digital recorder thingee is to blame.

Meanwhile, page 11 of the Daily Mail carries news that one of the dateless 20p coins has sold on a popular online auction site for £7,100 (that's 35,500 times its face value).

It rather undermines the London Mint advert a few pages later, offering £50 for the new style coins missing the date stamp.

Wednesday's Quote of the Day

09:31 UK time, Wednesday, 1 July 2009

"Maybe the spinach is art" - Artist Jeff Koons, whose new show includes paintings of Popeye.

The King of Kitsch has a new muse, and it's the muscular pipe-tootin' spinach-munchin' sailor created in the 1930s. Koons' cartoon-bright paintings and reproductions of inflatable toys now decorate London's Serpentine Gallery for his first UK solo.
More details (Independent)

Your Letters

17:06 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Re Hell in Earth: one of your contributors says (of growing veg) "It's not rocket science." No, but growing salad is.
Sue, London

Ladybird 'risk to 1,000 species' somehow reminds me of the song about the old lady who swallowed a fly.
Anne, Chester

MCK (Monday letters), tennis players wear sweatbands on their wrists to stop sweat dribbling down their arms onto their hands. Some wear headbands to stop sweat on their forehead dripping into their eyes. If they were to wipe their faces on their wristbands, these would become saturated and stop absorbing sweat, which would drip onto the handles of their racquets, and then slide out of their hands. This could be quite dangerous for the umpire/ball-childs/audience.
Jim, Coventry

Mike (Monday letters), Jason's Donner Van, as a name, has to be beaten by the van that spent its days parked outside the town where I grew up. 007 Snack Bar: Licensed To Grill.
Erin, Hertfordshire

We have Karl's Burgers: probably the best burgers in the world.
Kathy, Cardiff

What about For Cod and Ulster in Belfast.
Gareth, Carricfergus, County Antrim

The best/most disturbing example was a fish and chip near where I lived as student in Sheffield, on Abbeydale Road, in the late 90s. Often frequented by skinheads, with a big Union flag in the window, it was called A Salt and Battered. Sadly, I'm not making this up.
Andy, Woking

The finest shop puns ever are Tans In 'Ere for a tanning salon, and Veggie Perrin's for a vegetarian curry house.
Timothy, Leeds

Bandwagon time! Around here we've got Hair Force One and All Cisterns Go.
Diane, Sutton

More from Newcastle. There is a carpet store called Get Laid Professionally, with the subscript "or just get gripped and felt".
Daniel, London

My personal favourite is a lift company known as Schindlers Lifts.
Anna, Ipswich, UK

Re JC in Monday's letters. Sometimes clicking on the Letters page is like stumbling into a party where there is no music, but a lot of people standing round in tank-tops, drinking shandy, and snorting each time they utter a bon mot. I like it.
Rachel, Minnetonka
Monitor note: Welcome! Anyone care for a cheese and pineapple stick?

Dearest Monitor,
I have the good fortune to find myself in London this Friday and wondered if you fancied meeting? My train gets in at around 11, so is perhaps a little late for a spot of porridge, however I could entertain myself with touristy things for an hour or two, before maybe a panini and a pint of coffee? I do know that, it being Friday, you will be busy judging the caption competition, so if you can't make it I will understand. I will wear a large yellow sunflower so that you can identify me and would be obliged if you would do the same. I look forward to hearing from you.
Basil Long, Nottingham
Monitor note: Sounds delightful, but sadly Fridays are very busy in Monitor Towers. Cheese and pineapple stick?

Web Monitor

15:56 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

We trawl the web to give you the most interesting bits. Make sure you share your best links with us by sending it via the comment box.

Ashton Kutcher• If you are one of Ashton Kutcher's 2.5 million followers on Twitter, then you may have noticed that the White House is now using him as their messenger on Twitter. On Sunday Kutcher said; "I've been asked by the white house to twet this" then linked to a White House blog post urging people to get tested for HIV, saying, "If our President and First Lady can get tested -- you can too." Politico have confirmed it's not one of Kutcher's pranks which would have been a bit weird given the subject matter.

Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger charts the rise of McDonald's and the fall of fine dining in France. He writes that at one point McDonald's would print their posters in triplicate because they anticipated outpouring of anti-"McDo" feeling all over their adverts. But Le Big Mac grew and grew in market share and now France is the second biggest market in the world for McDonald's after the US. Steinberger puts the rise down to the tax system, where a take away such as McDonald's has a 5.5% tax, whilst a 19.6% levy is charged on restaurant food, making McDo cheaper than le bistro.

Katie Roiphe in Double X has identified a new genre of literature: stripper memoirs. Strip City, Confessions of a Stripper, Girl Undressed, the list goes on. What they all have in common is a lot more than just taking their clothes off. The heroines all seem to be more intelligent than your average girl, quite reserved but love stripping and of course, they have boundaries unlike the other drug addicted strippers, which they are nothing like:

"Even in this genre, which is almost explicitly about how we shouldn't judge the naked girl on the stage, we find the same judgment, the same innate, catty, female dividing of the world into sluts and non-sluts, that takes place in the rest of the world."

Roiphe can console herself that for the authors of stripper genre books, the publishing contract is not all. On a vaguely-related note "Stan Cattermole" writes that a book contract bestowed upon him for his book, Bette De Jour: The Intimate Diaries of an Ugly Man was just the start of the anxiety:
"I did all the things I imagine first-time authors do: I developed a fleeting obsession with the Amazon Sales Rank; I skulked into Waterstones, located my beautiful memoir wedged uncomfortably between Belle de Jour and Les Dennis, took a surreptitious photograph and skulked out... I still haven't found the everlasting wholly reciprocated love I was seeking. I still haven't lost all of the weight I was hoping to lose. And if I'm honest, I still struggle with tobacco consumption. But at least now I have a ridiculous fake name."

Lera Boroditsky in looks at how the languages we speak shape the way we think. She says people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. She went to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia, to study the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre:

"The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is 'Where are you going?' and the answer should be something like 'Southsoutheast, in the middle distance.' If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past 'Hello'... speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings."

• Last Saturday David Rohde, a journalist for New York Times escaped from his Taliban kidnappers in Pakistan after seven months of captivity. Concerned that more press coverage would give the kidnappers leverage, the New York Times managed to keep the kidnapping out of the news. But Richard Perez-Pena reports that it wasn't so easy to keep it out of Wikipedia. Details of Rodhe's capture cropped up time and again, showing how difficult it is to keep anything off the Internet - even about someone who isn't really that famous. The question Perez-Pena poses now is, how much do we really want openness?

• A stereotypical image of an Amish family in the US is of people who live and work on the farm. USA Today reports that until now that was an out-of-date image, with lots of Amish people working in recreational vehicle [glorified camper van] manufacture. But USA Today show the recession is forcing Amish people back to their traditional way of making money, away from making cars and back to making jams.

Paper Monitor

12:43 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Picture this. You are a columnist on a national newspaper. Your stock in trade is not outrage-on-cue, nor is it carefully nuanced analyses of the geopolitical and historocultural ramifications of, er, the news.

No, you are paid to mine everyday occurrences, and from this mine extract observational nuggets, and buff these nuggets to a high shine, all the better to coax a wry smile - and perhaps a muffled "huh!" of recognition - from that commuter in seat 3B who has reached page 20 and is in need of some light relief.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And how much would you expect to be paid to produce a weekly column containing perhaps one or two such kernels of conversational goodness?

If you are Michael Gove of the Times - sample nugget: "[the waitress] explained that we couldn't have rare burgers for 'health and safety' reasons" - you earn £5,000 a month.

Five G a month! For what the man himself reveals takes "'an hour or so' a week". One imagines the newsroom worker bees at the Times are collectively spluttering into their lattes as they digest this particular nugget in today's papers. Paper Monitor (in an overly warm train carriage at the time) certainly let out a wry cough.

How did this break with the British convention of salary non-disclosure come about? It's because David Cameron has ordered his Shadow Cabinet to first disclose, and soon give up, their second (and third and fourth and fifth) jobs and Gove is a member of said Cabinet.

That's about £1,250 a column. More than a grand to write 870 words about what one had for supper the other night. More than £1.40 a word. Adding up to about £60,000 a year, notes the Daily Telegraph. Add to that another four journalism jobs and his non-MP earnings run to about £76,000 a year, says the Daily Mail.

This particular column, or blog post, if you will, runs to about 337 words. Add in a few more pars about what one had for tea (350) while watching Andy Murray repeatedly muck up his first serve (360), and Paper Monitor would be in line (367) for a windfall of £535.45 at that sort of rate (377).

Ding and dong (380).

Tuesday's Quote of the Day

09:30 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

In this song you're talking about poverty and world hunger and it's Broadway. Can we lighten this up a bit? - Evan Rachel Wood gives Bono tips on musical theatre.

Bono's a serious sort of chap, what with guest editing serious newspapers and doing good deeds. So it's perhaps no surprise he wanted to give the musical Spider-man: Turn off the Dark a bit of an edge.
More details (the Times)

Your Letters

17:31 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

Why do all of the male tennis players at Wimbledon wipe their faces with a towel at the end of a point, in spite of wearing sweatbands on their wrists?
MCK, Stevenage

The chap who swapped his iPod for an Walkman was actually very lucky to have one with a rewind button. I was the envy of my friends at school because they had to take the tape out, turn it over, fast forward it, and then turn it over again.
Basil Long, Nottingham

The Dean of Westminster Abbey says of the very large masonry corona planned to top the church: "If there was an adverse reaction, I expect we would drop it". Can I be reassured that he doesn't mean this literally?
Mark, Reading, UK

Sorry, but you're all amateurs (Friday letters and Quote of the Day). Around here we have:

  • Jason's Donner Van
  • Only Food & Sauces
  • Bagel of the North
  • There's also a minicab company called PG Trips.
Newcastle is Pun Capital of the World.
Mike, Newcastle upon Tyne

There used to be a loft conversion company in Hampshire called Lofts in Space.
Anne R, Fareham

PB (Friday letters), the web is not the internet.
JC, Fife

Web Monitor

15:48 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

As Susan Boyle slowly slips down the the top 10 of the viral video chart replaced entirely by Michael Jackson videos, Web Monitor has unearthed a moonwalking flashmobber and bloggers asking if it all should matter anyway. Send your favourite links to via the post form on the top right of this page.

Michael Jackson moonwalking• Perhaps the most fitting tribute to Michael Jackson was the mass-moonwalking gathering at London's Liverpool Street Station on Friday. Web Monitor has tracked down the organiser of the flash-mob, Rob Manuel, who revealed how it all started on his own blog:

"I say to my wife, 'You know there's going to be one of those internet flash mobs over this. People are going to group up and moonwalk or something.' 'You should organise it', she says. 'Yeah, but I don't really want to. I'm just saying it's probably going to happen.'"

• On a more high-minded pursuit, Epeus' epigone looks at why the death of Michael Jackson, celebrity but a stranger to most, interests so many and leads to some public grieving, not to mention flash-mob moonwalking. Epeus brings together views from across the blogosphere including Doc Searl's view that celebrity is a poisonous waste of time, Jyri Engeström's view that celebrities serve the purpose of having something shared that we can all feel united by and Mary Hodder 's belief that celebrity worship fills the void in our daily schedule where religion used to sit.

• Why do philosophers love motorcycle maintenance? First there was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, sometimes described as the most widely read philosophy book ever. Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education writes about a doctor in philosophy Matthew B Crawford who became a motorcycle mechanic. Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work with excerpts published in the New York Times is arguing for manual labour to be a higher aim than higher education:

"When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail... But what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it?"

• Another case for avoiding the academic life is the cost. An age old economic justification is that overall, the rise in earnings will justify the cost. On myth busting duty is financial advisor John Lounsbury on the Seeking Alpha blog (quoting Jack Hough on Smart Money blog). He says the interest from savings is never taken into account when making these equations. When included, in the US at least, the person who saves early instead of going to college ends up with more money.

• How difficult is it to make a toaster? Surely not that difficult if you can buy one in Argos for £3.99. Thomas Thwaites in The Toaster Project is documenting his journey to making his own toaster all in the name of art, or the Royal College of Art end of year show to be precise. So far he's got up to smelting iron ore in a microwave, which only leaves mining copper, nickel and mica (a mineral a bit like slate) and then all he has to do it make plastic and put it all together. Thwaites contemplates whether it's all worth it, when we could just settle for sandwiches:

"..the scale of industry involved in making a toaster (etc.) is ridiculous but at the same time the chain of discoveries and small technological developments that occurred along the way make it entirely reasonable."

• Don't follow your dreams, unless your dream is to suffer from depression.
In the Economist's More Intelligent Life blog, Emily Bobrow cites an article in the American Psychological Association's journal which gives an evolutionary reason for depression. It finds that it's better for your health to be unambitious, as dogged persistence creates despair, and, Emily Bobrow says, could lead to the answer as to why the US have the highest depression rate in the world. So, if at first you don't succeed, lower your expectations.

Paper Monitor

11:24 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Phew! Hot enough for you? Ice creams all round at lunch today...

The nation is in the grip of a week-long heat wave and do you know why? Weather forecasters, stop your explaining. It is because Wimbledon's Centre Court now has its gazillion pound sliding roof, thus guaranteeing the sunniest late June on record.

It's the same meteorological forces at work, but on a much larger scale, as when one goes out, having left the washing on the line. Or forgotten that just-in-case umbrella. Especially if one is heading for a special occasion picnic. What happens next? It rains.

And if one judiciously brings in the laundry and packs a brolly, before heading out to the wet weather alternative to that picnic? Glorious sunshine.

But with glorious sunshine comes the threat of sudden thunderstorms and flash floods. So what to wear? Glastonbury-goers are well practised at preparing for any eventuality weather-wise, so Paper Monitor again seeks out advice from festival fashion coverage. Suggestions include:

  • Jo Whiley's £250 Jimmy Choo mock-croc wellies (don't forget the mud-splatters), says the Daily Mail.
  • And a Keep Calm and Carry On T-shirt, as worn by Katie Price going down the shops.
  • A fireworks-enabled bra, a la Lady Gaga, says the Guardian, presumably handy in the event of a storm-induced power cut.
  • Wigs. "The new hotpants," says the Guardian. Quite a mental picture.
  • And for blokes, topless with a kilt (worn traditional style, if you get my drift) in place of tennis whites, as modelled by Andy Murray in the Sun.

Meanwhile, the Daily Star lays claim to the "world exclusive last pic" of Michael Jackson. Anyone troubled by press intrusion and/or medical procedures may wish to look away now. Oh, and/or shameless plugs.

For the paper's front page "world exclusive last pic" is a reproduction of the cover of OK! magazine - brought to you by one Richard Desmond, proprietor of the Star and Express.

"The official tribute issue. In loving memory. With all our love and prayers." So read the coverlines over a photo of a dying man in an oxygen mask strapped to a hospital stretcher.

And the OK! cover in its entirety is reproduced on page three of the Star, and also the Express. Almost the size of a full-page advert. Which is what it is.

Monday's Quote of the Day

09:35 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

"Mrs Thatcher regarded eating as most of us regard putting petrol into the car" - Norman Tebbit reveals his erstwhile boss was no gastronome.

It's perhaps not a massive surprise that the unsleeping workaholic who reigned from 1979 to 1990 was not a lover of cordon bleu cookery. What is more surprising is that Norman Tebbit is enough of a foodie to have produced his own cookbook.
More details (Daily Mail)

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