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Archives for July 19, 2009 - July 25, 2009

10 things we didn't know last week

15:07 UK time, Friday, 24 July 2009

yachts_226.jpgSnippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Winston Churchill's wartime command bunker was not bomb-proof.
More details

2. David Beckham likes wine tasting.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

3. The popular saying "finders keepers, losers weepers" dates back to the 19th Century when it was first recorded as "No halfers-findee keepee, lossee seekee".
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4. Football score announcer James Alexander Gordon suffered from slurred speech as a child.
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5. It's always "esq" and never "esquire" as a written honorific.
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6. Until being revamped this week, the Bill's theme tune was called Overkill.
More details (the Stage)

7. The first known maize maze was in Pennsylvania in 1993.
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8. The UK's oldest working TV set is from 1936.
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9. Before the 20th Century, classical music audiences clapped between the movements. Now it's not the done thing.
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10. Toucans use their large bills to keep cool.
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Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Anita Bekker for this picture of 10 yachts.

Your Letters

15:05 UK time, Friday, 24 July 2009

Toucans are by no means alone in having enormous bills to keep cool. You should see what my electricity company sends me after the air conditioner's been on for a while.
Adam, London, UK

Whilst Andrew Flintoff may choose whether to be addressed as Mr or Esq, it is completely irrelevant when addressing an invitation (How to address the great and the good). As any reader of Debrett's should know, one addresses invitations to a married couple to the wife alone, with both names appearing on the card inside.
John Oxley, Cambridge, UK

Why, on the NHS handwash poster, is the water different for 'wet' than it is for 'rinse'? Are we supposed to use a different tap for each stage?
Basil Long, Nottingham

I have no idea what the question is if the answer is THE SIZE OF SPAIN (Weekly Bonus Question). But I DO know that ralphallison's suggestion is truly brilliant:
"What is the governing factor in the amount of rain that falls mainly on the plain?"
Jon, Aberdeen, UK
Monitor note: Agreed. Kudos all 'round.

Web Monitor, you brighten up my lunchtime every day. Thank you!
Jayne Curtis, Greenwich, London

You know what I love most about maps? It's how they tell you where stuff is in relation to other stuff.
Stuee, Sydney, Australia

Why does my girlfriend turn the colander upside down to dry?
Adam, Vancouver, Canada

Why do articles denote a police constable as a Pc rather than PC? It looks odd. I checked the style guide and actually the BBC is going against it's own guidelines. Can I have some geek points please?
Aaron, Reading, UK

Being a solicitor, I love the small print on some adverts. Today there was an ad for a car which offered 25 free music downloads with a test drive. The downloads were offered "whilst stocks last". There are no stocks of downloads. Yes, they may be limited by availability, but they will not "run out".
Basil Long, Nottingham (again)

Paul (Thursday letters), there isn't a copy of Hy Lit's Unbelievable Dictionary of Hip Words for Groovy People in Wakefield library, but I did see a copy of How To Make Friends and Influence People, if you're interested?
Ed, Wakefield

Suz (Thursday letters), christenings and baptism are entirely different things; Christenings are naming ceremonies; baptisms are about being welcomed into the church ( a symbolic washing away of sin).
Jamie, Long Eaton

Suz, baptism is not just limited to the Catholic church. "Believers' Baptism" is undertaken in many Protestant churches, including CofE, where the individual is making a public declaration of their faith, either by sprinkling or full emersion. "Christening" tends to focus simply on naming the child and a lot of parents do it for traditional rather than spiritual reasons.
Lauren, Taunton

Steve? Are you still there?
Keith, Guildford

Caption Competition

12:51 UK time, Friday, 24 July 2009


Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

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


This week, baboons at Knowsley Safari show how they have learnt to ransack luggage roof boxes. But what's being said?

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

6. Raven-Clare
It's no good - the sleeves are always too short.

5. redalfa147
"The monkeys are the least of our worries. I think I left the iron on."

4. rogueslr
"Yeah, well the problem 'ere is your wing mirror's faulty and the lads reckon it'll take 'em at least a week to get a new part."

3. ValerieGanne
"Not only are they cheap, but they're the most thorough customs officials we've ever had."

2. MightyGiddyUpGal
Give a monkey a bra and you support him for a day, but teach him to coordinate his fashion ensemble...

1. NorfolkOnce
"We've hit the jackpot lads, it's Trinny and Susannah. Lets see how they like it."

Paper Monitor

12:26 UK time, Friday, 24 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

If there's one thing that Her Majesty's Press can keep its head held high over is that it's never insular about world affairs (not like those dreadful foreign papers). What more evidence does one need than the attention which has been shown to, of all things, the style pages of French newspaper Le Parisien.

Why, only this week, a report in those pages highlighted an aspect of fashion among young people in France, which has dutifully been repeated here. It's all been sparked by the publication of a sociological study into people's attitudes towards summer. How good that the Brits are so interested in the concerns and reading matter of our continental siblings.

Of course the fact that the trend in question is the decline of topless sunbathing is purely incidental. It's no doubt something of an inconvenience that pictures of bronzed bodies with only tiny triangles of fabric in key locations must be somehow fitted into the news pages. Especially when there's news from Italy about sex tapes apparently involving Silvio Berlusconi to include as well.

So here you are, a handy print-out and keep vocab guide for discussing French attitudes towards topless bathing, garnered from the UK newspapers.

  • la nouvelle pudeur - "new modesty" (Daily Telegraph)

  • monokini - "the bottom half of a bikini with no top" (Guardian)

  • la pudibonderie - "prudishness" (Telegraph)

  • le topless - wearing a monokini

  • Les Tumultueuses - "a group of young militant feminists, are still fighting for topless bathing rights in public swimming pool" (Guardian)

The Sun is much exercised, asking the question on many people's minds: "[D]o we really want to ban Kelly Brook going topless on the beach?" How on earth to illustrate THAT question is a job for specialists.

Anyone wanting to know exactly what Sun readers think about the issue might consider the online poll the paper is currently running: Do you think it's ok for girls to go topless on the beach? In a shock result, putting even Norwich North into the shade, TWO PER CENT of Sun readers answered "no".

Final words go to Ian Brodie, editor of the Riviera Times, who writes in today's Guardian: "I am happy to advise you that toplessness on the Riviera is no longer an issue, except perhaps for visiting Anglo-Saxons. Women are free to sunbathe topless for whatever reason they choose, without having to analyse the decision in terms of liberation and/or the body beautiful. The bare facts are that the battleground has moved on to total nudity. Many French beach users have reacted to global warming by wearing no clothes at all. But this can also raise Gallic eyebrows, as has happened recently in Cannes. Members of the local yacht club have been disturbed by the sight of totally naked bathers from the windows of the club restaurant. Freedom to parade around nude has rubbed up against the freedom to dine in true French style, totally concentrated on the task to hand. So the nudists have been told to move or face a fine. These are the real issues on the Riviera. Get a grip."

Friday's Quote of the Day

09:11 UK time, Friday, 24 July 2009

"I'm probably 5ft 2in to 3in tall. But my hair does make a difference" - Amy Winehouse

The singer alludes to her iconic beehive while defending herself at her trial for assault.
More details (the Times)

Web Monitor

18:29 UK time, Thursday, 23 July 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Web Monitor has been on the back foot the past few days - feeling a little peaky. So sorry if things haven't been quite up to scratch.

Altruism is a concept Web Monitor finds hard to comprehend. WM was reassured, when it seemed Larissa MacFarquhar in the New Yorker was equally baffled. She looked at the extreme do-goodery of organ donors. Not just any old organ donors but those who donate to strangers who they meet on the website According to MacFarquar there are more of these donors than you would think and they end up getting far more involved in the lives of the recipients than originally planned. The altruism doesn't extend to the full length of the article however, for that you have to subscribe to the New Yorker.

In Foreign Policy, George Jonas gives a brief history of assassinations. He asks why there are, what he sees as, inconsistencies around views on state-sponsored killings of civilians versus VIPs:

"Governments can bomb faceless troops of enemy conscripts with impunity, but are questioned closely about bombing photographable individuals. Numbers numb; identity humanizes. That's the general rule ... Countries put their weaponry for random killing on ceremonial display, but are evasive about their assets and capabilities for targeted killing. Some reticence makes sense -- stealth is an operational requirement for such missions -- but much of the evasiveness is due to moral reservations."

Regulars of this column will know that rap about surprising subject is a pet subject of Web Monitor (mentioned here and here). We also love a bit of sibling collaboration, that's why we work so well with Paper Monitor, aaah, sweet. So what's this - Sacha Baron Cohen's brother, Erran, is an Hasidic Jewish rapper? Brilliant, let's see his video and his interview in the Guardian, I hear you scream.

It seems it's not just Web Monitor and Paper Monitor that have a generation gap (Web Monitor rather liked the one reader's description of it as a "teenage upstart"). Slate is having its own war of the generations in News Junkie Smackdown, where old and new media are fighting for intellectual high ground over Barack Obama's health care plans. WM is pleased to announce between the web and paper (scissors and stone weren't an option), the web won, based on trust. Web Monitor didn't actually read the article - reading a whole article and carefully considering its merits is like so passé granddad. But judging by the sub-heading "Don't Trust Any News Source Over 35" we jumped to our conclusion and then checked our Facebook status.

Advertising is a perplexing world, so it's always nice to have a bit of de-mystification. Here, the style Bible for the, ahem, Hoxton set (look for the highlighted text), Creative Review, explains how the fizzingly creative minds behind Stella Artois' 4% brew created such authentic-looking 60s posters to sell their beer. Actually, there's not an awful lot of mystery here - they simply tapped up retired 60s poster designer Robert McGinnis (and doubtless offered him a handsome wodge to temporarily adjust his Facebook status to "unretired").

Gustavo Sousa, of ad agency Mother, tells it thus:

"Robert McGinnis is undoubtedly the best film poster illustrator of the 60s, and probably one of the best poster designers ever, so it wasn't a hard choice. In fact, we had been referencing his posters when we started looking for illustrators, but we thought he was retired. Eventually we thought 'what if we try it?', and we decided to give him a call. Like we expected, he was retired, but to our surprise he told us he was willing to come out of retirement to do this project."

Lastly, but by no means leastly, Media Guardian has a quiet moment of reflection to mourn the passing of The Bill's theme tune - called, incidentally, Overkill. Sgt June Ackland would never have approved.

Weekly Bonus Question

18:08 UK time, Thursday, 23 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 THE SIZE OF SPAIN. But what's the question?

UPDATE 1518 BST: The correct answer is, Jupiter now has an Earth-sized crater after an apparent comet strike, but how big would it be if our planet collided with a comet of a similar proportion in size?

Your Letters

16:12 UK time, Thursday, 23 July 2009

Re Study nails secret of child sleep. This tells us two things: Children who get plenty of exercise sleep better. Children who sleep better are less likely to have obesity problems. Um, is it just me or is that one step longer than it needs to be?
Caroline Brown, Rochester, UK

CofE wedding to include baptism: What? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't baptism the Catholic ceremony, as I'm pretty sure in the Church of England we have Christenings.
Suz, Bath

Can't you guys make up your mind? The headline says Jackson doctor's clinic raided. But the article goes on to say "it was not technically a raid". Come on.
Kenneth, Orkney

I guessed there must already be a guide for being hip and groovy (Wednesday's letters). A little bit of Googling came up with this "Hy Lit's unbelievable dictionary of hip words for groovy people". It sounds like a promising start. Unfortunately, I can only find a single copy in the National Library of Australia. I know Monitor readers span the globe but what are the chances of somebody taking a peek and getting back to us?
Paul, St G, Cornwall

Mark (Wednesday's letters), please don't ask the Monitor to take on additional work. We all know he is far too busy filling his vol-au-wents and putting his chicken in his basket.
Jaye, Rutland, England

Paper Monitor

11:50 UK time, Thursday, 23 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Times have changed. Or at least, in the Times they have.

The front page of the former organ of the Establishment carries the news that children are to be baptised at the same time as the parents are married in a Church of England church. The story is full of rather meek howls of outrage.

But what's this? There's a leader on page two. Brace yourself for some old school umbrage.

"The new liturgy cleverly allows the Church to entice women back into the spiritual and marital fold without judgment."

Well, that's told them.

Perhaps it's only to be expected when one rummages inside and finds that T2 (the Times's features pull-out section) is leading on "Three and easy - The attraction of a ménage a trois".

Ooh err, missus.

Ewan Morrison explains the ménage a trois he fell into as an art student, living with a couple. It did not include "three in a bed", he stresses.

"The modern day 'threesome' usually utilises a 'disposable' third party and is not a continuing commitment between three."

It all makes Paper Monitor want to part the mists of time and find out when the Thunderer first used the phrase "ménage a trois".

The answer seems to be 1919 when it carried a report of an extraordinary set of divorce proceedings.

"In 1908 he told her if she did not get money for him by prostitution he would see that she did, and that night he brought the co-respondent, who was a single man, to the house. The petitioner was in liquor.

"The three sat together in the sitting room and after an interval the petitioner called the respondent out of the room. He said to her, 'You've got your chance now and if there's no money for me by the morning you know what to expect.'

"Misconduct then took place between the respondent and the co-respondent. Next morning the petitioner said to the co-respondent, 'Have you enjoyed yourself, old boy?'."


Thursday's Quote of the Day

10:31 UK time, Thursday, 23 July 2009

"Boris is box office. We're not sure about Jim whatsisname" - EastEnders insider after a Labour MP objected to the London mayor's cameo.

Boris Johnson is soon to pitch up at the Queen Vic during a tour of Walford. And Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Canning in east London, feels he should be invited to follow suit to provide political balance.
More details (the Times)

Web Monitor

17:30 UK time, Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

No stone is left unturned, no nook unexplored, in Web Monitor's quest to bring you the best bits from the internet.

• Pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, writes in the New Yorker that the banking crisis may have been partly caused by that humble card game, bridge, because the game bred over-confidence in some of the big risk-takers that ultimately destabilised the financial system:

"It makes sense that there should be an affinity between bridge and the business of Wall Street. Bridge is a contest between teams, each of which competes over a "contract" - how many tricks they think they can win in a given hand. Winning requires knowledge of the cards, an accurate sense of probabilities, steely nerves, and the ability to assess an opponent's psychology. Bridge is Wall Street in miniature... bridge involves "related items with continuous feedback." It has rules and boundaries and situations that repeat themselves and clear patterns that develop - and when a player makes a mistake of overconfidence he or she learns of the consequences of that mistake almost immediately. In other words, it's a game. But running an investment bank is not, in this sense, a game: it is not a closed world with a limited set of possibilities."

• Consider this a gift from Web Monitor - a new game called NHS bingo, to be played when flicking through the opinions on US health reform. The first to find six references to the NHS is the winner (using Michael Moore's praise of the British health service in his film Sicko doesn't count). Are you ready? Web Monitor starts the ball rolling... Peter Singer in the New York Times refers to the row last year when kidney cancer drugs were denied to UK patients due to cost, a point taken up by Sally C Pipe's article in the Wall Street Journal. Singer goes on to defend NICE (the body that makes these decisions, as explained by the BBC's quick guide), and then there's also Fraser Nelson and Irwin Stelzer's article in the Weekly Standard's No NHS Please, We're American. Phew! To share the joy of NHS Bingo, you can submit your findings via the comment box.

• The author of Brick Lane, Monica Ali, explains in Prospect Magazine why she has set her new work, entitled Book In the Kitchen in, you've guessed it, a kitchen. But this isn't any kitchen, this is a hotel kitchen:

"As one of my characters observes, hotel kitchens resemble UN assemblies: a rich source of diverse stories. They are also places that function under intense pressure, creating an ideal crucible for dramatic confrontation."

Is this a theory given further or less weight by Hotel Babylon?

• Last week Web Monitor orbited the web to get the best links to moon landing articles. Despite all that's been written about it, Ted Gioia finds a new line. Writing in Conceptual Fiction, he argues that the Apollo mission inadvertently put a dagger in the heart of sci-fi:

"Apollo proved to be the end of manned lunar expeditions, and not the beginning of the age of space exploration. Who would have guessed that, after Apollo 17 in 1972, no more astronauts would travel to the moon. Here is one measure of how quickly things changed: a decade later, when people spoke of the moonwalk, they were usually talking about Michael Jackson's dance steps. Few people suffered from this turn of events more than science fiction writers... As space exploration disappeared from the front pages, sci-fi lost much of its glamour and most of its readers."

• There's an illuminating experiment conducted in Slate magazine, to deduce whether the web or newspapers keep readers more informed about events. Two people spent three days getting their news only from the web and another two consumed only newspapers. In their discussions that followed, there is the suggestion that although the web breaks the stories, the papers offer the best analysis. So, an honourable draw in this office. Web Monitor 1, Paper Monitor 1.

David Bain's Brain Strain refrain

16:29 UK time, Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Could it be that lucky people are actually better people. Having waded into controversial waters with his latest philosophical conundrum, David Bain responds to a selection of readers' comments:

Tim and Kim each crash when speeding past a school, Kim killing a child. "Neither comes out smelling of roses", says FeeLock. That's true. Tim's lucky not to have hit a child himself, others add. That's true too; he'd have suffered serious emotional and legal consequences.

But the question remains: is his luck ordinary luck only, or is it also moral luck? Does it make him less blameable than Kim?

Many of you thought it does. But fully accepting this requires soothing the following worry: what determines the difference in what Kim and Tim do (killing a child versus not) is a difference in the location of nearby children when they crash, which neither of them is responsible for.

Yes, JohnnyPixels replies, but Kim still "brought about the conditions which killed the child". While she didn't control the children, and didn't know she would hit one, she knew there would be children around and she drove fast anyway. She knowingly opened herself up to being blamed for a killing if her luck ran out.

That's all true. And it's really bad. But the problem is: it's also all true of Tim.

On the other hand (just as Truman once called for a one-handed economist, you need a one-handed philosopher), there's a worry if you go the other way. If you deny moral luck and agree with Placey that "lucky people are luckier, not 'better'", then (as Wren asks) "where do we stop"?

Wren compares the Auschwitz murderer with the "wannabe Nazi" who's denied the opportunity to realise his genocidal fantasies. To punish them equally, Wren says, would be to "police our thoughts". And many wondered how the law could know (without the "precogs" from Minority Report, the film Jettro reminds us of) what thoughts those are, what unexpressed intentions lurk within our breasts.

That point concerns evidence and legal sanction. But a related "where do we stop?" point concerns moral culpability. For what worried us about Kim is that her killing a child depended on things she wasn't responsible for. But the same looks true of everything we do, even our intentions. And if what we do and intend can't be morally evaluated, what can?

Yet we surely can't accept moral luck if it means blaming you for poisoning your dog when someone secretly contaminates your water supply. True. But in that scenario there's nothing you're blameable for, whereas Kim is blameable for her recklessness at least. Perhaps the point is that once she's culpable for that, her culpability grows to encompass the actions and consequences that result.

So be careful out there!

[For more on "moral luck", see two classic essays with that title by Thomas Nagel and Bernard Williams.]

Your Letters

16:18 UK time, Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A thoroughly entertaining interview, this, showing some enlightened kids. Though I can't help thinking that with her final comment, Grace has let the side down somewhat.
Luke L, Woking, UK

A major problem with the tree survey is identifying if they are old... could they not just cut the tree down and count the rings in the trunk?
Basil Long, Nottingham

After the frequent mentions of the flaws in the 110% effort statements recently, I would have imagined 7 days could have seen the rather obvious problem with "0-3: Nil points".
Steve Bowman, London

Talking of former adverts standing up to scientific rigour (Tuesday letters), I am reminded of Bovril adverts from 1918 (picture five in this gallery), which are very topical.
Ben Merritt, Sheffield, England

I have been catching up on things and noticed that last Friday's letter page included FOUR Monitor notes. Is this a record?
Vicky, East London

Dear Monitor,
You are the role model for may of us but I am now seriously worried that I may not be cool enough to follow in your footsteps. In recent weeks you've mentioned cheese and pineapple on sticks and Dubonnet as essential elements of parties at Monitor Towers. (Do you, by any chance, groove the night away to disco hits of the 1970s too?) What we desperately need is a Monitor guide to cool (or "hip" as I am convinced you call in among yourselves). That would be groovy.
Mark, Reading, UK

Paper Monitor

13:45 UK time, Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

After yesterday's staged picture of baboons swooping on a family hatchback at Knowsley Safari Park (and Rob Falconer's pertinent "when primates attack" reminiscence), comes another wildlife photo which has more than an air of set-up about it. This time the venue is Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail carry pictures of a giraffe poking its lengthy neck into said manor - although the picture in the Mail has the washed-out feel of an image from yesteryear. (One for our picture editor's Kodachrome archive perhaps?)

In fact, it was almost 20 years ago that Paper Monitor enjoyed a sumptuous lunch at Giraffe Manor and while its memories are no match for the facsimile qualities of 35mm camera film, it all feels very familiar. Maybe because said picture is actually used for promotional purposes on the Giraffe Manor website.

If the start of this year's Silly Season has not already been heralded, consider this the marker.

The hour is late - there's been lots of admin this morning - so there's no time to delve deeper into today's press.

But after Monday's Moon-landing souvenir issue discussion, it would be remiss of Paper Monitor not to mention this overlooked letter to the Guardian, from the paper's "splash stone-sub" of the day.

Geoff Andrews wrote to his old employer to explain why, in 1969, the paper had failed to carry Neil Armstrong's legendary "One small step..." quote in its coverage of the historic event.

"Touchdown on the moon was well after our normal last edition time, so we were already into special editions, and... I had to say when to send the page to be cast for the final edition, balancing printing as much information as possible against the fact that, with the presses already rolling and most of the print run complete, the number of copies that would result was dwindling with each minute.

"But Armstrong stood on the bottom step of the ladder for an interminable time, and with the head printer fretting and swearing that there would be no copies left to print, we reluctantly had to let the page go to the foundry. Two minutes later we heard the immortal words, but by then the page forme was far too hot for anyone to work on it for another 20 minutes. Hence the missing words."

A pro right through to his retirement, Mr Andrews says the omission "still rankles".

Nevertheless, Paper Monitor takes it hat off to you.

Wednesday's Quote of the Day

08:19 UK time, Wednesday, 22 July 2009

"We have the means to take collective action and take collective action together" - Gordon Brown

Because collective action taken unilaterally is not very New Labour. Or is Mr Brown coming over a bit Rumsfeldian, attempting his own effort on a par with "known unknowns"?
More details

Web Monitor

17:42 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

The most interesting items from cyberspace, prepared with a pinch of weird, a slice of wonderful and served on a wholesome dish known as Web Monitor. Send us your own favourite links via the comments box.

•Everyone likes a solar eclipse, but would you ever say the experience makes the Earth move for you? This Wednesday, the New Scientist reports, a team of geophysicists will be stationed at six sites across China to see whether a solar eclipse really does lead to fluctuations in gravity. In 1954, a French economist and physicist Maurice Allais noticed erratic behaviour in a swinging pendulum when an eclipse passed over Paris.

Pendulums typically swing back and forth as a result of gravity and the rotation of the Earth. At the start of the eclipse, however, the pendulum's swing direction shifted violently, suggesting a sudden change in gravitational pull.

•The joy of technical infrastructure may not appeal to all and it's a subject that would probably find few takers outside the blogosphere, but this photo essay of telephone poles by Britta Gustafson appealed to Web Monitor, who used to spend many a long car journey dreaming of electric pylons running round the fields, inspired by Ted Hughes's The Iron Man.

•What is it about confessionals in blogs? First there was the seminal blog Post Secret, showing a secret in visual form on a postcard, usually involving crayons in some way. Then a raft of others followed, from sending in regretted texts from last night, to holding up signs about what someone may have once told you. And now there is the opportunity to reveal your inner turmoil on toilet paper.

•As a former painkiller addict, actress Jamie Lee Curtis ponders on speculation surrounding Michael Jackson's death, with some insights into this form of addiction:

"Listen, I can relate. I too found painkillers after a routine cosmetic surgical procedure and I too became addicted, the morphine becomes the warm bath from which to escape painful reality. I was a lucky one. I was able to see that the pain had started long ago and far away and that the finding the narcotic was merely a matter of time. The pain needed numbing. My recovery from drug addiction is the single greatest accomplishment of my life... but it takes work - hard, painful work - but the help is there, in every town and career, drug/drink freed members of society, from every single walk and talk of life to help and guide... Mr. Jackson was an addict... Donations should be donated to drug treatment and prevention, not to his children."

•And in another thought-provoking piece, Katharine Mieszkowski in Salon magazine looks at how the historical stereotype of a babysitter reflects adults' fear of changing girlhood:

"She's the source of fear, frustration and sexual fantasy... The bad babysitter's a teenage girl, often dressed inappropriately, who is an unreliable scatterbrain, more interested in doing her nails or texting than the kids. When she's not glued to the TV, she's gabbing on the phone all night while eating Mom and Dad out of house and home. Or maybe she's sneaking her boyfriend in after the kids are asleep, or batting her eyelashes suggestively at Dad on the drive home. The bad babysitter can be a threat not only to the children left in her care, but also to the very marriage of the parents she's working for."

Your Letters

15:06 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Clearly Justie (Monday's Letters) has never seen Poltergeist.
Si, Leeds

More hints as to Paper Monitor's demographic!
I am also reminded of an advert from the 1950s that claimed, "Dubonnet does not affect the liver." One wonders whether that would stand up to scientific rigour.
Stelio Passaris, York, UK

Now don't get me wrong, I like it when visual aids are used in articles to help me understand things but do we really need a diagram to show us which items of clothing are which? Is there a danger of people getting shirts and trousers confused that I'm unaware of?
Anna, Ipswich

Does this headline pass Hamish's all-noun test?
Lee, Birmingham

Now, far be it for me to criticise the long arm of the law, but, if someone was sending me threatening text messages from the relatively comforting distance of 120 miles away, I'd be more than a little concerned at the constabulary's choice of location for questioning.
Nik Edwards, Aylesbury

Knowsley Safari Park manager David Ross doesn't know a lot about baboons if he thinks breaking into car roof boxes is new. We saw this about 30 years ago at Longleat when a couple of newly-weds were thrilled to see all the monkeys on "our car", but less thrilled when one ran off wearing a wedding dress.
Rob Falconer, Llandough, Wales

Paper Monitor

11:51 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It takes charm to be a news photographer. You might even call it chutzpah.

You have to ask people to do things. Things they may find slightly ridiculous.

So feel for the photographer who had to go and visit Lesley Dedman. The former mayoress gets into the paper because she confronted a bike thief after having had a shower and still in her towel.

He cycled off so she threw on a jumper and jeans and chased after him in her Jag, before swerving in front of him and recovering the bike.

In the posed photo she's smiling with the bike, but here's the thing, she has a towel wrapped round her head in the way women do after they emerge from the shower.

You also have to take your hat off to the snapper who took the picture of a troop of baboons breaking into a car luggage box and festooning clothes everywhere at Knowsley Safari Park. The picture is in most of the papers, and on our Quote of the Day.

Of course, the photo is staged. The female staff member in the passenger seat of the car is giving a most unconvincing open-mouthed expression of shock.

But what about the snapper? How did he know the baboons would do what was expected? How did he know the feisty primates wouldn't turn round and rip the windscreen wipers off his car? Or take his camera?

Speaking of staged photos, the Independent appears to have finally nailed the longest fakery saga in the history of news photography. Was Robert Capa's shot of a Spanish militiaman at the moment of death genuine?

Err, it really appears not. By comparing geographical features on three photos, including the famous one, somebody has found the place it was taken. And the fighting was apparently nowhere near that place on the day in question.

But perhaps the real mystery is how this news, which was in El Periodico on Friday, does not get its outing in the Indie until the following Tuesday.

Tuesday's Quote of the Day

09:26 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

baboonsoncar226pa.jpg"It quickly became clear that the baboons had acquired an unfortunate new skill" - Namely breaking into rooftop luggage boxes, says Knowsley Safari Park manager David Ross, and running off with the contents.

The 140 baboons at the Merseyside park have moved on from vandalising the odd windscreen wiper to ganging up to pop the locks on rooftop boxes. A technique that involves the largest baboons jumping up and down on it until the lock bursts, then the rest pile in.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

Web Monitor

17:39 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Web Monitor acts like an automated interestingness-filter for the internet - but in human form. You can simply read on, follow the links and give your brain an evening treat - or you can jolly well take part, by linking to the best online features you've seen using the box top right.

jackson_getty126.jpgEerie pictures show Michael Jackson... just 48 hours before he died, yells the Daily Mail's website. What's especially eerie about these pictures, at time of publication, is that the background is entirely different around different parts of MJ's body - almost as if, as speculated at Photoshop Disasters, the eerie pictures have been eerily put together from more than one eerie source:

"In one of the newly-emerged images, taken on Tuesday at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, the singer points towards the audience as backing dancers perform in front of a huge This Is It banner."

Rick Astley and Kurt Cobain• Staying with music, Web Monitor has always regarded "Rickrolling" as a juvenile waste of time and energy that could better be spent bringing you the finest of the web, but is prepared to make an exception for DJ Mogroth's remix of Rick Astley's biggest hit with a certain Nirvana track (but was precursor Smells Like Teen Booty really six-odd years ago?). Ben Parr at Mashable introduces the video in a fair and balanced manner:

"The beats and the lyrics match up almost perfectly. The video editing combining Kurt Cobain's guitar prowess with Astley's giant puffball of hair is just extraordinary."

• "Cricket commentary's like Norfolk, football commentary's like Soho," says Russell Davies. Maybe, but why mention it? Because the chap who brought us Permanent Bedtime is continuing his search for "ambient speech" as an aid to repose. (Attentive readers will already have listened to Giles Turnbull's London, and those with memories as long as they are keen will recall that Mr Turnbull was a contributor to a previous incarnation of the BBC's blog.)

"It's the background sound of a cafe or a bus. A conversational, human noise that lets you know you're alive and not alone but doesn't intrude too much.
The shipping forecast is a great example, and Test Match Special, and baseball commentary, and Dan recently reminded me of Alan Licht's New York Minute which is a splendid example (and you can listen to it on And there are some perfect ambient speech moments in Giles Turnbull's lovely sound fragment portrait of London."

• In one of the leafier of The Times' groves, Mary Beard considers the new laws requiring those visiting schools to be vetted (and Private Eye's Adam Macqueen bagsies the original story in a post with some direct language). Beard is not impressed by impediments to academics visiting schools (which is, she says, "[a] jolly good thing"):

"There is something dreadful about the name of the Act anyway. It seems to imply that if you are against it, you really don't care about Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups. A better title would be 'Mass compulsory registration and tracking of all those working with the under 18s' Act."

• More bookmarks to add to Web Monitor's straining-at-the-seams Favorites. Bloggers' Circle is, according to the RSA's Matthew Taylor, a valiant effort to sort the weblog wheat from the chattering chaff, and looks round these parts like a good opportunity to watch and, well, learn:

"We are starting small and maybe we won't succeed but it's always worth having a dream. Imagine if there were hundreds or even thousands of amateur bloggers signed up so that the best content we produce gained the kind of impact and recognition that is now generally restricted to professional journalists."

Jay-Z• And to close, we return to music - specifically hip hop. Web Monitor has no way of knowing what your immediate reaction was to the reignition of the rap wars between The Game and Jay-Z. Not so, though, in the case of associate professor of political science Marc Lynch, who (like finance guru Alvin Hall before him) finds a nobler story to tell in this petty feud:

"[My first take], me being a professor of international relations, was to start thinking about how this could be turned into a story about the nature of hegemony and the debate over the exercise of American power."

Your Letters

15:38 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

I don't know about the oldest e-mail , but the slowest email I ever received took almost a year to arrive. Unfortunately I deleted it a long time ago so I can't verify the dates, but it was sent in Dec 2000 and arrived towards the end of 2001. Can anyone beat that?
Sarah, Oxon

Sue, don't worry, I also don't know about Icehouse and have never received said e-mail (Friday letters ) - perhaps it's the name? Never mind, we can start our own group. Sues of the world unite and send each other jokes instead.
Sue, Swindon

I know you don't do Quote of the Day over the weekend, but "it looks a bit like when you gesture to a dachshund to jump up to your hand" surely deserves at least an honourable mention in the letters page?
Paul Greggor, London

Your story "Rise of the Round Pound" suggested that the reason behind rounding the price of an item down by a penny was a 'mind trick' to give the impression that the item was actually cheaper. However, there is a very sound historical reason behind the practice: if change, albeit a penny, had to be given then the cash register had to be opened. This forced the sale to be recorded. Otherwise a dishonest sales assistant could pocket the entire amount. I suspect this is less of a problem in these days where many transactions are via electronic means and many customers expect a printed receipt.
Robert James, Liverpool

In your Magazine article 'the rise of the round pound' you did not mention the fact that the new practice of shops dealing in pounds (rather having .99 on the end of any price) could lead to a reduction in the amount of coinage we all have to carry around in our pockets, or the time savings for shopkeepers if they have less coinage to count and bag at the end of the day.
Gordon, Newcastle, UK

Oh, Hamish (Friday letters ). There was no need for that now, was there?
Alexandra, Leicestershire, UK

With building space at such a premium, and so much resistance towards expanding into the countryside, what exactly is the problem with reclaiming graveyard sites for use by the living? The dead can't care about it, and if the living want a focal point for their mourning/remembrance, surely a garden bench or tree or even an urn on the mantelpiece is surely a more fitting and probably more ecologically sustainable way of doing it?
Justie, London

You have to wonder how Bieke Vanhooydonck (Friday letters ) feels about nominative determinism? Perhaps a little left out...
Tom H, London

Paper Monitor

13:32 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

A collection of today's headlines:

"On the moon after perfect touchdown" - the Guardian.

"Man takes first steps on the moon" - the Times.

"Americans walk on the moon" - the Daily Telegraph.

"Armstrong Tweets moon landing" - Metro.

OK, apologies for the last one - that was an attempt at a joke. The 40th anniversary of the Moon landing has some of the papers delving into their archive to see how they reported the historic event all those years ago.

The Guardian and the Times go the extra mile by actually reproducing their original front pages as souvenir pull-outs. (The Telegraph merely does a cut-out on one of its comment pages, though it's not so small that you can't see the word "lunarnauts".)

Paper Monitor always gets a kick out of this sort of thing - finding its attention distracted by peripheral details. The Guardian comes over like the Halfords catalogue, with the paper's banner book-ended by display ads for a seat belt manufacturer and a type of brush for car washing.

The Times includes in its "Rest of the news" the promise of an "eight-page special report" on decimalisation and, tellingly, it refers to "Gaoled six: MP seeks investigation".

Forty years after the Eagle landed, it's a hard to think just how exciting an event it all was. The Times' write-up of the big story conveys some of the public's fascination.

"The astronauts reported to mission control that their steps tended to sink down about a quarter of an inch."

The Times also notes how Moscow Radio announced the news, while the Guardian tells readers Chinese newspapers and radio "kept silent about the Apollo 11 flight".

Paper Monitor wonders when, if ever, the people of China were officially informed of the event.

David Bain's Brain Strain

10:44 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009


bain_126.jpgWelcome to David Bain's Brain Strain - a forum for Monitor readers to debate philosophical matters and, in so doing, find a worthy distraction from the demands of the workplace.

Last month, he tackled the subject of cannibalism. This month he asks, are lucky people better people?

Read on and then add your thoughts to the debate using the comments form. Remember, this is philosophy - there IS no right or wrong answer. (The brain strainer will read all your comments before, in a couple of days, returning to offer his thoughts on the debate.)

Tim and Kim have Ferraris. On Monday, Tim drives his by a school at 90 mph, loses control, and hits a lamppost. On Tuesday, Kim drives hers on the same road, at the same speed, and loses control at the same point. But she hits and kills a child.

Tim is disqualified from driving but Kim is jailed for five years. Quite right, you say, the law is marking a moral difference.

But hang on. Yes, Tim hit a lamppost whereas Kim killed a child, but that's simply because where there had only been a lamppost on Monday there was a child on Tuesday. And that's not a difference Kim's responsible for. Certainly, she was seriously reckless--but no more reckless than Tim, just more unlucky. And surely being more unlucky can't make you more blameable.

Suppose, for example, that you and I give our dogs bowls of water, but you thereby kill yours because someone's poisoned your water supply. That's not a difference you're responsible for. You were unlucky. So, given my action was blameless, yours was too. But, by the same token: given Tim is blameable only for recklessness, Kim is too.ferrari2_ap_226.jpg

This defence of Kim can seem compelling. But, the more you think about it, the idea of removing luck from morality becomes discomforting.

Consider a German who in 1940 volunteers to work at Auschwitz, where he commits mass murder. Compare an anti-Semitic Englishman who would have volunteered for such a position had it been available. The German is not responsible that he had an opportunity for murder unavailable to the Englishman. It was in a sense bad luck. But does that mean he's no more contemptible than the Englishman, who we might suppose led a quiet and harmless life?

And the discomfort grows. For everything we do--every action our choices determine--depends on factors we're not responsible for.

Kim and Tim drove recklessly, but they wouldn't have if their cars had broken down. Oswald murdered Kennedy, but he wouldn't have if his gun had jammed. It was Oswald's bad luck that it didn't. But then, if we're to keep luck out of morality, are we to blame Oswald only for trying to kill Kennedy--for his act of will when pulling the trigger--not for the murder itself?

If biting such bullets tempts you, notice that acts of will are subject to luck too. Had the police got to Oswald moments before, he wouldn't have had the chance to make that final decision to shoot.

All of which leaves a paradox. People are sometimes blameable for their actions. But not those they're not responsible for. Yet all our actions depend on matters we're not responsible for.

So is morality incoherent, or have we gone wrong somewhere?

David Bain is a lecturer in the philosophy department of the University of Glasgow. Find out more about him by clicking here.

Monday's Quote of the Day

09:30 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

"Ambulant Unisex" - Tewkesbury Borough Council's wording for its larger public toilets

New signs on the toilets of the Gloucestershire town had residents scratching their heads and campaigners demanding when a "loo" stopped being called a loo. The answer, according to a council spokesman, is when they are larger than standard toilets and fitted with disability aids. He admitted the wording was confusing and would be changed.

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