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Archives for December 20, 2009 - December 26, 2009

Caption Competition

12:17 UK time, Thursday, 24 December 2009

Caption Competition is having a Christmas rest and will return to the Magazine Monitor on Thursday, 7 January 2010.

Web Monitor

11:35 UK time, Thursday, 24 December 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today on Web Monitor: the headmistress legacy, faking it and the one-stop shop for only one question.

Joanna Lumley• In a look back at the key cultural figures of 2009 on Radio 4's Front Row Mark Lawson asks Joanna Lumley if her camera training had anything to do with her dominating coverage of the campaign for retired Gurkhas. She insists that her interaction with immigration minister Phil Woolas on live TV wasn't a case of getting him in a tough spot on camera:

"In actual fact Mr Woolas and our team had been talking for half an hour in a room and all I was really doing was asking him to maybe take the stage and reiterate what we'd been saying but he seemed reluctant to say it.

So all I was doing was gently urging him along to say what we'd agreed. But of course when it was cut together I looked like some frightful headmistress ticking him off."

• In the very unlikely circumstance that you could have bought an archaeological artefact to hand over as a Christmas gift, you may want to look away now. Brittany Jackson and Mark Rose at Archaeology.org look at why fakes get made:

"The reasons for perpetrating hoaxes and forgeries range as widely as the kinds of fakes. Common motives for making bogus artefacts include publicity and self-promotion, monetary gain, practical jokes, and revenge, but some fakers have had the goal of supporting their own theories about the human past. Fakes have often been inspired by nationalism, with patriotic perpetrators boosting their country through spurious links to past civilizations."

• Finally, Web Monitor will be waiting with bated breath to see if the site isitchristmas.com will change its only page from saying in bold letters "no" to "yes" tomorrow. It is the site's day to shine.


Links in full


BBCRadio 4 | Front Row
see alsoBrittany Jackson and Mark Rose | Archaeology | Bogus! An Introduction to Dubious Discoveries
see alsoIs it Christmas?


Your Letters

11:26 UK time, Thursday, 24 December 2009

Regarding: Has ice-skating and Gluhwein eclipsed carol singing and mince pies? Why is it necessary to choose between them? This Christmas I have enjoyed all of the above.
Matthew Benson

If I might make a modest suggestion to the producers of the next (and thankfully, last) series of Celebrity Big Brother, why not film it in Boy George's house? Problem solved.
Angus Gafraidh, London, UK

Sorry Adam (Wednesday's letters) (and PM), writing the word 'titter' does not constitute penning a letter. Stay in after school! (Guffaw)
graham, purmerend, netherlands

Re Rob (Wednesday's letters). It is a "stress-down" release attempt while realising you still have loads to do. Surely Christmas would feel unfulfilled without the stressed-up phenomina. "O.K. dear I'm coming now..."
Tim, Wales

Will anyone believe me if I say I got 52/52 on the 2009 Quiz - including the picture link? No? Well, Happy Holidays anyway.
Sarah, Trieste, Italy

Your Letters will return on Monday.


Paper Monitor

10:24 UK time, Thursday, 24 December 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

This is a Christmas gift you can enjoy a day early - a collection of heart-warming (or just a bit weird) tales from the tabs:

  • Ninety-year-old Edith Abbey, from North Yorkshire, buys more than 200 Christmas presents for her large family and her friends. "I don't spend a fortune as it's the thought that counts," she says.
  • (Daily Mirror)

  • Norma Bousfield, 74, has knitted her family nine multi-coloured sweaters to wear on Christmas Day. "Her family was wool impressed," says the Sun. Be warned before clicking on the link below, if you have an aversion to bright colours.
  • More details (The Sun)

  • Stephen Jones, from Cambridge, is out of hospital in time for Christmas. The 55-year-old diabetes sufferer had suffered kidney failure but his wife Karen has donated one of her healthy organs. "I have never loved that woman more than I do right now," he says
  • (Daily Mirror)

  • A man given a heart transplant woke up with a new craving shared by his donor - for obscure crisps called Burger Rings. Before the operation he had never liked them.
  • (The Sun)

  • A baby was born in the back of a mountain rescue vehicle after an ambulance was stranded in the snow. Leah was born in the hospital car park. "It's the best Christmas present I could have hoped for," says dad Kurtis, from Hyde in Manchester.

  • (Star)

  • To win the present out of a Christmas cracker, you should pull it at an angle of between 20 and 55 degrees.
  • (Daily Express)

    Paper Monitor wishes all its readers a very happy Christmas. It will be back on Monday.

Thursday's Quote of the Day

08:30 UK time, Thursday, 24 December 2009

"It's very hard for billionaires to meet women" - organisers of a match-making ball for very rich men.

The event in China was organised so 21 of the country's billionaires could try and find a wife. Organisers say it is hard for the men to meet women because they are so focused on their careers.
More details

Web Monitor

16:08 UK time, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: 2009 predictions checked, what's coming up for 2010 and the decade of the emo.

Carla Bruni and Nicholas Sarkozy226.jpg• Back in June, Web Monitor highlighted Joshua Green's idea in Atlantic to regulate pundits, in the hope they wouldn't wave around predictions willy-nilly.
Now it looks like they are doing it themselves. First off, Adam Boulton at Sky gives himself six out of 10 for his 2009 predictions. He was right that there wouldn't be an election this year but wrongly predicted Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni would have a baby.
Political blogger Iain Dale didn't fare so well - getting only four or five out 10. But he does make one offer, referencing his free-to-read site:


"Collect your refund on the way out..."

• So on to a new prediction for next year. Peter Aldhous in New Scientist asks if 2010 is the year scientists will be able to create life from scratch in the lab - nicknamed Synthia:

"Waiting for Synthia - that has been the script for enthusiasts of synthetic life for the past two years, ever since genomics pioneer Craig Venter promised to unveil a living bacterial cell carrying a genome made from scratch in the lab. 2010 is the year for him to deliver."

• The music trend of the decade for Leor Galil at True/Slant has been emo. An excuse to wear black for some and baffling to others, Galil explains how the movement has changed over the last 10 years:

"Whereas earlier in the decade, emo was synonymous with well-adjusted, upper-middle class teenagers who wore Abercrombie & Fitch and sought to force all their existential quandaries on failed relationships and romantic longing, emo has somehow become associated with depressed, potentially-suicidal tweens who drape their bodies in all things black and could potentially be members of a cult, maybe."


Links in full

AtlanticAtlanticJoshua Green | Atlantic | Regulate pundits
see alsoSky NewsAdam Boulton | Sky News | Predictions For 2009: The Results
see alsoIain DaleIain Dale | Remembering my 2009 predictions
True/SlantLeor Galil | True/Slant | The Decade In Emo

Your Letters

15:59 UK time, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

How does anybody find the time to write letters to Paper Monitor two days before Christmas? I certainly couldn't.
Rob Falconer, Llandough, Wales

I completely misread this and announced to the entire office my shock that Jimi Somerville was going to be presenting the news. At least the group rendition of Don't Leave Me This Way left everyone else feeling as sullied as I did.
Dan, Cambridge

NZ policewoman allows naked cycling - with helmet. Titter.
Adam, London, UK

Having just read Web Monitor's summary of the New York Times article on Pantomines, I followed the link to the article in question. I was amused to read that Henry Winkler, as Captain Hook, alludes to his past role as the Fonz: "(he) shifts his weight back, turns his palms up and intones, 'Heyyy', still the essence of cool after all these years." Er..."palms"? He's Captain Hook, isn't he? Something doesn't quite add up...
Martin, Bristol, UK

This would all have ended differently if they had been on Facebook.
Dick Hobbs, Tunbridge Wells

I'm pleased to see that, in the Christmas spirit, the courts have shown leniency to Boy George. Regardless of his crimes, allowing him to participate in Celebrity Big Brother would surely have constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Edward Green, London

Paper Monitor

12:34 UK time, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

As Paper Monitor has noted previously, the Financial Times is a newspaper that boasts a glossy supplement dedicated to helping readers part with their wads of spare cash, and blithely assumes when it comes to educating tomorrow's generation of captains of industry that private schooling is more an obligation than an option.

So it comes as some surprise to find the paper shedding light on a key personal finance issue, albeit one which is unlikely to be troubling the CEO stratum of society - why are Christmas trees suddenly so bleeding expensive?

The FT notes that the price of trees has risen sharply for the second year running and it's a combination of the weak pound and a shortage of stock that's pushing prices up.

This being the FT, there's some robust economic reasoning, which Paper Monitor will précis:


  • tastes have changed, these days Brits prefer the Nordmann fir with its no-drop needles to the traditional Norwegian spruce

  • Nordmanns take about 10 years to grow to a good height - so while many were planted in the UK earlier this year, they're still in the ground

  • We used to get lots of our Nordmanns from Denmarks, but supplies have fallen sharply since 2005 when prices fell and there was a glut

  • The pound is week - so British growers who do have trees are making more money by flogging them to our Europe neighbours

But there is some good news for coming years - as British Nordmanns start to hit maturity, this inflationary spiral will end.

In the meantime, the FT suggests a few alternatives, including a best-selling line of artifical trees at DIY chain B&Q. Although one would suppose FT readers are less into the DIY ethos than the CWJPSTDI - can't we just pay someone to do it philosophy. But the most novel of all suggestions is Chrsitmas tree rental. Apparently a bloke in Dorset hires out "live root" trees which he'll deliver to your door.

Wednesday's Quote of the Day

10:59 UK time, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

"The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is, mainly, that it isn't a tragedy at all - it's just a postal mishap" - Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis on Shakespeare's famous tragedy.

Ms Maitlis admits she can't stand the play about two young "star-cross'd lovers" who kill themselves after an important message is not delievered from one to another. She says it's a terrible play and the lovers had their wires crossed - not their stars.

Web Monitor

16:22 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: the pantomime explained, Santa's big fat lie, and more from the world of geek rap.

Henry Winkler • Pantomime doesn't translate to the US, so Sarah Lyall's baffled look in the New York Times offers an explanation to Americans:

"Pantomimes reflect a strange paradox of the British national character: that people can be at once so uptight and so gleefully, childishly uninhibited."

It focuses on the big US stars, such as Pamela Anderson and Henry Winkler who used to play the Fonz in Happy Days' and has been playing Captain Hook for four years in various theatres. Winkler explains to Lyall the first time he was asked to take part:
"They called me and said, 'Listen, it's a pantomime; you don't know what it is, and there's no way to explain it.'"

• Web Monitor has been spoiled for choice of late when it comes to stories about fat Santa causing obesity. But Ashley Merryman in Newsweek's Nurture Shock blog reveals that a report by Australian epidemiologist Nathan Grills about the dangers of Father Christmas in the British Medical Journal was meant to be a joke. Picked up as a serious story with some even criticising Grills, Merryman caught up with article's writer:

"He's just bewildered - and a bit angry - that his Christmas mischief has gotten more publicity than he has ever received for his real job. When he's not beating up on mythical creatures, Grills spends his time in rural India, studying the transmission of HIV through the region; his expertise is in determining how charities can most effectively help victims of the disease."

• And we've had an update to previous geek rap posts. Colin Edwards from Exeter has contacted Web Monitor to put forward what he thinks is "possibly the only good use autotune has ever been put to. In Our Place in the Cosmos John Boswell takes the words of scientists, adds a bit of autotune magic, as is the theme of 2009, and makes a song to marvel at the wonders of the universe.

Incidentally, Stephen Dubner at the New York Times' Freakonomics blog points out that the aforementioned Keynes rap stems from a long line of economics raps, not quite comprehended by Dubner either.


Links in full


New York TimesSarah Lyall | New York Times | Topsy-Turvy Christmas Foolery
NewsweekAshley Merryman | Newsweek | Santa's a Health Menace? Study Was Meant as a Joke
see alsoJohn Boswell | YouTube | Our Place in the Cosmos
New York TimesStephen Dubner | New York Times | The latest economics rap

Your Letters

15:39 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Is the quiz rigged? Twice I selected the correct answer, but it said "no, sorry, the correct answer is [the answer I selected]". Technical hitch, or do you not want me to achieve a perfect score?
Maggie, London
Monitor note: Sorry. This was fixed within minutes, but for some users the correction seems not to have made it through. Click refresh and try again?

Away in the office
Wishing he was still in bed
The Little Lord David
Laid down his bored head

The manager in her office
Looked down where he lay
The little Lord David
Asleep on his In-Tray

The telephone is ringing
Poor employee awakes
And little Lord David
Sad faces he makes.
David Infense, Adelaide, Australia

Volcano on verge of eruption in Philippines - about 50,000 lives at risk. Why no mention on BBC News? What else are you missing, lying in snips on the cutting-room floor? Is the X Factor such a newsworthy priority to news editors?
Chris, Winchester
Monitor note: Chris, you missed here and here.

I like the fact this article uses the word "lobbed" rather than "threw".
Liam, Northampton

In response to Paper Monitor's note, can I add the BBC News headlines: "Snowfall delays Christmas getaway" and "Snow and ice cause more problems"?
Christmas cheer indeed.
David, Cannock, UK

I've been upset by you revealing the number of calories in a mince pie on the mini-quiz.
stuartridout @BBC_Magazine

How can the BBC have a "Snow Special" on the news when I've only got a bit of a frozen puddle outside the office?
andywhite @BBC_Magazine

Two for Web Monitor:
My wife's gone to Italy.
Genoa?
Course I do, she's my wife.

My wife's off to see the frozen wastes of America.
Alaska?
Why - don't you believe me?
G SIMS, Wakefield, England

Having read the two letters from Ed of Clacton (Monday letters), the phrase "dead man typing" springs to mind.
Chris, Paris, France

You asked for festive superstitions (Monday letters):
Turkey on Christmas Day.
Ham on Boxing Day.
Steak Pie on New Years Eve.
Venison on New Years Day.
Any diversion from these will lead to ruin and destruction for all concerned. We're not sure why, but tradition is tradition.
Andrew, Glasgow

I was going to post all the Monitorites a card, but I've missed the last post. Could you pass on my regards to everybody?
Yours Festively etc etc.
Andrew, Malvern, UK
Monitor note: Thank you. And you. Are you going for that Christmas drink with Kat?

Paper Monitor

10:15 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

I'm Dreaming of a While Christmas... when the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even... a beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland.

Snow. Isn't it just beautiful? As Christmas approaches, a fluffy 18-tog duvet has been laid across much of the country.

Let's turn to the newspapers to enjoy some of this seasonal cheer.

"Road, rail and air chaos as UK grinds to a halt" - the Guardian

"Bleak mid-winter travel chaos" - the Daily Telegraph

"Big freeze blights Christmas getaway" - the Times

"Britain hit by gritting chaos" - Daily Express (it almost sounds like the present continuous verb is being used here as a euphemism for a more hearty word)

Hmmm. Precious little Christmas spirit in evidence here.

While snow at Christmas - a highly unusual occurrence in some parts of the country - would fulfil the wishes of the child in us all, the truth is that snow and modern life - in much of Britain at least - just don't sit happily together.

It's a curious paradox indeed. Paper Monitor feels compelled to invoke the questioning instinct of pop supremo Prince by asking: what's this strange relationship all about?

Of course, the answer is simple - and the Daily Mail nails it on its front page? "WHY CAN'T WE COPE IN SNOW?" it wonders. Allow Paper Monitor to rephrase the question in even starker terms - why can't we have our cake and eat it?

Why indeed? The question is rhetorical - so don't turn to the Mail for an answer. All you will get instead is pictures of harassed looking commuters and travellers.

It's an all too familiar picture - a fact which Metro, to give it its due, is well aware of, preferring to give its front page picture slot over to a baby penguin yesterday at Edinburgh Zoo.

"We were going to stick a photo of winter travel chaos on the front page but we figure our readers in commuter-land are pretty familiar with that already."

Now that really is the Christmas spirit.

Tuesday's Quote of the Day

09:11 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

"Yes I did, because I got hit by snowballs" - Police officer admits to pulling out his gun at a snowball fight.

Caught in the crossfire during a mass snowball fight, the off-duty cop in Washington DC drew his police-issue gun after several of the snowy missiles hit his vehicle. He has since been placed on desk duty.
More details

Your Letters

15:50 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009

Re Shaolin Temple denies flotation report: For a moment there, I thought this was about levitation. How disappointing.
Rik Alewijnse, Feering, UK

What a waste of time measuring the perfect face - I could have sent a picture of my wife if they'd asked.
PS: If you publish this it might make up for me forgetting her birthday.
Ed, Clacton, UK

What a waste of time - it's obvious men do all the hard work so have tougher, less sensitive skin, while women spend time with their hands getting softened in the sink.
PS: If you used my last letter, I suspect this one will undo the good work.
Ed, Clacton, UK

This is a disgrace. It refers throughout to "whisky" and then reveals the test was done with bourbon, and then refers to it as a type of whisky. If it is not produced in Scotland, it is "whiskey". Please get this important distinction right.
PS. See BBC News style guide p57.
Ian, Winchester, UK

10 things, number five - Royal Mail's "while you were out" cards are not known as "739" but as "P739" cards.
G Campion, Wick, UK

Re 10 things, number two: So the moon is the coldest place in the solar system? Obviously it missed our house - or should that be igloo - when the central heating broke down and the part to fix it got snarled up in the postal strikes for weeks.
Merry Christmas to Magazine Monitor and its contributors.
Tim McMahon, Pennar, Wales

Watching Countryfile's Christmas special, I was horrified to see Adam displaying the 2010 calendar. Please tell him it's bad luck to show it before 1 January.
Sheila, Kidlington, Oxon

Web Monitor

15:42 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: the year in scientific nonsense, placing jokes and the history of canned laughter.

Ben Goldacre• The Year in Nonsense is Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre's summary of his low points in science this year. In his blog Bad Science ,the GP looks back at the stories filled with dodgy science:

"Alongside the usual barrage of PR reviewed data, we saw that exercise makes you fat, coffee makes you see dead people, and Facebook causes cancer, while housework prevents it, in women."

• Location, location, location. Important in business, important for school catchment areas and now important for jokes. Well, that's according to the She Went of Her Own Accord blog. The blog takes the joke "My wife went to the Caribbean. Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord" and runs with it. Anyone can add a similar location-based joke, just as long as they peg them on a Google map to show the place does exist. Here's joke 439:

Would you like to come and play cricket with my friend, he lives near the airport?


Heathrow?


No, but he's a really good batsmen.

• If that failed to make you chuckle, perhaps you could have done with some canned laughter in the background. Greg Beato in Reason magazine reveals the laughter track has been subject to more than one academic book and split opinions on whether it brings people together or is a form of coercion. Beato reports canned laughter has come back into fashion on internet comedy sketches:

"That the laugh track has fallen into the hands of upstart outsiders is the sort of irony that deserves a mechanical chuckle of its own. For most of its 60-year life, the eternally jovial chorus that graced so many of America's favorite sitcoms has been portrayed as a tool of monopolist coercion, favored by heavy-handed network executives attempting to orchestrate our responses to their force-fed fare."


Links in full


Bad ScienceBen Goldacre | Bad Science | The year in nonsense
see alsoShe went of her own accord
ReasonGreg Beato | Reason | Canned laughter lives


Paper Monitor

12:51 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It might be some consolation to Simon Cowell, as he contemplates Christmas without his customary number one single, that even a week after the X Factor show concluded, it is still hogging the headlines ahead of Strictly Come Dancing.

Chris Hollins may have lifted the dancing crown, much to his own surprise, but it's the
so-called biggest upset in chart history - a triumph for a protest song inspired by the Rodney King riots - that has the papers more fixated.

The retrospective of the Noughties in the Times also gives a nod to Cowell's influence on television.

And a story in the Independent about the most written-about celebrities of the decade - Madonna is first, incidentally - suggests X Factor judge Cheryl Cole could top the list in coming decade.

"Thanks to her primetime role as a judge on The X Factor, and the tabloid press's increasing fixation with her at the expense of her fellow Girls Aloud bandmates, Cole has seen her newspaper stocks skyrocket.
In 2007 there were 'just' 884 articles written about the Geordie singer but in 2008 - the year she joined The X Factor - the number of articles mentioning Cole jumped to 2,241. This year she has appeared in 3,745 articles, making her the fourth most written about celebrity of 2009."

There is no X Factor angle to the big sports news story from the weekend, the coming out of Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas.

After the scandal of Bloodgate, the sport needs to end the year with some positive vibes, and the warm welcome afforded Thomas when he played on Saturday goes some way to providing that.

The papers have been united in their support, with the odd humorous headline too - "I'M THE ONLY GAY... IN THE SCRUMMAGE"

That's in the Sun, of course, which ends a sympathetic piece about the agony of Thomas's double life with a throwaway line that must confirm to readers there really has been no doubt about his sexuality all along.

"At the weekend Gareth pulled on a pink away top for Cardiff as they played his old club Toulouse..."

Monday's Quote of the Day

09:46 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009

"As a presenter, if you can stay sober and upright for long enough, a proportion of the public will look upon you with what almost amounts to affection" - Terry Wogan on the art of popularity.

It's now 72 hours since his departure. But there will still be wailing and gnashing of teeth among the Togs.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

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