BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for January 10, 2010 - January 16, 2010

Your Letters

15:48 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

Re Potted history: While visiting Kerala just after the monsoon, I noticed the locals have a very novel way of pointing out the numerous potholes in the terrible roads. They up-root banana trees and saplings and then simply plant them in the potholes as they are so big. Kerala officials are all for pomp and ceremony when someone from Delhi visits and clear the local "riff-raff" off the streets so politicians and bigwigs will never have their views blighted. But someone always manages to pick out these eyesores by placing plants on the highways and byways so they really know what is going on. Pure class. Power to the people.
Sheeja, Dubai, UAE

Re Peppa Pig in seatbelt safety row: I for one am relieved to see the show's producers have seen sense and changed their stance on this. I'd hate to have seen that poor parent having to overrule their small child...
Sue, London

I clicked on the apple cake recipe link with excitement (Paper Monitor), only to find it would take me an additional 15 minutes to translate to American English before I could start baking. Caster sugar? bramleys? sugar and flour measurements in weight instead of cup volumes? Thank goodness our snow is melting here and I can raise my spirits without spending 30 minutes to make a cake.
Jenny, Chicago

This old children's book about what 2010 will be like (Web Monitor). With the automated washing facilities, the disposable crockery and the orange and black artwork its like living in a MacDonalds restaurant.
Paul I, St G, Cornwall

I'm disappointed to see the BBC celebrating copyright violation. There's nothing to suggest that Daniel Sinker got Geoffry Hoyle's permission to publish his book online.
Nick Eden, York

I'm five foot tall and, to be honest, "pint-sized" is not the most offensive thing I've ever been called (Thursday letters). It's certainly infinitely preferable to "vertically-challenged" or whatever the supposedly PC alternative is.
Hannah, London

Adam (Thursday letters) is this another example of Christmas starting earlier each year?
Ian, London

Adam, you may be the most considerate man in the UK. Bravo.
Sue, London

Ellie (Thursday letters) - I'm afraid if you don't know basic HTML you shouldn't be on the internet... you wouldn't allow someone to drive a car without knowing how the gears work.
Jim, Coventry

We've just received our French student, who'll be staying with us for the next three months. So far she has had porridge for breakfast, scones for high tea, and biryani. We have bewildered her with Coronation Street ("except we call it Corrie"), which she studied in school, and pointed out Brummie is quite different from Mancunuian.
Anything else?
Rachel, Minnetonka

Weekly Bonus Question

15:46 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010


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 not in the form on the right). And since nobody likes a smart alec, kudos will be deducted for predictability in your suggestions.

This week's answer is CHAOS AND JOY IN PUBLIC PLACES.

UPDATE 1604 BST: The correct question is, what is the point of "No Trousers Day" on the underground?(More details - Daily Telegraph)

Of your wilfully and deliberately wrong questions, we liked:

  • Killasafc's Gents & Ladies Loos to be renamed
  • Vickymeldrew's Simon Cowell & Sinitta to live in USA permanently.
  • ARoseByAnyOther's Anarchists AGM theme?
  • MightyGiddyUpGal's Reading out the list of school and work closures?

Thanks to all who entered.

Caption Competition

12:59 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The competition is now closed.

Full rules can be seen here [PDF].


This week, Joanna Lumley and Mrs Tiggywinkle announces special Valentine's Day family performances at the Royal Opera House for the charity Tickets for Troops.

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

6. Robin Johnston
"Eddy, Eddy, I've got your head, but where's the rest of you? Man, these new-style reefers are good."

5. David Regan
Same hair colouring, same cute little nose... but Joanna is shocked at the discoveries made in the new series of Who Do You Think You Are?

4. Christian Cook
Joanna Lumley quickly regretted asking Gino D'Acampo to do the buffet.

3. Candace
Yes, she's just back from meeting Sarah Palin.

2. Kudosless
Last to the buffet, Joanna was disappointed to miss out on the cheese and pineapple.

1. HaveGavel
IF: Beatrix Potter wrote Hamlet

10 things we didn't know last week

10:49 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

10_icicles_595_250.jpgSnippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Riot shields make good sledges.
More details

2. You can assault someone without touching them.
More details

3. Alligators and birds breathe the same way - in one direction only.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

4. Hiccups can be caused by brain tumours.
More details

5. South Korea has the fastest broadband in the world.
More details (Daily Telegraph)

6. Snow causes potholes.
More details

7. The same weather system that froze Britain also baked Greece in record temperatures.
More details

8. Michael Winner had part of his leg cut away due to oyster poisoning.
More details (Daily Mail)

9. It's OK to own military medals you haven't earned, but it's illegal to wear them.
More details

10. Animal heaven is called Rainbow Bridge.
More details
Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Ian and Chris Middleton for this week's picture of 10 icicles in Prospect New Town in Colorado, US.

Paper Monitor

10:47 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

She's back.

We predicted on these pages in October that Drunker Girl - seen carousing in Cardiff with her knickers around her ankles - would replace Drunk Girl as the newspapers' binge drink image of choice.

So the Daily Star chooses Drunker Girl to illustrate its story on the cost of booze quadrupling as the government tackles binge drinking. Paper Monitor cannot help but notice that the picture has been flipped.

Elsewhere in meltdown-of-society news, we have a classic in the Daily Mail.

In a variation on Kate Bush's Babooshka - or Rupert Holmes's If You Like Pina Coladas - there's an extraordinary story about a woman who set up a fake Facebook profile as an attractive 21-year-old to establish that her husband was cheating.

In yet more meltdown news, the Daily Express splashes on the story of the family whose house was squatted over Christmas by gypsies.

And the Guardian's Lost in Showbiz has yet more worrying news:

Dabbers at the ready, ye players of apocalypse bingo. Dermot O'Leary is in talks to present a political show, which means we're all one number closer to a full house.

Finally, hats off to the Sun for the most Yoda-like headline of the days: "Failure Benitez must Kop sack."

Friday's Quote of the Day

07:53 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

"A surprisingly sweet and likeable guest judge, once you got past wondering how a 35-year-old woman could have such skinny arms" - US reviewer on Victoria Beckham's stint on American Idol.

When the singer/designer/whatever joined the panel, taking over from Paula Abdul, her performance got a rare thumbs-up from Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman of Fox News - the same network that broadcasts the talent quest.
More details

Your Letters

17:53 UK time, Thursday, 14 January 2010

I demand Wednesday's letters! You've ruined the lunch hour.
PS: Please respond to my demands.
Jo, London
Monitor note: Your wish is my command. A bumper crop today.

Re Tories call to revamp alcohol labelling: Could I suggest removing the number of alcohol units from the label and refusing to serve anyone who can't multiply volume of fluid by percentage strength as obviously too drunk to be served?
Ed, Clacton, UK

"Pint-sized Pc Robin Port..." is an offensive description of the police officer referred to as the shortest policeman in Britain. Would the journalist who wrote this like to be called "fat" if overweight, "scrawny" if thin or any other derogatory description?
John, Northampton, UK

Re: Ancient map with China at centre goes on show in US: "Ricci was a very smart missionary. He put China right at the centre of this new universe, this new globe, to underscore its importance." Of course China is at the centre of a Chinese map. "China" in Chinese means "Country at the centre". Ricci's head would probably have been lopped off if he didn't put China there.
Jan, London, UK

The BBC has admitted to giving undue prominence to U2. On that page are links to stories about "U2 tour hottest US ticket"; "U2 to headline Glastonbury"; four more U2 stories; and a link to "U2 at the BBC", with lots of other stuff about, er, U2.
Good to see that the BBC has reacted so swiftly to criticism...
John Whapshott, Westbury, England

The timing of the person walking across the road in the background towards the end of this video is perfect.
Olly, London, UK

Judging from the picture in Two held after frozen canal drive, it seems like they got quite a long way before they fell in.
Stuart, Sydney formerly Croydon

This morning I finally solved a mystery that had long puzzled me, namely the last verse of Good King Wenceslas: "In his master's steps he trod / Where the snow lay dinted / Heat was in the very sod / Which the saint had printed."
How on earth, I thought, could footsteps transfer significant amounts of heat? Now I know. On my way to work this morning, I walked across an almost pristine snowscape, which had just one set of footprints on it. Not wishing to spoil the beautiful scene, I walked in the footsteps, which had been made by someone with a longer stride than my own, so my walking pace naturally quickened. It is likely that the page boy was shorter than the king, so he would have experienced the same effect, and when you walk more quickly, you get warmer. Simples!
Adam, London, UK

Unashamed-exaggeration-for-a-cheap-pun-watch in Exhaust pipe sledge a winter hit. You say: "A Nuneaton engineer says he has been snowed under by orders for sledges built from car exhaust pipes." But he says: "I've had two orders from people stopping me to say: 'I love that - can I have one?'"
Tom Webb, Surbiton, UK

With reference to last week's Caption Competition (even though I know it's too late to formally enter) and to the current change in the weather, may I suggest "I thawt I thaw a thaw"?
Paul Greggor, London

Just to take issue with Rob (Tuesday letters). I find more relevance in Ron Jeremy lecturing on the internet, as it actually has an impact on his career/living, therefore he has a vested interest in it. Rainforest clearance however has no direct link on a certain patronising Irishman.
Owain Williams, Regensburg

Snowverload. Seriously, Paper Monitor?
Katherine, Canberra, Australia

Simon (Tuesday letters) may have a point; I clicked on Bizarre cricket caught on camera hoping to read about new evidence in the England ball-tampering controversy.
Edward Green, London, UK

She's back!
HB, London

Can you remind me how to post hyperlinks in my message? I have a witty comment to make but no clue how to link to the article... I bet by the time I find out someone will have already made the witty comment. Shucks.
Ellie, Oxford, UK

Web Monitor

14:53 UK time, Thursday, 14 January 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: A dislike of the word "like" and how to brag.

Christopher Hitchens is starting a campaign in Vanity Fair against the word "like". He hasn't come over all negative; he just like wants to get rid of the word's use as filler. He thinks it will be necessary to take another step and bring back the use of "as". Mr Hitchens urges vigilance:

"It can, however, be pruned and rationed, and made the object of mockery for those who have surrendered to it altogether. The restoration of the word 'as', which isn't that hard a word to master, along with 'such as', would also be a help in varying the national lingo."

• The Research Digest blog is bragging that it has found out how to brag without looking bad. The research by Nurit Tal-Or suggests that as long as you didn't appear to bring up a subject, you can get away with boasting about it:

"To pull off a successful boast, you need it to be appropriate to the conversation. If your friend, colleague, or date raises the topic, you can go ahead and pull a relevant boast in safety. Alternatively, if you're forced to turn the conversation onto the required topic then you must succeed in provoking a question from your conversation partner. If there's no question and you raised the topic then any boast you make will leave you looking like a big-head."

Links in full

Vanity FairChristopher Hitchens | Vanity Fair | The Other L-Word
BloggerResearch Digest Blog | How To Brag

PS: An earlier version of this post referred to a 1972 book predicting life in 2010. Watch this space for more on 2010: Living in the Future.

Paper Monitor

12:29 UK time, Thursday, 14 January 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

The day starts like any other. "Have we got the papers?" asks your correspondent, eyes flitting about for the first sighting of a fresh pile of newsprint, for the paper boy never delivers to the same place twice.

"Yes, here they are," grunts the Monitor Towers inhabitant closest - this time - to the stack. Depending on who it is, they either take the trouble to pass these over, or gesture vaguely in the general direction.

On receiving this precious load, imagine Paper Monitor's delight when, upon delving into the wedge, the first page that falls open is a recipe for Swedish apple cake, courtesy of the Guardian. And a Swedish apple cake the recipe writer insists will take just 15 minutes to make. These are all of Paper Monitor's favourite words, gathered together in one place. Swedish. Apple. Cake. And - and! - 15 minutes. Can you feel your waning Blitz/Dunkirk/Henman Hill spirit returning?

Elsewhere in the paper, Passnotes No 2,711 addresses the issue of snowverload (© Wednesday's Paper Monitor) and what bothers the British about too much snow for too long:

"Let us take your problems in turn. Surely you can work from home? No. Like about 90% of the population, I can't. I can, however, have my pay docked if I don't make it into the office for days at a time.
Hmm. OK. At least you can eat out of the freezer? Yes. I do habitually. What a delightful series of repasts can be concocted using nothing but four-year-old fish fingers, a forgotten macaroni cheese and a bagful of frozen pomegranate seeds, that pitiful result of last summer's attempt to emulate Nigella's bountiful kitchen practices."

Finally - on a completely different note - the Independent runs its verdict on Legally Blonde, the latest stage-musical-of-a-film to hit the West End. Can you guess what their male reviewer made of it?

Why, he grants it four enthusiastic stars out of five.

"I had thought snootily that the stage show of Legally Blonde might put the 'ugh' in 'euuuugh!' But omigod was I like totally blown away. It may not be quite as good as Hairspray (it lacks that show's lovely, double-bluffing libertarian dimension), but it's ridiculously enjoyable from start to finish and camp peroxide-perfection in terms of its showbiz roots."

Who'd have thought?

Thursday's Quote of the Day

10:49 UK time, Thursday, 14 January 2010

"Gangland bling" - Historian David Starkey describing a hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver artefacts.

Mr Starkey was speaking at the launch of a public appeal on Wednesday to raise £3.3m to keep the ornate objects - found in a field in Staffordshire last year - in the Midlands and in public hands. "This is the Rolex watch and gold chains of a gang leader," he said.

Your Letters

17:06 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Apologies, letters are being held over until tomorrow (Thursday).

Web Monitor

14:13 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Celebrating the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: an alien lottery, teaching physics to a dog and why Lady Godiva wouldn't be shocking now.

Frank DrakeWeb Monitor mentioned previously the Drake equation being used in an inventive way by Peter Backus in his search for a girlfriend.
Now the New Scientist talk to the man who invented the equation for finding aliens, Frank Drake. He says that we would need to look at 10 million stars before we find one that might host life. Mr Drake says when he started out looking for extra-terrestrials over 50 years ago he used to be a little more hopeful:

"In 1957 I was studying the Pleiades star cluster at Harvard University's radio observatory. On one occasion we saw an added feature in the data. It turned out to be an amateur radio enthusiast near the observatory, but at the time I thought we had detected clear evidence of another civilisation. You feel a very strong emotion that you never feel otherwise. It's a combination of elation and excitement and the sense that everything we know is going to change."

• Physics, according to Chad Orzel in Seed Magazine, can be taught to a dog. Or at least that's what his agent told him, who convinced him to write the book How to Teach Physics to Your Dog.
The physics professor usually spends his day teaching quantum mechanics but explains that dogs see the world as a constant source of wonder which helps. Here's a conversation he says he has with his dog:

"'Pretty cold, dude,' she says.
'Yeah,' I say. 'It's cold, all right.'
'You better let me outside,' she says, tail wagging. 'I'm gonna catch a whole bunch of bunnies!'
'A whole bunch? How do you figure?'
'Well, it's so cold that they'll all be together. You know, like one of those Bozo condensates.'
'Bozo condensate?' It's too early in the morning for this.
'You know. When you get stuff cold enough, all the atoms in it suddenly condense into a single quantum state. A Bozo condensate. Since it's so cold, all the bunnies will condense together. Then when I catch one, I'll catch them all. Bunnies galore!' Her whole rear end is wagging."

• Are we just not shocked by naked bodies anymore? Elizabeth Kirkwood in Prospect magazine seems to thinks so. She asks if naked protest has had its day:

"From Lady Godiva to the bra-burning of the 1970s, naked protest has been deemed rebellious largely because of the 'deviant' associations of nudity. Although we now like to consider ourselves too liberal and liberated to find public nudity deviant, clothing still remains the most powerful and immediate signifier of our socialisation. And the re-emergence of nudity as a popular form of political protest in recent years is striking - groups such as Breasts Not Bombs, World Naked Bike Ride and Bare Witness use it as their primary campaign tool. But it perhaps suggests a different story: not that we find nudity scandalising, but that it has become harder to appear truly naked in public."

Links in full

New ScientistRichard Fisher | New Scientist | Frank Drake: Half a century listening for ET
see alsoChad Orzel | Seed Magazine | The Dog Particle
ProspectElizabeth Kirkwood | Prospect | Decent Exposure

Paper Monitor

13:30 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Oh no, here we go again. Snow, snow and more snow. Less of the brrrr, more of the grrrr.

What, in its scarcity, once prompted gasps of surprise and delight, in its ubiquity elicits more uncharitable responses, such as "Blast, does that mean the trains will be out of action/schools will be shut etc?"

Snowverload, anyone?

But the return of the white stuff could be a shot in the arm for Paper Monitor's strand of tales to warm the heart of frozen Britain.

The slow melt is starting to gnaw away at all that fabled Blitz/Dunkirk/Henman Hill spirit, with stories of potholes appearing as the snow melts and rubbish going uncollected.

There's only one writer in today's paper holding the plucky Brit banner aloft - Max Hastings.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Hastings marvels at how, as public services have sagged under all the bad weather, ordinary folk have shown their mettle.

"Grumpiness is banished" opines Hastings, who clearly doesn't share Paper Monitor's commute into the office.

Over at the Independent, there's a story about a "crusading editor". But let it be known - the subject of this headline is a campaigning Chinese journalist, not one Rod Liddle.

The latter, a Sunday Times columnist and former BBC Radio 4 Today editor, is apparently being lined up to take the big chair at the Indy if, as seems ever more likely, Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev snaps up the paper.

Efforts to see off the appointment of Liddle have given rise to a campaign on Facebook entitled "If Rod Liddle becomes editor of The Independent, I will not buy it again".

It seems the Indy faithful are not enamoured of Liddle's, er, provocative views on women, immigration and the Middle East and various other matters.

Paper Monitor assumes that veteran media commentator Roy Greenslade is not a member, but full marks to him for digging up this review by Liddle from last year of a book about Russian oligarchs.

"It is a magnificently emetic account of the lifestyles of the Russki oligarchs who, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have made their homes in London to take advantage of our generous tax laws, imperviousness to extradition proceedings and profusion of sushi restaurants."

Wednesday's Quote of the Day

10:09 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

"If you asked my mother and father about my pay they'd probably tell you it is too high" - Royal Bank of Scotland boss Stephen Hester on his £10m pay package.

Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee on Tuesday, Mr Hester admitted even his own parents think his pay is excessive. He told the committee he was aksed what it would take for him to do the job and all he said was that he would be content to be paid the "going rate". As the papers point out, it's that "going rate" that bothers people.
More details (Independent)

Your Letters

15:49 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

"2000 movies under his belt" eh? I bet...
Paul, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

We've had pop stars lecturing us about the rainforest and political issues, actors lecturing us about religion, and now a porn star lecturing us about the internet. What's wrong BBC, can't you find any real experts anymore?
Rob, London, UK

Come on! You're just trying to confuse us and get people to click through hoping to see the successor to 20/20 - Bizarre cricket caught on camera for first time is definitely different from the actual story headline "New cricket species filmed pollinating orchids". Isn't it just the Science and Environment eds trying to up their hit rates? Next they'll be on Twitter and Facebook.
Simon, Nottingham, UK

Inverted Stockholm Syndrome?
Nuno Aragao, Aveiro, Portugal

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge. Nominative determinism, or just a massive title and no surname?
Adrian, Sheffield

Can statistics help catch terrorists? As a statistician, I think I can give a definitive answer to that question: probably.
Adam, London, UK

Re Never falling out of love with books:. Nah. Bring on Fahrenheit 451...It's time to stop all that printing.
tomrowan @BBC_magazine

Web Monitor

15:17 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: why a cow might attack Woody Allen, slowing down the slow movement and helpful inequality.

woodyallen226.jpg• In the New Yorker Woody Allen lets his imagination run away with him after reports that 16 out of 20 people killed by cows in the US were purposefully struck. Mr Allen ponders how it would feel for a cow to strike a film director uncannily like himself, starting with the cow being underwhelmed by meeting the director:

"Imagine my surprise when I lamped the triple threat I speak of and registered neither a brooding cult genius nor a matinée idol but a wormy little cipher, myopic behind black-framed glasses and groomed loutishly in his idea of rural chic: all tweedy and woodsy, with cap and muffler, ready for the leprechauns... He had begun eyeballing the comelier types, and, clasping some actress's hand with his rodent's paw... It was at this point that I decided to kill him."

Incidentally, the BBC Magazine answered the question Why Do Cows Attack in June.

Jennifer Leonard at Good Magazine asks "futurists" why slowness may be important in the future. Science-fiction author Bruce Sterling brings up a problem with the idea - the slow movement is just going too fast :

"'The slow movement imagines itself to belong by rights to the cultural layer' - a slow-moving layer of society - 'but it's still in the layer of fashionable activism.'"

• It's not often that you hear someone advocating inequality. But economist Robin Hanson gives it a go in his blog Overcoming Bias. He argues it's good for business:

"The number of new businesses we get seems limited by the number of folks personally wealthy enough to start new businesses. So having more really rich folks benefits everyone via innovation."

Links in full:

New YorkerWoody Allen | New Yorker | Udder Madness
Good MagazineJennifer Leonard | Good Magazine | Hurry-up and wait
Overcoming BiasRobin Hanson | Overcoming Bias | Helpful Inequality

Paper Monitor

12:41 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Is there a Guardian supplement less likely to be read during work time? "SEXUAL HEALTH - Beat the stigma" (sorry, no online link available). The newsprint practically combusts as it's discarded. Is it the photo of the needle on the cover? The mere thought of needles and parts down there aren't conducive to a happy office. One would assume.

Meanwhile, let's play - drum roll, please - How Long For The Guardian's Top 50 TV Dramas List to Mention The Wire? (Note to self: must find snappier title.)

In the front page promotion box? No, that has photos of Tony Soprano and Sebastian Flyte, rather than, say, Omar and/or McNaulty. Nor is it number one - the gong goes to The Sopranos. The Wire only just squeaks into the top 15, ranking 14th behind the likes of Brideshead Revisited (2), A Very Peculiar Practice (5), Twin Peaks (12) and Queer As Folk (13). (Corrie is the highest-placed soap at 26, followed by Brookside (38) and EastEnders (48). The only kids' TV to make the cut is Grange Hill, which seems rather unfair on CBBC's Ooglies, in which all life and death is played out by household items with googly eyes.)

Oh look, here's its consolation prize - it gets a mention in the intro:

"Killer TV
When the Guardian's television critics sat down to rank the 50 greatest dramas ever made, The Wire might have seemed a shoo-in to win."

In other news, the Times runs a fascinating extract from a new book on how Sarah Palin was brought up to speed on foreign policy, history, current events and, you know, stuff.

"Early on, she told her team she absorbed information best on five-by-seven index cards. She became obsessive, wanting to put every pertinent piece of information on separate cards...
The index cards were piling up by the hundreds, but Palin wasn't absorbing the material written on them. When her aides tried to quiz her, she would routinely shut down - chin on her chest, arms folded, eyes cast to the floor, speechless and motionless, lost in what those around her described as a kind of catatonic stupor."

Speaking of unhappy politicians, both the Guardian and Times use Nick Clegg's criticism of baby guru Gina Ford to apply her let-'em-cry methods to MPs.

G2 runs Gina Ford's Contented Little Politician:

"6.45am Wake up. MP should have something to drink that fulfils all his/her ­nutritional needs (Old ­Labour: stout; New ­Labour: pinot grigio; Lib Dems: tea, weak, one sugar, no - two, no - one; Tories: swan juice). When MP dramatically splutters it out by being incensed by John Humphrys/Polly Toynbee/ ­Melanie Phillips, patiently give your MP their drink again.
7am Toilet MP. Try to ­remove as much matter from the ­bottom end as possible to stop it accidentally coming out of MP's mouth later, in front of a journalist."

And a Times leader also imagines a strict Westminster regime:

"6am-8am Having spent the night sleeping like a baby (ie, waking up screaming every 38 minutes), your MP must adopt a morning routine of listening to the Today programme on Radio 4, during which she may weep violently on hearing a clumsy colleague give John Humphrys a reply that rewrites her party's policy. It is important to let the MP cry. Offering comfort will only give her false reassurance that somebody actually cares."

Tuesday's Quote of the Day

09:34 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

"May our tongues be gentle, our e-mails be simple and our websites be accessible" - Service to bless smartphones and laptops at St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London.

In a tradition dating from medieval times, farm labourers would bring a plough to the door of the church to be blessed on the the first Monday after Twelfth Night, known as Plough Monday. But few, if any, workers in Canon Parrott's flock work the land, and so he updated the service to bless the congregation's laptops, iPhones and BlackBerries. As the organist played Gran Vals, perhaps better known as the Nokia ringtone.
More details (Times)

Your Letters

16:26 UK time, Monday, 11 January 2010

I thought this story - "Passengers strip for No Pants Day" - was going to be more interesting.
Sukie, Loughborough

Re: Dress-Less girl: What was Victoria Beckham doing in Nottingham during the adverse weather?
Louise, Botto, UK

I get the feeling that these people changed their description of their product after seeing what happened here.
Tom Webb, Surbiton, UK

If all the other volunteers are snowed in, and none of the animals being looked after have opposable thumbs, then who took the photo of Mr Weeks while he was sleeping?
Rob, London, UK

All she needs is a nice pair of kitten heels to complete the look.
Dylan, Reading, UK

Kat Gregg, Coventry (Thursday's Letters). I'm more disturbed by the sick individuals who resurrect the corpse of an eight month-old news story, and defile it by making it popular again.
Johnny, York, UK

Web Monitor

15:39 UK time, Monday, 11 January 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: the case against professionalism, the most difficult language to learn and when the likelihood of getting a girlfriend seems alien.

Ed Smith• In More Intelligent Life ex-professional cricketer Ed Smith is waging war on the concept of professionalism. He has seen the number of coaches and analysts mushroom and wonders if all this has actually helped anyone play cricket any better:

"Professionalism was continually invoked as the primary means of improvement, whereas amateurishness was mocked as a laughable relic. But it was often unclear to me what the word professionalism meant. 'What we really need,' people would say, is 'a good, solid professional win.' How does that differ, I always wanted to ask, from a normal kind of win? In fact, professionalism wasn't so much a real process as a form of self-definition. We had to become ever-more professional, because that was the lens through which we interpreted progress and success."

• Meanwhile, sister publication the Economist warns half of today's languages may be gone in a century. So the race is on for linguists to learn them. The Economist helps by trying to work out what the most difficult language to learn would be. It chooses Tuyuca from the eastern Amazon, because of the change in mind-set needed:

"Most fascinating is a feature that would make any journalist tremble. Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something. Diga ape-wi means that 'the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him)', while diga ape-hiyi means 'the boy played soccer (I assume)'. English can provide such information, but for Tuyuca that is an obligatory ending on the verb. Evidential languages force speakers to think hard about how they learned what they say they know."

Warwick University economist Peter Backus's study (122 KB PDF) Why I Don't Have a Girlfriend:
An Application of the Drake Equation to Love in the UK makes for poignant reading. Astonomer Frank Drake developed the equation to estimate the number of highly-evolved civilizations. Pete Backus explains why he saw this method as suitable:

"While extraterrestrial civilizations may be rare, there is something that is
seemingly rarer still: A girlfriend. For me. What might the approach employed in
the estimation of the number of alien civilizations tell us about the number of
potential girlfriends for me? A somewhat less scientific question, I admit, but one
of substantial personal importance."

Cutting out the actual equation, his conclusion is bleak:

"There are 26 women in London with whom I might have a wonderful relationship. So, on a given night out in London there is a 0.0000034% chance of meeting one of these special people, about 100 times better than finding an alien civilization we can communicate with. That's a 1 in 285,000 chance. Not great."

Links in full

Intelligent LifeEd Smith | More Intelligent Life | Are we too professional?
EconomistEconomist | Tongue twisters
Warwick UniversityPeter Backus | Warwick University | Why I don't have a girlfriend: An application of the Drake Equation to love in the UK

Paper Monitor

11:55 UK time, Monday, 11 January 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Welcome to a new Paper Monitor strand to warm the cockles and thaw the ice.

Heartwarming tales of British pluck and neighbourliness abound, which means we can expect the words "spirit", "Dunkirk" and "Blitz" to accompany such reports, often in the same sentence.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has called on the nation to demonstrate "a big dose of common sense and generosity" in response to the plunging temperatures.

And, boy, have we overdosed.

The Daily Telegraph proudly lists such endeavours on its front page, such as 200 parents and children shovelling snow away from the entrance to a school in Buckinghamshire, so that pupils could sit exams.

The same kind of heroics are reported in the Daily Star (alongside pictures of bikini-clad sledgers), which says that helpers in Gosport dug out the entrance to a school so the children could continue with their education.

And mountain rescuers walked for an hour to reach five walkers stuck in a blizzard in north Yorkshire, says the Sun, while the BBC reports that scouts have been defying the cold temperatures to camp out in Essex.

And final word must go to the young women featured in this Daily Mail picture spread, who nobly regard wrapping up warm on a night out as a defeatist attitude.

Move over, Drunk Girl, it's Dress-Less Girl.

Monday's Quote of the Day

09:57 UK time, Monday, 11 January 2010

"He was very excited to find a real good woman" - Roommate of Haisong Jiang who sparked a manhunt after kissing his girlfriend at an airport

With US airports on high alert after the alleged failed attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, student Haisong Jiang's act of ducking under a security barrier to give his girlfriend a final kiss did not go down well. The bio-medical research student, who was saying goodbye to his girlfriend at Newark airport in New York, was captured on CCTV leading to a seven-hour shutdown of Terminal C and a manhunt which ended at his student digs.
More details (New York Daily News)

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