BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for February 14, 2010 - February 20, 2010

10 things we didn't know last week

17:38 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

bottles_226.jpgSnippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. The Dalai Lama has met every serving US president since 1991.
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2. The Barbie doll has had 125 careers since 1959.
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3. There is a Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
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4. 10 possible endings were written and rehearsed for the EastEnders live episode.
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5. Pregnant women do not need to eat for two.
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6. Winning the lottery really does make you happier.
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7. Australia has never had a saint. Until now.
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8. The Battle of Bosworth actually took place more than a mile from where we thought.
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9. Goldie Hawn runs schools.
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10. King Tut broke his leg shortly before his death.
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Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Darren Leathley for this picture of milk bottles waiting to be collected in Leeds.

Weekly Bonus Question

16:34 UK time, Friday, 19 February 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).

Any answers submitted using the form on the right will NOT be included.

And since nobody likes a smart alec, kudos will be deducted for predictability in your suggestions.

This week's answer is "TUXEDOS TO THE TRAINING CAMP".

UPDATE 1634 GMT: The real question was: "What did Shakhtar Donetsk players not take with them?" More details

Of your wilfully and deliberately wrong questions, we liked:

  • LaurenceLane's What's the first requirement when you are selected for Strictly Come Dancing?
  • SimonRooke wrote: What do you require to attend the Bullingdon Club's selection course?
  • Potholes_in_my_lawn's How do M16 refer to aspiring 007 agents?

Your Letters (Part Two)

14:29 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

"Jellyfish bride humidity disaster area". Best. Description. Ever.
Paul Maplesden, Tunbridge Wells, UK

Rhiannan (Letters Pt 1, Friday) should know that there is only one correct use for a Woman's Weekly and she should refer to Victoria Wood for the specifics. Mind the Hostess trolley on the way out though.
Jaye, Rutland, England

You really shouldn't use "sex" and "weapon" in the same headline.
Basil Long, Nottingham

Re Kay Burley's (herself a Catholic) "whoopsie" over John Biden's Ash Wednesday mark on his forehead reminds me of the true occassion in Australia of a street seller vending crosses around Eastertime. His pitch was: "Two dollars for a cross and only three for one with the little man nailed to it." He had to disappear rapidly when a crowd turned on him.
Tim McMahon, Pennar/Wales

The link to this article states "Parents' anger after girl told by health officials she's overweight" however, in the actual article it says "Mrs Davies told BBC News she was more 'bemused' by the letter than angry." So, is she angry or not?
Edd, Cardiff

I think Monitor needs to start treating his or her underlings with a bit more love and sympathy. The underling responsible for the non-appearance of last Wednesday's letters got told off too, and look what happened? Have you considered that the underling might just be getting demotivated? You need to nurture your underlings and encourage them by buying them tea-cakes and stuff like that. A happy underling is a productive underling...
Adam, London, UK

Your Letters (Part One)

11:56 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

Monitor note: To make up for the non-appearance of yesterday's letters, you get two lots today. The underling responsible has been summarily told off.

"She had an overpowering scent," he recalled in 1994. "And it drove me crazy." Of what? Now that's puzzled me no end. Perfume or pheromones?
Sandi, London

"The defendant was last seen wearing dark trousers and a black anorak style raincoat." Am I the only person to think that a white suit with large black arrows on it might have helped make him a bit more conspicuous?
QJ, Stafford, UK

If looks could kill this poor doctor would be doomed.
Flavia, Dublin

It's good to know that Prince William also picks his nose.
Basil Long, Nottingham

I wouldn't worry too much Louisa (Wednesday's letters). The ancient reading material in doctors' waiting rooms is much like the light from a distant star - it'll take several millennia until the last edition finally shows up.
Tim, Ottawa, Canada

Louisa (Wednesday's letters), I find that the cover of the Woman's Weekly with all the pages ripped out, or the nine- year-old copy of the National Geographic make fascinating reading in my local GP surgery, perhaps you could transfer your loyalty to them?
Rhiannan, Taunton

Paper Monitor

11:31 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's the 20th anniversary of Adobe Photoshop, and this tool, so vital in Fleet Street these days, is celebrated in the Metro.

There's a lovely selection of examples including non-existent missiles, disembodied hands and super-shrunk waists. It's enough to make even the hardiest picture editor blanch a little.

The Daily Mail has a story about photo manipulation but doesn't shoehorn the Photoshop anniversary into it.

Instead it brings you the front-page bombshell "Palace: William does NOT use black hair dye".

Well, Paper Monitor also does NOT use black hair dye. Indeed, and this is regrettable for the black hair-dye industry, most people do NOT use black hair dye. The default setting is probably leaving your hair alone, particularly among the male population.

Reporting on something not happening is a funny thing.

The reason for the Daily Mail's story is a shot of Prince William where his hair looks a bit darker than usual.

The Mail explains that this is down to "studio lighting and technical jiggery-pokery".

But does the Daily Mail audience not know that photos sometimes come out looking a bit different to reality? Is their readership dominated by people who think photos steal a bit of your soul?

And speaking of the picture editors, they often face difficult decisions. For instance, should one run a picture of Silvio Berlusconi's dental hygienist and a potential political candidate on page three of the Daily Telegraph?

Err, not sure?

Does seeing the image alter your view?

Ah, you say "yes" now? And was that a "hubba hubba" I hear?

Friday's Quote of The Day

09:11 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

"We should never alter names and Tickle Cock has a very clear message behind it" - An author from Castleford speaks out after a local underpass gets to keep its traditional name.

It sounds like it has been lifted from a Carry On film, but Tickle Cock has been the name of the underpass at a railway line in Castleford for generations. The local council felt the name was too embarrassing and put up a sign bearing the name Tittle Cott, but after a campaign it has reverted back to its original moniker.
More details (The Telegraph)

Web Monitor

16:20 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: stifling yawns, the history of fake beards, and dating data.

President Obama• Being the leader of the free world means you have to look at a lot of boring stuff. That's the conclusion of New York Magazine which has compiled a photo gallery of President Obama apparently feigning interest in mundane things. He looks concerned at an array of solar panels, considers the marvels of many microscopes and, for some reason, is shown lots of office wiring.

Brian Palmer at Slate reports on what he sees as the most significant aspect of the Dubai killing recently reported: the presence of fake beards. He looks back at the history of bogus beards:

"Fake beards have played supporting roles in several notable international incidents. When Australia's Nugan Hand Bank collapsed in 1980, amid accusations of having trafficked drugs to support American intelligence operations, one of the institution's founders was allegedly smuggled out of the country in a fake beard. Antonio Mendez, the former chief of disguise for the CIA, used fake facial hair extensively in Cold War Russia. He often put false mustaches on agents going to pick up Russian nuclear secrets from a double-agent called Trinity, so they would blend in with the other comrades. The CIA is so keenly aware of the importance of facial hair that it twice concocted schemes to remove Fidel Castro's beard, hoping that his nude face would seem less authoritative to the Cuban people."

• Data mining at its finest is seen at the blog for dating network OK Cupid, as Mentioned before in Web Monitor. Christian Rudder has been crunching the numbers from his userbase and argues male singletons are wrong to restrict the age of their potential partners, and are wrong if they assume women get less attractive as they get older:

"Many of you are probably scoffing at the idea that many 35 year-olds are as attractive as many 25 year-olds, but there are social factors at work that you might not consider as you go through life making judgments. Most importantly: nationwide, thirtysomethings are much more likely to be married and therefore much more likely to have stopped optimizing their attractiveness. So the typical 35 year-old woman you see out in the world isn't representative of the single 35 year-olds who are still dating and looking good."

Links in full

SlateBrian Palmer | Slate | Go Go Gadget Beard!
Ok CupidChristian Rudder | OK Cupid | The case for the older woman
New York MagazineNew York Magazine | A history of President Obama feigning interest in mundane things

Paper Monitor

11:42 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

One's esteemed colleague Mr Blastland last week gave something away about his age, referring as he did to owning a scratched T-Rex single when he was 13. So Paper Monitor is reluctant to drop any hint as to age. But boy-oh-boy, reading today's Sun sure makes it feel

• like the 80s are back/
• like what the 80s must have felt like. (Delete as applicable)

taskforce.jpgPage One. "NAVY RUSH TO FALKLANDS", it says. "TASK FORCE 2".
Page Three. "Bazooma Britain - Scouse girls have biggest - Geordie lads are experts - Women ogle 'em the most."

This latter report comes complete with a regional breakdown of relative average bra sizes around the country, ranging from 34DD in Liverpool to 32A in Aberdeen. Now far be it from Paper Monitor to question the research, which was conducted by the polling organisation cosmetic surgery group Transform (whose website promise "The breasts you've always wanted from £77 per month" surely needs some cosmetic surgery of its own in the form of some punctuation), but if there truly was such a difference in the regional asset base of the country, wouldn't someone have already noticed? Just wondering.

So while it's the 80s at the Sun, it's 2007 at the Independent, which is seeming to slip into bad old habits by having all of pages two and three taken up with pictures of sad looking primates. That lemur might be on the brink of extinction, but crikey it's cute.

In fact it would be pretty easy to confuse the primates with some even more cute pictures of sleeping babies (with almost alien smiles) on a double page spread in the Daily Mail. "Some are swaddled in knitted scarves, others are snuggled up in hammocks, snoozing on a fluffy rug or curled up in a wicker basket - but they all have in common their unique, gently-contorted poses. To curl the babies into these positions [the two American and one Canadian photographers] have a simple trick: they photograph the babies when they are between five and 10 days old. At that age, they sleep soundly and they are malleable to be moved into 'curly' positions."

When the parents see the results "many of them burst into tears", the paper writes, though it seems like this is a good thing. You can see the pictures here. But one can't help wondering if, when they are old enough, any of these little people might feel a bit hard done by, what with all the gentle contortions and photographs in papers and all.

Last word today goes to the redoubtable Telegraph feature writer Bryony Gordon, whose work one admires. But in a remarkable confessional, this 29-year-old writer at one of the world's great newspapers, which has the highest circulation of any of the daily "quality" market, reveals that she is still not completely financially independent. Her mother bought most of the flat she is living in, and last month had to pay her gas bill.

"I am still partly reliant on my parents, despite being old enough to be one myself, a point that my mother never tires of making. 'You know that you are going to be 30 this year,' she says. 'When I was your age, I was already paying your school fees.'"

Caption Competition

10:56 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010


Winning entries in the Caption Competition

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


This week's image was a drawing of a UFO sighting over Knutsford, Cheshire, released from previously top-secret files by the National Archives.

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

6. Rogueslr
Jedward, the early years.

5. Gmcoates
Blackpool Tower comes under attack from the planet Dorito.

4. Clarence_E_Pitts
The 2D version of Avatar crashes at the box office.

3. Mustblognow
If IKEA built the Eiffel Tower...

2. Caroline-m
Proposed budget cuts affect the design of the Trident missile replacement system.

1. Tony Doyle
As the recession bit, Knutsford CID were beginning to regret hiring Charlie (aged 6 and three quarters) to be their crime artist.

Thursday's Quote of the Day

09:13 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010

"I know I'm a very bad Catholic. I should know that today is Ash Wednesday and that's why he'd got ash across his forehead" - Sky News presenter Kay Burley after questioning the "nasty" mark on US Vice President Joe Biden's forehead

When Mr Biden appeared in public with ash dabbed on his forehead, the Sky News presenter asked her US colleague about the "nasty" mark, suggesting it could have been a "large bruise". Burley, who was raised a Roman Catholic, later apologised on-air, saying
"I've said three Hail Marys. Everything is going to be fine.
More details (Daily Mail)

Your Letters

16:08 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Re Reader's Digest UK in administration: I'm open to suggestions as to what I can read next time I'm at the doctor's surgery now that this devastating news story has hit our lives.
Louisa Hibble, Leicester

German railways shunt English into sidings got me thinking. All the words they are bothered about were borrowed from the French (rail, train, track, counter, service, cancel), who got most of them from Latin. Anyone want to join a campaign for the Anglo-Saxonisation of the English railways? We could do the same for the roadways. No more cars, automobiles, vehicles, garages...
Andrew, London

Re Is it illegal to drink and ride a golf buggy? It depends entirely on where the golf buggy is being driven.
shaunsayers @BBC_magazine

Re Astronauts make final spacewalk for observation dome: That was *some* double-glazing salesman...
C Carter, Newbury, UK

Thank you Adam (Tuesday letters), that's the first time I've laughed out loud at a letter in ages (*removes glasses, wipes tears from eyes with back of hand*).
Sue, London

Web Monitor

15:37 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: no title envy, inventing words and recreating voices.

Vanessa Redgrave• Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren are examples used by Mark Lawson on Radio 4's Front Row to give actress Vanessa Redgrave title envy. But she was having none of it, insisting she doesn't want to be a dame anyway:

"I don't think I want to be a dame because I'm a Unicef goodwill ambassador... I just don't want to be dame of the British Empire. It doesn't fit my skin."

• Comedian Alex Horne is trying his hardest to invent a new word and get it into the English dictionary. Four years on from the start of this mission and despite having a book under his belt on the subject, there is still no extra word in the dictionary thanks to him. He explains in the Independent how he is keeping his resolve:

"Take 'bootylicious', a striking adjective that recently succeeded in scaling the dictionary walls, thanks to a solitary soul called Beyoncé Knowles. Yes. She did it. Beyoncé got a word in the dictionary. And if Beyoncé could do it, I thought, I could do it (which isn't always a mantra for my life. I don't always compare myself to one third of Destiny's Child. But on this occasion I felt I was justified)."

• Roger Ebert is a television film critic in the US who has lost his ability to speak due to cancer. Esquire's interview with Mr Ebert shows how his previous fame will help him speak again:

"CereProc [a company which tailors text-to-speech software] is mining Ebert's TV tapes and DVD commentaries for those words, and the words it cannot find, it will piece together syllable by syllable. When CereProc finishes its work, Roger Ebert won't sound exactly like Roger Ebert again, but he will sound more like him than Alex [the generic voice] does."

Links in full

BBCVanessa Redgrave | BBC Radio 4 | Front Row
IndependentAlex Horne | Independent | How to invent a word
EsquireChris Jones | Esquire | Roger Ebert: The Essential Man

Paper Monitor

12:37 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

So. That alleged hit squad in the frame for killing a senior Hamas official in Dubai. What's it remind you of?

"All the hallmarks of a spy novel" - Daily Mail (gee, which ones?)
"A Frederick Forsyth page-turner" - Mail again
"A view... to a kill" - the Times, getting all 007

There were wigs and fake beards, "seemingly untraceable mobile phones" and a "clinically precise" method of killing, reports the Mail.

"But they overlooked one factor: in security-obsessed Dubai almost nothing escapes the Big Brother eye of security cameras. The Dubai police have collated hours of footage revealing the hit squad's every movement, from the moment they strolled nonchalantly up to the immigration desk and presented their cloned passports. A remarkable 27-minute composite of this action has now been released, and it may yet prove the team's undoing."

Which is why the Times and most of the others carry illustrated blow-by-blow narratives of what happened as the suspected assassins circled their prey.

"The assassination team were waiting for [Mahmoud al-Mabhouh] at the [airport] terminal. CCTV footage shows al-Mabhouh passing within metres of one of his killers. As the Hamas commander approaches the taxi rank outside the terminal, a spotter from the team can be seen sidling into shot behind him, speaking on a mobile phone to confirm the Palestinian's arrival."

And full marks to the Daily Star for finding space amongst its Brits coverage for the story, and for finding a way to make it chime with their readers. Its headline? "Find the blonde assassin."

Ditto the Daily Telegraph, with its headline: "A smiling assassin and mystery of the forged UK passports".

Wednesday's Quote of The Day

09:09 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

"His is not a beautifully preserved mummy. It's a charred wreck." - Dr Bob Connolly, who has studied Tutankhamun's remains.

Scientists who have been studying the mummified remains of the Egyptian pharaoh believe he may have died of malaria. The findings could lay to rest conspiracy theories of murder.
More details

Web Monitor

16:20 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: one way to celebrate Darwin's anniversary and the extinction of the written word.

Charles Darwin• What would be the most inappropriate celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species? The answer, as both Vanity Fair and More Intelligent Life have independently concluded, is to go to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. AA Gill in Vanity Fair was taken aback at how packed the museum is:

"What is truly awe-inspiring about the museum is the task it sets itself: to rationalize a story, written 3,000 years ago, without allowing for any metaphoric or symbolic wiggle room. There's no poetic license. This is a no-parable zone. It starts with the definitive answer, and all the questions have to be made to fit under it. That's tough. Science has it a whole lot easier: It can change things. It can expand and hypothesize and tinker. Scientists have all this cool equipment and stuff. They've got all these 'lenses' and things."

Natasha Lennard in More Intelligent Life had her own theories about the museum's inclusion of dinosaurs:

"Visitors emerge from a tour of Biblical history into a vast gift shop stocked with T-shirts, toy dinosaurs and an extensive array of creationist literature, much of which was penned by Ken Ham himself. Suddenly, those strenuous efforts to reconcile scripture and the dinosaurs seem commercially justified: kids do adore ancient reptiles, particularly when they get to own a model of their very own."

• The end of the written word is nigh according to Patrick Tucker, senior editor of The Futurist, in Encyclopaedia Britannica's blog:

"If written language is merely a technology for transferring information, then it can and should be replaced by a newer technology that performs the same function more fully and effectively... As originally proposed by futurist William Crossman, the written word will likely be rendered a functionally obsolete technology by 2050."

In the Guardian Charlie Brooker takes this one step further in his ode to the e-book:

"The only thing I'd do to improve them is to include an emergency button that automatically sums the entire book up in a sentence if you couldn't be arsed to finish it, or if your plane starts crashing and you want to know whodunit before exploding over the sea. Ideally it'd shriek the summary aloud, bellowing something like 'THE BUTLER DID IT' for potboilers, or maybe 'THE SCULPTRESS COMES TO TERMS WITH THE DEATH OF HER FATHER' for highbrow fiction. Which means you could effectively skip the reading process entirely and audibly digest the entire contents of the British Library in less than a month. That's ink-and-paper dead, right there."

Links in full

BBC NewsPeter Jackson | BBC | Who goes to a creationist museum?
Vanity FairAA Gill | Vanity Fair | Roll Over, Charles Darwin!
Intelligent LifeNatasha Lennard | More Intelligent Life | Of Myths and Museums
see alsoPatrick Tucker | Encyclopaedia Britannica | Could Written Language Be Rendered Obsolete?
GuardianCharlie Brooker | Guardian | Why I'm an ebook convert

Your Letters

15:29 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Re: Should we all think again before we go and buy a lottery ticket? According to Herodotus, Croesus was in fact spared from being burned alive by Cyrus the Great after recounting the advice he had received from the Athenian statesman Solon. Solon had pointed out (to derision at the time) that the average man lives for 26,250 days, good fortune on one may be offset by bad fortune on the next, and so one should never take things for granted. There isn't really the space here for an in-depth discussion, but suffice it to say that if any bearded Greeks tell Mr Page that they know of someone happier than him, he should (a) agree with them, and (b) not subsequently invade Persia.
Edward Green, London, UK

Let me think... no more worrying about budgeting for my monthly bills, rent, train fare, gym fees, food shopping and so on... you'd be able to do your dream job and not worry about what it pays... you could go on holiday, when you need a holiday (rather than when you can afford a holiday)... I can think of more... So YES, it would! I think if the question was "does having countless possessions make you happy?" then maybe that's a NO.
Rob Elwell @BBCNewsMagazine

Regarding the Vatican's list of recommended albums (Daily-Mini Quiz), no Black Sabbath then?
Martin, Manchester, UK

"Men come in all shapes and sizes and so do condoms." Different sizes, fair enough. But different shapes?
Adam, London, UK

Re Louisa's observation (Monday letters) that Pauline Hanson might want to rethink her move to the UK from Australia because of its "high taxes" and "over-regulation", no no Louisa, I want to take great pleasure in watching her find out for herself.
Jim O'Connor, Winchester

Dear BBC - can we call this TwitterGate and keep the reports to 140 characters or less?
Paul Dunning, Chelmsford, UK

Surely one of the earliest crash blossoms would be "Many hands make light work".
Paul Greggor, London

Paper Monitor

14:12 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Sometimes newspaper features, like oil tankers, can generate a momentum that makes them hard to turn around.

Manchester United play AC Milan and all eyes are on David Beckham, once of Trafford, now of San Siro. Just how bitter is he? How much will he relish getting one over on Alex Ferguson, the man who sold him.

Er, not at all.

The Guardian decides to blurb Beckham's pre-match comments on the front page of the news bit.

"David Beckham. This is not about revenge. I have no scores to settle."

You have to put stuff like this in the same news basket as headlines like "War doesn't break out", "Weather fine" and "Man, dog not biting each other".

Elsewhere in the tepid news basket is the story about the footballer who is involved in the latest sexting outrage. Paper Monitor will obviously will not identify him other than saying he is the one married to a perma-tanned pop star who moonlights as a talent show judge.

Today's Sun story on said footballer contains a wealth of lovely tabloidese.

There are no affairs, only "flings". People do not have sex, they "romp". Footballers are really "Aces". Things are not sexy, they are "raunchy".

Beautiful detail in the story.

"The secretary told how she and [the footballer] watched two dud sci-fi films before getting down to sex."


Tuesday's Quote of the Day

09:03 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"And 20 pence"- This is not just a EuroMillions win of £56m, says new multi-millionaire Nigel Page. This is a EuroMillions win of £56,008,113.20.

On Saturday morning, Mr Page woke his partner Justine Laycock, desperate to show her something important downstairs. Speechless, he pointed at an e-mail from Camelot. She gasped: "Nige! You've won £56million!" To which he replied: "And 20 pence."
More details (Daily Mirror)

Your Letters

17:16 UK time, Monday, 15 February 2010

Re When I grow up I want to be...: When I was about six and my sister was four, my father asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I replied "A princess" and my sister "...and I want to be her dog". We are now 25 and 24 respectively, and are yet to achieve these goals. But there's still time.
Alexandra McVeighty, York, UK

A champion gymnast - 20 years later, having flirted with journalism, retail management, marketing and web development along the way, I am a gymnastics coach and have never been happier. I should have listened to my nine year old self really.
Anna King @BBC News Magazine

I'm wondering what to do with an extra 16 hours a week - any ideas?
Lee, Birmingham

Re Quote of the Day: "If you're going to enforce your policy for 'customers of size' on a passenger who can't lower the armrests on his seat, it might be an idea to check it isn't a well-known film director before doing so." Why? If this is the policy, should it not be enforced irrespective of the person who puts their weight behind the counter argument?
LC, London

So race politician Pauline Hanson is leaving Australia because of its "high taxes" and "over-regulation" - err, does anyone want to tell her about the UK?
Louisa Hibble, Leicester

If Greece do leave the euro and revert to their former currency, will they have made a drachma out of a crisis?
Adam, London, UK

Archibald Murray (Friday letters) failed to mention that the Union Jack flown upside down is an international distress signal.
Barry Metcalfe, Leighton Buzzard

Archibald, I agree totally. The thicker white diagonal - representing the St Andrew's Cross - goes above the red diagonal (representing the St Patrick's Cross) at the top of the hoist. It has precedence because Scotland entered the Union before Ireland did. The Union Flag is an easy one to accidentally hoist inverted, but once that simple rule is known it's far harder to get it wrong.
Colin Edwards, Exeter, UK

Emma (double-yolkers, 5 Feb letters) says "...a law states he cannot sell them..." How can you be certain how many yolks an egg contains without cracking it? Imagine the shame of being hauled up before the beak for hawking a double-yolker. Egg on your face.
Phil Warne, Nelson, NZ

Web Monitor

15:49 UK time, Monday, 15 February 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: a spoil-sport, an unlikely threat to crossword writers and a caution against the life of the mind.

Christopher Hitchens.jpg• Contrarian Christopher Hitchens is being a spoil-sport - quite literally - in Newsweek. The Winter Olympics has got him arguing that sport isn't the diplomatic tool it is sometimes sold as:

"Whether it's the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want - as in Africa this year - or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars' homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay 'The Sporting Spirit,' after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, 'sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.'"

• Here's one Paper Monitor should appreciate. The Crash Blossoms blog collects ambiguous headlines that can be unintentionally funny. There are some favourites chosen by Ben Zimmer of the New York Times:

"Nouns that can be misconstrued as verbs and vice versa are, in fact, the hallmarks of the crash blossom. Take this headline, often attributed to The Guardian: 'British Left Waffles on Falklands." In the correct reading, 'left' is a noun and 'waffles' is a verb, but it's much more entertaining to reverse the two, conjuring the image of breakfast food hastily abandoned in the South Atlantic. Similarly, crossword enthusiasts laughed nervously at a May 2006 headline on AOL News, 'Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts.'"

• William Pannapacker, an English lecturer has taken it upon himself over the last year to be academia's whistleblower against the university industry. He's been urging people not to bother studying humanities after an undergraduate degree and claimed universities have been deceitful in their claims about job opportunities in academia. He's back in Chronicle of Higher Education warning against "the life of the mind":

"If you are in one of the lucky categories that benefit from the Big Lie, you will probably continue to offer the attractions of that life to vulnerable students who are trained from birth to trust you, their teacher.
Graduate school in the humanities is a trap. It is designed that way. It is structurally based on limiting the options of students and socializing them into believing that it is shameful to abandon 'the life of the mind.' That's why most graduate programs resist reducing the numbers of admitted students or providing them with skills and networks that could enable them to do anything but join the ever-growing ranks of impoverished, demoralized, and damaged graduate students and adjuncts for whom most of academe denies any responsibility."

Links in full

NewsweekChristopher Hitchens | Newsweek | Fool's Gold
see alsoCrash Blossoms blog
New York TimesBen Zimmer | New York Times | Crash Blossoms
see alsoWilliam Pannapacker | Chronicle of Higher Education | The Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind'

Paper Monitor

11:35 UK time, Monday, 15 February 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's the question on every holiday-maker's lips. As the winter grinds on into the half-term break prompting thoughts about the chance of grabbing a short break in the sun, the Guardian nails its angle: should holidaymakers be going back to Burma?

But before you dive into the 1,200 words of text and wrestle with the subtleties of this particular moral conundrum, don't bother - the teaser text on the front offers what the Guardian's John Crace, author of the Digested Read column, would describe as the "Digested read, digested": "Wish you were here? Why it is time for tourists to return to Burma".

So that settles that then.

Meanwhile, Paper Monitor has spent the morning wondering about the mystery of the prime minister's missing tears.

Last night those viewers who were, presumably, not channelling the spirit of St Valentine with a romantic candlelight meal, may instead have sat down to watch the Piers Morgan interview with Gordon Brown on ITV.

Paper Monitor couldn't help but notice that while the interview elicited some raw and heartfelt emotions from Mr and Mrs Brown, the programme wasn't 100% true to the billing it received in the papers.

"Gordon Brown wells up as he speaks of daughter's death" - the Daily Telegraph
"Memories of lost daughter and son's illness reduce Brown to tears on TV" - the Scotsman
"Gordon Brown sobs for his tragic baby daughter" - Daily Mail

And yet if one visits the ITV Player, tears are absent.

Monday's Quote of the Day

09:44 UK time, Monday, 15 February 2010

"PR-Challenged Fatty-Haters" - Director Kevin Smith lambasts Southwest Airlines for ejecting him from a flight for being too fat.

if you're going to enforce your policy for "customers of size" on a passenger who can't lower the armrests on his seat, it might be an idea to check it isn't a well-known film director before doing so. The resulting Twitter-storm has led to a hurried apology.
More details (the Guardian)

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