Monday, March 23, 2009

Mrs? Or is that Ms, Miss?

Page last updated at 01:43 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Mrs? Or is that Ms, Miss?

Nicolas Sarkozy holding the hand of Ms Carla Bruni, or Mrs Sarkozy-Bruni
Getting married? What do you call yourself now?

By Anna Browning
BBC News

In recent days the European Parliament has again caused "outrage" in the British press after publishing a pamphlet asking staff to refrain from using the titles Miss or Mrs.

"Ludicrous", one Tory MEP told the Daily Mail. "Political correctness gone mad", he continued. Another, in the Daily Telegraph, branded it a "waste of taxpayers' money".

It is more than 30 years since Ms began to gain ground among a US feminist movement keen to find a title which did not denote a woman's marital status.

Decades later - while being a Ms might be seen in Brussels as simple as being, well, a Mr - many elsewhere are less keen to catch on.

'Very unhelpful'

Being a Ms is, frankly, unheard-of in some quarters.

"I don't think it's very helpful," said Charles Kidd, editor of Debretts Peerage and Baronetage - the guide to aristocracy.

"I was brought up to address a married woman as Mrs John Smith, for example."

Being a Ms isn't always plain sailing - with the most mundane tasks often turned into an exhausting battle of principle.

For example, attempting to take out insurance, this conversation is likely to follow:

"Name?", "Jane Smith".

Miss Ann Widdecombe MP
I can't see the point of Ms and I don't see it as an issue
(Miss) Ann Widdecombe MP

"Marital status?", "married". "Address Mrs Smith?".

"Actually I'm a Ms, Mrs Smith is my mother."

Momentary silence.

Then: "I'm sorry, if you're married you can only be a Mrs. The system won't allow another title."

For married TV producer (Ms) Eve Kay - whose recent projects include Channel 4's Jamie's Ministry of Food - it is a familiar tale.

For example, the time she tried to fill out a criminal records check for a TV series she was producing involving children.

"I was naturally asked for my title. As always, I typed in 'Ms'. At the end of the first page, though, I hit a roadblock.

"The program kept asking what my surname at birth was - annoying, since, despite getting married in 1994, I've had the same surname all my life.

"In their minds Ms is a title that means you have been divorced."

Again, her dealings with insurers have also had their moments.

"I found that married women were given a different premium to unmarried women. Yet, because men are Mr and so they couldn't tell their marital status, there was no change."

Denis and Margaret Thatcher
Not everyone is hampered by titles showing their marital status.

Bureaucrats, she says, have "lost sight of the fact that we don't want to be denoted by our relationship to men".

Having said that she doesn't agree with the European Parliament's ban of Miss and Mrs.

"You can't impose liberation on people; it has to come from understanding.

"It would be far better if women understood that being a Mrs or Miss is trivialising their independent status."

A title which indicated a woman's relationship to a man was simply "archaic", she said, "a hangover from the past".

Her own straw poll of the office on the issue found: "Women with children do get it and don't much want to be seen as married and over-the-hill or a spinster.

"They can see that marital status being known at work is by no means helpful.

"Whereas young women couldn't see what I was on about, because they hadn't experienced any negative attitudes."

'No point'

Some though, just can't see the point.

Says Miss Ann Widdecombe MP: "I've grown up with that title and it's a perfectly good title. I can't see the point of Ms and I don't see it as an issue.

"It's absolutely ridiculous. These titles have been around for a very long time."

And it needn't be confusing: "I'm not confused. It's everyone else who is.

"I use Ms as a form of convenience if I don't know what they call themselves. But if they mention in a letter that they are married then I'll use Mrs."

Referring to the European Parliament, she said: "They want to make everything unisex. They don't even want to say 'man-made' But man-made is an all-embracing term," she said. It means women too.

For Charles Kidd, of Debrett's: "It's important to get someone's title right. If someone does want to be called Ms then that's fine."

But, he added, he had never been asked to change somebody's title of address from Mrs to Ms.

"I've just never heard of it," he said.

Friday, March 20, 2009

'Good Nazi of Nanjing' sparks debate

Page last updated at 16:53 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

'Good Nazi of Nanjing' sparks debate

A film about a member of the Nazi party who saved thousands of Chinese during the massacre in Nanjing recently opened in Germany. The BBC's Zoe Murphy looks at the possible impact this unlikely hero's story may have on Sino-Japanese relations.

On Christmas Eve in 1937, German businessman John Rabe visited the mortuary in China's then capital, Nanjing.

German actor Ulrich Tukur as John Rabe (copyright Beta Cinema)
John Rabe remains a hero in China but his story is little known elsewhere
He later described in his diary the charred body of a civilian man whose eyes had been gouged out, and a boy of perhaps seven, whose corpse was punctured with bayonet wounds.

"I wanted to see these atrocities with my own eyes, so that I can speak as an eyewitness later," he wrote. "A man cannot be silent about this kind of cruelty!"

The Second Sino-Japanese War was raging.

Japanese troops had stormed the capital, carrying out mass executions and raping tens of thousands of local women and girls, in a six-week orgy of violence that became known as the Rape of Nanjing.

Risking his life, Rabe remained in China and, along with a handful of Westerners, set up a "safety zone" in Nanjing that is thought to have prevented the massacre of more than 200,000 Chinese during one of the bloodiest episodes of the Japanese invasion.

Japanese soldiers use live Chinese prisoners for bayonet practice (Bettmann/Corbis)
Japanese soldiers used live Chinese prisoners for bayonet practice
As Germany and Japan were allies, Rabe used his Nazi party membership to do all he could to protect civilians in the zone - including 650 sheltering refugees in his own house and garden.

With a flash of his swastika armband and through sheer force of personality, he intervened in acts of looting and attempted rape by the Japanese troops.

The diaries of this unlikely and unsung hero only became public knowledge in the late 1990s, when they were published in Germany. They have now been made into a film, simply titled John Rabe.

The biopic, which premiered recently in Germany, may stoke historical tensions between Beijing and Tokyo. But it is hoped that Rabe's story may renew debate and ultimately help heal old wounds.

Historical document

The events of 1937 have left enormous psychological scars in China, and the Chinese believe that Japan has not done enough to atone for its militarist past.

China says 300,000 people were killed during the assault on Nanjing. But much to the anger of Beijing, some conservative Japanese politicians and academics have said such figures are exaggerated. Some even deny that a massacre ever took place.

Such declarations also frustrate mainstream historians in Japan and further afield.

William Kirby, head of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, says the exact death toll is not the main issue.

"What you have is a great massacre of a civilian population that goes on for weeks… Nanjing is surrendered but the Japanese proceed to terrorise the inhabitants. These facts are incontrovertible."

Coming to light nearly 60 years after the event, he says that John Rabe's diaries are a powerful new document detailing what happened day-by-day.

Mr Kirby says that Rabe had "no anti-Japanese axe to grind" at the outset.

When faced with this film, many people will be shocked [to learn] the Japanese carried out such cruel acts during the war
Japanese actor Teruyuki Kagawa

"He saw the Japanese as a normal army and initially resisted the stories of wrongdoing - he was a neutral outsider."

During the conflict, Rabe wrote: "Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped... If husbands or brothers intervene, they're shot.

"What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiery."

Nazi links

The film's director Florian Gallenberger says it was by staying true to the events as described by Rabe that the film achieved neutrality.

"At the beginning of the conflict I think [Rabe] has great trust in the Japanese as German allies to behave in a disciplined and fair way - but when it turns out otherwise he is shocked. He feels it is his responsibility to act."

People in Nanjing remember those killed during the massacre (file photo: 2007)
The events of 1937 have left deep psychological scars in China
He says Rabe's courage was fuelled by his sense of morality, rather than any political conviction.

As bombs rained down, Rabe wrote: "Anyone who has ever... held a trembling Chinese child in each hand through the long hours of an air raid can understand what I feel."

At one point, he covered a shelter with a huge swastika flag, which he described as being considered "especially bombproof".

After living in China for 30 years, Rabe had a naive image of Germany's National Socialism as a humanistic workers' movement, says Mr Gallenberger.

Rabe even wrote to Adolf Hitler asking for his intervention in the violence, as he believed the Nazi leader would not have condoned Japan's actions.

'Hard to watch'

The passage of time has allowed Germany to review its own wartime actions, notably the Nazi genocide of some six million European Jews during World War II.

Now with historical distance, the 37-year-old director hopes the film will trigger a new dialogue and help Japan also come to terms with its own past.

A statue of John Rabe outside his former home in Nanjing
Rabe's house in Nanjing is now a museum and centre for peace studies
"After such a long time, there should be a way of dealing differently with the responsibility they have, rather than trying to avoid it or make it disappear," he says.

John Rabe is expected to be widely viewed in China after it premieres at the Shanghai Film Festival in June. But it is unclear whether the film will be released in Japanese cinemas.

The film's producers hope that the involvement of Japanese star Teruyuki Kagawa will prevent the film from being silenced there.

Teruyuki Kagawa plays the emperor's relative, Prince Asaka, who was the top ranking Japanese officer in Nanjing at the height of the atrocities.

During the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946, Prince Asaka denied any massacre of Chinese and said he had never received any complaint about his soldiers' conduct.

Controversially, the film speculates on his involvement in the decision-making process.

Teruyuki Kagawa says: "When faced with this film, many people will be shocked [to learn] the Japanese carried out such cruel acts.

"I think Japanese people will find the two hours very hard [to watch]."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The slow death of handwriting

The slow death of handwriting

Graphic saying 'The writing's on the wall'

Christmas cards, shopping lists and what else? The occasions in which we write by hand are fewer and fewer, says Neil Hallows. So is the ancient art form of handwriting dying out?

A century from now, our handwriting may only be legible to experts.

For some, that is already the case. But writer Kitty Burns Florey says the art of handwriting is declining so fast that ordinary, joined-up script may become as hard to read as a medieval manuscript.

"When your great-great-grandchildren find that letter of yours in the attic, they'll have to take it to a specialist, an old guy at the library who would decipher the strange symbols for them," says Ms Florey, author of the newly-published Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.


King Henry VIII's handwriting
King Henry VIII wrote this love letter to Anne Boleyn (pic: British Library)
BACK 1 of 5 NEXT

She argues that children - if not this generation then one soon to come - may grow up using only a crude form of printing for the rare occasions in life they need to communicate by pen.

The way handwriting is taught has undoubtedly changed. At Ms Florey's school in 1950s America, a nun beat time with a stick as the class copied letters from the blackboard. It was not a place for individuals. There was a right way to form letters and very many wrong ways.

For much of the last century British schools ran in a similar way. At my primary school in the 1970s, whole classes were devoted to work being "written up for best" and I remember a story coming back unmarked because I had crossed out a single word. I wonder what my teachers would have made of a James Joyce manuscript.

Crossing 7s

Many found the experience tedious, but for left-handers it could be torture. Often they were forced to write with their right, while their "bad" hand was tied down.

More than a century of children turning out letters by the yard produced a great conformity. In the 1940s Ealing drama, Went The Day Well?, a contingent of German soldiers sets up camp in the English countryside, disguised as Royal Engineers. One reason they get rumbled is that a soldier writes a "7" with a line through it. "Why should they form their figures in a continental way?" a villager asks.

If everything we do still had to be done by hand, there would not be enough hours in the day
Registrar Ruth Hodson

These days, the shape of a child's ovals, loops and slants matters less than what they write. "Content is everything," says Mark Brown, head teacher of St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Axminster, Devon. "The emphasis is much more on having a go, and expressing yourself, and getting the ideas down."

He says letter formation is still taught in the early years of primary school, but the appearance of handwriting takes less of a priority as children get older, provided it remains legible.

Some parents expect handwriting to be drilled in the same way as they experienced themselves, but Mr Brown argues the content of children's writing has significantly improved as a result of the change in emphasis, and that they write far more at school than they will as adults.


So once we leave school, does it really matter? Apart from the odd shopping list, do people still need to use a pen?

Some do. Registrars of births, deaths and marriages have been recording life's significant events in their usually impeccable writing since 1837.

Neil Hallows' handwriting
Writer's hand: Not a word crossed out in this instance of Neil Hallows' writing

"All registrars are conscious that they follow a long and noble tradition," says Ruth Hodson, interim registration manager for Peterborough City Council.

But even their fountain pens will soon barely be heard scratching on the registers. Under a modernisation programme, an increasing amount of the information is being entered directly on to a computer.

Ms Hodson is unsentimental. "If everything we do still had to be done by hand, there would not be enough hours in the day."

But perhaps handwriting gains its greatest importance when it is least legible. The reputation of doctors for scrawling was enhanced by a study in the British Medical Journal which found medics' writing was considerably worse than other healthcare workers or administrative staff. Poor writing has often been blamed for medication errors.

Gwyn Williams, a junior doctor in Carmarthen, says that despite technological advances, a great deal of clinical communication is still handwritten.

Man writing
Remember this?

"We have to write so much, on so many occasions, with the clock ticking. The end result is so difficult to interpret that even I have to concentrate on occasions to work out what [I have written].

"There doesn't seem to be any other logical way of doing it. Typing clinical notes on a computer seems so cumbersome in the limited time available that I can't see how it would work."

In many jobs though, a person can go for months, even years, writing only the odd phone message in their own script.

Nevertheless, some employers still ask for a handwritten application, or a sample of writing, although the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development warns employers they need to be clear about the reason for that, to avoid accusations of discrimination.

10-page letters

There are those who see handwriting's slip in educational priority and increasingly eccentric role in the workplace as evidence that, in the West at least, we are forgetting an ancient art form.

A panic, perhaps, and one witnessed every time the dominant style of writing changed or a new form of technology seemed to threaten it. An early typewriter led the Scientific American in 1867 to marvel that "the weary process of learning penmanship in schools will be reduced to [writing] one's own signature and playing on the literary piano".

Maybe a couple of times a week [pupils] could produce something handwritten that is judged partly on its legibility, or even its beauty
Kitty Burns Florey

But look at the decline in letter writing. The students I knew two decades ago who knocked out 10-page letters during a morning in bed have probably not yet written 10 pages of handwritten prose of any kind this year.

For Ms Florey, the answer should start in the classroom. Not a return to the nuns with sticks, but for children to value handwriting by learning a simple, legible, attractive script from the start - in her view a form of italic - and then keep reinforcing it beyond the early years.

"Maybe a couple of times a week [pupils] could produce something handwritten that is judged partly on its legibility, or even its beauty."

Adults too can improve their writing, in a matter of weeks with a textbook and expert advice. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has said that if he had not taken a calligraphy course at college, he would not have thought of putting multiple typefaces on the Mac.

Perhaps the best argument for keeping our pens is that otherwise, in a society that is recorded in more detail than any which came before it, we will leave plenty of data but very little of our personalities behind.

Our descendants may struggle to read our letters, but they'll never even see most of our texts and e-mails.

What's the ideal number of friends?

What's the ideal number of friends?


By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

The more friends you have, the more you earn, says a study. But modern life can allow little time to maintain meaningful relationships, so what's the optimum number of friends?

It's widely accepted that friendships are invaluable to the soul but few of us were aware that they could also boost the bank account.

A study of 10,000 US students over a period of 35 years suggests the wealthiest people are those that had the most friends at school. Each extra schoolfriend added 2% to the salary.

The researchers said this was because the workplace is a social setting and those with the best social skills prosper in management and teamwork.

Toks Timson
Toks Timson, 41, from Croydon, has 707 Facebook friends
'I actually know or have met or worked with or went to school with or am related to at least 550.
'The others are just friends of friends or random adds from people.
'Having that number of friends is a lot of work for sure. I'm a bit of a raver and also someone who makes friends easily.'

If a wide circle of friends is taken as a popularity indicator, does that mean the more you have the more successful and happy you are? Or can you have too many? What is the best number?

The average number is about 150, says leading anthropologist Robin Dunbar.

It may sound like a lot, but think of your Christmas card list - 50 cards to 50 couples = 100 friends.

"It's the number of people that you know as persons and you know how they fit into your social world and they know how you fit into theirs. They are a group of people to which you have an obligation of friendship."

They usually consist of an inner circle of five "core" people and an additional layer of 10, he says. That makes 15 people - some will probably be family members - who are your central group and then outside that, there's another 35 in the next circle and another 100 on the outside. And that's one person's social world.

Aristotle said friends must have eaten salt together
Philosopher Mark Vernon

Friendships help us develop as people, says Mark Vernon, author of The Philosophy of Friendship, but the very term "friend" covers a whole range of relationships. You have a very close friendship with your partner but with others it may just be a common interest or history or simply children the same age.

"Aristotle said friends must have eaten salt together and what he meant is there's a sense that people have lived a significant part of their life together. They've sat down and shared meals and the ups and downs of life.

"You really have to have mulled over things with them to become really good friends and there's only so many people you can do that with.

"You can have friends because of what you do together or enjoy something together like football or shopping, but they're not as profound friends as those who you love for themselves because of something in their character. And it doesn't matter what you're doing with them, even sitting alone in a room."

'One in, one out'

There's a limit to how many close friends like this you can have and it's probably between six and 12, he says.

"I think this idea that you can have virtually limitless numbers of friends does water down the concept of friendship. I think it's one of those things where less is more."

Not if you're a socialite like designer Nicky Haslam, who recently threw a party for 800 friends. But even people who don't inhabit the heady world of fashion and celebrity have too many friends to manage.

A newspaper columnist once told of her shock when, having struck up a rapport with a man over dinner, she was told at the end of the meal he had no vacancies for friends. He was operating a "one-in, one-out" policy. Six months later she received a card stating he was now available for friendship.

That's an extreme example but many people view their friendships scientifically and regulate them accordingly.

Penny, a 35-year-old mum of two in Brighton, says she has 12 good friends but of those would only really confide in four
'There's not enough hours in the day or days in the week to see everyone.
'Certain people ask if I'm around to meet and I don't really want to commit because I've got other people I want to see.
'So you do start streamlining, but your oldest friends are always there.'

Julie, a 34-year-old PR consultant in London, says she has three categories of friends. Firstly there are nine close friends - the Premier League - whom she could ring any time of day or night and they would drop everything and come if necessary.

"I try to see them every few weeks and speak at least once a fortnight. I have a rota in my head and try and ring one of them each night as I drive home from work. It shows how pressured we are for time that speaking to friends is multi-tasking."

Julie's next social group has about 20 people, mostly men, whom she would see every couple of months, then there are more than 100 people beyond that on the outer fringes - friends from work, friends from her last job and friends from travelling.

"There are two people whom I don't really want to stay friends with but I don't have the heart to say no to. People I used to work with, they invite you to dinner and then you feel you have to invite them back, but you really don't have the time and it gets really stressful, especially since getting a boyfriend.

"I want to spend two nights a week with him, two nights to myself at home and two nights at the gym, so that leaves one night to see people."

US sitcom Friends
Far-fetched it may be, but five close friends is about average

There is a perception that as society has become more mobile, and traditional family bonds have loosened, friendships have become more fleeting. But on the other hand, modern technology has meant we can stay in touch with more people than ever.

"First email, then mobile, and now social networking sites like Facebook have made it much easier for people to grow their circle of friends beyond their immediate inner circle," says digital media expert Dan Clays of BLM Quantum.

"But the swelling is predominantly in the outer-reaches of their circle, and often the fringe group. If you were to examine the profile of someone's group of friends on Facebook, the probability is that a large contingent were accepted as friends out of curiosity and after an initial exchange, the level of dialogue slows down to a trickle."

This is especially apparent in the 16-24 audience group, the digital generation, he says, so it will be interesting to see if they are able to maintain that contact later in life.

But maybe we're too fixated on numbers, says Mr Vernon.

"Ask yourself about the quality of your friendships, not about the quantity."

For the sake of friendship, some names have been changed

Monday, March 02, 2009

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

Sonnet 43 - How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.