There’s a search for a fifth meat- and 19 other things podcasts taught us in 2016

Whether its asking what happens when you watch Sexuality and the City 2 more than 50 days or which Oscar has won an Oscar, theres no question a podcast somewhere hasnt answered

1 Richard Ayoade used a ThunderCats duvet cover until he was in his late 20 s

Where we learned it The Adam Buxton podcast

Adam Buxtons life-affirming, jingle-packed ramble chats with his celebrity guests are a constant pleasure. In this two-parter, the multi-talented Ayoade went into everything from the height of pillows to the reaction to his notoriously awkward interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy. As funny as the pod is, you will learn a lot, too from Buxtons honest discussions of heartbreak when his dad succumbed to how upsetting Sara Pascoe sees it when people induce clicky sticky noises with their mouths.

Other lessons from this podcast Louis Theroux does a fine rendition of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie. Ellie Violet Bramley

Malcolm
Journalist and writer Malcolm Gladwell. Photograph: Anne Bailey

2 One of the biggest auto recalls in history may have been caused by drivers pressing the wrong pedal

Where we learned it Malcolm Gladwells Revisionist History

If you are familiar with Gladwells run, then Revisionist History is both a treat and familiar province. The New Yorker writer often takes assumptions and things we might think to be true and unravels them to end up in a different place altogether. In his bestseller Blink, he explained why it might not have been so unusual that an unarmed man was shot 41 periods by New York police. In the best episode of Revisionist History, Gladwell looked back at Toyotas sudden unintended acceleration phenomenon, which led to a gigantic fine for the car manufacturer. The conclusion when you are listen to a 911 call in which a man is driven to his death by a vehicle that wont slow down was not that the cars accelerators were sticking, but that drivers unfamiliar with certain autoes were having a brain malfunction that entailed the latter are physically unable to differentiate between the brake and the accelerator.

Other lessons from this podcast American colleges with the nicest canteens are the worst choices for poor students; if you want to score the most free-throws in basketball, do them underarm. Will Dean

3 One day, everyone in Sweden switched to driving on the opposite side of the road

Where we learned it 99% Invisible

You neednt be an architecture or design fanatic to enjoy Roman Marss gentle unpicking of how the world around us came to look and function as it does. As well as tales about the origins of the inflatable humen they have outside automobile traders in the US, and why they used to publicize missing children on milk cartons, you are able to learn about Hgertrafikomlggningen , or H-day 3 September 1967 when everyone in Sweden switched from driving on the left side of the road to the right.

Other lessons from this podcast Californias Salton Sea was formed by mistake; 20 years ago, the world became obsessed with a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave desert. Leah Harper

4 Having your own podcast wont win you an election

Where we learned it With Her

How do we know that Hillary Clinton enjoyed a Cuban sandwich and a brew at the end of a day on the road? Well, she had her own campaign podcast, about the little details of being on the road. In the first episode, Max Linsky, of the podcast Longform, talked to her in Miami about what she was going to have for dinner that evening. As the first presidential nominee to have a campaign podcast, Clinton tried to harness the power of the medium to proves a more personable side of herself. Suffice to say, it didnthave the desired effect.

Other lessons from this podcast Clinton is a TED talks fan and has to ration her Elena Ferrante novels. EVB

My
The hosts of My Dad Wrote a Porno.

5 Theres more than one way of motivating your sales force

Where we learned it My Dad Wrote a Porno

Pots-and-pans sales supremo Belinda Blumenthal can find lust in any situation even when she is lost in an ornamental labyrinth. The superstar of the erotic fiction written by comedian Jamie Mortons father has taught the world that a regional marketings conference has just as much possibilities for naked fun as a business trip-up to Amsterdam. Other things she has appropriated into her libidinous realm include a charity tombola, Herb Alpert, a chalet, a pomegranate, a horsebox and any sentence involving the words further access. What she has taught listeners about her ridiculously sexy life may be unsavoury, but via Mortons podcast it has brought a whole lot of mirth.

Other lessons from this podcast There is such a thing as a vaginal lid; never read erotic fiction written by your dad. Hannah Verdier

6 Sacha Baron Cohen has been known to use a getaway car

Where we learned it WTF

Marc Marons WTF can be off-putting: the hosts 15 -minute opening monologue and guitar jams are often enough to deter new listeners. But when it comes to teasing out colorful details from the careers of some of Hollywoods funniest and finest, Maron is the master. Grimsby may have bombed in the cinema, but it was worth it for the interview Baron Cohen did with Maron to promote the cinema. The best bits were the details of the logistical difficulties of attaining Brno, from how a redneck battle crowd were deceived into watching a homoerotic romp to how Baron Cohen managed to escape Kansas police after being caught with, among other things, a pedal-powered sexuality machine in a hotel room.( He had a auto waiting outside with the engine running .)

Other lessons from this podcast Asking what peoples parents were like rarely gets a dull answer; if you have the US president over to record in your garage, youd better have nice neighbours; William Friedkin is the best storyteller in Hollywood. WD

Alix
Alix Fox looks into peoples sexuality lives. Photograph: Ken McKay/ Rex/ Shutterstock

7 Having two vaginas doesnt mean you can have vaginal sex with two men at the same time

Where we learned it Close Encounters from the Guardian

Alix Fox pries into the complicated and fascinating lives of people for whom sex is not always entirely straightforward, from a polyamorous couple to a human paralysed from the waist down just before his honeymoon. An extraordinary interview with double-barrelled Hazel, who talked openly about the effects her condition has had on her and may have on her if she wants to have children is the standout so far.

Other lessons from this podcast Russian-doll-style dildos can cure vaginismus; having cold feet can help to delay an orgasm. LH

8 The search for a fifth meat continues

Where we learned it The Beef and Dairy Network podcast

The centuries-old assumption that there are only four meats beef, lamb, pork and chicken is crumbling after unconfirmed reports that the European Space Agency has identified a mysterious fifth meat. The Beef and Dairy Network podcast, produced by comedian Ben Partridge, is the No 1 podcast for those involved or only interested in the production of beef animals and dairy herds. Featuring guest appearances from agricultural experts such as Josie Long, and attracting fans including Miranda Sawyer, it is a surreal beefstravaganza.

Other lessons from this podcast According to Beef and Dairy Network sponsor Mitchells, 90% of cattle can kick through a vessel hull after just a few months of taking hoof-strengthening supplement Steel Hoof Deluxe. EVB

A
Dont put this cow in your ships hull. Photograph: Brian Brown/ Getty Images

9 John Oliver is not dead

Where we learned it The Bugle

For a decade, long-time comedy partners John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman set the world to rights via the medium of their audio newspaper for a visual world. Their riffs on anything from civil liberties( Like puppies, John, we love our own, but we get genuinely vexed when other peoples civil liberty keep shitting on our lawns) to Texas barbecues( All I know is this, Andy: if I was a cow, and I knew that I could savor like that, Id find it very hard to make a coherent example for not being immediately killed and slow-cooked) often attained the indicate the funniest thing you could get on Wi-Fi. With Oliver having left the Daily Show to front his own display on HBO, the Bugle went into satirical hibernation. It awoke in mid-October, just in time for a political event so ridiculous that even Zaltzman at his most surreal couldnt have imagined it. The pods Have I Got News for You-style rotating guest co-hosts now include US comics Wyatt Cenac and Hari Kondabolu, as well as Brit Nish Kumar and brilliant Indian standup Anuvab Pal. They dont know each other as well as best friends Zaltzman and Oliver, but perhaps the other co-host, Andys sister Helen, could claim an advantage on that front. The Bugle is dead, long live the Bugle.

Other lessons from this podcast Bashar al-Assad bought LMFAOs Im Sexy and I Know It as the Syrian civil war raged. WD

10 A bloke operating a driving school in Acton, west London, was also helping to prop up the death penalty in the US

Where we learned it More Perfect

In a residential area of west London, inside a house with a banner that reads Elgone Driving Academy, is a guy in his 50 s who seems a bit like William Hurt and who was the one-man operation helping to provide the narcotics used for capital punishment in the US. That was until a human rights charity alerted the UK government to his pharmaceutical broom closet of death. In the inaugural episode of More Perfect, a Radiolab spin-off looking at how US supreme court cases affect lives miles away from the bench, the presenters explored those three little terms from the American constitution: cruel and unusual.

Other lessons from this podcast An unusual 911 call made in Houston, Texas, in 1998, led to one of the most important LGBTQ rights decisions in the courts history, effectively building homosexual relations a basic civil right. EVB

11 The political insiders word for people panicking about a Trump win was bedwetters

Where we learned it Keepin it 1600

A politics podcast hosted by Barack Obamas former speechwriter and a senior communications consultant ought to scream wonkishness, but Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer may be the two most engaging analysts of a bonkers election campaign. Having been at the heart of two US election blizzards, they alongside other hosts Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor know, inside-out, how this world runs and share it. Their near certainty about a Clinton win up to the morning of general elections induced 1600 one of the most reassuring political podcasts you could listen to and construct their morning-after mea culpa on 9 November all the more extraordinary. Now its actually time to wet the bed.

Other lessons from this podcast The Obama team realised it was impossible to refute crazy lies about its candidate after Fox News said in 2008 that the young Obama had been raised a Muslim when the team complained, they were told that it was an amusement show. WD

12 Billy Joel has really soft hands

Where we learned it Two Dope Queens

Comedians and co-podcast hosts Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams went where two black women have never gone before a Billy Joel concert. They sneaked in their ros in suntan lotion bottles bought on Amazon the kind that get white daughters, watching the Shins, through Coachella. And, having been given front-row tickets because Billy likes to see fairly girls up at the front, they got to shake his baby-soft hands. If thats not informative enough for you, listen to the other episodes of this snort-out-loud-funny podcast from WNYC and hear some of New Yorks best female comedians talking about sexuality, romance, race, hair journeys and living in the city.

Other lessons from this podcast Pierce Brosnans volcano thriller Dantes Peak has a lot to tell us about how far we have come since the 90 s; talcum powder is the best method to deal with boob sweat. EVB

13 Tar heroin reeks just like capers

Where we learned it Guys We Fucked

Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson host the anti-slut-shaming podcast, featuring interviews with everyone from Jon Ronson to Stoya( and, as the title gently suggests, people with whom they have had sex ). Their interview with Wendi Kent or, as they call her, White Precious who photographs protesters outside abortion clinics, exposed the same reasons she can no longer feed capers and what its like to have sex when youre homeless. But its not all heavy-going. The episode titles alone are a treat good luck disguising You didnt go to France because you wanted to masturbate ?, His pubes were haunted? and Period sex: supposes? from fellow commuters.

Other lessons from this podcast DIY HIV tests can be done at home( or on-air) with a mouth swab; comedians on the circuit all hook up with one another. LH

Sex
There is such a this as too much SatC2 I mean, you knew that already, right? Photograph: Allstar/ Warner/ Sportsphoto Ltd

14 You can watch Sex and the City 2 too many times

Where we learned it The Worst Idea of All Time

A lot of time, effort and fund, especially money, went into making this film, says Guy Montgomery. Weve just opened up the most disgusting can of worms. Theres no need to watch SatC2 because he and Tim Batt have done it more than 50 times for the sake of their podcast( they did the same with Grown Ups 2 ). Mirandas nanny Magda is a spy who is gradually poisoning her, Charlotte is the other one and the whole thing is crying out for the kind of dialogue that attained the Tv series great.

Other lessons from this podcast We Are Your Friends is next on your hatewatch list. HV

15 You can have a podcast about a podcast

Where we learned it Slates Serial Spoiler Specials

Slates week-by-week analysis of Serial, 2014 s podcast preoccupation, is perfect for when everyone you know is listening far too slowly offering story recaps, whodunnit hypothesis and critiques of the host, Sarah Koenig. Not to mention digging deep down into Reddit rabbit pits about the two cases encompassed so far.

Other lessons from this podcast The cow birth in season two can be seen as an agricultural metaphor for the militarys have responded to Bowe Bergdahls disappearance; its almost impossible to map a timeline via audio. LH

16 Moby is a CD thief

Where we learned it Heavyweight

Jonathan Goldsteins Heavyweight aims to the tell the stories of people whose lives have taken a wrong turn somewhere. One of these was to reunited his 80 -year-old father with his elder friend before it was too late. Another was to reunite his friend Gregor who is haunted by the moment he loaned a box of Cds to a techno-producer friend. The friend, was, of course, Moby, who utilized many of them as the basis for his squillion-selling Play. Gregor doesnt want royalties he only wants his Cds back. And Goldstein helps him get them.

Other lessons from this podcast Tracking down your school bullies is an uncomfortable eye-opener( as demonstrated by Julia in episode seven ). HV

17 You can have an -Alist cast in a podcast drama

Where we learned it Homecoming

Although Serial was essentially a piece of investigative journalism, its format have also shown that podcasting didnt need to be limited in its sort. Gimlet Media, functional specialists podcasting company, emerged around the same period as that NPR made and proved its aspirations in the field. Its scripted drama, Homecoming, aimed straight for the stars with a cast including Catherine Keener, Star Wars Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer. The story flips between Keeners characters work at an experimental facility that helps soldiers integrate back in local communities and her present-day life as a waitress. There are plenty of cliffhangers helping to tell the story of what happened in between.

Other lessons from this podcast You dont mess with David Schwimmer. As Colin Belfast, he oozes fury and has the air of a human on the edge. HV

18, 19, 20 France buys in most of its frogs legs only one person called Oscar has won an Oscar Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie Duck were more reprinted comic book characters( that arent superheroes) of all time

Where we learned it Answer Me This !

Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann( plus Martin the soundman) solve listeners queries on a fortnightly basis with questions ranging from the practical to the ethical to the ridiculous. Suffice to say, you will learn more listening to them while doing the washing up than from Heart FM. You will also learn that drunken voicemails are welcome, especially from Dave from Smethwick and Graham from Canada.( Its Oscar Hammerstein II, by the route .) LH

The Guardian publishes a wide range of award-winning podcasts daily, from Football Weekly to the Guardian Books podcast, all of which are available on our site , iTunes and other leading podcast platforms .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Sumner Redstone fights to answer at trial but musters indecencies about ex

During first day of competency trial former Viacom boss clearly answers question about plaintiff, his ex Manuela Herzer, calling her a fucking bitch

The trial to determine the mental fitness of one of the most powerful media executives in the world began Friday with a videotaped witness statement from Sumner Redstone himself, in poor health, aided by an interpreter and at times unable to communicate at all.

In the transcript of his testimony, the 92 -year-old Redstone remained silent when asked about his birth name, which was changed in 1940, and did not say when he last saw his granddaughter Keryn.

Over 20 minutes, Redstone appeared to struggle with yes-or-no queries from lawyers representing Manuela Herzer, an ex-girlfriend who is suing to prove Redstone was not competent to remove her from his advance healthcare directive a role that dedicated her power to build the media nobles medical decisions. Redstone also changed his will to cut out Herzers reported $ 70 m bequest.

Redstone is head of National Amusements, the organization that controls Viacom, a conglomerate that runs Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures, and broadcast network CBS. Among Tv brass he is famous both for his quick temper and his repeated proclamations that he will live forever.

The case has shaken Wall Street, which continues to balk at Viacoms declining fundamentals and to question the leaders of Philippe Dauman, CEO of the company and Redstones estate lawyer. Dauman replaced Herzer as Redstones medical decision maker.

Redstone remains the controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS.

According to time stamps on the transcript, ODonnell asks the issues to When Manuela lived here, did she help with your healthcare? from 10.59 am to 11.04 am with no response recorded from Redstone, who occasionally attempted to spell the words of his answers. His interpreter said he pointed to the letter L at one point; ODonnell moved on without an answer.

But there are some aspects of the case on which Redstone was very clear: I want to ask you some questions, asked Pierce ODonnell, counseling for Herzer. Who is Manuela Herzer?

After an inaudible answer, Redstones interpreter asked him to repeat his himself: She is Manuela is a fucking bitch.

Redstone recurred the description of his former partner several times. His lawyer argued that Herzer had tried to ingratiate herself with the businessman as a means to enjoy his wealth.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

M& S falls cauliflower ‘steak’ amid ridicule from clients

Costing double the price of a whole vegetable and shrouded in layers of plastic, clean feeing product fails to make the cut

Marks& Spencer has withdrawn its” cauliflower steak” product from marketing after it was ridiculed by customers for its “excessive” plastic packaging and inflated price.

The sliced cauliflower, which comes in plastic packaging with a separate sachet of lemon and herb drizzle, was being sold for twice the price of a whole, single cauliflower at the supermarket chain.

The product had come under fire on social media, with critics describing it as “wasteful” and “ridiculous” and complaining about the volume of packaging used as well as the inflated cost. Whole, untrimmed cauliflowers are sold at M& S for PS1- typically for even less at other supermarkets- while the single-slice “steak” version cost shoppers PS2.

Confirming its decision to stop selling the item, a spokesperson for M& S said:” Once we’ve sold the stock that is currently in stores, we won’t be ordering any more of this product. We work hard to create quick and convenient snacks for customers; however, on this occasion we didn’t get it right. We have launched many other vegetarian dishes that are already demonstrating popular with clients .”

The product was part of the store’s new “Veggie” range, and was first spotted on Twitter by Rachel Clarke @rachclarke27, who triggered a lengthy thread after tweeting:

Another( Kathryn @ katie2 779) said:” People who buy this must have more fund than sense! What a wasteful item. The quantity of plastic and processing involved in this is ridiculous. Like you say, buy a cauliflower, rinse it and cut( and use all of it ).”

Rival Sainsbury’s also sells a similar product– a pack of two” cauliflower steaks in a herb and spice marinade” for PS1. 80, which is still on its shelves.
Trewin Restorick, chief executive of environmental charity Hubbub, said:” The public is increasingly concerned about the impact plastic packaging has on the environment, and social media dedicates them a chance to voice their concerns immediately to companies. The overly packaged, too priced cauliflower steak shows what happens when companies don’t get things right and hopefully it will lead to more environmentally sensible solutions in the future .”

With so-called ” Veganuary” under way and shoppers opting to reduce or cut out meat consumption in favour of ” clean eating “ options, supermarkets have been pulling out the stops to offer clients a range of ready-prepared spiralised veggies- and even “mince” made use of pulverised mushrooms and cauliflower and beetroot “rice”- to help them get back into shape after the festive season blowout. But this year has find a backlash from shoppers complaining on social media about excessive packaging.

The U-turn from M& S comes as the government prepares to announce a crackdown on excessive packaging and plastics on Thursday. A Defra spokesperson said:” Everyone has a role to play in tackling the scourge of plastics garbage, and business need to make sure their packaging does not outstrip what is required to make sure that the products are safe, hygienic and acceptable for both the product and for the consumer.”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Like her or loathe her, Arianna Huffington woke the news industry up | Emily Bell

As the founder of Huffington Post foliages to spend more time with her pillow, its worth reflecting on how she helped rouse old media from a complacent slumber

For many journalists there is no greater irony than Arianna Huffington, the eponymous publisher of the Huffington Post, giving up her role in the company she founded 11 years ago to spend more time with a wellness start-up focused on telling us all to get more sleep. HuffPo built its success on being part of speeding up the 24 -hour news cycle, filling pages with unpaid contributions, and generally adding to an environment which fellow publishers observed not even slightly relaxing. Even with a special pillow.

When the Huffington Post launched on 9 May 2005, it caught the news industry in the middle of a giant collective snooze. Hard as it might be to imagine now, it was a year when mainstream new organisations had reason to believe there would be a future for advertising-funded news websites. The future seemed brighter than at any point in the past five years. Out of nowhere, it seemed, the Huffington Post emerged, bringing with it an approach which pushed digital practice far farther than most of the even forward-looking news organisations were prepared to go at the time.

At the Guardian we set up our opinion site Comment is Free in response to the obvious and immediate success of the Huffington Post in transgressing the mold for live commentary. We even had a picture of Arianna Huffington pinned to the wall to ask, only partially satirically, what would Arianna do?

Huffington opting to spend more time with her earplugs was not the only nostalgic farewell for New York media this week, as the staff of Gawker threw a party last night ahead of next Tuesdays auction which sets the publisher on the block following the well-publicised loss of a libel suit brought by wrestler Hulk Hogan and financed by Silicon Valley billionaire, Peter Thiel.

Nick Denton, Gawkers British founder, is, like Huffington, a key figure in the transformation of modern American journalism. Gawker, founded in 2002, brought an alien sensibility to a New York publishing world that took itself very seriously.

There are plenty of those even working in the digital realm who saw both companies pushing the boundaries of publishing in undesirable directions , not least Thiel, whose personal vendetta against Gawker grew from the publication discussing his sexuality. Those critical of Gawker tend to be those most likely to be skewered by its journalism. For the Huffington Post, the critics tended to be those that were skewered by its business model.

The founding partners of the Huffington Post, which included Jonah Peretti and Ken Lerer( who also set up BuzzFeed) and, briefly, the deceased rightwing blogger Andrew Breitbart, knew that to reach adequate scale on the web they needed to publish far more, but for a fraction of the cost. As a result, Huffington Post became famous for being the platform which stimulated it OK not to pay novelists for their work. Conversely, it highlighted the fact that there were many more people willing to write for little or nothing for exposure of a global publisher than there were people who demanded payment.

To think of Gawker and Huffington Post as taking wrecking balls to a noble industry which would otherwise have( eventually) found a righteous track of prosperity and good practise through the digital swamp is completely wrong. Had Gawker or Huffington Post not come along when they did, then something else would have. And many arguably better things have emerged subsequently. Energy and investment needed to find its way into digital journalism in the mid-2 000 s and venerable organizations needed to be pushed further into understanding how to induce journalism work in a changed environment.

A more testing issue for journalism now is thinking how to sustain a market where the next Dentons or Huffingtons will come from. Thiel has all but shut Gawker, AOL has taken over the Huffington Post; every news business, new and old, is rethinking whether it can exist as a free service in a market where advertising has collapsed. Facebook and Snapchat have more attention from both readers and advertisers than publishers. We are being urged to pay for journalism, rather in the way we are being urged to stop using fossil fuel: the moral lawsuit is strong, but the solutions for how are sparse and economically unpromising.

At least Arianna Huffington need no longer lose sleep over such problems.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

No, there hasn’t been a human ‘head transplant’, and there may never be

Dean Burnett: Has there really been a successful human head transplant? No. Not even close.

In February 2015, Sergio Canavero appeared in this very publication claiming a live human head will be successfully transplanted onto a donor human body within two years. He’s popped up in the media a lot since then, but two years and nine months later, how are things seeming?

Well, he’s only gone and done it! As we can see in this Telegraph story from today, the world’s first human head transplant has been successfully carried out. Guess all those more timid neurobods who said it couldn’t be done( myself included) are feeling pretty foolish right now, eh?

Well , not quite. Because if you look past the triumphant and shocking headlines, the truth of the matter becomes very clear, very quickly. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not know Dr Sergio Canavero, he’s done nothing to me directly that I’m aware of. However, I’m now seriously doubting his motivations. I’ve discussed my reasons for this elsewhere before now, but here they are again in one place for ease of reading.

Monster,
Even the fictional Dr Frankenstein had a better success rate. Photograph: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

These “successful” procedures are anything but

Many of Canavero’s previous appearances in the media have been accompanied by claims of successful head transplant procedures . But, how are we defining “successful” here? Canavero’s definition seems to be extremely “generous” at best.

For instance, he recently claimed to have “successfully” performed a head transplant on a monkey. But did he? While the monkey head did apparently survive the procedure, it never regained consciousness, it was only kept alive for 20 hours for” ethical reasons” and there was no attempt made at connecting the spinal cord, so even if the monkey had survived long-term it would have been paralysed for life. So, it was a successful procedure, if you consider paralysis, absence of consciousness and a lifespan of less than a day as indicators of “success”.

There was also his “successful” rat head transplant, which involved grafting a severed rat head onto a different rat, a living one that still had its head. Precisely how this counts as a “transplant” is anyone’s guess. It’s adding a( functionally useless) appendage onto an otherwise healthy topic.

And this recent successful human head transplant? It was on corpses! Call me a perfectionist if you must, but I genuinely think that any surgical procedure where individual patients or subjects die before it even starts is really stretching the definition of ” success ” to breaking point. Maybe the procedure did make a good show of “attaching” the nerves and blood vessels on the broad scale, but, so what? That’s just the start of what’s required for a working bodily system. There’s still a way to go. You can weld two halves of different cars together and call it a success if you like, but if the moment you turn the key in the ignition the whole thing explodes, most would be hard pressed to back you up on your grandeur.

Perhaps the techniques used to preserve the heads and attach them have some scientific value, but it’s still a far cry from the idea of someone wandering around with a fully functional body that isn’t the one they were born with. Canavero seems to have a habit of claiming barnstorming victory based on negligible accomplishments, or even after building things much worse. He think that this is the neurosurgical equivalent of the UK Brexit negotiating team.

Note
You’d expect copious details when it comes to performing a successful head transplant. Thus far, they’re strangely absent. Photograph: Alamy

The crucial details are strangely overlooked

The human body is not modular. You can’t swap bits around like you would Lego blocks, take a brick from palace and set it onto a pirate ship and have it work fine. There are copious obstacles to contend with when linking a head to body, even when they’re the same person’s. Physicians have, in recent years, “reattached” a severely damaged spinal cord in a young child, but the key-word is “damaged”, not ” entirely severed “; there’s enough connect still to work with, to repair and reinforce. And this is with a young child, with a still-developing nervous system better able to compensate. Even taking all this into account, and the advanced state of modern medication, the successful procedure was considered borderline miraculous.

So, to attach a wholly severed spinal cord, a fully developed adult one, onto a different one, one that’s perhaps been dead for days ? That’s, what, at the least four further miracles required? And that’s not to take into account immune rejection, the fact that we don’t really know how to ” fix” damaged nerves yet( let alone connect two unfamiliar halves) and the issue that everyone’s brain develops in tune with their own bodies. The latter phase means the “interface” between the two is relatively unique. You put the head of musician on the body of a builder, it may well prove to be like trying to play an Xbox game on a PlayStation. Except, endlessly more traumatic.

We don’t know for certain of course, because nobody has ever tried it. Canavero seems convinced he can do it, but thus far he’s offered no feasible justification or science for his claims to be able to overcome these impediments, beyond some token stuff about preserving tissues and ensuring blood supply during procedures. That’s a bit like someone claiming they can build a working fusion reactor and, when asked how, explains how they’re going to plumb in the toilets for the technicians. Arguably a useful step, but clearly not the main issue here.

TED
TED Talks. Slick, inspiring, interesting , not exactly peer-reviewed. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Hype before substance

I’ve said this before, even in a Wired article about Canavero’s previous claims, to the extent where I am considering trademarking it as” Burnett’s statute “. Simply set; if someone’s build grand scientific claims but hasn’t provided robust evidence for them, yet they have done a TED talk, alarm bell should be ringing.

I don’t know what Canavero’s confidence is based on. Nobody seems to. He hasn’t published anything that they are able to warrant it thus far. Note his recent “successful” human head transplant claims, which you can read about in the Telegraph before he’s published the actual outcomes, as stated in the article.

Why do that? Why tell the newspapers before you tell your peers? If your procedure is rigorous and reliable enough, the data should reflect that. When scientists, particularly self-styled “mavericks”, tribunal publicity but urgently avoid scrutiny, that’s never an encouraging sign.

Going by the Telegraph article, Canavero claims that the next step will be to attempt a transplant with person in a vegetative country or similar. He also claims to have plenty of volunteers for this. Exactly how coma patients actively volunteered for this revolutionary procedure is anyone’s guess.

There’s no mention yet of attempting it in a conscious person, despite there being actual volunteers for that. I strongly suspect there never will be. Trying it with a conscious, thinking person entails it utterly has to be 100% effective for them to remain in this state after the graft is done. This would mean finding workable solutions to all the considerable obstacles presented by the very concept of a head transplant.

If I’m wrong about this then I’ll gladly take back everything and apologise, but nothing Canavero has said or done thus far results me to think he has any idea about how to do this.

Dean Burnett is fully aware that the procedure should logically be called a” body transplant” but that’s not how it’s usually described, so has employed the more common words. His book The Idiot Brain is available now, in the UK and USand elsewhere .


Read more: www.theguardian.com

M& S drops cauliflower ‘steak’ amid ridicule from customers

Costing doubled the price of a whole vegetable and shrouded in layers of plastic, clean feeing product fails to make the cut

Marks& Spencer has receded its” cauliflower steak” product from marketing after it was ridiculed by customers for its “excessive” plastic packaging and inflated cost.

The sliced cauliflower, which comes in plastic packaging with a separate sachet of lemon and herb drizzle, was being sold for twice the price of a whole, single cauliflower at the supermarket chain.

The product had come under fire on social media, with critics describing it as “wasteful” and “ridiculous” and complaining about the volume of packaging used as well as the inflated price. Whole, untrimmed cauliflowers are sold at M& S for PS1- typically for even less at other supermarkets- while the single-slice “steak” version cost shoppers PS2.

Confirming its decision to stop selling the item, a spokesperson for M& S told:” Once we’ve sold the stock that is currently in stores, we won’t be ordering any more of this product. We work hard to create quick and convenient snacks for customers; however, on this occasion we didn’t get it right. We have launched many other vegetarian dishes that are already proving popular with customers .”

The product was part of the store’s new “Veggie” range, and was first spotted on Twitter by Rachel Clarke @rachclarke27, who triggered a lengthy thread after tweeting:

Another( Kathryn @ katie2 779) told:” People who buy this must have more fund than sense! What a wasteful item. The quantity of plastic and processing involved in this is ridiculous. Like you say, buy a cauliflower, rinse it and cut( and use all of it ).”

Rival Sainsbury’s also sells a similar product– a pack of two” cauliflower steaks in a herb and spice marinade” for PS1. 80, which is still on its shelves.
Trewin Restorick, chief executive of environmental charity Hubbub, told:” The public is increasingly concerned about potential impacts plastic packaging has on the environment, and social media dedicates them a chance to voice their concerns immediately to companies. The overly packaged, too priced cauliflower steak shows what happens when companies don’t get things right and hopefully it will lead to more environmentally sensible solutions in the future .”

With so-called ” Veganuary” under way and shoppers opting to reduce or cut out meat consumption in favour of ” clean feeing “ selections, supermarkets have been pulling out the stops to offer clients a range of ready-prepared spiralised veggies- and even “mince” made of pulverised mushrooms and cauliflower and beetroot “rice”- to help them get back into shape after the festive season blowout. But this year has find a backlash from shoppers complaining on social media about excessive packaging.

The U-turn from M& S arrives as the government prepares to announce a crackdown on excessive packaging and plastics on Thursday. A Defra spokesperson said:” Everyone has a role to play in tackling the scourge of plastics garbage, and businesses need to make sure their packaging does not surpass what is required to make sure that the products are safe, hygienic and acceptable for both the product and for the consumer.”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

READING BREITBART FOR 48 HOURS WILL CONVINCE YOU THE WORLD IS TERRIBLE

I spent two days ingesting news exclusively from the rightwing website and observed its genius lies in the clever packaging of far-right narratives

When Donald Trump hired Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon to lead his presidential campaign, many immediately wondered: what can we expect from the new Bannon-led campaign? And what is Breitbart News?

Bannon has been described variously as the most dangerous political spy in America and the Leni Riefenstahl[ a Nazi propagandist] of the Tea Party motion.

To gain clarity following yet another Trump campaign shakeup, I read Breitbart exclusively for two days, eschewing all other news sources.( The Guardian included. Apart from its soccer coverage .)

It offered an insight into not only the popularity of Breitbart the site boasted 31 million unique visitors in July but also how it appeals to its readers. And its not as simple as you might imagine.

The first thing you notice when visiting Breitbart is its idiosyncratic presentation. Every headline is in capitals. It implies a sense of significance and dire importance.

It shrieks at you. THIS IS IMPORTANT, is the effect. THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS. THIS IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THIS COUNTRY GOING TO HELL IN A HANDCART.

The last of those phases is an example of how well Breitbart knows its audience.

This doomsday approach makes it seem like Breitbart readers want to feel that everything is rotten. They want to feel irate. They want to feel that catastrophe is impending unless their guys can fix it.

But compared to the caps-lock screaming, the actual articles are quite benign. They could have been published on a liberal news site. Seem at this one from Wednesday, to provide information on the response of Clintons campaign manager, Robby Mook, to Bannon being hired by the Trump campaign.

Mook: Only Fitting For a Bully Like Trump To Hire a Bully To Run His Campaign, it reads.

Mook told us that. Its true. The article itself is opinion-free. It could appear on the Guardian. It simply quotes Mook directly. A later article on the same subject quoted Mook more extensively, then included a replies from Breitbart at the bottom. Thats essentially what any news site would have done.

Thats not to tell Breitbart is objective. It merely pushes its rightwing message with a surprising subtlety.

An extensive profile of Bannon by Bloomberg Politics discloses some of that reasoning. Facts get shares, opinions get shrugs, Bannon tells. And thats largely how it works.

On the front page, at least, Breitbart presents readers with articles it knows will make them angry. The Mook article is a prime example it gives readers an outlet to rip into liberal politicians and liberal media.

If Breitbarts success is from publishing articles that it knows will upset its readers, the key is to publish the tales that present the perfect combination of facts to fuel rightwing fury. For example, a story about homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson, who visited Louisiana following the recent floods, telling Obama could not also attend because he has a very busy schedule. It is true he did say that. But the article is illustrated with a picture of a smiling Obama on a golf course, and the text notes the president is on vacation.

For all the veneer of objectivity, readers are merely presented with stories that further rightwing narrations. Reading it for two days, I learned a number of things I never knew. Many of them about Hillary Clinton.

I discovered that a number of recent tales have focused on questions about Clintons health.

According to articles presented by Breitbart, Clinton is tired and ailing. In a piece about inundating in Louisiana, I learned that Clinton requires extensive rest over the weekends.

From one headline, I learned that Dr Drew VH1s resident celebrity doctor is gravely concerned about her health care.

The message is clear: Clinton is the elderly grandmother who comes round for tea and biscuits and then has to be driven home when she falls asleep in front of Jeopardy.

Apart from Clintons troubling health, I learned that there was a new gun control notion. The notion, according to the Breitbart headline, is to take away guns from senior citizens.

The narrative is actually presented straight. After an examination of the quotes, however, which came from an academic at Johns Hopkins University, the article didnt match the bluster of the headline.

We dont exactly know what to expect yet from the Bannon-led Trump campaign. But its a fair bet that it will be cleverly packaged, well liked by Trump supporters and not very nice.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

There’s a search for a fifth meat- and 19 other things podcasts taught us in 2016

Whether its asking what happens when you watch Sex and the City 2 more than 50 times or which Oscar has won an Oscar, theres no question a podcast somewhere hasnt answered

1 Richard Ayoade employed a ThunderCats duvet cover until he was in his late 20 s

Where we learned it The Adam Buxton podcast

Adam Buxtons life-affirming, jingle-packed ramble chats with his celebrity guests are a constant delight. In this two-parter, the multi-talented Ayoade went into everything from the high levels of pillows to the reaction to his notoriously awkward interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy. As funny as the pod is, you are able to learn a lot, too from Buxtons honest discussions of sorrow when his daddy died to how upsetting Sara Pascoe observes it when people attain clicky sticky noises with their mouths.

Other lessons from this podcast Louis Theroux does a fine rendition of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie. Ellie Violet Bramley

Malcolm
Journalist and writer Malcolm Gladwell. Photo: Anne Bailey

2 One of the biggest automobile recollects in history may have been caused by drivers pressing the incorrect pedal

Where we learned it Malcolm Gladwells Revisionist History

If you are familiar with Gladwells run, then Revisionist History is both a treat and familiar province. The New Yorker novelist often takes assumptions and things we might think to be true and unravels them to end up in a different place wholly. In his bestseller Blink, he explained why it might not have been so unusual that an unarmed man was shot 41 times by New York police. In the best episode of Revisionist History, Gladwell appeared back at Toyotas sudden unintended acceleration phenomenon, which led to a gigantic penalty for the car maker. The conclusion after we listen to a 911 call in which a man is driven to his death by a car that wont slow down was not that the cars accelerators were sticking, but that drivers unfamiliar with certain automobiles were having a brain malfunction that meant the latter are physically unable to differentiate between the brake and the accelerator.

Other lessons from this podcast American colleges with the nicest canteens are the worst selections for poor students; if you want to score the most free-throws in basketball, do them underarm. Will Dean

3 One day, everyone in Sweden switched to driving on the opposite side of the road

Where we learned it 99% Invisible

You neednt be an architecture or design fanatic to enjoy Roman Marss gentle unpicking of how the world around us came to look and function as it does. As well as narratives about the origins of the inflatable humen they have outside automobile traders in the US, and why they used to publicize missing children on milk cartons, you can learn about Hgertrafikomlggningen , or H-day 3 September 1967 when everyone in Sweden switched from driving on the left side of the road to the right.

Other lessons from this podcast Californias Salton Sea was formed by mistake; 20 years ago, the world became obsessed with a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave desert. Leah Harper

4 Having your own podcast wont win you an election

Where we learned it With Her

How do we know that Hillary Clinton enjoyed a Cuban sandwich and a beer at the end of a day on the road? Well, she had her own campaign podcast, about the little details of being on the road. In the first episode, Max Linsky, of the podcast Longform, talked to her in Miami about what she was going to have for dinner that evening. As the first presidential candidate to have a campaign podcast, Clinton tried to harness the power of the medium to show a more personable side of herself. Suffice to say, it didnthave the desired effect.

Other lessons from this podcast Clinton is a TED talks fan and has to ration her Elena Ferrante novels. EVB

My
The hosts of My Dad Wrote a Porno.

5 Theres more than one way of motivating your marketings force

Where we learned it My Dad Wrote a Porno

Pots-and-pans sales supremo Belinda Blumenthal can find lust in any situation even when she is lost in an ornamental labyrinth. The superstar of the erotic fiction written by comedian Jamie Mortons father has taught the world that a regional sales meeting has just as much potential for naked fun as a business trip to Amsterdam. Other things she has appropriated into her libidinous realm include a charity tombola, Herb Alpert, a chalet, a pomegranate, a horsebox and any sentence involving the words further access. What she has taught listeners about her ridiculously sexy life is a possibility unsavoury, but via Mortons podcast it has brought a whole lot of mirth.

Other lessons from this podcast There is such a thing as a vaginal eyelid; never read erotic fiction written by your papa. Hannah Verdier

6 Sacha Baron Cohen has been known to use a getaway car

Where we learned it WTF

Marc Marons WTF can be off-putting: the hosts 15 -minute opening monologue and guitar jams are often enough to deter new listeners. But when it comes to teasing out colourful details from the careers of some of Hollywoods funniest and finest, Maron is the master. Grimsby may have bombed in the cinemas, but it was worth it for the interview Baron Cohen did with Maron to promote the cinema. The best bits were the details of the logistical difficulties of inducing Brno, from how a redneck fighting crowd were deceived into watching a homoerotic cavort to how Baron Cohen managed to escape Kansas police after being caught with, among other things, a pedal-powered sex machine in a hotel room.( He had a auto waiting outside with the engine running .)

Other lessons from this podcast Asking what peoples mothers were like rarely gets a dull answer; if you have the US president over to record in your garage, youd better have nice neighbours; William Friedkin is the best storyteller in Hollywood. WD

Alix
Alix Fox looks into peoples sexuality lives. Photograph: Ken McKay/ Rex/ Shutterstock

7 Having two vaginas doesnt mean you can have vaginal sexuality with two men at the same time

Where we learned it Close Encounters from the Guardian

Alix Fox pries into the complicated and fascinating lives of people for whom sexuality is not always altogether straightforward, from a polyamorous couple to a man paralysed from the waist down just before his honeymoon. An extraordinary interview with double-barrelled Hazel, who talked openly about the effects her condition has had on her and may have on her if she wants to have infants is the standout so far.

Other lessons from this podcast Russian-doll-style dildos can cure vaginismus; having cold feet can help to delay an orgasm. LH

8 The search for a fifth meat continues

Where we learned it The Beef and Dairy Network podcast

The centuries-old assumption that there are only four meats beef, lamb, pork and chicken is disintegrating after unconfirmed reports that the European Space Agency has identified a mysterious fifth meat. The Beef and Dairy Network podcast, produced by comedian Ben Partridge, is the No 1 podcast for those involved or only interested in the production of beef animals and dairy herds. Featuring guest appearances from agricultural experts such as Josie Long, and attracting fans including Miranda Sawyer, it is a surreal beefstravaganza.

Other lessons from this podcast According to Beef and Dairy Network sponsor Mitchells, 90% of livestock can kick through a ships hull after simply one month of taking hoof-strengthening supplement Steel Hoof Deluxe. EVB

A
Dont set this cow in your ships hull. Photo: Brian Brown/ Getty Images

9 John Oliver is not dead

Where we learned it The Bugle

For a decade, long-time comedy partners John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman set the world to rights via the medium of their audio newspaper for a visual world. Their riffs on anything from civil liberties( Like puppies, John, we love our own, but we get genuinely vexed when other people civil liberties keep shitting on our lawns) to Texas barbecues( All I know is this, Andy: if I was a cow, and I knew that I could savour like that, Id find it very hard to make a coherent suit for not being immediately killed and slow-cooked) often constructed the present the funniest thing you could get on Wi-Fi. With Oliver having left the Daily Show to front his own depict on HBO, the Bugle went into satirical hibernation. It awoke in mid-October, just in time for a political event so ridiculous that even Zaltzman at his most surreal couldnt have imagined it. The pods Have I Got News for You-style rotating guest co-hosts now include US comics Wyatt Cenac and Hari Kondabolu, as well as Brit Nish Kumar and brilliant Indian standup Anuvab Pal. They dont know each other as well as best friends Zaltzman and Oliver, but perhaps the other co-host, Andys sister Helen, could claim an advantage on that front. The Bugle is dead, long live the Bugle.

Other lessons from this podcast Bashar al-Assad bought LMFAOs Im Sexy and I Know It as the Syrian civil war raged. WD

10 A bloke running a driving school in Acton, west London, was also helping to prop up the death penalty in the US

Where we learned it More Perfect

In a residential area of west London, inside a build with a banner that reads Elgone Driving Academy, is a guy in his 50 s who looks a bit like William Hurt and who was the one-man operation helping to provide the narcotics used for capital punishment in the US. That was until a human rights charity alerted the UK government to his pharmaceutical broom closet of death. In the inaugural episode of More Perfect, a Radiolab spin-off looking at how US supreme court cases affect lives miles away from the bench, the presenters investigated those three little words from the US constitution: cruel and unusual.

Other lessons from this podcast An unusual 911 call made in Houston, Texas, in 1998, led to one of the most important LGBTQ rights decisions in the courts history, effectively building homosexual relations a basic civil right. EVB

11 The political insiders term for people panicking about a Trump win was bedwetters

Where we learned it Keepin it 1600

A politics podcast hosted by Barack Obamas former speechwriter and a senior communications adviser ought to scream wonkishness, but Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer may be the two most engaging analysts of a bonkers electoral campaign. Having been at the heart of two US election storms, they alongside other hosts Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor know, inside-out, how this world works and share it. Their near certainty about a Clinton win up to the morning of the election attained 1600 one of the most reassuring political podcasts you could listen to and stimulate their morning-after mea culpa on 9 November all the more extraordinary. Now its genuinely time to wet the bed.

Other lessons from this podcast The Obama team realised it was impossible to refute crazy lies about its candidate after Fox News said in 2008 that the young Obama had been raised a Muslim when the team complained, they were told that it was an amusement demonstrate. WD

12 Billy Joel has really soft hands

Where we learned it Two Dope Queens

Comedians and co-podcast hosts Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams went where two black girls have never gone before a Billy Joel concert. They sneaked in their ros in suntan lotion bottles bought on Amazon the kind that get white daughters, watching the Shins, through Coachella. And, having been given front-row tickets because Billy likes to see pretty females up at the front, they got to shake his baby-soft hands. If thats not informative enough for you, listen to the other episodes of this snort-out-loud-funny podcast from WNYC and hear some of New Yorks best female comedians talking about sex, romance, race, hair journeys and living in the city.

Other lessons from this podcast Pierce Brosnans volcano thriller Dantes Peak has a lot to tell us about how far we have come since the 90 s; talcum powder is the best method to deal with boob sweat. EVB

13 Tar heroin smells just like capers

Where we learned it Guys We Fucked

Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson host the anti-slut-shaming podcast, featuring interviews with everyone from Jon Ronson to Stoya( and, as the title gently indicates, people with whom they have had sexuality ). Their interview with Wendi Kent or, as they call her, White Precious who photographs protesters outside abortion clinics, revealed the reason she can no longer feed capers and what its like to have sex when youre homeless. But its not all heavy-going. The episode titles alone are a treat good luck concealing You didnt go to France because you wanted to masturbate ?, His pubes were haunted? and Period sex: supposes? from fellow commuters.

Other lessons from this podcast DIY HIV tests can be done at home( or on-air) with a mouth swab; comedians on the circuit all hook up with each other. LH

Sex
There is such a this as too much SatC2 I mean, you knew that already, right? Photograph: Allstar/ Warner/ Sportsphoto Ltd

14 You can watch Sex and the City 2 too many times

Where we learned it The Worst Idea of All Time

A lot of period, attempt and fund, especially fund, went into making this film, tells Guy Montgomery. Weve just opened up the most disgusting can of worms. Theres no need to watch SatC2 because he and Tim Batt have done it more than 50 periods for the sake of their podcast( they did the same with Grown Ups 2 ). Mirandas nanny Magda is a spy who is gradually poisoning her, Charlotte is the other one and the whole thing is crying out for the kind of dialogue that induced the TV series great.

Other lessons from this podcast We Are Your Friends is next on your hatewatch list. HV

15 You can have a podcast about a podcast

Where we learned it Slates Serial Spoiler Specials

Slates week-by-week analysis of Serial, 2014 s podcast preoccupation, is perfect for when everyone you know is listening far too slowly offering tale recaps, whodunnit theories and criticisms of the host, Sarah Koenig. Not to mention excavating deep down into Reddit rabbit pits about the two cases covered in so far.

Other lessons from this podcast The cow birth in season two can be seen as an agricultural metaphor for the militarys response to Bowe Bergdahls disappearance; its almost impossible to map a timeline via audio. LH

16 Moby is a CD thief

Where we learned it Heavyweight

Jonathan Goldsteins Heavyweight aims to the tell the stories of people whose lives have taken a wrong turning somewhere. One of these was to reunited his 80 -year-old father with his elder friend before it was too late. Another was to reunite his friend Gregor who is haunted by the moment he loaned a box of CDs to a techno-producer friend. The friend, was, of course, Moby, who employed many of them as the basis for his squillion-selling Play. Gregor doesnt want royalties he just wants his CDs back. And Goldstein helps him get them.

Other lessons from this podcast Tracking down your school bullies is an uncomfortable eye-opener( as demonstrated by Julia in episode seven ). HV

17 You can have an -Alist cast in a podcast drama

Where we learned it Homecoming

Although Serial was basically a piece of investigative journalism, its format proved that podcasting didnt need to be limited in its sort. Gimlet Media, a specialist podcasting company, emerged around the same hour as that NPR made and proved its ambitions in the field. Its scripted drama, Homecoming, aimed straight for the stars with a cast including Catherine Keener, Star Wars Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer. The story flips between Keeners characters work at an experimental facility that helps soldiers incorporate back in local communities and her present-day life as a waitress. There are plenty of cliffhangers helping to tell the story of what happened in between.

Other lessons from this podcast You dont mess with David Schwimmer. As Colin Belfast, he oozes rage and has the air of a human on the leading edge. HV

18, 19, 20 France buys in most of its frogs legs only one person called Oscar has won an Oscar Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie Duck are the most reprinted comic book characters( that arent superheroes) of all time

Where we learned it Answer Me This !

Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann( plus Martin the soundman) solve listeners queries on a fortnightly basis with questions ranging from the practical to the ethical to the ridiculous. Suffice to say, you are able to learnt more listening to them while doing the washing up than from Heart FM. You will also learn that drunken voicemails are welcome, especially from Dave from Smethwick and Graham from Canada.( Its Oscar Hammerstein II, by the way .) LH

The Guardian publishes a wide range of award-winning podcasts daily, from Football Weekly to the Guardian Books podcast, all of which are available on our site , iTunes and other leading podcast platforms .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘I was nothing more than a common thief’: master of Fleet Street’s dark arts uncovers trade secrets

Named in the Leveson inquiry into press ethics, and mentioned in volumes on blagging, John Ford speaks out for the first time about how he thought he was working in the public interest for the Sunday Times but now regrets much of what he did

It was a passion that John Ford first cultivated around the kitchen table as small children. He and others in his family were encouraged to try on different accents for fun; a gift for mimicry that defined Ford on the path to becoming one of the masters of Fleet Street’s notorious” darknes arts “.

He has now come forward for the first time to speak publicly about how he use his skill to obtain by subterfuge the personal financial details of hundreds of targets, from cabinet ministers to publishers, businessmen and celebrities.

In an interview with the Guardian, this self-styled” Beckham of the blaggers” describes in detail his work between 1995 and 2010, the techniques and cons he developed. He worked for private investigator but his principal client, accounting for half of his run, he says, was the Sunday Times.

He tricked call centre staff and company employees, typically using a fake identity, to procure bank statements, mortgage records, utility bills and ex-directory numbers. He blagged unpublished autobiographies from publishers, emptied the bins of the powerful in pursuit of secrets.

At the time, he did not question the morality of what he was doing. He believed he was exposing narratives in the public interest. He still feels pride over some of the tales he was involved in such as terrorism and political fund but is going public out of a sense of remorse over others.” I am ashamed ,” he says.

” To their own families, I was proudly referred to as John the journalist; the fact that I worked for the Sunday Times was a source of great kudos and respectability. But I was untrained, untutored and I was nothing more than a common burglar, even though I tried to dignify my activities as artistry under the catch-all title of blagger ,” says Ford, who was first introduced to the Guardian by Byline Media.

Ford ran off the books for the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, never entering the home office, but earned, he estimates PS40, 000 a year from the title alone. He says he targeted the most powerful people of the era: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, William Hague, John Prescott, the former head of MI6 and celebrities such as Paul McCartney at the time of his wedding to Heather Mills.

” It is such a rarified skill merely a very few people were any good at it ,” he tells. He counts himself as among the highest, partly because- having been at a private school and university- he could do Home Counties as well as working-class.” I was a posh blagger .” He boasts:” My failure rate was minimal .”

The controversy over newspaper ethics has been raging for more than a decade, focused on phone hacking and to a lesser extent the use of private investigators. Ford’s name has been briefly referenced in both Nick Davies’s book Flat Earth News and at the Leveson inquiry.

But the 52 -year-old has never spoken out before, and he believes his narrative represents something new:” It was about the tabloids, the red-tops. But it was about the posh papers too. “Its about” the Sunday Times, a paper with an estimable history and heritage .”

Ford was brought up in a family of fairground travellers who gave up the straying life to settle in south Wales, where his father ran a fruit machine business. In the evenings, when his father came home, one source of entertainment was doing accents.” The children would sit on a bench at supper and dad would say:’ Do an Australian ‘. Then Scottish. Birmingham. Manchester. South African. Dutch. French. I had an ear for it ,” tells Ford.

This led him to try acting, after studying drama and English at Bristol university. He worked for a theatre company and did some standup comedy around London but struggled financially. By chance, in the mid-9 0s, he bumped into an old university friend who, knowing he was an actor, asked him to help out at an office of a private investigator, making a phone call pretending to be Nigerian. That led to work for another private investigator, based in Croydon. That company was used by the Sunday Times and a professional relationship began.

His first big success for the Sunday Times came in 1997 when he penetrated a blind trust set up for Labour donors by Lord Levy, one of Tony Blair’s main fundraisers. Soon after this, in 1998, according to Ford, the Sunday Times decided to bypass the private investigator’s office and commission him directly.

Ford worked on story after story; invoices indicate his work was frequent and sustained. He says he penetrated Gordon Brown’s bank and mortgage account in late 1999 as the Sunday Times tried to find out if there was anything suspicious in the acquisition of a property by the then chancellor a few years earlier from the estate of the controversial owned of Daily Mirror Robert Maxwell. He found nothing untoward. The newspaper wrote a tale in January 2000 about how Brown bought the flat more cheaply than the prevailing market price.” What right did I have to look at the chancellor’s bank account to stand up a non-story ?” Ford now says.

Blagging- employing subterfuge to obtain private information from banks, mortgage companies or utility firms- is illegal under the Data Protection Act 1998, which came into force in March 2000. But there is an exemption for newspapers if private datum is held or obtained for the purpose of journalism with a view to publication and with a reasonable belief that the publication is” justified in the public interest “.

Ford says he suggested to the Sunday Times stealing rubbish in the hope of receiving secrets. He thought it was an original ploy, unaware that Benjamin” Benji The Binman” Pell was already engaged in a similar operation on behalf of newspapers( including, on at the least one occasion, the Guardian ). In November 1999, Pell pleaded guilty to five countings of theft when caught trying to take rubbish from a central London law firm, and was fined PS20.

Ford said the Sunday Times drew up a hitlist of a dozen prominent figures in the Labour government and they targeted bins in the spring and summertime of 2000. He hired a friend, whom he calls George, a student at the time, who helped him in what they refer to as “bin-spinning”. He and Ford would rifle through the rubbish in Ford’s office or living room.

It was Alastair Campbell’s bins that demonstrated the most productive; the refuse yielding a string of memorandas written by New Labour pollster Philip Gould.” Campbell was a chucker, Gould was a shredder ,” Ford remembers. A string of tales followed in the early summer of 2000, such as:” Secret memo demonstrates Labour fear of Hague ,” on 28 May and:” Secret memo tells Blair is out of touch ,” on 11 June. Their true provenance was not recognise, Ford says.

Ford says he was tasked- typically several times a week- to obtain information for the Sunday Times. Invoices retained by Ford from the period confirm his run was frequent and sustained; he says he was paid between PS80 to PS120 for obtaining an ex-directory number and from PS120 to PS250 to get into a UK bank account rising to PS350 for international accounts. There were extra payments for more complex jobs.

Journalists who worked in the newsroom say his existence was an open secret. Junior reporters who wished to use him had to check with the newsdesk for approving and were told never to write his name down or chore details on email. Ford said that he want to get take details of petitions only over the phone to keep activities discreet.

William
Ford impersonated William Hague to get into his bank and charge card accounts. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/ Getty Images

” In those days, you could get anything. There is one basic law of the blag. And that is to give something to someone. If you ring up and tell I want, you don’t get.

When you ring up you say:’ Hello I am ringing to hand myself in. I am sure I owe you some money. Appearing at my direct debits on the 23 rd, the money should have gone to you and it has not gone through .’ And they would say:’ Oh no, it has come through.

“‘ What do you mean? From my kind code 20 23 31? Oh, no, sort code 64.’ I would say,’ From account 5721.’ And they would go:’ No, account number …” I would say:’ Thanks very much.’

” The general sign-off was:’ You don’t don’t how helpful you been .'”

Ford was briefly referenced at the Leveson Inquiry by John Witherow, who edited the Sunday Times between 1995 and 2013. When requested information about Ford, Witherow said in January 2012 that Ford was used on” various investigations “. Ford says he never gratified or spoke to Witherow, who now edits the Times.

At one point, in the early part of the last decade, he impersonated William Hague to get into his bank account and credit card repeatedly over a week following a tip-off from a Sunday Times reporter. Ford says he supposed his Hague accent was good enough to fool people.” I enjoyed being William Hague and the thrill of being William Hague .” No evidence was found to back up the tip-off, however.” It was grossly invasive, shameful, immoral, wrong and it was not news .”

Ford feelings particularly bad about one narrative in particular. An employee for Mercedes Benz “losing ones” task as a result of one of the blags. Ford procured the listing of prospective purchasers for a new Maybach supercar in June 2002 by posing as a German-accented manufacturer of personalised keyfobs, asking to be sent a listing of their names so they could be sure the spellings were correct.” The human was sacked, and what happened to him I don’t know. Did he get re-employed, did he get divorced, did it ruining their own lives ?”

Models
Ford procured the list of prospective purchasers for a new Maybach supercar in June 2002. Photograph: Byun Yeong-Wook/ AFP/ Getty Images

It was stressful run and gradually took its toll. Ford himself talks about blagging as acting, describing how anxious he would be” before he went on “. He told:” On Tuesday, you feel sick, on a Wednesday and Thursday, you think:’ I have to do it .’ On Friday you have to only pick up the damn phone. By Friday evening you are flying, you feel like God, you are cycling home. That was the game .”

Ford occasionally worked for other commercial and media clients too. They included the Telegraph, the Express and the BBC. At one point, he indirectly worked for the Guardian. In 2000, he was asked by Ciex, a corporate intelligence firm, to assist in the production of a due diligence report about Monsanto, the controversial GM agriculture company. Although Ford did not know it at the time, Ciex’s client was the Guardian. Ford was asked to target bins of people at Bell Pottinger, the financial PR firm that worked for Monsanto at the time.

Nor was he the only off-the-books private investigator. A private investigator called Steve Whittamore, whose property was raided in 2003, was used by a string of newspapers including the Observer to procure ex-directory and vehicle ownership and other personal information.

The Observer built 103 requests for information between 1999 and 2003, and an independent review subsequently concluded that” the Observer overwhelmingly use Steve Whittamore’s services in their efforts to expose public impropriety or crime “.

As for Ford, the fun began to go out of the job about a decade ago. He felt trapped by the regular flow of money. He took valium, sometimes in small doses mixed with Red Bull; sometimes more. The job that led to his undoing was his attempt to obtain an advance copy of Tony Blair’s autobiography in August 2010, coming after the Sunday Times had unsuccessfully bid PS500, 000 for the serialisation rights. Blair had instead said he would donate royalties to the British Legion.

Tony
The task that led to his undoing was his attempt to obtain an advance transcript of Tony Blair’s autobiography in August 2010. Photograph: Oli Scarff/ Getty Images

Ford said he did not initially want to take over the task, but was talked around over several telephone call from the Sunday Times. He was told how much the book was wanted. Describing how he tried to blag the electronic proof, he said:” I bided up all night. I was in debt. I thought: I’m going to get this fucking volume. I rang every Random House office around the globe as the sunshine came up .”

Email exchanges with a Sunday Times reporter that were subsequently recovered by police detail a desperate worldwide search by Ford for a transcript in Britain, Australia, India and elsewhere.

Random House asked the City of London police to analyse the origin of the repeated calls and they traced the blagging to Ford’s property in Somerset.” I think they were surprised to find somebody so well-spoken when they apprehended me ,” he said. The Sunday Times paid for a lawyer, although Ford did not admit to working for the newspaper. He received a caution two years later, having been paid PS2, 100 for the disastrous blag.

It was an abrupt objective to a decade-and-a-half’s work for the Sunday Times. During that time he was never invited into the Sunday Times newsroom and instead fulfilled reporters outside the Sunday Times office in Wapping, at a saloon or a McDonald’s.” I never received a byline ,” he tells and no public acknowledgment of his run. But he regarded himself as part of the team, meeting reporters socially, on occasion attending the Christmas party.

Last night, News UK issued a statement telling:” The Sunday Times has a strong record of investigative journalism over decades and has hired many contributors and researchers to work on tales, or parts of tales.

” The paper strongly repudiates the accusation that it has in the past retained or commissioned any individual to act illegally.

” Some accusations related to the research work of John Ford have been aired previously and we cannot comment on the specifics of these new allegations, which all predate 2011.”

After the caution, Ford’s health suffered and he was drinking too much. But he gradually was just thinking about going public, and last year he initially approached Byline Media, a crowdsourced website that had written about some of the fallout from the phone-hacking affair. Byline, after a year’s investigation, in turn approached the Guardian.

Seeking personal redemption, he has decided to become a whistleblower.” It has been a long time coming for me. I am 52. I have three children. I want to be a decent mother. I want my mothers to be proud of me. I want to step out of the darkness .” He added:” It is time to tell the truth and make amends .”

Early on Wednesday, the former deputy prime minister John Prescott said he believed he was one of John Ford’s victims over a story about the value of his grace and favour flat.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4′ s Today programme, he said:” I surely felt it at the time, when the various narratives were put out by the Sunday Times. Here’s the man who has had a sentence, is a man who said he committed criminal acts paid for by the Sunday Times on what they called fishing expedition. It is now[ called] blagging. Well, I suffered under hacking. I’m now into blagging, so I’m taking legal advice. Are these tales true ?”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Time 100: FGM campaigner Jaha Dukureh constructs prestigious list

US campaigner induced Obama take action on female genital mutilation, and get practice banned in the Gambia

Anti-FGM campaigner Jaha Dukureh has been named one of the worlds more influential leaders by Time magazine alongside John Kerry, Angela Merkel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bernie Sanders and Christine Lagarde.

Dukureh, the lead campaigner in the Guardians global information campaign to end female genital mutilation, was honoured in particular for her work in the US and the Gambia but is now campaigning to end the practice worldwide in a generation, employing her experiences as a survivor to build public supporting.

She first came to prominence with the success of her change.org petition, which received more than 220,000 signatures, asking the Obama administration to conduct a new prevalence survey into the current scope of FGM in the United States.

The
The Guardians editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, with Jaha Dukureh. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Now based in Atlanta, Dukureh has become the leading campaigner against FGM in the Gambia. She is of a new generation of young women in the country who are working through the media to make sure that the mutilation they have suffered is not recurred on their daughters.

In 2015 her campaign led to the Gambia announcing a ban on FGM.

Maggie OKane, coordinator of the Guardian campaign to end FGM, told: The Time 100 award for Jaha Dukureh puts FGM out there slap bang in the middle of human rights agenda, where it should be when 200 million girls and women are mutilated around the world today.

Last year FGM was banned in Nigeria, which joined 18 other African countries that have proscribed the practice, including Central African Republic, Egypt and South Africa.

The Guardian has been working with activists like Dukureh in the UK, US, Kenya the Gambia and Nigeria. The information campaign, supported by the Human Dignity Foundation, begins work in June in Sierra Leone, where 88% of daughters are subjected to FGM which means the forcible removal, usually with a razor blade, of the clitoris and the labia and the sewing up of the vagina.

Somalia, which has the highest prevalence of FGM in the world, has indicated it would like to end the practice, despite significant resistance in the country. Currently, 98% of daughters aged between four and 11 being submitted to FGM in Somalia.

Read more: www.theguardian.com