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November 28 2013

Science Podcast - 2013 science books for kids, newlywed happiness, and authorship for sale in China (29 Nov 2013)

Talking kids' science books with Maria Sosa; predicting happiness in marriage with James McNulty; investigating questionable scholarly publishing practices in China with Mara Hvistendahl.

June 12 2010

The Carabinieri Art Squad; Off the Page; The eSportsmen | Radio review

Radio 4 painted a dramatic picture of Italian detectives who specialise in catching art thieves

They say that if you dig a hole in the ground in Rome, you are almost certain to find a historical artefact of some kind. In The Carabinieri Art Squad (R4), Alex Butterworth accompanied detectives to a field outside Rome where a criminal gang had dug a 30ft hole in a field in the dead of night and looted the treasures from a vast Etruscan tomb.

The "tombaroli" (tomb raiders) are part of a larger organised crime network linked to drugs, arms and even human trafficking. They sell their stolen treasures to art dealers who, in turn, sell them to museums. "As they journey up the crime pyramid, they attain further layers of respectability," explained Butterworth, taking us into a fascinating world where detectives, through the painstaking nature of their work, have become art experts. Last year, there was a 75% fall in thefts of art treasures from galleries, churches and tombs. We heard the story of a Madonna and Child altarpiece recovered in three separate parts from three different private collections, and of the thief who stole a chalice from one church in order to donate it to another, insisting his name was carved on it. His priest turned him in to the police. Listening to some of the detectives of the art squad, you sensed that they, too, were following a calling that was almost religious.

If Butterworth's informed approach reminded you how consistently strong Radio 4's documentary strand is, this week's Off the Page, as if often the case with the channel's discussion-style programmes, made me want to run screaming from the room. Billed as a blend of "new writing and provocative debate", it featured novelist Stella Duffy, marriage counsellor Harry Benson and the ubiquitous Bidisha, writer, broadcaster and born disagree-er.

The subject was marriage and each guest had written a 400-word piece entitled "Shoulda Put a Ring on It". Benson put himself, and his rescued marriage, at the centre of a talk that was one-part therapy speak, one-part self-flagellating confessional. Duffy cleverly celebrated same-sex ceremonies while Bidisha, was – surprise, surprise – dead against it "because of patriarchy", though she did admit to blubbing along with everyone else when some friends, one of whom was "a real super, right-on feminist", took the vow. Suffice to say, the Beyoncé song of the same name contained more wit and social insight in a few short, sharp lines than their combined efforts.

In The eSportsmen (R4), Kate Russell gamely entered the all-male world of competitive computer gaming. What once was a bedroom hobby for computer geeks is fast becoming a lucrative sport in which teams compete against each other for increasingly large sums of money. Except computer gaming, as its name suggests, is a game, not a sport. A bit like darts.

Seven hours a day sitting in front of a computer screen does not, the programme concluded, make for a balanced lifestyle. Neither, though, does an intense youthful commitment to, say, tennis. The best quote came from one earnest young man who declared without irony: "I see gaming as an equal fighting field, but girls just don't seem interested." I wonder why. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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February 26 2010

The Case for Same-Sex Marriage

Former legal rivals David Boies and Theodore Olson team up

December 24 2008

December 22 2007

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