Search queries for December

The overwhelmingly popular search-term leading to this blog this month has been ‘darren gough’, variations of which accounted for about 20-25% of people who got here via a search engine.

Some other hits:

ideas for a narrative prose
hair on fire picture
foxy stuff
poems about doritos
is strictly come dancing racist
branding cow silhouette
quotes . the female of the species is more deadly than the mail
new teen porny 2005
long poetry entries
poems of sincerity


Mask of the Week

The character Xue Gang from the Chinese opera. From the surprisingly eclectic site of Paul and Bernice Noll. These ‘masks’ are done with face paints.

“A dictum familiar to most Peking opera fans, “No red for the three Gangs,” illustrates how colors represent human character. The three Gangs (Li Gang, Yao Gang, and Xue Gang) were bold and obstinate, but in Peking operas they are portrayed as solemn and serious, so no red is allowed in their facial make-up, not even on their lips, and no pink powder (which symbolizes humor) is applied to their cheeks. By contrast, in operas adapted from the Romance of the Yang Family the cheeks of the two characters Meng Liang and Jiao Zan are powdered pink because these two men are humorous by nature. In Hongyang Cave, however, the two no longer have pink cheeks, for this opera portrays them as old people whose temperaments have changed.”


Rewarding recipes – pasta with garlic, anchovies and capers

The more I cook, I the more I think of recipes in terms of the amount of work involved relative to the result – not just in terms of how good the food tastes, but how much the people you serve it to appreciate it. Two examples of things that score very badly on this score – lasagne and Caesar salad. Lasagne takes hours and, though it’s very nice, everyone makes it, it has no novelty value and no-one gets that excited by being served it. Caesar salad is one of the world’s great recipes, but it doesn’t look much; it just looks like a green salad with croutons. The time it takes to make it properly gets you no credit at all.

‘Rewarding recipes’ are the opposite – piss-easy but impressive. No 1 is a pasta recipe.

Put some pasta on to cook. Spaghetti would be fine. With about three or four minutes to go, heat olive oil and put in some crushed garlic, then when the smell rises from the pan (i.e almost immediately) add chopped anchovies and capers. Leave it to cook gently for a minute or two; and that’s your sauce.

It’s the anchovy and garlic that are the key ingredients; you could omit the capers or add some tuna. Fresh parsley is also an excellent addition. Serve with a nice white wine.

Lots of people dislike anchovies or capers or both, so you can’t give this to everyone. In a sense that’s what’s good about the recipe – the flavours are really grown-up, so it tastes much more sophisticated than a lot of these ten-minute foods.

Nature Other

Orientalism and crying wolf

This blog-post on the Hwang debacle kind of annoyed me. As is probably obvious from what I said in the comments section. The relevant part of the post is this :

It sounds like there was nothing in the paper that should have given Hwang Woo-suk away; doubtless he faked the data to be believable. But check this out (from the San Jose Mercury News):

“Hwang chalked up much of the success to South Korean government support and dedicated researchers working around the clock. He also credited his workers’ dexterity with chopsticks; stem cell researchers visited from around the world and rushed back to their labs to try the new technique.”

ARE they kidding?? Are they KIDDING? What next, “We just cultured the cells in kim-chee and they grew like mad!”?

Evidently westerners are so dense about Asian cultures that they figured this guy was doing a scientific version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style kung fu, using secret Asian powers involving chopsticks. This is deeply ridiculous. “So THAT’S how those brilliant Koreans accomplished their scientific research! They have special dexterity with chopsticks!” Once again:

“…stem cell researchers visited from around the world and rushed back to their labs to try the new technique.”

The chopsticks technique.

[some stuff about the Sokal hoax, which is an interesting enough subect in its own right but not what I’m interested in here]

The Sokal Hoax, while obnoxious, provided the humanities with an urgent motive for some much-needed self-scrutiny, including a few brilliant articles by one of my heroes, John Guillory (“The Great”).

Similarly, it might be time to check, in a public way, why scientists around the world were willing to believe that dexterity with chopsticks was the secret answer.

I’m all for making people’s biases and prejudices explicit, but this kind of thing just undermines any serious attempt to do that. I agree that the quote above reflects badly on the San Jose Mercury News, but that’s no big surprise, since science reporting in the media is so consistently poor. Of course the media love the chopstick quote – in a story which they know they have to cover but which they don’t believe their readers are going to understand, it’s the one human detail they can latch onto. I would speculate that Dr Hwang said it for that reason, since he seems to have enjoyed publicity.

But it’s ludicrous to suggest that the world’s working embryologists and geneticists were so beguiled by Orientalism that a comment about chopsticks was the reason they accepted Hwang’s claims. Hwang was one of the most highly respected and successful people in the field. Why on earth wouldn’t his claims be taken at face value?

There’s no shortage of real racism and stupidity in the world. Insisting on seeing it where it isn’t just reduces your credibility.

btw, if anyone wants to read the original Hwang paper, it’s available here. Personally I found it completely incomprehensible.


Actually, thinking about it, what really annoyed me is the bizarre idea of how the scientific community works implied by the post. Considering it’s attached to accusations of credulity and denseness about other cultures, there’s a certain amount of pot/kettle to it.

Me Other

Drugs, hypocrisy and baby milk

Most of the people I’ve known over the years who were keen to boycott products from NestlĂ© (evil baby milk) or South Africa (apartheid, at the time) or Nike (sweatshops) took drugs.

I don’t think it’s any better to give money to organised crime than to give it to Nike. Which is one reason I don’t take drugs.

Culture Nature Other

Flickr field guide

There’s a group on Flickr called Field Guide: Birds of the World. Pretty self-explanatory, really – they’re trying to form a collection of photos that can be used to help identify birds. It’s a great idea and they’ve already got a lot entries, though it’s weighted towards European and N American birds, not surprisingly. But it quickly exposes the failings of Flickr as a content-management system. Although it’s possible to search within the group pool for photos tagged with a particular name, it’s not obvious how to do it. More crucially for a field guide, it’s not easy enough to add information to a photo in an organised way – for example, to provide a link from a species to any confusion possibilities. Or to give distribution info.

In some ways, like most reference works, it’s a good candidate for a wiki; there’s a network of people who are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject, it’s naturally modular and so on. The internet would allow for many pictures attached to each species, as well as audio and even video. You could easily establish a standard template for an entry, to encourage people to include all the useful information – distribution, easily confused species, call, and so on. I suppose I could set it up – the Wikimedia software which Wikipedia runs on is open-source and I think I could set it up on my server space, although I suspect there would be a bit of a learning curve to cope with. More seriously, if it ever really caught on, especially with a lot of audio and video, it would be quite bandwidth-heavy.

With mobile broadband on the verge of becoming widespread, people might even start using it in the field to complement traditional field-guides.