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

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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.

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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.

Drugs, hypocrisy and baby milk

Most of the people I’ve known over the years who were keen to boycott products from Nestlé (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.

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.

Galileo satnav

The first satellite of Galileo, the EU’s competitor to GPS, was launched yesterday – initially to test out the kit, with the service planned to go online in 2010. One of the explicitly stated aims is provide independence from reliance on the US government, since GPS is a military system that is made available for civil users at the discretion of the government and, presumably, the Pentagon. I’m always intrigued when interaction between Europe and America slips into rival-Great-Powers mode, rather than the usual closest-allies shtick.

In practical terms the project sounds pretty sane to me anyway (not that that I know much about these things). In future, I’m sure all the devices that currently use GPS will be designed to use both – Galileo is designed for compatibility with GPS anyway – and the number of GPS-equipped things will increase for some time yet. The combination of GPS and Galileo will provide better accuracy than either of them alone and will provide backup if either goes offline for whatever reason. So it’s not a redundant system just reproducing the functionality of GPS.

Whether all that justifies the cost is another question. €3.4bn sounds a lot, but it pales in comparison to the €50bn for the Common Agricultural Policy this year. I think it’s probably a good idea, but then I am a bit of a geek.

Stuffing update

My apricot, cherry and almond stuffing worked out well. If anything it slightly removed the need for cranberry sauce – the sour cherries have a similar fruity/sour thing going on, so you don’t really need both.

Today I shall mostly be making wild mushroom soup.

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Mask of the Week

I decided to look for something seasonal and came up with this, from Where’s Cherie?:

“Greg with the Santa “Mola” mask and his reindeer finger-puppet. (Whenever Greg donned this mask the Kuna children would scream: “Santa! Santa!”)”

Thanks to Google, I now know that a ‘mola’ is a blouse worn by the Kuna women of the San Blas archipelago, off the coast of Panama, which has decorative panels on the front and back made of reverse appliqué. Or possibly the ‘mola’ is just the appliqué panel; it’s not clear. You can see a Santa Claus mola here. The masks are made for the tourist trade – you can see more of them here.

Or, if you’re in a more bah humbuggy kind of mood, there’s always ‘Santa Claus removing the mask of Death’ (which has an unexpected poetry connection).

Anyone need a good stuffing?

I’ve made like, really a lot.

But it should freeze OK. One batch is a chestnut stuffing from a Good Housekeeping book (sausagemeat, onion, celery, chestnut mushrooms, breadcrumbs, herbs, chestnuts, egg and brandy), which I’ve made before and is nice. The other is my own invention – sausagemeat with onion, dried apricots, dried sour cherries, egg, brandy and a little mixed spice. On Christmas Day I’ll let you know how it turned out.

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Magnum photo-essays

Magnum in motion has photo essays with audio commentary. The only one I’ve watched is the ‘Inner-City Youth, London’ one – which I would certainly recommend. I found it via GRIMETIME. I’ve downloaded a few grime tracks recently; it was PopText that started me in that direction by posting a few tracks from the brilliant Lady Sovereign. Starting from her and clicking on Amazon’s ‘people who bought this also bought’ links helped me find Kano, Roll Deep, Wiley, Lethal Bizzle and of course Dizzee Rascal. All of whom are worth checking out if you like hard, fast hip-hop.

And even if you don’t give a fuck about the music, check out the Magnum photos.I expect the other photo-essays are good too, I just haven’t looked at them yet.

Szirtes on the myopia of poets

George Szirtes has an interesting post up at the moment, which starts:

One of the reasons I became a poet rather than a novelist is, perhaps, because I have a far stronger sense of events – nature as event, phenomena as event, objects as event – than of people. To most poets I suspect other people are a kind of myopic blur.

Whether it’s true for all poets or just him, the post is worth reading. No permalinks, so if you’re reading this some time in the future, you need to track down the entry for 20.12.05 .

more folk wisdom

On the subject of folk wisdom:

I’m reading a book called Mutants which mentions a C17th book called Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, enquiries into very many Received Tenents and commonly presumed Truths, in which Sir Thomas Browne investigated a lot of received ideas, like the fact that ‘a King-fisher hanged by the bill, sheweth in what quarter the wind is by an occult and secret propriety, converting the breast to that point of the Horizon from whence the wind doth blow’.

Ain’t th’internet marvellous?

Folk Wisdom

Wine then beer makes you feel queer;
beer then wine makes you feel fine.

What do we learn from this? Well, by the immutable laws of rhyme, it’s obviously OK to drink anything you want all evening – tequila, cherry brandy, raki, Bailey’s – as long as you finish it up with a glass of wine.

It’s probably also OK to finish on sherry. Aquavit might be a mistake.

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Mask of the Week

The Marquardt Beauty Analysis mask.

According to the MBA mission statement:

MBA is dedicated to proactively researching human visual aesthetics, including its biological and mathematical bases, and to utilizing the results of that research to develop and provide information and technology with which to analyze and positively modify (i.e. improve) human visual attractiveness.
MBA believes that this information and technology can empower individuals within our species to have a greater and more clear understanding of human attractiveness and its role in our behaviour. Further we believe that this understanding can and will give each of us a more positive control over human attractiveness and ultimately over our own lives and fate.

Well, if nothing else, they’ve successfully demonstrated that people look better without lots of black lines drawn on their faces. You need to look at the ‘our research’ section to get the full glory of the MBA system. I will exercise great restraint and simply say that I find the theoretical underpinnings unconvincing.


I just bought some deodorant, and on the pack it says ‘Fresh Male Fragrance’. A fresh male fragrance is exactly what I was trying to avoid.

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Modern poetry – mapped!

The Poetry Archive has got one of those tag-clouds so people can find poems by theme. From which we learn that the most popular subject in modern poetry is death. Woohoo. Potentially more cheerfully, death is closely followed by childhood, animals and love. After that come poetry, language and war. And so on. You can see for yourself.

It looks like ‘nature’ would score very high if all the appropriate categories were lumped together.

Not the most statistically rigorous experiment of all time (selection bias, much?), but kind of interesting.

The Matt Groening theory of architecture

I was on a train going over the river the other day, and saw the Houses of Parliament silhouetted against the winter sky. And I thought to myself – it may be a ludicrous bit of Victorian pastiche, and the decision to make the parliament Gothic may have been hideously backward-looking and a touch Disney, but it sure looks striking in silhouette.

This has encouraged me to develop the Matt Groening Theory Of Architecture.

Apparently, the speed with which the London Eye and the Gherkin have been absorbed into the tourist souvenir industry – i.e incorporated into snowglobes and so on – is very unusual for new buildings. But in a Groening interview I once read, he explained his theory of cartoon character design – that they should be instantly identifiable in silhouette. Just cast your mind over the characters in the Simpsons, and you’ll see what he means. Well, one thing the Wheel and the Gherkin have in common is that they have completely distinctive silhouettes.

He also said he made the Simpsons yellow so that they’d immediately stand out when people were channel-hopping, but I don’t think that would be such a good idea applied to buildings.

“the happiest band in the world”

About a week ago I suggested you go over to Aduna to get the three mp3s of Orchestra Super Mazembe [they’re still there!]. Well, at no condition is permanent, a whole album – nine tracks – of OSM has been posted. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’m really excited. And, as ever, if you like the music, you can do the decent thing and buy some – possibly from Calabash, who specialise in fairly traded world music.

BTW, if you skip over my occasional posts about mp3 blogs because you don’t have an mp3 player and don’t normally listen to music on your computer, bear in mind that you can always write mp3s onto an audio CD and listen to it on your CD player. Believe me, your life will be better if it has some Orchestra Super Mazembe in it.

Movie remakes

When Hollywood makes a film based on another film, it’s called a ‘remake’ and is seen as proof that the industry is creatively bankrupt and incapable of producing original work.

When they make a movie based on a novel, it’s called an ‘adaptation’, and it’s seen as artistic, admirable, and prestigious.

I think the industry might have some self-worth issues.