parsnips etc

One of the benefits of being at home in the holidays is access to not only my dad’s theology books but my mum’s extensive library of cookery books (don’t worry, they read each other’s).

More on the theology front later perhaps – I’ve already decided which tomes to cart back to Edinburgh with me when I leave, and will be letting dad know later.

Among the recipes I’ve been browsing through is a Parsnip and Satsuma Soup, featured in The New Free Church Cookbook – published in 2005, and to be thus known, in spite of whatever its official title is, until a newer one comes out. (Officially the nation’s number one resource for communion baking, or at least until the ladies of the FPs get their act together and start publishing at, it features everything from tablet to tagliatelle and is a bargain at £6.00.)

Anyway, the parsnip soup sounds perfect for my ever increasing passion for big hearty soups to feed crowds at weekends without excess hassle, and goes something like this:

Peel 2lb parsnips and cut into chunks, then put in a pan along with 3 onions and the juice of 4 satsumas. Add parsley and seasoning. Cover with water, add a couple of stock cubes, and simmer until the vegetables are just cooked. Cool, liquidize, and adjust consistency to taste with more fruit juice if required. Serve with a swirl of cream. (Serves 8.)

That’s a plagiarised version of what was contributed by one Margaret Macleod of Tain, whose suggestion of garlic I’ve taken the liberty of omitting.

I’ve also decided, thanks to Nigel Slater’s Real Cooking, that it would be a good idea to make more use of bulghar wheat in 2008, and caramelise more onions than hitherto, and on the puddings front, expect to hear more of Nigella’s chocolate pear pudding, and cheesecakes of one sort or another.

what /p/ looks like

One of the reasons why the term “visual words” in (psycho)linguistics is so irritating is because it assumes that a written word is just the same as a spoken word except that you see it rather than hearing it.

And another thing that’s been bugging me to varying degrees recently is the assumption, all but dead in phonology but persisting even in fields which find it necessary to invoke phonology constantly, that speech consists of phonemes.

Both these points deserve (lengthy) rants in posts of their own, but mentioning them right now gives the perfect opportunity to showcase two beautiful screenshots from Praat which have been sitting around in my laptop since I created them for a presentation only to decide they weren’t needed. Behold:



(I’d show you the audio files too, except I’m too much of a cheapskate to pay £10 to WordPress for a year’s worth of the privilege of being able to upload wavs.)

What they illustrate is, 1, that the closest you get to making an auditory word “visible” is when you measure and graph its acoustic properties (and/or of course measure and graph or video its articulation) , and 2, there is very little in the way of (either acoustic or articulatory) evidence for units in the speech stream. While everyone agrees that the concept of phones, physically invariant slices of the speech stream, is naive and outdated, the view that phonemes-as-such can be identified in the speech stream-as-such still tends to linger, in spite of not only the lack of evidence in its favour but all the evidence against it. You can call incidences of approximately simultaneous bilabiality, voicelessness, and plosion “/p/” if you want, but, as can be seen from comparing the pink bits in the two waveforms and the corresponding portions of the spectrograms, this is not a conclusion which falls out of the acoustics per se.

PS – does anyone think the sections for ‘p’ are a bit long? In spite of offering the audio files I can’t actually immediately lay my hands on them to check. If it looks suspect, it will just be my segmentation at fault.

how can they not tell?

Without wanting to sound unappreciative of the ever-growing amount of spam that Akismet catches for me, surely there must be ways of filtering out things like this:


They go on for multiple screens and are longer than the posts that even I write and consist of nothing but hyperlinks: and are annoying to keep deleting.

my tidy desk

Yesterday’s achievement:

That was after I didn’t reach the office till midday, discovered someone had polished off my milk that was in the fridge and binned the carton (again! thankyou, whoever you are), and was forced to acknowledge I wouldn’t get everything finished that I’d wanted before the end of semester.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair has announced his conversion to Catholicism – it’s not a surprise, but it will be interesting to see if it’s any more genuine, any less of a dissembling play-act, than anything else he’s done in the past decade or so.

In other news, I caught Any Questions on Radio 4 this lunchtime and was impressed with the performance of Dominic Grieve and Lib Dem Sarah Turner on the question of the national identity register. In the light of the recent multiple data loss fiascos, the government minister’s line was simply that ‘mistakes happen’ – ‘you can’t legislate against human error’ and there was no question of going back on the ID scheme. Both Grieve and Turner pointed out that since this is so – for this very reason – the national identity database is indefensible. In case I don’t get round to posting about it specifically, I might as well mention that I did eventually get a lengthy letter back from Alistair Darling in reply to my queries about how the government could assure us that our data would be in safe hands, given their carelessness with the child benefit data (rhetorical queries, obviously) – but he did the same thing as the minister on Any Questions, and simply recited the potential benefits, as he saw them, from having this scheme in place – failing to offer any suggestions about safeguards, failing to address the civil liberties case, and in general, failing to show how the government’s data-grab (with which it will be compulsory to comply) can be seen as anything better than an officially sanctioned kind of identity theft.

“This data disaster shows up the madness behind the government’s ID schemes. People had no choice about giving up that information. It makes the government the biggest identity thief of all.” (No2ID)

incredible 2

Now I’m amazed at what Harriet Harman has been quoted as saying it’s her personal view that we should follow what they’ve done in Sweden and make it illegal to pay for sex:

Can’t be a bad thing surely, but it came as a surprise after a BBC article feebly wondering whether it’s “empowering” for women to be portrayed the way they are in lads’ mags. The answer is no, obviously:

Once women burned their bras, today they send photos of their breasts to lad mags and call it liberating. Is this really a new form of feminism or just the old objectification?

Just more of the same old objectification, even if slightly less far down on the scale than prostitution. But as Harriet Harman says, “Do we think it’s right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade or do we think it’s exploitation and should be banned? Just because something has always gone on, it doesn’t mean you just wring your hands and say there’s nothing we can do about it.”

(And given the success of some campaigners in the past, I’m even inclining to a little glimmer of optimism on this – I can’t resist reminding you of Josephine Butler, inspirational mum who battled for women’s rights in spite of serious illness and personal difficulties of her own, in an at least equally uncongenial atmosphere.)


Obviously there are lots of important things I could be mentioning right now – defining consent in Scottish rape cases (linking from the BBC page so you avoid the outrageousness of the comments in the Scotsman, the release of a couple more men from Guantanamo, that sort of thing.

But I’m just back from Oxfam, where I nipped in to buy some Christmas seasonal greetings cards, and quite frankly I’m amazed. Two people were trying to steal stuff! From the Oxfam shop!

Can you believe that?