The LaTeX psalm chant

LaTeX’s output, showing its hyphenation algorithms at work, makes me want to set my bibliography to plainchant:

[19] [20] [21] (./blasius.bbl
Underfull \hbox (badness 1210) in paragraph at lines 13--15
[]\OT1/cmr/m/sc/9 Andreotti, Bruno, Forterre, Yo[]el & Pouliquen, Oliver \OT1/c
mr/m/n/9 2013 \OT1/cmr/m/it/9 Gran-u-lar Me-dia\OT1/cmr/m/n/9 .
Underfull \hbox (badness 6396) in paragraph at lines 156--158
[]\OT1/cmr/m/sc/9 Peregrine, D. H. \OT1/cmr/m/n/9 1967 Long waves on a beach. \
OT1/cmr/m/it/9 Jour-nal of Fluid Me-chan-ics

Underfull \hbox (badness 5954) in paragraph at lines 180--184
[]\OT1/cmr/m/sc/9 Rajchenbach, Jean \OT1/cmr/m/n/9 2005 Rhe-ol-ogy of dense gra
n-u-lar ma-te-ri-als: steady, uni-form

Underfull \hbox (badness 10000) in paragraph at lines 180--184
\OT1/cmr/m/n/9 flow and the avalanche regime. \OT1/cmr/m/it/9 Jour-nal of Physi
cs: Con-densed Mat-ter
[23]) [24] (./blasius.aux)

Confucianism in Harry Potter

I didn’t notice this at first, but one of my friends pointed out that most of the wizarding labour in the Harry Potter universe seemed to be employed by one of two employers. As a graduate of Hogwarts, you could respectably become a teacher at Hogwarts, or a civil servant of some description in the Ministry of Magic. Or you could leave the wizarding world and live a low-key existence amongst the Muggles. Appointments to either Hogwarts or the Ministry of Magic are conditional on you performing exceptionally well in a number of exams.

It then hit me that the Harry Potter world is actually an implementation of Confucius’ vision of society, complete with all the flaws in such a system!

The bureaucracy of the Ministry of Magic is sprawling and has an almost totalitarian (but not necessarily adversarial) influence over wizarding life. The same people constitute the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, with no separation of powers. There is only a very small private sector, and the state does not practise outsourcing.

Entry into the wizarding world is in theory open to all that display magical abilities, but in practice such abilities run mostly down bloodlines and there are relatively few Muggle-borns. While Muggle-borns are no less talented than their pure-blood colleagues, they nonetheless face either explicit hostility, or subtle prejudice. Such prejudice is common within the pure-blood aristocracy, with dissenting voices being rare and limited to liberals such as the Weasley House, who have some, but not much, political influence.

The Ministry of Magic is mostly concerned with policing the activities of wizards, and is uninterested in the Muggle world, for the most part desiring neither to improve nor oppress the latter. Like the Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry is concerned with staying in power and focuses its efforts on fighting potential rivals such as Albus Dumbledore, rather than effectively addressing the evils of society.

Names of some animals in Cantonese

English Chinese (Jyutping) literal translation
owl 貓頭鷹 maau1 tau4 ying1 cat-headed eagle
panda 熊貓 lung4 maau1 bear-cat
squirrel 松鼠 cung4 syu2 pine-rat
penguin 企鵝 kei5 ngor2 standing goose
goat 山羊 saan1 yeung4 mountain-sheep
turkey 火雞 fo2 gai1 fire-chicken
guineafowl 珠雞 zyu1 gai1 pearly chicken
pheasant 山雞 saan1 gai1 mountain-chicken
swan 天鵝 tin1 ngor4 sky-goose
lobster 龍蝦 lung4 haa1 dragon-prawn
shark 鯊魚 saa1 yu4 sandy fish (due to its rough skin)
housefly 烏蠅 wu1 ying1 crow-fly
dinosaur 恐龍 hung2 lung4 terrifying dragon

Soliciting donations

I came across a couple of Buddhist monks who have been going up and down Denver’s 16th Street Mall all day today and yesterday. The monks were approaching people, insistently soliciting (cash) donations towards the construction of a temple in the city. Rather large donations, too: they suggested $20.

It is only through alms that the Buddhist community can survive — the alternative would be theocracy. But the proactive approach of the monks makes me very uncomfortable, especially in a community where Buddhists are in a very small minority. While dāna (charity) is an important part of Buddhist practice, there is no reason to impose this on anybody else. (Confession: I didn’t give.)

Political bias

The BBC and especially its political commentator Laura Kuenssberg have been accused of left-wing bias by right-wing people, and of right-wing bias by left-wing people. Many such people do not apply that criticism solely to the BBC, but also to many other media outlets that fail to agree with them. For example, Another Angry Voice repeatedly criticise what they call the ‘mainstream media’; they claim that their views are not adequately reflected by any broadcaster or newspaper, despite, supposedly, being very popular. Far-right groups have similar people, such as Alex Jones’ InfoWars.

But if it appears to you that everybody else is biased against you, then what is more likely — that your opinions aren’t all that popular, or that the editors of the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Times and the Guardian are in some joint, secret conspiracy to silence you?

Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.


  • Factual accuracy is not the same thing as being unbiased.
  • Misrepresentation of facts, particularly of statistics, does not count as factual accuracy.
  • To be clear, AAV and InfoWars are not simply left- and right-wing equivalents of each other. Despite both being biased, InfoWars does a lot more harm by actively promoting dangerous views such as the vaccine autism myth.

Cambridge’s image problem

The University of Cambridge has a reputation – occasionally deserved, but mostly inaccurate – of being populated by wealthy twits who wear suits everyday, dine daily in three-course dinners, and whose bedrooms are furnished daily by a personal maid, and are supposedly the best and most expensive bedrooms in the country (clearly absurd!).

Sitting by the bank, I hear punt guides repeat these fables once every five minutes. While they makes a good Daily Mail article or a tale for a punt guide, this reputation is harmful: it detracts from the academic merits of this place, which are to be lauded of themselves. And it puts people off coming here, if they are turned off by the idea of extravagant living. Worst of all, the myths about Cambridge’s fees and expenses cause perfectly capable people to turn away, not realising that Cambridge charges the same tuition fees as most other UK universities (for UK students), and has a number of bursaries, and probably lower costs of living than London.

Cambridge has many problems with its finances and its lifestyle (it would be nice to see the bursary system expanded, and it would be very good if students could have more respect for the city, and vice-versa). But the image problem is a problem that will need to be fixed, independently of the others. Very few of us come from aristocratic society or have anything to do with the most chauvinistic drinking societies, yet misconceptions about those things remain, and their effect is very real: partly because we embrace it ourselves, selling ourselves with a sense of mystique to our non-Oxbridge friends and referring to ourselves as ‘Hogwarts’.

Of course we cannot hope to change our image by stopping the Daily Mail from saying what it will say, or by banning punt guides from spreading misconceptions (or outright lies). But ordinary members of the university can help to get rid of this image, simply by not embracing it. This would not have to come with losing some of our beloved and less harmful traditions. Nor would it stop us from being the unique university that we are: our research and teaching rankings do not come from being associated with the Wyverns.