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Monday. Despite photographs of ballot-box stuffing, Vladimir Putin is again confirmed as Chairman Of All The Russias in yesterday's election. A brief word on his behalf a decade ago: "I Crush You".
March 18th; Sunday. Catch a bus to the now-enlarged Kunszentmarton cake shop for a coffee with Linguist & Folklorist Edina for the first time since her return from Azerbaijan. Pouring rain in both directions slightly dampens things.
March 17th; Saturday. Ewan Morrison calmly dismantles the dangerous mirage of intentional communities. On the other hand in Robin's rural cell of good living out on the Great Plain, wonderful cooking by Zeno the Alchemist, together with the mass of home-laid eggs and home-slaughtered meat, makes every meal a candelit feast.
March 16th; Friday. A woman entrepreneur who was the darling of Silicon Valley turns out to have committed fraud, and to have been seriously out of her depth running a biotechnology start-up. Pre-war, a now-largely-overlooked aristocratic woman was prescient in warning both of the darkness of both communism and of nazism, sounding the alarm before male politicians.
March 15th; Thursday. Bridge collapses days after completion, killing six. Turns out the building firm is proud of its women engineers & managers, and was given minorities-diversity preference during the construction tender.
I still have no flat to go to, but must move out. Robin swoops to the rescue, and drives me and my first 8 boxes out to his place in the countryside by night.
March 14th; Wednesday. China's sinister online 'social-media' network moves into a creepy new phase.
March 13th; Tuesday. Julia, Erika, & Krisztian come to see me in the Croatian pirates' bakery. Suggesting I might move into the spare room of a mutual friend, Richard, Krisztian waxes eloquent and waves his hands around: "Both you and Richard are intellectuals! You and he can enjoy a common life of the mind!" The two girls nod happily at this idea.
March 12th; Monday. Last night finished a book kindly lent by Mr Saracco, 'Life 3.0', by Max Tegmark. This is a very reasonable attempt to give an overview of what "machine superintelligence" might entail, and how we might be wiser to fear AI competence rather than AI malevolence. Strikingly, the cheery and thoughtful narrative is undermined by some blithe assumptions Tegmark doesn't think to question: for example that humans have mastered animals purely through intelligence. At one point he says that man has mastered tigers through cleverness, not through force, which is clearly wrong. Humans largely avoided tigers for centuries, and sometimes fought them not with cleverness but with spears or fire, which can be counted as forms of cleverness, but also required physical force, strength, courage. It's hard, for example, to imagine a race of super-intelligent mice overcoming tigers on the same timeline, or even being free to develop tools & technology while being constantly predated on by larger animals. Even worse, the idea that minds can be uploaded into machines, or that machines can become self-consciously intelligent and purposive, is also taken for granted with the exception of one sentence. Here the assumption is that physics is the supreme subject, and somehow from this Tegmark deduces that intelligence must be substrate-independent, that silicon (or some other substance) must be as able to carry a thinking mind as the fatty, meaty tissues of some mammals. Again, this completely fundamental problem with AI is just assumed away.
March 11th; Sunday. Still feeling weak, I finish a paid translation. I've slowly become myself again as the hours pass since Friday night's sickness.
Suddenly warmer the last evening or two, I go for a walk around 3am hearing spring-themed birdsong: yet more bachelors looking for a wife. One small tree behind the all-night grocer's has a very dark brownish bird, like a double-sized sparrow with an orangeish-yellow beak, warbling away in hope of companionship. I watch it from 4 or 5 feet off. Realise I've never been this close to a bird while it sings its song before. Seems unbothered by me.
Ways to infect a computer through the printer.
March 10th; Saturday morning. A bathroom sink filled with cold sick perhaps not the best welcome to the weekend, but at least my stomach feels less poisoned. Never before have I had vomiting where each heave made me involuntarily shout or bark like a dog the second before the puke comes up. Dignified! But such are the wondrous powers of our bodies as they defend us from harm.
March 9th; Friday. I get
food poisoning. Really not a good night.
March 8th; Thursday. Communism was helped, not harmed by the west.
March 7th; Wednesday. Royal secret ritual. Part-return to form from the Mash.
March 6th; Tuesday. An academic wants to drug Germany. Not very encouraging.
March 5th; Monday. Yesterday's election in Italy shows big shift by voters against the EU lobby. Very high turnout at 73%.
March 4th; Sunday. A good discussion of Socrates, Plato, and the big lie.
March 3rd; Saturday. Frigid sort of weekend weather. I've been going easy on the one-shirt look, making sure to wear a shirt and pullover so as not to attract stares.
Interesting article from the BBC suggests life is mainly about luck.
Friday. Book review of superbly barmy-sounding AI tome. Review is readable and charming. I suspect unhinged tome will be fascinating.
March 1st; Thursday. Some rather lovely ley-line-type talks about esoteric landscape stuff.
Landscape Zodiacs / The Belinus Line / The Arrow of Apollo.
Wednesday. Data shows migration from high-tax to low-tax US states.
Tuesday. Intriguing senior EU creep manoeuvres into power.
Monday. More confirmation that Antarctic ice is growing. Researchers warn of coming mini-ice age.
Sunday. 20 new studies claim earth's climate is overwhelmingly solar-driven. With Film-maker Jessica to see the mildly ridiculous but quite sweet 'Black Panther', apparently already in the top-ten-grossing films list. Wakanga!
Saturday. Sweden has a Viking forest language of 3,000 speakers?
Friday. Creepy & mildly witty portrayal of the all-seeing city.
Thursday. Trendy academic Jordan Peterson on tragedy & evil.
Wednesday. Another radio show from Russia. #467.
Tuesday. Very interesting claim that the original amendment creating a US right to keep and bear arms explicitly related to keeping a lid on slave rebellions. That slave-recapture gangs were what the "well-regulated militia" bit referred to.
Monday. One of the more interesting accolades I've received in recent weeks: "the most financially sophisticated poor person I've ever come across". Should I be flattered?
Sunday. Asha Puthli's eerie voice singing 'Space Talk', + remix.
Saturday. Meet brother of Serb next-door neighbour, an interpreter at the war-crimes court at the Hague. We go down in the lift together. I ask if he interpreted for Milosevic or Mladic, and he slightly cagily says he translated for "six individuals". Glue the broken magnetic street-entrance thing back together again with my key ring, so I don't have to wait outside on the street for someone to let me in if I leave the magnet thing in my flat. Also one or two weeks ago re-attached my landlady's cold-water tap on bath using fragments of dry pasta to jam the thread tight with glue. So that didn't take me long.
Friday. A student firmly refers to a relative of his who walked out leaving his girlfriend to raise two of his children as a "bad man". Quite right too. Talking of people who neglect their offspring, there's Percy Shelley, and a decent article about his wife's famous piece of early sci-fi. A man-made orphan, perhaps.
Thursday. Czech government archives reveal Jeremy Corbyn was a low-level asset for Czechoslovak secret-police agents in the 1980s.
Ash Wednesday. Readers will be thrilled to learn that some time in January, perhaps even this month, the display cabinets in the dairy aisle at the nearby basement supermarket changed again. The cheeses, butters, creams, and yoghourts are now underlit with a brighter, colder, bluer light. This makes them look fresher and more appealing. Boston Dynamics robots can open doors now.
Shrove Tuesday. Fairly sane-looking technical predictions in gold.
Monday. What might be a good light-hearted Hollywood caper, unless the trailer (using my mother's favourite Sinatra tune) turns out to be all that's good in the film. Sadly can happen.
Sunday. Portraitist of Mr Obama also paints proud warrior negresses beheading people against Victorian pub wallpaper. Meanwhile, over in Glasgow, other exciting envelopes are being pushed!
Saturday. Finish a curious, intriguing book moments before seeing, in my first cinema outing in many moons, Ildiko Enyedi's 'On Body and Soul' with Film-maker Jessica & her Internations chums. Very good, though a bit puzzled by the Sexy Psychologist subplot. Still think Enyedi's older film 'Simon Magus' is even better. Borrowed from Robin, 'The Fourth Dimension' by C. Howard Hinton is a wonderfully earnest and odd book, packed with lovely line drawings. From 1906, it patiently and carefully explains, in well argued steps, how to thoroughly visualise a 4th spatial dimension. It does this using some small coloured cubes which can be made from cardboard following the book's instructions. A quite difficult read if you don't actually build the models, which I shall have to soon. One chapter digresses to relate this to Kant, and another section suggests some puzzles about electromagnetism are solved if we imagine them as 4-dimensional relations "hiding behind" 3-dimensional perceived reality.
Friday. 20-lb rat beings chew through California.
Thursday. Over lunch with Zizi, she shows me a review of Gwyneth Paltrow's strange cosmetics brand.
Wednesday. High-frequency programs force-retire hedgefunders.
Tuesday. Piece with paywall, about how the good old days of the NHS involved experimenting on people without telling them.
Monday. 2 good paired book reviews - Wright Brothers & Elon Musk.
Sunday. Chinese scientists building ginormous mega-laser thing.
Saturday. The mystery of my blue plastic ice-cube tray continues. One chamber seems to leak, sometimes, but I cannot find even a tiny hole. This chamber which is empty the next day seems to also roam around the tray on different days, to add some excitement.
Friday. Early evening get off the underground train and sit on the bench by the platform for a few minutes. A train comes and goes, and then another arrives. Two late-teenage girls, perhaps 20, of quite normal looks but slender & leggy get off and walk swiftly down the platform. Instead of swerving away from my leg jutting out as they pass me, the nearer girl, without breaking stride, lets her hanging left hand cup the toe of my shoe in her palm, stroking four fingers over it, as the two of them walk past. Both look resolutely ahead. A hundred paces further on they glance over their shoulders back at me to see if they had an effect. Suppose it's now officially pre-spring.
Here is that memo from current US politics. People thought it would show collusion between Trump & the Russians. In fact it seems to show collusion between the Democrats & the Russians.
Thursday. Tests of the appeal of high heels. Still not sure they have all the reasons. Maps to understand Britain. How to read a poisonous book.
Recent weblog entries
Who can translate the next 300 words into
us and there will be revelry.
Languages dying out each week
- who cares?
We do - otherlanguages.org is gradually building a reference resource for over five thousand linguistic minorities and stateless languages worldwide.
Thousands of unique language communities are becoming extinct. Out of the world's five to six thousand languages, we hardly know what we're losing, what literatures, philosophies, ways of thinking, are disappearing right now.
We may soon regret the extinction of thousands of entire linguistic cultures even more than we regret the needless extinction of many animals and plants.
The planet is increasingly dominated by a handful of major-language monocultures like Mandarin
Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese,
English, Swahili, Russian, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Bengali - all
beautiful and fascinating languages.
But so are the 5,000 others.
These are groups of people?
Linguistic minorities are communities of ordinary people whose native tongue is not their country's main official language. Swedish speakers in Finland, French speakers in Canada, Hungarian speakers in Slovakia - and hundreds more - are linguistic minorities.
And totally stateless languages are the native languages of some of the world's most intriguing, little-known, cultures. Like the Lapps inside the Arctic Circle, the Sards in Sardinia, Ainus in Japan. Cherokee in the US, Scots
Gaelic in Britain, Friesian in the Netherlands, Zulu in South Africa.
There are only a couple of hundred recognised sovereign states and territories, so 5,000 languages - more depending on how you count - are the native tongues of linguistically stateless people.
How could I help?
You don't need to learn an endangered
language - any more than go to live in the rainforest to help slow its destruction.
A good start is to just tell friends
about websites like this.
Broader public interest makes it easier
for linguists to raise funds and organise people to learn these languages while there's time.
That's right. There are people who love languages and are happy to learn them on behalf of the rest of us, but they need support, just like zoologists, botanists, or historians.
Fewer languages still sounds good to me
Depends what you think languages are for. They're not just a tool for business. We never said you should learn three or four thousand rare languages - or even one. And which ones we make children learn in school, or whether we should force children to learn languages at all, is another question.
Typical scene in a European city;
Chances are, folk here speak some sort of foreign
A century ago - before we understood
ecology, and when we cared less about wilderness, most educated
people would have laughed at the idea of worrying about plants or
animals going extinct. Now we understand how important species diversity
is for our own futures, we are more humble, and more worried.
In the same way, linguistic triumphalism by English-speakers who hated studying foreign grammar at school is dangerously ignorant as well as arrogant. Few of us know what we are losing, week by week.
How many people realise these languages have scientific value?
You can think of these languages across the planet as beautiful cathedrals or
precious archeological sites we are watching being destroyed. That
should be motive enough.
But these five thousand languages may
also hold clues to the structure of the human mind. Subtle
differences and similarities
between languages are helping
archeologists and anthropologists to
understand what happened in the hundreds
of centuries of human
history before written history. And
that is one of our best chances of understanding how human brains developed over the thousands of centuries leading up to that.
Wireless radio can be a great comfort to those unable
to leave the
textbooks in which they live *6
Study of the mind and study of language go hand in hand these days. The world's most marginal languages are actually precious jigsaw pieces from an overall picture of who we are and how our species thinks and evolves. Every tiny language adds another brightly-coloured clue to this academic detective story.
Yet researchers have hardly started sifting through this
tantalising evidence, and language extinction is washing it away right in
front of us.
And worst of all, most people have no idea that there is this
fantastic profusion of cultures across our world, let alone that
they are in danger of extinction. Even just more people learning that
there are still five thousand living languages in the world today (most
of us would answer five hundred or fifty) is already a huge help.
We English-speakers hardly notice English - it's like air for us.
But every other language is also an atmosphere for an entire cultural world,
and each of these worlds has people whose home it is. Each language encapsulates a unique way of talking and thinking about life. Just try some time in a foreign prison, being forced to cope in another language, and you'll realise how much your own language is your identity. That's true for everyone.
Minority languages are a
One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide suffer persecution from national governments for speaking their mother tongue - in their own motherland.
Many 'ethnic' feuds puzzling to
outsiders had as their basis an attempt to destroy a linguistic community.
Would the Northern Ireland dispute be quite so bitter if we
English had not so nearly stamped out the Irish Gaelic language, for
example? Almost nowhere in the world does a language community as
small as the few thousand Rheto-Romanic speakers - the fourth
official language of Switzerland - get the protection of a national
government. Next time you see some Swiss Francs, check both sides of the
But outside exceptional countries like
Switzerland or the Netherlands, speakers of non-official
languages have a much less protected experience.
Speakers of minority languages are often seen as a threat by both the governments and the other residents of the countries where they were born, grew up, and try to live ordinary lives.
They experience discrimination in the job and education markets of their homelands, often having no choice but to pursue education in the major language of the host state: a deliberate government policy usually aimed at gradually absorbing them into the majority culture of that country.
Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, of course *7
Most governments are privately gleeful each time another small
separate culture within their borders is snuffed out by a dwindling
population or a deliberately centralising education system.
The United Nations is no help. It is an association of a couple of hundred sovereign states based on exclusive control of territory, almost all of them anxious to smother any distinct group or tradition that in any way might blur or smudge the hard-won borders around those pieces of territory.
The usual approach by sovereign states is to deny their linguistic minorities even exist.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
*1 image from , with thanks
back up to top of page
*2 "Al-Araby" in written
*3 "What?" in American Sign
Language; image from , with thanks
*4 "Big" in written
(read more); image from , with
*5 image from , with
*6 image from , with
*7 image from
'B?ume', with thanks to
Bruno P. Kramer,
and Franckh-Kosmos Verlag