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Thursday. Lovely evening over at Robin's flat reading Tarot for Erika & Krisztian. A little corner is created with candles and an old faded-baize card table, so I can do my Madame Zaza bit. We all eat some delightful meat sauces Robin conjures up with Bianka's help. Aniko arrives later. Weather has been pleasantly cool for a few days.
The man who wrote 'Godel, Escher, Bach' explains why Google Translate isn't intelligent. Two slightly drier, more technical AI articles on natural-language inference and ungameable objectives make the same point.
Wednesday. Spending time chez Michael the last couple of weeks is the first time in my life I've seen a lot of people using the Segway 2-wheel things, all day every day. There's a rental shop nearby, and whole crocodiles of tourists whizz by these parts of central Pest standing on their travel pods. I can still recall the hilarious moment during launch when it was promoted with the promise it would be "bigger than the internet". Still, laughter aside, after about a decade and a half, we can now say Segways have found a secure niche among forms of wheeled transport, somewhere between the unicycle and the roller skate.
Tuesday. Finish Lorinc's copy of 'The House of Silk', an intriguing attempt to write a new Sherlock Holmes mystery novel by Anthony Horowitz. This is hard to do, so he deserves applause for even trying really. Still, what comes out is an odd blend of Conan Doyle, Dickens, and Mrs Gaskell. He is a little too keen to focus on the dreadful conditions of the poor, too ready to insinuate the awfulness of the rich, and too inclined to have characters tell Watson they have read his stories about his friend Sherlock in the Strand Magazine. This is not exactly breaking the fourth wall, but perhaps it counts as prodding the third wall. Without injecting spoilers, there is also a desire to have the story resonate with more recent sinister conspiracies of today. There's also a bit too much repetition of the Decent Chaps With Revolvers Going To Lowlife Place Of Danger, something Conan Doyle always measured out with a better sense of pace. Nonetheless, I wanted to find out what happened next, so he was doing something right.
Monday. In world news, apparently President Honey Monster has refused to sign a communique from some G7 or G8 meeting (refreshing to see someone do that at last) and has shaken hands with the leader of North Korea, perhaps a good thing, perhaps not. Canadian Quebecois leader Sinbad and his French inspiration Teacher's Pet both annoyed about Trump threatening tariff retaliation and saying really all tariffs should just be junked.
Sunday. 9 or 10 days since Michael took me as a guest to his super-luxurious fitness gym. I had to put up with Tunde K, there by chance, following me around the place trying to say hello. The reception staff were charming though.
Saturday. One of those brave, commendable articles that tries to explain controversial cosmology, along with "dark matter", "dark energy", and multiple universes, to lay readers.
Friday. Final episode of the BBC adaptation of Trollope's 'The Way We Live Now'. Excellent climax to five nights of entertainment chez Michael (I got the first episode split over two nights in my annoying way). The Longstaffs emerge as the most repulsive family, but we agree one, in the depths of her horrible, indignant self-pity, gets the best line: "I've been jilted! -- by a Jew!!" The satirical edge of the novel's title has some layers. Part of the effect is aristocrats making a great fuss about acting honourably while being horribly slimy and self-interested. Another part is other, sometimes poorer, characters showing surprisingly stubborn, steely moments of honour when we least expect. What stood out for me was perhaps the best bit of casting work I've seen in a television show. Almost every character "looked" right.
Thursday. One of many useless thoughts that come back to me year after year. Why do twin-tap-mixer showerheads get sold with no way to wrap the tube round the fitting when not in use? In fact made so that if you try to coil them neatly round the two taps, they slide off, clanging into the bath in a tangle? Which dickhead signed off on that piece of genius design? Not to mention the habit of putting a little blue dot and red dot to indicate temperature directions on the moving handle, instead of (a few do this, a few) at a fixed point the handle moves past. Not even depicted as arrows. A lesser sin than the deliberate frustration of neat tube-coiling though. How hard is it to grasp in the first few seconds of the product's first fifty years that those two features are thick? I told a friend that these shiny "modern" chrome-spiral-covered covers are a lie, and the thing that actually conveys the water is an unglamorous rubber tube inside. She was shocked. Typical modernist fakery.
Wednesday. Young 'uns getting measurably stupider. Surely not?
Tuesday. Ridiculously broad set of patents applied for by an AI firm.
Monday. Interesting tale of gun-use statistics in the US. The point is not so much that they show how many crimes were stopped by an innocent person producing a firearm without having to use it, but that these figures were hidden by the organisation that collected them.
Sunday. Shoppers at self-service check-outs feel entitled to steal a bit.
Saturday. Finish watching the 1968 film 'Rosemary's Baby' with Michael. Curious, after seeing Mia Farrow in the role of a young innocent manipulated by corrupt older people into having a sinister baby, whether that had some real-world influence on the actress many years later accusing Woody Allen of sexually molesting their young daughter? An incident that investigators at the time concluded was a false memory implanted in the little girl, rehearsed with coaching by Mia the mother? Also interesting as the first American film by paranoid Polish director Roman Polanski who not long after lost his pregnant wife and child-to-be to an attack by Charles Manson's "Family". Then shortly after that Polanski was himself accused of raping an underage girl. Despite the cleverly crafted mounting sense of dread and creepiness, the apex of the film is the hallucinogenic seduction dream on the boat, particularly the floating mattress. There are many other fine shots, such as cigar smoke drifting across a doorway from an unseen part of a room, and a false-relief moment when a helper seems to turn up in a blurred street, but then is claimed by another waiting person. Hard for me not to wonder though if the topic of the film somehow affected the off-screen lives of Farrow and Polanski and others.
Friday. Gently cruel but funny article from Toby Young, giving advice to Owen Jones about speaking to half-empty rooms.
Thursday. Disgruntled "refugees" discover streets not paved with gold, sell their western passports, and return to their supposedly dangerous homes.
Wednesday. The case that Obama oversaw use of intelligence agencies to rig the 2016 election strengthens.
Tuesday. My evening in a platinum blonde wig & lipstick riding around in a stretch limousine (waving a plastic demon's trident at passers by), goes reasonably well. Terri & Alvi relatively pleased with their footage.
Monday. After instalments over several days, finish watching Polanski's depressing corruption film 'Chinatown' with Michael. I definitely saw bits of this before, but I couldn't work out which bits I was remembering. Apparently it was originally planned to be one of a trilogy of films about water, oil, and land.
Sunday. A cute attempt to find sex robots in ancient myths.
Saturday. The potential "cost" of leaving the EU hugely overstated. Of course.
Friday. Last day teaching two study groups at the security-camera firm up in Obuda. Possible hoax, but a service seems to be offering to hypnotise you into forgetting your favourite TV series, so you can watch it again and again.
Thursday. Something that reminds me of one or two childhood Mediterranean holidays about Michael's town-centre flat. Half-closed shutters filter out bright sun, but windows stay open for air, so there are periods of quiet at night punctuated by isolated drunk people shouting in a range of tourist languages, sometimes even Hungarian. Morning comes with cleaning machines and an echoey bustle of breakfast-bar commerce that reminds me of the sound of an Italian or Spanish or Greek street.
Meanwhile, has there been a counter-coup in Saudi Arabia?
Wednesday. Get to the end of 'Homo Deus', a book which claims to plot out the next major steps in the history of mankind. As if following on from de Botton, this author's outlook is even more overconfident and juvenile. Very much the kind of book corporate managers leave on their desks to show they're keeping abreast of current trends, the two basic ideas are that 1) humanist liberalism defeated religion, and that very soon 2) AI-enabled 'dataism' will defeat humanist liberalism.
There's pretty much a mistake and glib assumption on every page, so a bit tiring to read, but at the same time touching to follow Harari's sixth-form beliefs marching through the text. He thinks liberalism defeated socialism by co-opting some of its solutions, whereas of course the opposite happened: socialism failed because its analysis was shallow & wrong to start with. He thinks (in a section trying to claim that algorithms could become legal persons) "Toyota and Norway belong to no-one" when of course they precisely do belong to people. He buys the idea that brain science has shown humans have no free will, because it doesn't occur to him that the conscious decision doesn't need to be the locus of free will: even Dennett can see that the conscious decision to flip a switch will be the climax of a cascade of earlier neurological processes, like an empire gradually digesting a peace treaty. So these experiments don't rule out free will at all, they merely smear responsibility for the free decision across the limbic, subconscious & conscious minds. He swallows hook, line, and sinker (as late as 2016) the manmade-global-warming story, having not checked it in enough detail to see it isn't an example of humanity ignoring scientific data at all, but in fact humanity processing scientific data very well. He calmly describes how dataism has already conquered biology and computer science without once noticing its obvious parallels to behaviourism, a deeply daft research fashion that captured huge swathes of academia for over half a century. He gets some things right - medicine will indeed increasingly be about upgrading people, not just rescuing them from disease - but still fails to see this clashes with his other claims that individuals will cease to matter and become 'dividuals'. He actually grasps this subject so poorly that he alleges that evolution is incompatible with free will, a monumental schoolboy blunder. He echoes the claim that randomness and determinism have divided the cake between them, leaving no room for willing in the middle, an empty idea which openly exposes its own driving metaphor. He thinks that if there are lots of competing voices in the head, then there cannot be a single self made up from this.
It's tricky to know where to start with a book that gets so much so plainly wrong, so perhaps best to end with one other mistaken assumption, that "intelligence is decoupling from consciousness". This is as if he's already established what intelligence is. As if chess or face recognition are essential to mindyness in a way in which lifting stones or knitting pullovers are not. He spends some time on the claims of people who said computers would never write a symphony as if that also settles the matter of what intelligence is. Instead a God Of The Gaps, he invokes a kind of HAL Of The Holes. Any silly attempt to name some hitherto unmechanisable process as a line in the sand is suitable proof for him, when crossed, that machines can think. The same argument could claim that steam engines or aeroplanes already proved that AI must one day surpass us because some human said people will never move faster than 30 mph or will never fly in heavier-than-air machines, so we can use refutation induction from a chain of previous foolish claims. Of course, blankly asserting that artificial intelligence is already here and can only accelerate is a way of dodging having to show what intelligence is, but the assumption that computing capital will cease to be owned by humans sounds pretty funny from someone who thinks Marx had "insights". In reality, none of the things (religions, nations, free will, individual persons) he thinks have fallen by the wayside have in fact fallen. With the single exception of life extension, none of the things he thinks are the new main stories will replace them.
Tuesday. My fingernail cuticles are all dyed black from coring cherries today and yesterday on the farm. On a small, battered stopping train across the Great Plain, finish reading 'Religion for Atheists' by Alain de Botton. The tone is lucid and humane - or at least sympathetic. In his usual way, lots of black-and-white photos dot the book to illustrate his points. He goes through several religious traditions (Jewish, Christian, Buddhist) finding artworks he sees as uplifting or comforting, rituals he finds soothing or inspiring, and institutions he believes bring people together for celebration or isolate them for times of reflection.
Bravely, he says at the outset that it is boring to ask if religion is true or not, and that in fact we know it isn't. This breezily clears the decks to pursue his main idea that religion - even if based on factual mistakes - is a huge store of human wisdom and cultural good practice atheists can happily borrow from. This is all rather worthy yet humble, refreshingly good-natured. He suggests 'Shrines to Perspective', 'Temples to Tenderness', and though also patronising it does feel like a sincere effort to appreciate the benefits and huge role in human history taken up by religions. Thing is, it's hard not to ask why anyone would bother with all those rituals and art objects if they thought they were entirely a comforting illusion? If it turned out the question his opening paragraph's dustpan & brush sweep away, the "obviously false" claim religion captures something true, matters? Might that truth question be vital to any attempt to treat these moods and states of mind with dignity or seriousness? His modest closing chapter about August Comte's failed secular religion in the 19th century answers the unspoken question for him. We're left with the earnest, pleasant author displaying by his own example the full flatness of post-17th-century thought in its wonderfully rich banality. Having absorbed the likeable de Botton's vision of a kind of 1940s-social-services Kindness Cult quenching our thirsts and comforting our torments, I get off at Kecskemet. There I buy some snacks and gaze up at the blue summer sky for half an hour while waiting for the smart, groovy, modern train to arrive and take us on to Budapest.
The smart, groovy, modern train is surprisingly crowded. A blonde in thin cardigan, tanned legs, and long slender neck showing off her ponytail, gestures I can slot in next to her without once looking up. Engrossed in her phone the whole journey, smiling and pouting enigmatically at her messages, her legs are not so much crossed as sleekly entwined, as if she is enjoying the smooth surface of her own limbs. I get the immediate instinct that any attempt to start conversation will give her refusal satisfaction, so I settle to my next book, an oddly familiar detective story my mother bought in the 1980s. Reaching Budapest, I feel a sort of unspoken urge inviting me to suggest help with some bag or be addressed by her as she stands, so I get up two minutes early, drift away towards the front of the carriage, and join a small queue of people getting off. Glancing back, there's something slightly irritated about how the blonde gets up, gathers her effects, and visibly decides that, yes, she will join the queue for the exit at the back of the carriage in the other direction. Off the train in the giant glass steam hall of Nyugati in Budapest, I'm offering help to another woman to hand her bags down at the train door when the pretty blonde struts past us busily along the platform, importantly trundling her wheeled suitcase at a near scuttle. If people will set up these little games, perhaps it's sporting to play along sometimes?
Monday. Train down to countryside to obtain a change of clothes from Robin's attic. Zeno the Alchemist and his friend Andras meet me at Lakitelek railway station. Many shops are closed for Whitsun. All three of the black and white lady cats have given birth, and yet only four kittens remain, in a basket under a table in the kitchen. It seems that under the quietly grumpy exterior of the shaggy off-white komondor Sisi, some resentment might simmer at having her seven puppies disappeared Argentinian-style the other week. Zeno explains to me that she chomped five or six kittens that got in her way.
Sunday. Coffee in the shade with elegant Julia, discussing life & love.
Saturday. A royal wedding today in Britain, on the same day Ann Boleyn had her head cut off 18 years shy of exactly 5 centuries ago.
Friday. Dinner with Zoe & Mark. Apparently I look liberated, even wearing the ridiculous leather trousers forced on me by having most of my clothes in Robin's countryside attic and one bag when in town staying on various kind friends' sofas. Tommy Jones & The Shondells perform 'Crystal Blue Persuasion', doubtless many many moons ago.
Thursday. Octopuses are from space? / Chinese re-education camps force Muslims to eat pork / Mountaineers are wondering how to get hundreds of dead bodies off Everest / Google creates creepy video "purely for internal use".
Wednesday. More dismal science about renewable energy.
Tuesday. Claim water struck by lightning has healing properties.
Monday. In town with Michael. Curious feeling of freedom & buoyancy continues. Scandi impresario Jimi Tenor in the mood for romance.
Sunday. A visit just outside the property from Car Dealer Csaba. He & Robin talk in Hungarian about spare Mercedes parts as the two komondor dogs growl at Csaba's parked car through the bars of the gate. The sun shines down.
Saturday. After he sees me wearing black leather trousers given me by the NZ film director, Robin is amused by my new Berlin Gay sado-dungeon guise. He, Andras, & I drive out to the countryside in the warm sun of late afternoon. In a queue stretching back into the drinks section of a Lidl supermarket in one small town, Robin explains "Really, she's a professional sex person." Half an hour later, as the three of us drink coffees and eat icecreams outside the Albanian cafe in Cserkeszolo, a wedding procession strolls by with a drummer at the back beating an oddly funereal rhythm. A man in a dark suit walking up and down the procession leans over the cafe fence and insists Robin accept a shot of pear schnapps to the health of the bride as they pass our table. I tell Andras about the BBC radio show Gardeners' Question Time, and the odd tradition of swingers and wifeswappers planting a few stalks of pampas grass outside their suburban homes to signal to others in the know.
Friday. Go out with Michael to hear Tunde Kolcsar sing jazz standards at a small venue along with her current pianist Peter The Vegetable, as Facebook online translation algorithms decode his name. Michael hopes to chat briefly with Peter (who has a black shirt and a tie with a graphic of a keyboard down it) about possible music work together on his compositions, and they got together for a moment. Having heard about Tunde's vocal skills from both Robin & Michael, now I hear her do a complete musical set I'm struck by how right my original instincts 2 years ago were. She shows off with misapplied technique, she oozes smugness, and it's clear we the audience are all there for her, not the other way round. She's all over each song, her voice swaggers here and there showing the tricks she can do with no reference to either the emotional integrity of the given song, or to any consistent stage persona of her own. No originality or wit in the choice of ballads to cover for her audience of 25 people. She renders 'Cry Me A River' with the same thumping insensitivity, and I remark out loud to Michael that she's never cried a river in her life for anyone except herself. To applause (and demands for an encore) she does her horrible cover of 'It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World', a song about the indispensibility of women only a straight man has the right to sing. Peter The Vegetable, a modest middle-aged pro on the piano, a working musician in command of his craft, knows perfectly well he's playing hotel lobby music. She has no clue.
Thursday. Interesting new bit of bigotry, use of the word gammon to describe men who disagree with the left.
Wednesday. On the small stopping train through small villages until Szolnok, I tell another woman with children that being a mother is the most important job in the world. This one is young, weary, but very cheerful, regarding the endless bounciness of her 4-year-old girl (and the more passive 2-year-old boy) as exasperating but funny. At one point both blond-haired tots are side by side on their tummies squirming down the aisle of the carriage like a pair of caterpillars.
Interesting piece doubts racial disparity comes from racism.
Tuesday. Two club tracks from Kaskade: 'I'll Never Dream' / 'Tonight'.
Monday. Istvan, new worker living on Robin's farm, is quiet, gentle, grey-haired. He's rather talkative if you get him going, but so decent and trustworthy he actually goes to church every Sunday. Robin tells me he's seen Istvan in the fields arguing with the farm animals, with whom he seems to have regular discussions.
Sunday. Chatting to Zeno the Alchemist, he and I realise that Robin's new Netflix TV habit (Narcos & Breaking Bad), is an addiction to dramas about addiction.
Saturday. Turkey's Erdogan, one of the two political leaders of recent decades brassnecked enough to wear a small square moustache, hits back at French language-teaching. That'll put The Hexagon in its place. On my way across the flat fields of central Hungary by sun-filled train, I sit near a remarkable woman dealing gracefully and firmly with three daughters ranged from about 5 to 13. She has considerable reserves of calm, an understated feminine elegance, and eyes filled with wisdom. Perhaps a very youthful and pretty 45 or 50. At the start of the trip as we pull out of Nyugati Station in Budapest, the youngest girl is sobbing angrily about leaving something behind and she sulks for about an hour. Another daughter is struggling with fractions. I offer to help, and her mother laughingly encourages her to accept my maths help, checking with glances at my eyes that my offer is genuine, but the girl is shy and stubborn. A quarter of an hour from our destination in Kecskemet I walk back down the carriage, coming back from checking on my mobile recharging on the floor at one end under the legs of a girl student who graciously agreed to guard my phone as it fed. I return to my seat just as the hitherto sulking youngest daughter throws herself laughing joyfully into the arms of Mama. All is forgiven. I remark to that woman in her 40s as she hugs her no-longer-angry little one that being a mother is the most important job in the world (something Robin sometimes says) and her eyes open wide with a quite sweet mixture of sincere surprise and grateful charm.
Recently bereaved Gyuri picks me up from Lakitelek as darkness falls and insists on inviting me for a drink at a bar in Tiszakecske on my way to the farm.
Friday. Surprise, surprise, two spaces between words really is easier on the eye after all. How did anyone find this hard to guess? Now that I've trained myself after years to conform to the one-space rule, thanks you lot.
Thursday. Ingenious hope, where craft meets art.
Wednesday. More twaddle about sex robots.
Tuesday. As Louis MacNiece says: so much to live.
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. --
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
Monday. Wonderful meals of home-grown eggs and meat continue at Robin & Zeno's. Those white hens (apparently some kind of ancient Hungarian breed) continue to potter around unexpected corners of the gardens. They're usually in small scouting teams, investigating new segments of greenery like rather fat commandoes. The 2 shaggy white dogs, widow & daughter of the now-dead nutty komondor patriarch Lupi, sleep in various locations, sometimes with black-and-white cats curled up next to them or even on top of them. These cats, dotted all over the estate like random punctuation marks, are apparently offspring of Pom Pom. I learn from Zeno that incest among cat family members is common and not genetically dangerous. Curiously, all the dogs and cats seem to have learned that the hens are not to be chased, and there is no cat-and-dog violence either. Three cats are pregnant, it seems, so there will soon be litters of kittens. It emerges at breakfast that the seven plump wriggly handfuls of new puppy life are no more. They got zapped last night already.
Sunday. Chat with Zeno the Alchemist about science fiction as I clean resurgent fungus off the pork/beef sausages again, this time with a stronger vinegar solution. Robin a week or two ago referred me to the Terry Thomas character in a 1960s film explaining how wonderfully Zeno has transformed the farm & house, like a truly expert valet. He carefully separated out all the different types of screws and nails in the garage.
Saturday. Robin drives Jessica & me to his house on the Great Plain. I've been trying to find new homes for the younger komondor's mixed-breed puppies for a week now, and they're still adorable. Jessica resolves we must find a way to save them from being euthanased. Pig resurrection spurs non-sequitur brains-in-vats waffle.
Friday. British judge wishes carrying a mobile phone was compulsory.
Thursday. Should parents ask babies' permission to change nappies?
Wednesday. Microsoft sue a man for recycling old computers.
Tuesday. The city has been authentically warm and sticky for a fortnight now. Grass is thick and high, and trees are full of green even thought they still seemed bare just 3 or 4 weeks ago. Girls are in short frocks or sawn-off jeans. However, we hear that men online are contracting out the flirtation part.
Monday. Heady talk of a 'Master Algorithm', as if intelligence or consciousness was even slightly likely to be generated by a category of maths.
Sunday. To bed late, I cross the small lawn under a black sky filled with stars. In the completely dark the studio, I see a strange silently billowing shape up in the dark gallery area. Realise that Robin has taken a window out, a net curtain is ballooning and swirling over the empty window hole in complete silence. The wasps seem to have left but I stay on the lower sofa, wondering at the cool breeze the missing window sends round the large but formerly sticky & airless studio space. Quite inspiring article about some people who let a farm go completely wild.
Saturday. Back in the countryside, I shift down to the lower sofa in Robin's studio, leaving the wasps to their rebellious mutterings. It's Earth Day! Created by a man who killed & composted his girlfriend.
Friday. Finnish funkster Jimi Tenor glimpses Higher Planes.
Thursday. Never too late to start again: On A Clear Day.
Wednesday. We had a love, a love, a love you don't find every day; don't, don't, don't, don't let it slip away.
Human League cover.
Tuesday. An open problem in graph theory yields not just to an amateur mathematician, but to one who happens to be Mr Let's Cure Ageing, the Harrovian with the clipped voice.
Monday. If wasps played guitar they'd sound like this.
Sunday. Those wasps are massing near my head upstairs in the gallery of Robin's studio, probably building a nest. I keep waking up with 30 or 40 of them on the window pane next to the sofa. A bit Amityville, though they generally just make grumbling noises and only buzz near my head in ones and twos as a well-meaning way of getting me to arise and engage with the day. Last night I puffed candle smoke all over them, and they seem a bit hungover this morning as a result. A large white cockerel accompanied by (his?) four fat white hens wanders across the grass I can see through that pane - I had no idea the birds roamed freely outside the wired enclosure. Strange portents abound.
Saturday. The investigation of President Honey Monster continues to turn into an investigation of Obama, Clinton, & the FBI.
Friday the 13th. Exciting! The Day Of Unluckiness goes relatively well, apart from accidentally arriving at work in Obuda short of sleep and an hour earlier than the early-enough 8am. In more Dr Moreau news, researchers are growing tiny human brains inside rats. Are we concerned?
Thursday. A reflective piece about liberals versus "progressives".
Wednesday. A short update on the global warming story.
Tuesday. Back in the Big Pogacsa, at Michael's place. Suddenly weather is getting warmer. A "very angry badger" closes part of a castle.
Monday. Looking out of an upper window in the studio, I vaguely realise that there is a subtle difference between the colour of the slices of sky between the branches of the bare tree depending, of course, on time of day. In the morning, when the sun is coming from that direction, the blue is sweeter, "higher". By evening the sun is the other side of the barn-sized studio, behind whoever is inside that window looking out, and the blue is more powdery, very slightly more violet. Closer to the opaquer, denser evening blue of a painting where the sunset is behind us. Yesterday, more baby chicks got installed in the smaller winter studio next door, and the orange-lit floor swarms with them day and night in the couple of feet low down under the heat lamps dangling on long leads from the high ceiling. Either black or cream, they crowd around like animated balls of cotton wool, fat furry apostrophes hopping, tumbling, and bouncing in the social melee. A peculiar effect from Saturday still sinking in, a sensation of freedom at giving back the keys to my former flat, despite the fact I'm dependent on friends and am now homeless.
Sunday. Around 11pm an early count of today's votes seem to suggest Orban and Fidesz are not only returned to power, but have obtained the 2/3 majority that can change Hungary's constitution to further entrench his party's grip on power. Slightly oddly, this constituency map erases the region's largest lake.
Saturday. I do a long day cleaning and packing, Robin turns up and we somehow pack his car. He folds his 18-year-old son Bela and me into the parcel-packed vehicle like some kind of 3D origami puzzle. Stopping for coffee at a petrol station on the way, Robin remarks how he threw a block of butter across a supermarket the previous day for his daughter Zsuzsi to catch, she dropped it, he called her 'butterfingers', and she didn't get the joke.
British firm designs a tea that tastes like biscuits dipped in tea.
Friday. Wake up in the morning at 5.25am out of a vivid dream in which I'm near the top of an office block which rumbles lightly and then the top 3 or 4 floors twist round about 90 degrees, come off the block in one chunk and then somehow crash hundreds of feet to the ground without killing any of us. Feels momentous, yet oddly enough not really frightening.
Important stories in recent weeks include prosecution of Sarkozy in France over missing money and the war on Libya, and a Chinese firm buying a stake in Deutsche Bank. The first suggestion is that Gaddafi funded his election, and then France attacked Libya with British & American help and made sure Gaddafi was shot dead. The second suggestion is that China is picking up influence on European policy by taking on some German bad debts.
Thursday. Dr D tells me more of the changes to the voting law that were made a couple of years ago, and discover that the prime ministerial candidate for the opposition socialists (and their election partner Dialogue for Hungary) rejoices in the name Gregory New Year Christmas (Gergely Szilveszter Karacsony).
Wednesday. As I shift bags of dust and junk out of the slowly emptying flat, I run into The Man Of Shadow on the ground floor several days in a row. We greet each other as though in some kind of unspoken alliance. A memory comes back from last September when all the power went out in much of the district. I was downstairs on the front steps enjoying the sight of the whole street in darkness and he was standing next to me soundlessly rolling a cigarette. After a moment's silence he asks me about a time half a year earlier when I'd locked myself out of my flat for the first and only time and went to him for help in his janitor persona. He'd advised me against climbing up the outside of the building and said regretfully he had no spare keys. As we now stood in the darkness he takes his first drag off the roll-up, and quietly asks in a voice of mild curiosity how did I manage to get back into my flat that night six months ago? I explained I persuaded my neighbour to let me practise on his door with a relatively bendy store discount card I have in my wallet, locating exactly where his latch was so I could find just the right height on my own door to slide the card in. Small crumpled man takes another puff on his roll-up, exhales, squints out at the power-cut-darkened city borough, and murmurs with almost donnish approval, "I was pretty sure you'd manage it somehow."
Tuesday. Back in Budapest, I was worrying about how to get the two giant plastic boxes Martin gave me off the balcony and into the rubbish, and then I find the upper parts crumble to the touch. My guess this is a UV light effect is confirmed when the parts of the boxes on the underside protected from daylight are much tougher and harder to break up.
Easter Monday. No nonsense today splashing aftershave on village girls.
Easter Sunday. Hristos Anesti! Christ is risen. A delightfully odd 1830s account of spontaneous life created in the lab.
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