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Friday. My Salisbury Review article about the battle of the blimp babies above London.
Thursday. Computer scientist claims facial-recognition systems can detect gayness.
Wednesday. Creepy con woman probably based in Indonesia swindles film industry people out of their savings.
Tuesday. Finished off a book kindly lent to me by Robin, dauntingly called 'Eco-Aesthetics' by author Malcolm Miles. Helpfully subtitled 'Art, Literature, and Architecture in a Period of Climate Change' this consists of a review of various art projects, community architecture schemes, and novels that seem to have something to do with alleged man-made warming of the earth's atmosphere since the 1980s. Various anaemic bits of art and more or less pompous episodes are looked at, where "tensions are inscribed" or themes "intervene polemically" or "modes are transposed" in the usual jargon. The book comes to a sudden stop at the end of the community house-building chapter. On page 119 it comes out that he thinks melting Antarctic shelf ice raises sea levels: "Five hundred million tonnes of ice" (Larsen B) "break into icebergs and eventually melts into the southern oceans, where it contributes to rising sea levels" Apparently he has no memory from school of why ice floats in the first place. Overall, dispiriting, vaguely drab. As with the Stallabrass book, nice to get some overview of who is doing what, but depressing to see the miserable and ignorant left-wing paradigm they do those things within.
Monday. Is it possible she could do it again?
Sunday. An EU-funded wall that is quietly approved.
Saturday. Vatican banker has eerie message.
Friday. Something for seekers after knowledge.
Thursday. Much of day with Robin, helping as best I can with internet problems and paperwork. A brief afternoon break in leafy park in front of his building as we coffee with Bianka and learn of her half-year in the South Sea islands. Then Robin & I natter until late: cabbages & kings, the Gothic novel, luck.
Wednesday. Starting around lunch time, Izabella and I help Film-maker Jessica get her flat ready for the Independence Day party. It's duly in shape by time festivities begin in the evening, with lots of alcohol, water, sausages, and potato salad. I meet several lovely people in the mingle. After this ends go with Robin, Krisztian, Zsofi, Tamas to do a couple of Tarot readings outside a cafe in the warm night air facing the big synagogue. Oxana arrives, we decide she should consult the cards also, and she & I end up carousing in a dance-only location several streets away. She leaves her half-bottle of Martini hidden in a potted shrub outside and it's still there when we leave 3/4 of an hour later. A brief discussion about paradise and menthol cigarettes with a man on a bicycle called Gabor, and then at about 3am I'm alone crossing the small korut at Deak where two pretty girls from North Wales accost me, asking directions. I share my cheese with one, and get the other to speak a sentence of Welsh for me.
Tuesday. So there is this standard pack of sliced cheese which formerly cost 379 forints in the supermarket near Michael's flat for 1/4 lb, that is slightly over 1 pound sterling for 4 oz, so around GBP 4.50 to five quid per lb. I bought it sometimes, and then it went up to 489 forints, one day to the next, so I stopped. It brought back memories of people laughing in the early 1970s when critics of the EEC said joining would raise prices of meat in Britain to over one pound per pound (which of course it did). This was sneered at back then as doomsaying hysterical nonsense, and no-one even dared speculate cheese would go above a pound a pound. That was simply regarded as beyond satire. After a while at the nearby supermarket (recall that this is a low-income country which has enough agriculture to feed itself) at 489 the price suddenly went back down to 379 forints once more. Once or twice I bought this 1/4 lb pack of sliced smoked cheese again. 2 or 3 days ago it returned to 489 again, so I stopped again. Some kind of marketing mind-game technique?
Monday. Facebook hiding inaudible messages in TV ads? Nice.
Sunday. AI article discusses running artificial online culture histories at increased speeds to develop computer IQ more swiftly. Confident!
Saturday. I wake out of a curious vivid dream. I'm in an open-plan office and have been given some computer code to write. Oddly, I know I can do it if someone shows me a starting example, but nonetheless have no clue how to begin without that. A pretty girl I was in love with many years ago is there and I find myself asking her for help. Of course she can write me an opening case to get my code script started she says, asking did I really not trust her to help me? Why didn't I ask her earlier? she reproaches me. I gather her petite, yielding form into my arms, feeling her not-too-heaviness close as we kiss, gratitude blurring with love as she melts. I wake up right then, rested and a bit puzzled. An hour later, at our morning Obuda shopping mall lesson, Board-Game Orsolya tells me that Chinese shares fell heavily this week. Perhaps I should check strange portents in the heavens again.
Friday. Get train back into town. Weather still damp and cool. Now that the Inter-City carriage on MAV trains have plentiful electrical sockets (just new this week as far as I can see) it would appear I can use the internet on the train. Except that the power cuts out every few minutes: 3 times on one socket, 4 times on the other socket. A Hungarian engineering student sitting opposite me 2 days ago explained how it's caused by a power surge when the train does certain things during the journey and is quite normal. So why did this problem never happen with power sockets when they appeared on British trains ten years ago I asked him? (Of course I should buy a new laptop battery.) The electrically-informed student seems startled that there might be a solution to this power-outage problem, and that someone has found it. Meanwhile fun decadence continues across the west - UCLA academic dies in a chum's sex dungeon while being tied up and suffocated with sticky tape. Woops.
Thursday. As I climb up into Robin's country attic to look through my stored boxes, a strange effect there as I enter the warm air up there (however cool outdoors) I notice every time. It's a precise layer of hot air just at the top of the stairs - I can feel my head entering it, then my shoulders. Like rising up through some fluid and sliding into a layer of oil floating on top of the first liquid.
Out at neighbouring towns in a sunny afternoon with Zeno the Alchemist, Gyuri driving us in Robin's green Mercedes. We tick off a veritable list of errands, including new bicycle inner tubes in a surprisingly big hardware store that seems to ramble through a complex of interconnected 19th-century farm bungalows. There is a chat in a dusty lane with a handyman we interrupt during his lunch about the cracked hinge on the car's vertically-opening hatchback. Visits to two animal-feed wholesalers involve filling twenty odd sixty-kilo sacks with seeds. The giant barley & wheat warehouse has piles of each on a cement floor one each side of the giant doors. An almost straight-edged boundary where the colour changes from the yellowish wheat to the pale brown barley marks a kind of valley between two huge mounds. Maize warehouse is smaller, more a garage, and contains an almost perfect low cone of orangey-yellow dried sweetcorns on its cement floor. A stray cockerel struts past us as we fill and tie closed the sacks. Both places have rugged industrial scales (bit of rust) with a balance bar and a giant metal plate taking several bulging sacks. Back at the farm, Gyuri, Zeno, Istvan and I empty the sacks into big bins in an outhouse. The fat white pillows of the tightly curving sacks are like giant buttocks. As we support them from slithering out of grasp while the seed surges into the bins and the weight shifts inside each sack, I find it almost irresistible not to pat them or slap them like babies' bottoms. As dusk slides into night, we walk back from the unbuilt wall. We sit outside, Zeno repelling insects with his roll-up cigarettes. He tells me about Marx's and Lenin's esoteric interests and how neo-Platonic the Kabbalah is.
Wednesday. Slightly windy and rainy when I catch the train to Lakitelek and find Gyuri waiting for me in his car at the station, as sweet-natured as ever. Fascinating late-night chat as Zeno tells me all sorts of interesting details about astrology and a worrying moment in 2019 when a new, he says, more difficult period Begins For All Of Us. Oh dear.
Tuesday. Cue low throbbing bass synth: Electrical Ants Arrive.
Monday. Obvious but important thoughts on European guilt.
Sunday. Much of day unwinding with Film-maker Jessica. In the evening we both watch on her Netflix service a film neither of us have seen, the first film screenwriter Paul Schrader got to direct himself, American Gigolo. Striking how much a film from 1980 has aged now (far too many scenes with sunlight entering a room through half-closed venetian blinds) but interesting to see the story trying to penetrate Richard Gere's character's contradictory layers of slickness and naivete. Schrader's visual limitations are strongly shown up - very much a script-writer's film. I recall the writer/director himself long ago talking about the famous scene where the high-end gigolo lays out his choices of outfits in a row and is selecting which jacket, shirt, tie, trousers to wear ("Like a craftsman selecting his tools" said Schrader). Now I watch it properly, struck by the matching naffness of all his smart rentboy clothes.
Saturday. Spend much of today chatting with Michael. Join him in his mid-afternoon taxi to the airport, where once he has passed through the boarding gates on his way to Johannesburg, I set about coming back into town by public transport. On the bus (two buses in succession in fact) I meet a wry German academic who is attending a Budapest conference about operations management and two cheery Danish women attending a different Budapest conference about (appropriately enough) positive psychology. At one point towards the end of our shared bus journey I ask the Danish women what the secret of happiness is. Laughing they exclaim: "Love, of course!"
Here's El Michels Affair performing El Pueblo Unido & Detroit Twice.
Friday. Last night I slept 11 hours before our usual 7.30am start to the teaching day. We finish the three-day songs-and-games mission and bundle ourselves into a taxi to cross the border by about 2pm. Then begins the longish train journey from Szombathely back to Budapest. On this journey I finish the other book I borrowed from Michael, 'The Mathematics of Love' by Hannah Fry, published by TED, now a book publisher as well as an organiser of unpaid science talks. It's a short book. It mainly seems to be powered by the reader's expected amazement that there are actually mathematical papers published about optimal ways to pick up the opposite sex in bars and so on. It's a bit thin, and the sorting algorithm that shows how men who approach their preferred women in order of preference (which generalises to doctors picking hospitals to train at and other stuff) pair up best definitely leaves some basic things unexplained. Such as why anyone consistently prioritises being approached. There's obviously an algorithm to explain that too, the fuller mathematics behind Bagehot's remark that "A man who does not make advances on women becomes the victim of those women who make advances on men". It would have been nice to see those two effects discussed together. The text is clear & witty, but each short chapter has a double-page illustration in the middle with crudely painted semi-cartoon men and women with mathematical signs floating around them. Not recommended.
Thursday. Ear ache is receding, and I took care to sleep 13 hours last night. The relief of sensing the illness being beaten back is sweet indeed.
Strangely, this (it actually has the word 'bilingual' in its name) is an Austrian gymnasium/grammar-school
where children must study either Croat or Hungarian (as well as German and English). There are local communities of Croats and Magyars who have been in that region for centuries. Before 1920 this town was inside the borders of Hungary, and there is a noticeable profusion of dishy-looking girls, both among the students and the teaching staff. Four pretty female teachers I meet are all Hungarians. I actually hear almost as much Magyar being spoken in the staff room as German. There are even a couple of students who actually commute (or pendle?) to the school from inside Hungary, crossing the nearby border twice a day (the Croats are too far from Croatia for any to do this). One girl in one class I see is studying Croatian, German, English, Latin, and Russian: perhaps the best teenage linguists I've encountered in Austria.
Wednesday. Here at a very pleasant grammar school in the town of Oberwart. These places in Austria are curious. Somehow too prosperous to be proper villages, too sleepy to be towns, too rural to be suburbs. They have apparently functioning watchmending shops with spacious window displays, and odd little cafes with chrome bar stools permanently hosting the same three guests from day to day. Rather Camberwick Green somehow. Beautiful sunlight and blue skies. I've never seen so many neatly-clipped hedges, friendly dogs, and well-kept pots of flowers outside the affluent districts of a big city.
Today's teaching extremely difficult, since I got no sleep last night, not a situation I'm used to coping with. The teachers are very kind and I'm lucky that the school doctor is in the school today on a Wednesday. I finally see him after the third lesson, and he writes me a prescription. He is the old-fashioned avuncular type we vaguely remember from decades ago. Whiskery and twinkly-eyed, he peers into my bad ear with the same little light-beam thing doctors used when I got ear infections as a five or six-year-old. I run out into the sun to actually buy the drugs in the short break between, I think, lessons four and five. Oh joy, the drugs seem to work at once (doubtless more relief than medical action) and the pain begins to go away.
Tuesday. After visiting Keleti station twice yesterday, the second time at 10pm to change my ticket, a trouble-free journey to Austria. My travelling companions are Greg & Fred. We reach the guesthouse around 5pm and a cheery local plies us with schnapps. Like magic, the mild ear infection of last week I thought I'd beaten with five leftover antibiotics from Michael's bathroom medicine drawer a few days ago snaps back into action, renewed in strength. I spend the last few minutes before 8pm finding an out-of-hours pharmacist and buying a small bottle of ear drops. They have a distinct smell of hospital alcohol which is oddly alarming and reassuring at the same time. I go to bed, the pain slowly growing, like the ear aches I constantly got as a child, like a knitting needle being forced inch by inch into the side of my head. At the point where I realise I am not going to get even a minute of sleep during the night before my first day's teaching, I sit up and finish a detective novel borrowed from Michael cheerily called 'Bones Under The Beach Hut'
by Simon Brett, one of my mother's favourite authors in her final years. The book has a slight feel of being written on autopilot, and there is a curiously snobbish disdain for other people's snobbery in the observations of social life on England's south coast. Most of all I detected in the way the two heroines are written up a dislke of social ambition or respectability among people other than the self-consciously modest "ex-Home-Office" main character. (Not unlike Le Carre's snobbishness about snobbish views from people who aren't him.) There's a slightly glib tone to much of Brett's writing. Things are not just so - they are "predictably" so or "inevitably" so. Very well veiled venom towards people who are not diffidently middle-class and in some distant way left-wing. An older woman who speaks her mind and believes people should be stylish and smartly dressed, the only obvious old-style Tory in this early-21st-century (2011) story, is described with poisonous hatred. A pompous drunken man who has grand airs of being a radically subversive (he believes) painter is treated a little more gently. There is some clever misdirection in the plotting, but perhaps Brett has written too many detective novels and is a little bit slick now.
Monday. An admirable man has just died who was kidnapped & tortured several decades ago.
Sunday. A 1970s book worth a look? 'The Inevitability of Patriarchy'.
Saturday. An account of when & why a man finished with his girlfriend.
Friday. On recent trips to Robin's farm in the Alfold, various things stick in the memory even a few weeks later. A bush not just humming but mumbling with bee activity while being surrounded with small white butterflies (and one or two in other colours) crackling around the leaves almost like sparks coming off something electrical. The wood in the front door and its frame which now smells comfortingly (if that's your thing) of dog. One of the two big shaggy off-white komondor beasts routinely folds itself into the 3-feet-wide, 18-inch-deep space into which the front door is recessed. Forcing us all to step over the slumbering hound on entering or leaving the house. Now the aroma of dog has sunk into the wood and you can detect Sisi's or Domor's repeated presence just from the smell there even when they are snoozing somewhere else during the day. A memory of the lean suntanned figure of Zeno the Alchemist sitting on the mobile motormower, cigarette in mouth, hat on head, chugging around various stretches of lawn as the sun beats down.
Tonight, alone at Michael's, I finish Alvi's copy of 1965 Philip K. Dick novel 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch' with this curious but ultimately appropriate cover. This 2003 review by his old editor Michael Moorcock accuses Dick of letting the amphetamines speak too loudly in the storywriting. There is certainly a kind of narrowing through the book, with an increasingly frantic plot and ever-more interchangeable characters (as the older, more literary Moorcock notes). As if the book descends into a kind of paranoid narrative tunnel. Nonetheless the business story of the book, with its tales of miserable homesick Martian colonists taking hallucination-sharing drugs to try to remember the idyllic Earth of past decades that pollution has by now ruined, is striking. The way this drug interacts with a pathetic-sounding boardgame or dolls' house of small tabletop models, there in their cramped sleeping quarters on the surface of Mars, is especially poignant. Fascinating to look back at wildly-varying cover art for the novel, seeing how little some images explain the story:
seven. Moorcock's review perhaps fails to appreciate how interesting it is that Dick was already by 1965 finding theology vital to exploring the science-and-matter cosmos of early-20th-century sci-fi futures.
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.
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
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. Potential "cost" of leaving 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. --
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