to links pages 
phone texts to +36 20 583 7334
Monday. 'Pussy church' of witches against transsexuals forms in US. Meanwhile, a researcher suggests we all have a psychopath default setting deep in our lizard brains (nice editorial art).
Sunday. Physically weak men more often left wing.
Saturday. Orban's government has decided to shut down 'Gender Studies' at all Hungarian universities. Another cunning ruse to distress some and cause others merry mirth.
Friday. Summer heat still quite formidable, after dark too. Air thick like suet. Go to supermarket about 9pm. Three girls making flutey noises in French come in after me dressed in black shorts and black tops, the un peu sportif, un peu sexy look. I glance them over in what's probably a very ungallant stare, turn round and try again to understand the corner cabinet's strange array of lactose-free cheeses. Suddenly there's a slight extra warmth all down one side. I become aware that the prettiest of the three is precisely next to me, as in less than half an inch from touching, glancing over the same shelves in a vaguely aloof, scientific way. To do this she's somehow crossed about twenty feet of empty shopfloor in a second - it's almost occult, as if I suffered a time slip or black out. I spend the standard two-second window of opportunity pushing lactose and cheese out of my thoughts and pulling up my in-head French-language-remark menu display, by which time she glides off past the cucumbers, radiating cool, disinterested curiosity about other food items. Shaking this odd moment out of my heat-addled mind, I choose some purchases, passing a different lass, boyfriend in tow, leggy with lustrous mid-brown hair cascading down her back like a waterfall. I get into the massive double queue this shop has stretching down two aisles every night from about 7pm to closing at 10pm, a double tube of customers feeding six tills, three along each side wall, resembling a great intestine. After only a few minutes, get to a till, and as I pay for my items literally feel the leggy lass, nowhere to be seen seconds ago, manifesting next to me. The small golden hairs of her bare arm are brushing my bare arm. She's chosen the next till in such a way to squeeze her whole length into a desk gap just a millimetre away from my body, and her boyfriend is the far side of her talking to the cashier. Nuisance aftershave.
Thursday. Years since I thought of this book cover.
Wednesday. A chance to hear some ancient Greek music.
Tuesday. Interesting bar chart of how religious denominations voted on Brexit. Muslims & atheists like the EU, Anglicans & Jews not so much: article.
Monday. For the first time since the last century I buy and drink a can of Vimto. Remember the pop group I saw performing at college and one of their songs went "He's the man turning water into Vimto", thought they were good, went up to the bass guitarist afterwards to tell him, and he said that just that afternoon before their gig they'd decided to split up. Is that Vimto for me? Surprisingly pleasant taste.
Sunday. China's creepy future police state project continues.
Saturday. Man in Texas steals baby shark in pram.
Friday. At a Las Vegas hackers' conference, participants break into supposedly-secure voting machines in two hours.
Thursday. Apparently earth's longest maintained set of temperature records, the 'Central England Temperature' dataset goes back to the late 1650s.
Wednesday. Early in morning finished one of those short introductory paperbacks rendered in mashed-up historical illustrations with speech balloons.
The aims are ambitious, to amiably introduce a whole range of topics in the subject (probability, differentiation, logarithms, trigonometry) both in cultural context and without boring readers who are almost certainly not keen on maths (yet). A variety of small scenes cut out of 19th-century novels and prewar schoolboy cartoons are pasted together in a zany manner. In some cases this genuinely makes a concept clearer, but mostly the effect is a manic determination not to be boring. Alongside this, the concern to dethrone European claims to mathematical supremacy and emphasise the algebraic contributions of 10th, 11th, and 12th century Muslims, + some Indian and Chinese thinkers, is probably the strongest undercurrent in the book. Of course to mention that Galois was a republican "in a reactionary era" or that Turing was a gay man who suffered from old-fashioned moral prejudices are good ways to involve readers not immediately interested in the maths. At the same time, hard not to feel the cultural politics are priority 1; enthusing people about the subject and explaining parts of it taking a fairly distant second place.
Meet Jessica off train in Budapest. She pulls a very interesting spread of cards in the cheerfully unspooky environs of the shopping-centre food court.
Tuesday. Read to the end of 'Turner on the Loire' from Robin's library, a careful reconstruction of what the contents of his sketchbooks tells us about Turner's route up the Loire in 1826. The effect of gazing on painted sketch after painted sketch, with some wonderfully minimal pencil skylines in between, is not only sensuous but also a kind of time travel. The kind of rural France that was already vanishing by the time photography became a mass craft twenty years later is here noted, taken for granted, and seen as normal if interesting. The idea that ten years before the first motorised railway lines in Britain women in different provinces of France quite close to each other wore different headgear (combination hats, caps, whatever you call what nuns and nurses still sometimes wear) is startling really. Yet no odder than supporters of different football clubs today marking themselves apart with insignia, colours, flags etc. Why wouldn't milkmaids or woolworkers or stable girls proudly show allegiance to their valley or district? The catalogue/book says a section of Turner's notebooks were given up to these head-dresses - shame not more given in the illustrations. Many
are haunting, and show someone in love with the effects of light yet who doesn't see this as part of a political movement the way some in and around French impressionism forty years later did. The writer makes sure not to spare readers knowledge of Turner's argumentative nature, and his habit of always pushing for the highest possible price for his works.
Monday. Intriguing back-to-front Indian mirror.
Sunday. An unhappy daughter not nagged enough? Headline quote (Steve Jobs told her "You smell like a toilet") not quite as it sounds. Still a sobering read.
Saturday. So if you want your daughters to succeed you should nag them?
Friday. In the newish lift (1980s or 1990s) in Michael's rather older building I notice what seems to be a dead moth lying on the inch-wide ledge against the glass on the outside of one of the lift windows. Boring, dead, dusty triangle with edges about an inch and a half in length, I first see it travelling down in the morning, then again in the afternoon. By the end of the day dawns on me it might have been there weeks or months. After all, once the lift reaches ground-floor level it's not easy to reach the outside to clean it. On all sides it's hedged in with black-painted metal grillework designed to prevent people falling into the shaft and being crushed. No way to open those windows except by completely unscrewing the frames. Balancing on the bannisters to clean it while at another floor would hardly be safety-conscious. That moth corpse might have been riding up and down dozens of times a day and night with that lift for a decade - perhaps more.
Thursday. Today, the largest single-day drop in price of any single share, on any US bourse, ever. The hitherto mighty Facebook/Instagram loses 119 billion US dollars of value in a single trading session. Interesting to note that internet/computing companies suffered the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th largest one-day drops ever to date as well. Are there really larger falls from some other market?
Wednesday. Murderer of girl hitch-hikers electrocutes own genitals.
Tuesday. Wealthy lady prosecuted over slavegirl cult.
Monday. Rich Kuwaiti woman bemoans servants with passports.
Sunday. Travel back from countryside to Budapest. In the evening, Film-maker Jessica tells me slightly lurid details about the man who created the Wonder Woman comic strip in 1941. Meanwhile, more JFK-assassination documents released by Trump show two separate cases of junior US intelligence officers (one in Scotland, one in France) coming across chatter between spooks in classified cables about the killing of John Kennedy, in both cases a couple of weeks in advance of the event.
Saturday. Finished the Julian Jaynes book 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind'. Both careful and audacious, this has to be one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. Jaynes, writing in the 1970s, claims that what we call consciousness appeared among humans around the year 1000 BC, spread over several centuries. Before that date, he suggests, people directly heard insights and gestalts in their right hemispheres as the voices of gods speaking inside their heads. After that date, man is increasingly conscious and self-conscious, he has a moral sense independent of gods and god-kings, he no longer hears the voices or no longer feels comfortable acknowledging them, and he is haunted by a deep nostalgia for that older and more unified timeless time when the gods still spoke and moved among men. Jaynes writes at length about the medical literature on schizophrenia and also quotes from Mesopotamian, Greek, and Hebrew myth to illustrate his point. Moses is one of the borderline figures between the bicameral minds and the modern minds, and he sometimes cannot resolve his Lord's voice into anything clearer than a pillar of fire. Moses closes a period of history by putting laws down in writing on pieces of stone, excoriating his people for constructing in his absence a traditional dummy god from gold intended to speak inside their heads in the familiar old hallucinatory style. Jaynes sides with the classicists who put the two great epics attributed to Homer several centuries apart, written down by different hands, and actually claims that the Illiad, even with redactions and additions since, is one our last glimpses of the bicameral mind in its raw, preconscious strangeness, while the Odyssey is an early example of the modern mind, just about on our side of the great divide. Some of the old preconscious hallucinators were mass-murdered on the orders of kings, creating an evolutionary pressure for modern consciousness. Jaynes cites specific purges of the old prophets, the hearers of voices, at dates given in the Old Testament.
Jaynes suggests that the strangely effortless Spanish conquests of the Incans and the Aztecs (two and a half millennia after that split between the two Homers) should be understood as confrontations between modern conscious men and entire archaic civilisations of people still thinking with bicameral minds intact, still hallucinating the reality of their gods' voices into their daily reality. The nostalgia of so many, from Hegel back to the author of the episode with the Serpent in the Garden, for some half-forgotten, more ancient paradisical state of innocent completeness, gains immense nuance from Jaynes' extraordinary hypothesis. If he's right, it changes everything. Even depictions of angels with wings and the rise of games of chance are pulled into this vast theory. With implications for a range of controversial topics from hypnosis to theology or archeology, he writes sometimes coolly, sometimes lyrically. "They have called it the Dorian invasions. And classicists will tell you that indeed they could have called it anything or everything, so groping our knowledge, and so dark these particular profundities of past time. But continuities in pottery designs from one archaeological site to another do fetch a few candles into this vast and silent darkness, and they reveal, albeit in flickering fashion, the huge jagged outlines of complex successions of migrations and displacements that lasted from 1200 to 1000 B.C. That much is fact." starts one chapter. Very much recommended.
Amazing thunderstorm keeps me awake much of night in Robin's studio, cloud-reflected lightning rippling through the skies, casting weird shadows inside the high ceiling of the studio itself. Filled with a sense of being close to the heavens, infused with the power of the elements.
Friday. It seems horses remember people who smile at them.
Thursday. The French sex cult from outer space.
Wednesday. Three weeks and one day with no sunspots. Longest break since 2009. Today finished a borrowed book about Einstein's opus magnus called 'The Perfect Theory' by Pedro Ferreira. Nicely readable, this speeds through a century of general relativity going in and out of fashion - eclipsed for a decade or so by quantum physics, then re-emerging with new surprising predictions such as black holes, then again passing out of favour, and so on. Sad stories like Jocelyn Bell being left out of the Nobel for discovering pulsars or Joe Weber getting ensnared in his own calibration errors, convincing himself he had discovered experimental proof of gravitational waves and destroying his reputation, flesh out the human narrative. As much about fifty or sixty great physicists over the century, as the physics.
Tuesday. Turns out gene-editing tool CRISPR might create cancer dangers of its own.
Monday. Excitement builds in the US impeachment putsch, as 18-month-old claims force an indictment of some Russians. US prosecutors accuse 12. For more, here's a short interview with Mr Nunes, a piece by one of our contributors, zerohedge, alleges Hillary Clinton committed serious treason, and a short interview with veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh on why not to be too trusting of The New York Times.
Sunday. Slight pause for thought in the late evening when I realise that Robin, buoyant as usual, intends to drive back to Budapest with a chest of drawers strapped to the car roof. Earlier in afternoon, finish a book about brainwave research into moments of insight when people solve puzzles or have sudden fresh ideas. 'The Eureka Factor' by John Kounios and Mark Beeman does a nice job of spelling out the psychological experiments in their essential simplicity, and balancing this with the overall implications for how creative thinking and problem-solving happens. One interesting discovery is the split-second burst of alpha waves in the brain just before a new solution emerges, as if clearing clutter off a desk, or shutting out distraction for that vital moment like a "blink".
Saturday. Drive with Robin down to The Great Plain after a warm afternoon in town, partly to retrieve my cards, and also to fish out of his attic my copy of Jodorowsky's book about restoring the Marseille pack.
Friday. My Salisbury Review article: blimp babies battle above London.
Thursday. Researcher says facial-recognition systems see 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!
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
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.
diary entries by month
June 2018 /
May 2018 /
April 2018 /
March 2018 /
February 2018 /
January 2018 /
December 2017 /
November 2017 /
October 2017 /
September 2017 /
August 2017 /
July 2017 /
June 2017 /
May 2017 /
April 2017 /
March 2017 /
February 2017 /
January 2017 /
December 2016 /
November 2016 /
October 2016 /
September 2016 /
August 2016 /
July 2016 /
June 2016 /
May 2016 /
April 2016 /
March 2016 /
February 2016 /
January 2016 /
December 2015 /
November 2015 /
October 2015 /
September 2015 /
August 2015 /
July 2015 /
June 2015 /
May 2015 /
April 2015 /
March 2015 /
February 2015 /
January 2015 /
December 2014 /
November 2014 /
October 2014 /
September 2014 /
August 2014 /
July 2014 /
June 2014 /
May 2014 /
April 2014 /
March 2014 /
February 2014 /
January 2014 /
December 2013 /
November 2013 /
October 2013 /
September 2013 /
August 2013 /
July 2013 /
June 2013 /
May 2013 /
April 2013 /
March 2013 /
February 2013 /
January 2013 /
December 2012 /
November 2012 /
October 2012 /
September 2012 /
August 2012 /
July 2012 /
June 2012 /
May 2012 /
April 2012 /
March 2012 /
February 2012 /
January 2012 /
December 2011 /
November 2011 /
October 2011 /
September 2011 /
August 2011 /
July 2011 /
June 2011 /
May 2011 /
April 2011 /
March 2011 /
February 2011 /
January 2011 /
December 2010 /
November 2010 /
October 2010 /
September 2010 /
August 2010 /
July 2010 /
June 2010 /
May 2010 /
April 2010 /
March 2010 /
February 2010 /
January 2010 /
December 2009 /
November 2009 /
October 2009 /
September 2009 /
August 2009 /
July 2009 /
June 2009 /
May 2009 /
April 2009 /
March 2009 /
February 2009 /
January 2009 /
December 2008 /
November 2008 /
October 2008 /
September 2008 /
August 2008 /
July 2008 /
June 2008 /
May 2008 /
April 2008 /
March 2008 /
February 2008 /
January 2008 /
December 2007 /
November 2007 /
October 2007 /
September 2007 /
August 2007 /
July 2007 /
June 2007 /
May 2007 /
April 2007 /
March 2007 /
February 2007 /
January 2007 /
December 2006 /
November 2006 /
October 2006 /
September 2006 /
August 2006 /
July 2006 /
June 2006 /
May 2006 /
April 2006 /
March 2006 /
February 2006 /
January 2006 /
December 2005 /
November 2005 /
October 2005 /
September 2005 /
August 2005 /
July 2005 /
June 2005 /
May 2005 /
April 2005 /
March 2005 /
February 2005 /
January 2005 /
December 2004 /
November 2004 /
October 2004 /
September 2004 /
August 2004 /
July 2004 /
June 2004 /
May 2004 /
April 2004 /
March 2004 /
February 2004 /
January 2004 /
December 2003 /
November 2003 /
October 2003 /
September 2003 /
August 2003 /
July 2003 /
June 2003 /
May 2003 /
April 2003 /
March 2003 /
February 2003 /
January 2003 /
December 2002 /
November 2002 /
October 2002 /
September 2002 /
August 2002 /
July 2002 /