to links pages 
phone texts to Skype = mark-griffith
Monday. New theory suggests humans might have evolved in Europe, not Africa. Prehistory keeps on getting more complex.
Sunday. Slightly limp article about computer art made for individuals. Quite a few missing steps in the aesthetic argument here.
Saturday. An appeal for a revival of Baconian science with the help of computers.
Friday. Extraordinary article - The Atlantic at its finest. 'My Family's Slave.'
Thursday. Vox claims US Democrats are now becoming as unhinged as Republicans have been for some time already.
Wednesday. Economist says without child labour, kids are just a drag.
Tuesday. Finally, rollercoasters found good for something. Shame The Atlantic can't use 'centripetal' correctly.
Monday. December 2016 article says a non-tokamak fusion generator in Germany is doing well in tests.
Sunday. Cyber malware thingy damages computers round world, including 20% of National Health Service in Britain whose managers ignored years of warnings to update anti-virus protection (ha!). Computer security person buys domain name and switches off global attack like a tap.
Saturday. Apparently nipples are the ultimate lipstick-colour guide.
Friday. Once again totally forget World Naked Gardening Day (the 7th - was busy though). Looks as if British undercover agent in Northern Ireland wasn't guilty of killing lots of people after all.
Thursday. Seemingly neurons in brains more varied than thought.
Wednesday. Researchers say unfairness is not always same as inequality in people's minds.
Tuesday. Intriguing article by US military adviser: Why Arabs Lose Wars.
Monday. Finish a weighty but fascinating book, Noel Malcolm's 'Agents of Empire', a kind gift last year from The Nigel of Light. Difficult to describe, this is an account painstakingly researched and pieced together from archives (real history!) of two interrelated families of Italianised Albanians from beginning to end of the 16th century. The Brunis and the Brutis rise in the Adriatic world of pro-Venetian minor aristocracy, enter service of the Republic of Venice as traders/interpreters/spies, send a couple of younger boys to Constantinople to learn Turkish so as to be Venetian trade and espionage agents there, and by stages different members of the clan are involved in major events of the century. Two are in the Battle of Lepanto in the 1570s, one plays a double game spying on Ottoman Turkey for Venice (but actually for Spain against Venice), and one remains deeply loyal to Catholic Christianity and yet through a personal friendship with a senior Turkish official ends up as right-hand man to the Ottoman-appointed voivod of Moldavia. While it takes time to gather pace, by 1/3 of the way through the scale & richness of Malcolm's achievment becomes apparent. Deserves all the lavish praise on the back cover.
Sunday. Finish 'Milestones' in English by Said (Sayyid) Qutb, kindly lent to me by a friend. Described by one critic as the "Mein Kampf of Islamism", this is a book by an Egyptian civil servant who after a short study trip of two years at a university in the United States in the 1940s returned to his country disgusted with western secularism. He moved closer to the Muslim Brotherhood. He supported in the background the Free Officers army takeover that overthrew the monarchy and brought Nasser and Sadat to power in 1954, not realising they were not going to support his vision of an Islamic society restored to Quranic purity. This book in fact, along with his larger work 'In the Shade of the Qur'an' were both written, as far as I understand, on scraps of toilet paper smuggled out of the prison where he was being subjected to electrocution sessions and sleep deprivation for the several years up to his execution on Nasser's orders in 1966.
It's first of all an eerie read. His "calm, lucid voice" one critic praises is also the brainwashed voice of the mind-control cult victim. One can hardly blame someone being subjected to torture for retreating into a kind of unshakeable self-hypnotised belief. However, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, this is one of the books that not only contains deeply harmful ideas but conveys them, it seems, persuasively. Persuasively at least if the reader hungers for the sleep of reason and the drug of certainty, which many do. Milestones is perfectly pitched for a low-IQ audience that in general struggles with books, but desperately wants to be assured it understands things more clearly than those snide clever bastards trying to undermine their beautiful faith. The book is immensely repetitive. It repeatedly claims that this is the path of reason & justice. It says again and again that a kind of rigidity, a rock-like certainty of belief, is the vital first step. Once this has been attained, the believer is - like an American Creationist - no longer troubled by the bizarre idea that this holy scripture and no other is the authentic word of the Creator. He is then prepared to die under torture like Qutb, or prepared to kill, to achieve this complete blueprint for a good society from the 7th century that plenty of Arabic-speaking (and other) Muslims are still understandably emotionally invested in. Qutb endlessly repeats that this act of surrendering doubt and reason is just the opposite. It's the coming of a kind of sacred reason and knowledge. He gives no evidence for this (of course he can't, because it's not true), but his measured voice does achieve a kind of mesmering effect in driving out alternative thoughts. He was apparently a talented stylist in Arabic, although I can only guess from the English. Of course all the real power of the prose (his own and the Quranic quotes) comes from the sense that there were original mystical insights, a true glimpse of the transcendent you get somehow shining through the human scaffolding of all major religions, flavouring the source of his own faith with something genuinely fresh. The "clear spring" as he calls it in desert terms.
Among all the repetition, he quickly slips in a few untruths, such as the idea that experimental method is originally Islamic (it can be seen throughout ancient Greece, as early as the life of Thales of Miletus, 12 centuries before Muhammad). There is also the fact that the "high point" of Islamic science consisted of translating Greek texts, commenting on Aristotle, generalising study of polynomials, and was overtaken by Europe before the year 1000 according to Gimpel. This accounts for the puzzle of Islam supposedly creating scientific experiment yet failing to do any more of it in the thousand years after learning to distil alcohol (Notice 'Al' on front of name, as with algebra etc). That millennium of delay isn't well explained by Qutb's sketchy (and oddly eurocentric) version of Islamic history where the perfect society somehow conquers 3/5 of the Mediterranean yet is unable to do any sciencey things because of pesky Christian opposition.
In contrast to one implausible paragraph claiming experimentation for Islam, his central notion filling the whole book goes wholly the other way. This is that there must be no compromise whatsoever, just unwavering adherence to the Quranic blueprint. This easily-explained idea is very powerful, anti-reason, and harmful. Luckily it only seems to take root easily in a society already as politically and intellectually stunted as some Islamic societies are. In any society where people have seen the value of doubt, compromise with opponents, and dissent, only the most psychologically damaged and isolated can be sucked into cults like Scientology or The Family that take a similar form. It's ironic that Qutb was appalled by the US, which has a couple of unquestioning certainties and immaturities of its own.
His justification for active (rather than defensive) jihad is interesting. Any societies where people are not allowed to listen to Muhammad's message are "unfree" in Qutb's terms, but this is not reversed to protect preaching by other groups within Islamic societies because -- well Islam is from God, and it's really true! So there is intended to be a one-way valve. The work is not finished until every society on earth is as damaged as his. Qutb is shrewd on the weaknesses of western secularism, but is completely unable to see that his own situation, right down to him being tortured by a military dictatorship he helped instal, is not the hallmark of an unIslamic society. He nowhere realises that his own miserable imprisonment isn't a result of Western influence & corruption at all. Rather it's historically typical, measured across centuries, of any once-sophisticated culture unfortunate enough to have been invaded and reprogrammed in the 7th & 8th centuries by the monolithic simplistic mind-closing movement he's still loyal to. The fundamental idea is that all "man-made" laws are inferior to Islam because Islam is not man-made. How do you tell someone brainwashed to that extent (in fact fervently reinforcing their own brainwashing on themselves) that Islam is not only man-made, but obviously so?
Saturday. Franc & Viki get married at a registry office in Pest. My first real wedding ever, I think. Almost upstaging Franc's radiant bride with pearls in her hair, a startlingly leggy, confident, straight-backed blonde around 40 is the presiding registrar. Wreathed in a huge Hungarian tricolour ribbon like a beauty-pageant winner, she essentially marries the happy couple by power of the official raunch vested in her. Wonderful party afterwards with spicy sandwiches, cake, wine, and sundry delicacies. I meet people from a big mix of backgrounds, including a practioner of a kung fu style I'd never heard of, and a host of lady badminton players, including the delightful newly-wed Mrs Franc. Accuracy practice in hallway using shuttlecocks with real goose feathers.
Friday. Dr D. shows me a truly odd academic paper using Propp's folk-tale theory (blamed by Edina for 'Star Wars') to analyse interviews with tax lawyers. I read it surrounded by people with extravagantly ripped jeans looking at laptops. Washington Post claims that most of the stories about Trump voters regretting their vote for President Honey Monster are made up, and in fact Hillary Clinton voters have more buyer's regret.
Thursday. They're working on devices that can delete your thoughts. Fab.
Wednesday. London rats are getting b-i-g-g-e-r.
Tuesday. Job interviews are useless? Shocking idea!
Monday. Workers' holiday that the socialists commandeered from the Christians after the Christians took it over from the pagans. Meanwhile an old but relevant book called 'The True Believer': what makes some people throw themselves into a social movement? Goes rather well with an ex-Christian's "journey into transhumanism". On another front, evidence grows that not Trump but the Clinton campaign committed Watergate-scale offences to spy on Trump during the election.
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