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April 24th; Friday. Interesting story from some researchers who reckon they've found the tomb of Jesus - and his son.

April 23rd; Thursday. Finish a copy of 'The Secret Race' by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle, that a student kindly lent me. This is an account by American racing bicyclist Tyler Hamilton of what it was like to be in a team led by Lance Armstrong, what it feels like to endure gruelling events like the Tour de France, and what it feels like to compete while doped in an already extreme sport where drug-enhanced athletes set the pace other cyclists have to equal. Full of interesting revelations, such as that Armstrong's original cancer that he became a hero for recovering from might well itself have been brought on by heavy use of illegal sports drugs in the early 1990s. Armstrong comes over as a repulsive personality: a self-pitying, self-centred, bullying, swaggering, thuggish liar. Hamilton claims (sincerely, it seems) to have liked and admired him for a while, which makes the effect even worse. Hard to tell if this depiction is unfair on Armstrong, but the constant doubling up on the defiant lies, the sneering at other people with more honesty, and the sheer aggression unleashed on anyone who challenges Armstrong's version of events hangs together in an unpleasantly convincing way. Daniel Coyle, who is generously acknowledged by Hamilton as the not-so-ghostly writer, has done an excellent job of building a compelling narrative out of interviews with Hamilton and others. We learn about a cast of colourful racers, coaches, and doping doctors involved in the years of endemic drug use in top-end cycle-racing between the late 1990s and the second decade of this century. Good readable piece of journalism.
April 22nd; Wednesday. Bursts of warm sun coming quite regularly now. Paul in Bucharest makes the comparison with Buchan's 'Greenmantle' and the current geopolitics of Islam.

April 21st; Tuesday. Quite sweet build-up for a novel or film option: a time traveller trapped here & now trying to complete his mission, poor love.
April 20th; Monday. 11 rich colours rarely mentioned.

April 19th; Sunday. Curious ideas, new moods, odd dreams, mildly surprising coincidences have been popping up over the last ten days. This Hungarian political game (charming graphics in tasteful hues) is perhaps something similar to the ideological boardgame Monopoly started as when it launched before the war.
April 18th; Saturday. Zoe's thoughtful weblog, today about Bladerunner & robots.

April 17th; Friday. Entertaining article about the Garden of Eden, flying saucers, and the wide-ranging speculations of French astronomer Jacques Vallee.
April 16th; Thursday. An experimental Chicago chef hanged himself earlier this week. Strange obituary mentions this man was "homeless between age 6 and age 9" with no more explanation. Might mean his parents were moving between homeless shelters, or might be a misprint for "age 16 and age 19"? (Rather than the child being nursed by a she-wolf while eating magical berries in the woods) Isn't this something, especially if writing the obituary of a suicide, a normal journalist checks and clarifies?

April 15th; Wednesday. A couple more nights until new moon.
April 14th; Tuesday. Akos in our lesson mentions this television show popular here. Notice how tense and strained the show's hostess is behind her cheerful front. To a lesser extent the female contestants also, although they seem to settle in quickly enough. It's as if she feels desperately exposed, compromised - or maybe just old. Perhaps a good place to also post an article dismantling some last-ditch denials that common fears & desires could possibly be shaped by evolution. Amazes me - all this was surely obvious from Dawkins' 'Selfish Gene' in the 1970s (if not already from Darwin in the 1850s)? However well it fits what we see, 3 decades (or a century and a half) later some people still can't handle it.

April 13th; Monday. A spot of retro (pseudo-70s-80s) electronica: Controlpop by Com Truise. And now 8 minutes of music O vis aeternitas (slightly more retro) by Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen, with haunting devotional images from the book Liber Scivias. The illustrations were probably commissioned, not painted, by her: but no-one seems sure.
April 12th; Sunday. Nice piece on how Fermi's 1950 lunchtime remark "Where is everybody?" got someone else's claim there's no intelligent extraterrestial life named after him. Otherwise they'd already have dropped by and eaten us. Or something. And here's a Saudi princess who takes shopping therapy to the next level.

April 11th; Saturday. This is going to be one of the quietest weekends ever, people. True story of a German carpenter who, entirely alone, conceived & carried out a plan to detonate a bomb in a building in November 1939 where Hitler, normally regular as clockwork, gave a speech each year. This involved him hiding himself in the building after hours for 30 nights and doing his drilling & sawing in time with the automatic toilet flushing every ten minutes to cover the noise. At the event, Hitler left 13 minutes early, so was not there when the bomb went off.
April 10th; Friday. Striking statue in striking location. Austere sharp-edged modernism looks so much better when it can reflect something from a curvier more sensuous period of art. Poor blank-faced angle-mirrored nude gazes up yearningly into an aristocratic heaven of times gone by.

April 9th; Thursday. Finish Robin's copy of 'The Stars' by Edgar Morin, and translated into English by Richard Howard. During the book my opinion of Morin and his thoroughness went up. It seems he was a sociologist who worked with Roland Barthes and wrote books in lots of different subject areas. The style is smooth and readable, and the book is (appropriately given that it's about movie actors) liberally filled with monochrome photographs. Makes me want to read more by Morin. He goes into the links between moviegoer & movie star, between stage actor & movie star, between consumer products & movie star. The book is nicely dated since pop music has not yet appeared (published 1960) as the next major force, so it's an undistracted look at the era when cinema was the undisputed chief producer of images. Most interesting is how he traces the mime-like grandeur of silent films through the ice queens of the prewar talkies into the chattier, more human-seeming heroes & heroines of postwar cinema. The book is filled with interesting citations from other writers: "the stage actor generally plays in a major key, the movie actor generally plays in the minor key" (Roger Manvell); "he [the movie star] must subtract rather than multiply" (Rene Simon), explaining the blank-faced minimalistic acting that big-screen close-ups encouraged. Towards the end, Morin says "'Be natural', the actors are told. Being natural becomes, somehow, the only technique in which they are actually given instruction. Hollywood starlets learn how to talk, walk, run, sit, descend stairs. J. Arther Rank's Company of Youth ... gives lessons in dancing, walking, fencing, i.e., lessons in grace, animal suppleness, life itself." Inside the book I found a small monochrome photo of the young Bridget Bardot, presumably used as a bookmark, also she on the front and back covers with her animal suppleness, her impersonation of "life itself". Reading this book, so swiftly rendered seemingly out of date by accelerating events of "the sixties", is an eerie glimpse into the first half of the 20th century, into trends and mass emotions already set in motion decades before hippies, decades before personal computers & the internet, decades before dozens of small changes to clothing, personal behaviour, speech, interior decor which now make even 1980 seem long ago. Yet the giant, beautiful heroes of the big screen clearly had deeper effects on the dreams of the crowds than today we find it easy to remember.
April 8th; Wednesday. In the evening, while Tavener's 'Lament of the Mother of God' plays on the laptop I slide myself, I must admit shuddering, into a cold bath. Not quite icy, but certainly bracing.

April 7th; Tuesday. Catch train back up north from the Great Plain in early afternoon. I sit in a non-compartment carriage from Kecskemet (it always seems to be carriage 21) with bursts of sun washing through, followed by English-looking shadow as we trundle under acres of churning cloud. We all sit there down the length of the carriage, our psychic envelopes swollen and squashed against each other like buds of sweetcorn almost cuboid from growing up against the others to fill the space. I start to viscerally sense the cosmic importance of flippancy.
April 6th; Easter Monday. 3rd day teaching Jutka. Noticeable improvement yesterday + even better today. She's more confident: no longer seems convinced she'll never speak English. An extremely perky grey kitten (for some reason called Bruce) smashes the red tumbler while climbing on me during the lesson.

April 5th; Easter Sunday. Christ is risen.
April 4th; Saturday. Down at Robin's in the countryside. I spend a little time in the afternoon getting Joli's shy daughter Jutka to speak English. Joli & Lacko have made an Easter table decoration for everyone: a disc of turf with real soil and grass he cut out of the ground somewhere outside fitted neatly into a shallow round dish with real eggs from the chickens nestling in the long grass. The eggs are painted a dark purple brown using paint made from onions. Later Robin's wonderfully feminine & cheerful Italian girlfriend Sara creates a party atmosphere at both lunch & dinner with all four of the children bustling together with her in the kitchen. We didn't think of baking or eating these - in any case the hole is in the wrong place - but might they become a new Easter fashion?

April 3rd; Good Friday. Entertaining coffee with Steven. We agree that "ice cream is for closers."
April 2nd; Thursday. Lorinc received yesterday's circuit-design introduction quite well. Tamas gives more responses to the concept I was pushing 2 weeks ago of using #encrypted channel choice on a multi-channel open broadcast as better than encrypted content with an #end-to-end audit trail of #metadata.

April 1st; Wednesday. Since 2001 every day is April 1st, one might say. Being a polymath seen here as a natural state, not a deviation or exception. Quite right too.

Recent weblog entries continued:

Who can translate the next 300 words into Korean or Hindi? Contact 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 language *5

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?

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

Wireless radio can be a great comfort to those unable to leave the textbooks in which they live *6
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.

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 human-rights issue?

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 banknote.

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 / contact at otherlanguages.org

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*1 image from , with thanks
*2 "Al-Araby" in written Arabic (read more)
*3 "What?" in American Sign Language; image from , with thanks
*4 "Big" in written Chinese  (read more); image from , with thanks
*5 image from , with thanks
*6 image from , with thanks
*7 image from 'B?ume', with thanks to  Bruno P. Kramer, and Franckh-Kosmos Verlag


.languages of the world
.Internet free speech
.weights & measures
.5000 English words
.2000+ Chinese char.s
.persian/english dictionary
.currency rates 1 2 3 4 5

other web diaries:

.a political refugee from the global village
.enigmatic mermaid
.rainy day
.diaries abroad
.samuel pepys

also useful:

.country domain names
.language-learning 1 2
.find old websites
.fine HTML tutorial
.minimalist websites

reviews: ................. books {...or films here}

1 metrologie historique
2 postmodernism & the other
3 disaster (news on sunday)
4 money unmade (russian barter in the 1990s)
5 the sleepwalkers
6 e
7 the kruschev era
8 the end of science
9 don't you want me?
10 the carpet wars
11 zelator
12 life of thomas more
13 faber book of science
14 gilgamesh
15 out of it
16 guns, germs & steel
17 words & rules
18 figure in the landscape
19 life without genes
20 bede's history of the english
21 the nothing that is
22 zoology
23 journey by moonlight
24 heavenly serbia
25 ratkay endre
26 the handmaid's tale
27 the selective eye
28 a megismerese epitokovei
29 intention
30 thirty nine steps
31 princess
32 the pyramids
33 the etruscans
34 moonchild
35 paradise news
36 culture of time & space 1880 to 1918
37 szimmetria
38 babel orokeben
39 astro-archeology
40 a history of islamic spain
41 high gothic
42 among the believers
43 the renaissance
44 augustine
45 mcvicar
46 atomised
47 tangled wing
48 da vinci code
49 nature via nurture
50 termeszet szamai
51 decline & fall of roman empire
52 practical cheesemaking
53 the sufis
54 fra angelico at san marco
55 the cryptographer
56 they have a word for it
57 szamok valosan innen & tul
58 artistic theory in italy 1450 to 1600
59 darwin's black box
60 indiai ejszaka
61 cleopatra: histories, dreams & distortions
63 what mad pursuit
64 language, the learner & the school
65 writing the romantic comedy
66 the blank slate
67 dougal & the blue cat
68 diego velasquez
69 horse nonsense
70 a certain chemistry
71 deterring democracy
72 textiles
73 thief of time
74 bloodsucking fiends
75 right ho, jeeves
76 generativ grammatika
77 1st time i got paid for it
78 galapagos
79 othello
80 understanding media
81 mysticism
82 short history of french literature
83 best on the market
84 art of seeing
85 culture & imperialism
86 food of the gods
87 arabic-islamic cities
88 the alchemist
89 verbal learning & memory
90 building a successful software business
91 don't make me think!
92 memory
93 the u.s. & the arab world
94 hard times
95 spells for teenage witches
97 the pig that wants to be eaten
98 encyclopaedia of stupidity
99 seventy eight degrees of wisdom: part i
100 beach watching
101 the ancient greeks
102 brainstorms
103 seventy eight degrees of wisdom: part ii
104 utopia
105 technical writing for engineers & scientists
106 alphabet versus goddess
107 writing on drugs
108 news from somewhere
109 isp survival guide
110 petrus hispanus mester logikajabol
111 art of seduction
112 stet
113 penguin by design
114 the sense of being stared at
115 the golden ratio
116 dinamikus emlekezet
117 margins of reality
118 hopjoy was here
119 bump in the night
120 box of delights
121 color atlas of immunology
122 fashionistas
123 pi in the sky
124 a new kind of fool
125 one man's meat
126 greek fire
127 the buddha in daily life
128 beginner's dutch
129 private life of the brain
130 solar ethics
131 pedant in the kitchen
132 knots
133 the planets within
134 encyclopaedia of ancient & mediaeval history
135 consilience
136 the age of scandal
137 fashion: the 20th century
138 the tipping point
139 design literacy
140 the silent partner
141 hamlet
142 1421
143 the 1890s
144 godel's proof
145 rosencrantz & guildenstern are dead
146 beyond reason
147 little book of music theory
148 q-basic
149 alone of all her sex
150 social studies
151 eternal darkness
152 drawn from memory
154 a guide to elegance
155 medea & other plays
156 the future of money
157 cheese
158 grammars of creation
159 aquarian conspiracy
160 the climate crisis
161 true fiction
162 the making of memory
163 why most things fail
164 genetikai abece
165 finding fulfilment
166 genome
167 the broken estate
168 inigo jones
169 flashman & the dragon
170 from bauhaus to our house
171 100 great paintings
172 kis spanyol nyelvtan
173 the historian
174 tomorrow's gold
175 charting made easy
176 life after life
177 spanyol igei vonzatok
178 the eclipse of art
179 fire in the mind
180 the human body
181 out of control
182 possession
183 simplified chinese characters
184 the generation of 1914
185 intellectuals
186 world of late antiquity
187 riddle & knight
188 informacio kultusza
189 napoleon of notting hill
190 secrets: palm-reading
191 meet yourself as you really are
192 cat's abc
193 intro to spanish poetry
194 rise of christian europe
195 philip's guide to electric living
196 sins for father knox
197 celtic twilight
198 myths of love
199 snobbery with violence
200 just like tomorrow
201 7 basic plots
202 experiment with time
203 vile bodies
204 icons & images: 60s
205 fisher king
206 new jerusalem
207 born on a blue day
208 surveillir & punir
209 trial of socrates
210 how to catch fairies
211 conversations on consciousness
212 mind performance hacks
213 conscience of the eye
214 beau brummell
215 evolution
216 the outsider
217 raja yoga
218 rise of political lying
219 occidentalism
220 colossus
221 secret teachings of jesus
222 blue murder
223 nostrodamus the next 50 years
224 homage to catalonia
225 charity ends at home
226 palace of dreams
227 discovering book collecting
228 beyond the outsider
229 the last barrier
230 that hideous strength
231 indian sculpture
232 small world
233 evolution & healing
234 in search of memory
235 campo santo
236 llewellyn's 2007 tarot reader
237 dream of rome
238 why buildings fall down
239 the empty space
240 england made me
241 greek science in antiquity
242 science, a l'usage des non-scientifiques
243 utmutato tarot
243 hunt for zero point
244 william wilberforce
245 viktor schauberger
246 untouchable
247 the vitamin murders
248 straw dogs
249 elizabeth's spymaster
250 the hard life
251 the god delusion
252 the intellectual
253 undercover economist
254 quirkology
255 chasing mammon
256 early mesopotamia & iran
257 the strange death of david kelly
258 the pilgrimage
259 origin of wealth
260 maxims
261 the finishing school
262 the shepherd's calendar
263 islamic patterns
264 lost world of the kalahari
265 german short stories 1
266 electricity
267 liber null & psychonaut
268 born to rebel
269 wittgenstein's poker
270 will the boat sink the water?
271 romeo & juliet
272 why beautiful people have more daughters
273 the crossing place
274 the turkish diplomat's daughter
275 missionary position
276 lust in translation
277 teaching as a subversive activity
278 how german is it
279 empires of the word
280 warped passages
281 the power of now
282 ponder on this
283 sword of no-sword
284 narcissism
285 blink
286 shock of the old
287 basque history of the world
288 truth: a guide
289 who shot jfk?
290 newtonian casino
291 power & greed
292 the world without us
293 5-minute nlp
294 concise guide to alchemy
295 evidence in camera
296 4-hour work week
297 the rosicrucian enlightenment
298 de-architecture
299 how to lie with maps
300 a book of english essays
301 a time of gifts
302 the occult philosophy in the elizabethan age
303 le pelerinage des bateleurs
304 alchemy & alchemists
305 greenmantle
306 the hero with 1000 faces
307 goethe's parable
308 rhedeyek es fraterek
309 letter to a christian nation
310 the tryst
311 7 experiments that could change the world
312 mill on the floss
313 metastases of enjoyment
314 the isles
315 between the woods and the water
316 secrets of the great pyramid
317 life in the french country house
318 the china study
319 tarot: theory & practice
320 the roger scruton reader
321 alchemy & mysticism
322 picasso's mask
323 the rule of four
324 triumph of the political class
325 arts of darkness
326 neuroscience & philosophy
327 the art of memory
328 mind wide open
329 mud, blood, & poppycock
330 society of the spectacle
331 lila
332 de imaginibus
333 electronics
334 giordano bruno & the embassy affair
335 temporary autonomous zone
336 the human touch
337 the fascination of evil
338 the king of oil
339 dowsing
340 the book of j
341 the west and the rest
342 story of my life
343 plain tales from the hills
344 under the influence
345 modern culture
346 50 mots clefs d'esoterisme
347 giordano bruno & the hermetic tradition
348 development, geography & economic theory
349 das kapital: a biography
350 strange days indeed
351 hegel: a very short introduction
352 reflections on the revolution in france
353 history of sexuality: an introduction
354 why we buy
355 origins of virtue
356 the holographic universe
357 a dead man in deptford
358 obsolete
359 137
360 in your face
361 7 spies who changed the world
362 the noetic universe
363 why beauty is truth
364 imagery in healing
365 the craftsman's handbook
366 futurism
367 in the cards
368 dmso
369 les hommes et leurs genes
370 the franchise affair
371 the decision book
372 les harmonies de la nature a l'epreuve de la biologie
373 kibernetika
374 zuleika dobson
375 l'empire de numbers
376 circus philosophicus
377 some girls
378 number
379 island
380 how to get your ideas adopted
381 drive
382 emergence
383 rfid : la police totale
384 the tempest
385 aspects of wagner
386 view over atlantis
387 world atlas of mysteries
388 art of the dogon
389 genesis machines
390 the sirius mystery
391 the cult of the fact
392 anastasia
393 ringing cedars of russia
394 a whiff of death
395 spirit level delusion
396 wavewatcher's companion
397 the kybalion
398 elegance
399 death in a scarlet coat
400 architecture without architects


1 k-pax
2 very annie mary
3 wasabi
4 gosford park
5 arany varos
6 minority report
7 amelie
8 bridget jones' diary
9 arccal a fo:ldnek
10 monsters' ball
11 cube
12 man with no past
13 talk to her
14 szerelemtol sujtva
15 bowling for columbine
16 matrix3
17 zoolander
18 anything else
19 farenheit 9/11
20 8 & 1/2 women
21 madagascar
22 kill bill 1
23 dude, where's my car?
24 the woman in green
25 the hunger
24 nightwatch
25 de battre son coeur s'est arrete
26 wicker man
27 v for vendetta
28 courage the cowardly dog
29 casino royale
30 power of nightmares
31 charlie's angels
32 full throttle
33 foxy brown
34 paths of glory
35 airplane
36 between iraq & a hard place
37 mutiny on the bounty
38 flashmob the opera
39 octopussy
40 bakkerman
41 kiterunner


March 31st; Tuesday. Interesting chat with Akos on how to measure market signals. This short excerpt of film nicely opens up David Talbott's fascinating theory of ancient astronomy I came across a couple of years ago. He's a post-Velikovsky catastrophist (in alliance with other theorists), & it's a haunting rewriting of history. Here's the first 15 minutes of his lucid account of why surface chasms on Mars might be evidence of enormous electrical storms.

March 30th; Monday. Finished a book borrowed from Robin 'Tristes Tropiques' by Claude Levi-Strauss. I read it in English (thanks to some unnamed translation serfs, rights are Jonathan Cape's), but for some reason Levi-Strauss decided he wanted even the English text under the French title instead of 'Sad Tropics' or whatever. In any case, sad it is. A loose collection of writings covering visits Levi-Strauss made as an anthropologist to a range of countries in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but mainly Brazil. Some lovely line drawings of pottery decorations or face-painting squiggles when he discusses 3 or 4 tribes he lived with for weeks or months. His reflections on travel and the sadness of trying to find untouched or less-corrupted peoples when the virus of decadence (as he sees it) travels with him are articulate and thoughtful, though also deeply nihilistic in the postwar 1950s sense. He writes in places some beautiful paragraphs about landscapes, stylistic differences between plant life in South America & Europe, the relations between town & country, and much else. He is unsentimental about the tribes he visits after slow exhausting journeys into the interior, and the insects he gets bitten by on the way, although at some level he is still a follower of Rousseau looking for the noble savage (a myth he claims is more due to Diderot). Since this book collects notes on India, Brazil, the USA he pulled together, there are many small gems: paragraphs perfectly capturing the essence of a sunset or the sadness of once-wealthy colonial boom towns gone to seed.
He is acute on the differences of attitude and philosophy in different cultures. Some haunting remarks in closing pages it might be harder to get published now - on Islam - bear quoting. Napoleon was a "Mohammed of the West" but a Mohammed who failed, and he has an interesting page or two where he tries to draw parallels between Islam and European modernity: suggesting both systems expect other cultures to be so very grateful to be tolerated by Islam/modernity that they stop being different from Islam/modernity. He manages flights of fancy that remain convincingly anchored to historical events & evidence: "The Moguls dreamed their art; they literally created dream-palaces" drives forward one section on Mogul tombs in India. Or note the delicately French acidic tone in: "The Islamic sense of fraternity rests on a cultural and religious basis. It has no economic or social character. Since we all have the same god, the good Moslem is a man who is ready to share his hookah with a roadsweeper. The beggar is indeed my brother, but chiefly in the sense that we commune in the same fraternal approval of the inequality between us." In the very next sentence he moves onto another, more mysterious, thought slipped in with offhand charm: "Hence those two, sociologically remarkable, species, the Germanophil Moslem and the Islamized German."
Later on the same page, a calm summarising judgment: "This great religion is based not so much on revealed truth as on an inability to establish links with the outside world. In contrast to the universal kindliness of Buddhism, or the Christian desire for dialogue, Moslem intolerance takes an unconscious form among those who are guilty of it; although they do not always seek to make others share their truth by brutal coercion, they are nevertheless (and this is more serious) incapable of tolerating the existence of others as others." The book is full of odd moments like this when Levi-Strauss moves out from particulars, anecdotes, or sharp observations and finds himself suddenly able to generalise with keen insight. "On the aesthetic level, Islamic puritanism, abandoning the attempt to abolish sensuality, has been content to reduce it to its minor manifestations: scenes, lacework, embroidery and gardens. On the moral level, the same ambiguity is noticeable: there is a display of toleration, accompanied by an obviously compulsive kind of proselytizing." Then comes the almost sympathetically delivered barb: "The truth is that contact with non-Moslems distresses Moslems." Followed smoothly by a mildly patronising afterthought, almost as if Levi-Strauss is unaware of the weight of what he just wrote: "Their provincial way of life survives, but under constant threat from other lifestyles freer and more flexible than their own, and which may affect it through the mere fact of propinquity." A curious book, dotted with lots of interesting short sections like this.
March 29th; Sunday. Mildly strange article listing 10 authors who got hugely rich but write badly. Strange because the critic/reader himself has slightly juvenile English (several spelling mistakes have been taken out since I first found this piece) and even cheerfully admits to not having read any of the books by one author he includes. At the same time, his criticisms seem fair from the few pages (and one book) I've read by some of the writers on this list. This critic is after all not claiming to be a great writer himself, but wants to read convincing stories with well-drawn characters, etc. Does raise the question of whether the way to make money as an author is to work at producing a very specific kind of bad writing.

March 28th; Curious night Friday into Saturday where I half-sleep and half-listen to wind whistling and whining through the windows and doors, moaning like a 1940s haunted-house movie. Oddly enough, I've never linked that sound to fear but find it somehow comforting. I slip in & out of eerily vivid dreams convinced of their own beauty & softness. Deep silence (this is a very quiet street mostly) is occasionally broken by the gentle wooshing of a car moving down the street, past me, and away again, each time making me think of a white chalk line being drawn across the inside of a curved dark-painted attic ceiling, like a miniature night sky made of blackboard. Then I see Boardgame Orsolya at lunchtime for her latest lesson.
The whole Amanda Knox murder-conviction case in Italy seems very confusing. I don't understand it.
1. An article defending her;
2. An article attacking her on the basis of the Italian investigating magistrate's report recently translated into English;
3. News of her final acquittal.
Note how the 2nd article chooses a photo of her looking sly & uncanny, while the 1st & (especially) 3rd articles choose photos of her looking innocent & tormented.
March 27th; Friday. Most striking painting from a review of new Tibetan art.

March 26th; Thursday. If you need to get the mascara on just right, perch in the sink like a big bird.
March 25th; Wednesday. Finish the book borrowed from Julia & Ben, called 'Stuff Matters' by Mark Miodownik. This is an engaging read about materials science - what Penguin does now on a topic that might have been handled by their imprint Pelican 50 or 75 years ago, perhaps something like the more grandly & formally titled 'Metals in the Service of Man'. Now an introduction to engineering has to work harder to seduce more fickle readers, less comfortable with reading books at all, and those readers must be gently charmed. Miodownik does charm, and manages to relate different materials to his own life in a more telly-presenter style. Each chapter starts with the same monochrome photo of him sitting in his roof garden, with a handwritten label pointing to a different material for each chapter. There is a little bit of cheating where one chapter about foam points at his sports shoes, but is almost entirely about the much more exotic and interesting special foam, aerogel, but overall the device works well. There is a chapter on chocolate, another on paper, another on concrete, another on steel, and so on. He conveys the surprising complexity and delicacy of chocolate preparation well, and feels that paper deserves our special love for it while concrete doesn't deserve our distaste for it. He tries hard throughout to be sensitive about the aesthetic & social side of materials, not just their physics and chemistry, but he is clearly lost in understanding the aesthetic ugliness of concrete. Nor can he see that 20th-century architecture's grand effort to positively celebrate concrete failed. The new forms of self-healing, biologically-treated concrete he excitedly describes if anything sound even nastier than the kinds we have already. As he appeals to us to appreciate concrete as a loyal and helpful member of the materials team he doesn't seem to feel aesthetic scale (despite being exquisitely sensitive to the structural scale of materials), to grasp how concrete seems like an extrusion, a sort of squidgy termite-nest excretia whose very smoothness & pastiness suggest vast hives of humanity encased and martialled within repulsively organic membranes that go from gooey to rigid. He has no sense that concrete emphasises people's smallness & subordination to larger units, like the pulp-based cocoon walls of cities of social insects.
He's an adventurous writer though. Because he once defended plastic in a quarrel with someone in a cinema he composes the plastic chapter as a kind of Wild-West saloon-bar screenplay about the rise of celluloid in the 19th-century US. This goes from coating billiard bells up to false teeth and thin strips of film for early cameras - making the movies themselves possible. He even pulls characters from the different scenes of that celluloid-screenplay chapter together into something of a plot. His drawings are excellently simple and clear (while also reassuring his target non-readers with their informal, back-of-envelope character {he even comments on envelope diagrams as a genre}). He shows that materials science is not only about structures we think of on the macroscopic scale as structures. A lovely personal book about one scientist's passion for stuff.

March 24th; Tuesday. Woman in Britain loses vibrator inside herself for 10 years.
March 23rd; Monday. A couple of days ago borrowed a Financial Times arts supplement from Lorinc's father, and 2 articles seemed worth reading. The cover article was an excerpt from a book called 'The Utopia of Rules' by David Graeber, and included a wonderful word 'postalisation', which was a term people in the 19th century used to describe the government taking over an industry and organising it like the national post office. Graeber's case is that private business has a strange relationship with bureaucracy and state regulation, both resenting it yet thriving because of it. In the FT excerpt he compares the Prussian postal service of the 1890s with the internet of the 1990s. This far he has a point I've also looked at, but am unsure whether to spend time to obtain and read his book. He probably doesn't grasp how private businesses that grow rich on the back of state-subsidised infrastructure do so using a loaded version of market pricing and therefore don't really represent what he thinks they do. I'd have to read the whole book to check, though. Another article, shorter, in the same supplement was stranger. It was a fulsome review by Galen Strawson of a book by John Gray about free will, lyrically called 'The Soul of the Marionette'. The title says it all really, since this sounds from Strawson's review like an extended essay poeticising the compatibilist perspective. Compatibilism is the surprisingly popular philosophical position (at least popular among philosophers) that we have no free will (we're puppets or marionettes) but it seems as if we do, so we can carry on assigning moral agency for acts and behaving as if we have free will, and it will all work fine. It's hard to guess if it is Strawson or Gray whose view is being outlined in parts but the oddly confident view that the world might have been made by a committee of demigods but "it couldn't possibly have been made by an omnipotent and benevolent God" chimes in neat contradiction with the similarly strong assertion that we cannot possibly know the answer anyway, due to "how often we are wrong - hopelessly so - about who we are and what motivates us". Simply saying that it seems highly unlikely from where we sit now that the world was made by a benevolent force doesn't appear to be enough. Nor does Strawson/Gray feel it sufficient (Strawson says we are hopelessly wrong about what motivates us, then steps back and calls this an exaggeration, and then reasserts the "astonishing extent of our self-ignorance") to say something milder about our own ignorance, such as that we deceive ourselves a lot and seem easily led. The review moves on to a general pessimism, again asserted with the sweeping-arm-gesture terms ("inescapable truth") that suggests this review was written in a bit of a hurry, perhaps on a bottle of rather good wine. "Gray couples [this] with an inescapable truth: 'the human animal is unnaturally violent by its very nature.'" What it's like to be unnaturally violent is one question, while I suppose the unnatural-by-nature wordplay is deliberate, but the book sounds not worth the reading time. I quite enjoyed a Gray book a couple of years ago, but that one was probably enough. I get what he's about.

March 22nd; Sunday. Lovely dinner avec smooth white wine at Terri & Alvi, who says his payment-app start-up chose elliptical-curve cryptography from the beginning.
March 21st; Saturday. Annika is in town, so we meet for coffee. And the healthy, futuristic bottled water without bottles is already with us.

March 20th; Friday. Twitter learning curve goes on.
March 19th; Thursday. Film-maker Peter has another lush film out. Looks polished & naturally much better than the 50 Shades film on similar bondage theme, though that's hardly a high bar to clear.

March 18th; Wednesday. Occasional days of sunshine Actually Warm If You Stand In It, like yesterday, continue to alternate with days of chilly wind & scudding grey skies. Regarding the sun, a useful summary on why fossil fuels are still good, and the rediscovery of a hidden WW2 Nazi underground lab with radioactive walls. They might have got closer to cracking nuclear chain reactions than we thought.
March 17th; Tuesday. Show Engineering Gabor a charming short video (with folk song) of some daredevil Arabs seemingly showing they can remove & replace wheels on a car while driving it. He confirms this trick is technically possible on a 4x4 vehicle. In the shopping centre last ten days keep passing some sales girls at a stall selling a range of numbered scents without names. The way they do their make-up reminds me of the assistants at the sales pods that used to fill the ground floor of Kendal's department store in Manchester. These perfume and cosmetics desks made out of backlit panels looked a bit futuristic to me as a boy when I went in there with my mother. My first impression of Continental Europe in the 1990s was that even then these white backlit panels were more common in French bookshops and German newsagents than at home in Britain. The strong, slightly sickly smell of combined perfumes around this desk in the shopping mall here takes me back to Kendal Milne's, but also the way 2 of the women who work there do their shmink. The Kendal's perfume sellers used to have an oddly bold style of make-up, involving a lot of backswept blusher & extreme eyeshadow, almost streamlined, that I don't see much in Hungary - except again now at this one numbered-scent stall. Both a bit lamb-dressed-as-mutton-dressed-as-lamb (girls in their mid-20s putting on make-up the way some women in their 40s trying to look younger do) and perhaps vaguely space-stationy, but even more so. The result was the Manchester cosmetics reps of my childhood (and a couple now at the plaza here) didn't & don't look completely human. It was as if they wanted their faces to resemble sports cars.

March 16th; Monday. Stimulating chat with Tamas about #4G telephony, and how you'd design a phone system that abandoned point-to-point structure to dispense with #metadata.
March 15th; Sunday. Some days ago saw on the tram a near-perfect face of sourness: a man in his 50s whose face was so suffused with disappointment and resentment the flesh seemed to have changed into another kind of skin-coloured substance, a sort of waxy avocado-like membrane. His eyes were cold, but something more charged than just cold. In his steady gaze at things near & far I could see how the whole world around him absolutely proved some disgusted worldview, almost to the extent of making that dark theory beautiful.
Meanwhile here's a remarkably lucid account of an appealing-sounding idea to explain why quantum effects only happen at small scales. It's that quantum superposition is an NP-hard problem, and therefore limited to groups of particles (the theorist Arkady Bolotin suggests) somewhat smaller than Avogadro's number.

March 14th; Saturday. Yesterday turned up 10 minutes early to teach Rheumatology Kata and she clicks hurriedly down the corridor towards me waving her arms and apologising profusely. This is because she's cancelled several lessons in recent weeks & is unable to keep this lesson either. She arrives outside her room still saying sorry and then in a sudden moment of inspiration cries "Chocolate!" She lets me into her office briefly to hand me a box of chocolates (patients give her confectionery every week). I laughingly accuse her of just wanting to keep her figure slim and I tap her trim waist with the big flat cardboard box, the sort of behaviour that gets you sued in Britain these days. Since we're in a normal country she carries on unhappily apologising, but also blushes and bridles appreciatively. Russian DJ radio show from last month: Lady Waks #317. Waks has an impressive collection of naff outfits: different one for each show.
March 13th; Friday. Wonderful quadruple negative BBC subheading now changed to a mere triple negative. Originally said a judge blocked an appeal against an appeal against a not-guilty verdict.

March 12th; Thursday. Quick search suggests your humble correspondent is sole source of phrase #paperised #cryptocurrency. Yes, checked -ized.
March 11th; Wednesday. Esoteric chat at cafe with charming Zita.

March 10th; Tuesday. One of those Spectator articles on an obvious, simple wisdom that we're all aware of but rarely admit out loud. Such as: No, losing your job doesn't teach you anything. Why would it?
March 9th; Monday. More interesting research into what people say they want in a lover versus what they show they want.

March 8th; Sunday. A couple of quite good short introductions to random forests in machine learning.
March 7th; Saturday. Still colouring in my polystyrene cockerel/rooster with leftover mini-tins of enamel paint. The life-sciences cluster in Dubai rejoices in the name Dubiotech. Shouldn't laugh.

March 6th; Friday. Finish Buchenwald book-review translation.
March 5th; Thursday. Full moon and the build-up last week cues feeling of lightness, as if a corner's been turned. Instead of the power drill into the wall I get from some obsessive picture-hanging neighbour 4 or 5 days a year, this time it's a nail being hammered. Would it be hard to design walls & floors that muffle sound? No, clearly it wouldn't: you'd use some kind of cheap composite that interfered with the resonant frequencies. Make a proper start on translating the short book review about this.

March 4th; Wednesday. Real spring thaw in the air. Suddenly the streets & the trams & the underground trains are full of beautifully-groomed willowy girls in black leather jackets. They're all staring or glaring into space trying to act as if they haven't spent hours getting their hair nice, taking enormous trouble with the eyeliner, grooming themselves beautifully. They sit on public transport, either glowering at their smartphones or looking fixedly ahead like Buckingham Palace guards, concentrating their steely wills on pretending they aren't bursting for some handsome young blade to come over and start a convo. After meeting Boardgame Orsolya (she rates German forex trader Birger Schafermeier & is delighted when I relate the famous Bruce Lee advice) I get on the number 1 tram, stationary at the terminus. We all wait for the driver. An immaculate blonde whose long high-toggled ponytail bobs about if she moves sits down across from three sleek brunettes and it all goes a bit quiet.
March 3rd; Tuesday. Short review of a friendly Norwegian TV show in which left-wing social-science dons struggle to explain why biology doesn't affect their subjects.

March 2nd; Monday. Interesting that my software project-manager student Akos totally agrees with me on two topics: 1/ Artificial intelligence isn't intelligent at all without autonomy, and no use to us with autonomy; 2/ Self-steering road vehicles are a hugely wasteful misapplication & misallocation that much better suits driverless freight containers on an enlarged rail network. Nice absolute beginner's intro to cell structure: short talk & slide show. Earnest American keeps it clear.
March 1st; Sunday. Another topic from yesterday's lunch was my new interest (only 3 days still) on learning how Twitter really works. The iterating learning loop continues. Meanwhile, intriguing half-hour film from early 70s purports to show a young, rather sweet-looking Uri Geller submitting to telepathy & clairovoyance tests (some semi-rigorous, some less so) with Stanford University researchers including a man by the wondrous name of Targ. Start at 0 mins 49 secs to snip off pompous opening film credits & naff spaceship graphics. Also note vile period office art on walls of room above brown leather couch.

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