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Friday. Here's a short account of governments mandating themselves back-door access to electronic communication.
Thursday. More wall & ceiling decorating at Heikki's flat. Today we tackle the biggest room, while breaking into chorus for Johnny Cash tunes.
Wednesday. Report at Heikki's flat for work, and Magdolna appears from her flat across the landing with a plate of apricots. Heikki & I get going on the ladders. Before long, like real middle-aged decorators, we're singing old Burt Bacharach songs out of key as we roller on the cream-coloured wall & ceiling paint.
Tuesday. Summery coolness continues. Delicious dinner with Terri & Alvi: they show me a short scene of Nordic monks decoding the codex.
Monday. Lunch with Heikki. We natter.
Sunday. Yesterday late afternoon the hot spell finally broke. Was inside the corner cafe when a rainstorm started that had a seriously tropical mood to it. Got going with rain so intense it was like the square outside was being power-hosed. The awning outside the cafe started to break after some minutes, not because of the weight of water ballooning in the cloth (waitresses were frantically emptying the water load by poking the awning from below at different points) but because of the sheer force the rain was spraying down with. After about ten minutes of this, the rain shifted into hailstones the size of buttons and this lasted another five minutes or so. After this, straightforward heavy rain continued for an hour. Suddenly coolness came. Today, Sunday, there are refreshing breezes. The streets feel totally different from the last 4 or 5 weeks now that the sun isn't glaring down on us like a mad colonel every minute of the day.
Saturday. We labour on through the heat, like B. De Mille Israelites toiling in the Valley of the Kings. Here's a fascinating three-minute film of a crow solving a tricky puzzle several humans I personally know would struggle to work out. A Wired video describes how easy cars are to remotely hijack/hack, possibly relevant to how investigative journalist Michael Hastings came to his sticky end just 2 years ago. Now as good a time as ever to hear some songs by L. Ron Hubbard's grooviest disciple:
Paper Tiger /
Think I'm In Love /
Cellphone's Dead /
The New Pollution.
Friday. A good example of how the heat's been affecting me (& others?) is that I've had the impression today is July 24th or 25th for about six days now. France passes a wonderfully shameless internet surveillance-&-snooping law. Why go through the pretence of using warrants or permits? Watch l'etat grant itself all the power! However, I think 'Le Big Brother' might be a major mistake that closes France and similarly Britain out of next-stage software development. We'll see soon enough. On the subject of police states, here are some songs from a psychedelic group that formed under Brazil's military dictatorship, starting appropriately enough with :
Panis et Circenses /
Ando meio Desligado /
Tudo Foi Feito pelo Sol /
A minha menina.
Thursday. Anywhere outside in this heat is effectively like being inside a giant armpit during the good periods or like standing right by an open oven door during the not-so-good periods. I take a tram trip to Tatra utca to try to find the elusive Huntowel firm. On a street corner in baking sun, I run into Heikki. We chat for ten minutes, and he says he thinks heat exhaustion is a lot to do with electrolytes and salts. I had no idea he was even in town. Since the cafe round the corner is a kind of massive heat collector, using the internet in there is not especially easy. Hours after bumping into him, finding a public-access place that is cool inside, I do some online reading on heat exhaustion and vertigo following Heikki's hint. What I read says it's all about the salt balance. Salty bacon pizza desire is my body craving more electrolyte thingies. For the first time in my life I buy some of that weird blue drink the bull-men swill in the weights gym. I now know the difference between
hypotonic. Knowledge is power, citizens.
Wednesday. Up at 6am, walk down to river to say hello to Mr Danube and then sign into gym for an hour of gentle aerobic exercise, in case I'm not getting enough oxygen to my brain or something unpleasant like that. By 11 or so am all packed and ready at the railway terminus for train journey down to the border with Serbia. Though wanting 2 slices of bacon pizza at the station might sound odd in cloying heat, I yield to the urge and feel much better for it. On the train I'm seated across the aisle from two people in their late 20s or perhaps early 30s, not sure, dressed like North Americans but both speaking good Hungarian into their mobile phones. From the girl comes Hungarian spoken in what sounds like a Toronto accent, all her sounds neat & square and ready to be popped into small rectangular boxes. Once off the phone they talk to each other the whole journey in English, he perhaps a MidWestern US person. ("Not a good feeling", she keeps rattling off.) As true North American immigrants they seem to regard their European languages as software tools for handling elderly relatives, not as actual means of thought or communication. I slip in and out of consciousness as they talk, trying to rest my head on my arms on my little table. One seat down from them are two Indochinese or perhaps Filipina ladies who seem to be having a cheerful conversation, although of course I understand nothing. They say things to each other like "Dugo-num." "Lolum? Choba!" "Chirong kuma?" Both quite proper in a charming way, it's as if they are constantly expressing polite surprise at the brightly-coloured pebbles they're showing each other. However, the two North Americans meanwhile have started to talk about Freud. "Freud was incredibly rigorous." she clips out in her tight chunky syllables. He chuckles agreement. She warms to her theme: "He changed concepts, he rethought them, sharpened them. You notice that in his writing." Oh yes indeed. As she says this the dark memory of reading Freud's actual writing swirls again before my eyes as I bury my head back in my arms: the long garbled sentences, his woolly rambling arguments and bizarre non-evidence, the vivid resemblance to text by someone who is drunk or brain-damaged, manic with self-belief despite the prose barely making sense. I swallow the urge to tell them it was Schopenhauer who discovered the unconscious half a century earlier and Freud was a Johnny-come-lately crank. "That's what I tell my students," adds the girl (she's allowed to teach something?) "It doesn't really matter if it's right or wrong. That isn't the most interesting question you can ask." She tells her companion work is a way to sublimate other drives, and he remarks on the shift between gaseous & liquid phases in matter, and they are both obviously excited by how multi-disciplinary their intellectual explorations have become. She brings up an article she read on Hiroshima as a sort of cultural theme in American writing or thinking or something ("It's a pretty complex piece of writing."), and expands on the beyond-right-and-wrong bit. A quietly bourgeoise lady opposite me in floral/tie-die compromise frock with chunky pearl bracelet has been subdued but now starts twitching oddly. The two Hungarian North Americans are talking about how funny it is when their contemporaries cannot pronounce Hungarian phrases properly (She: You speak Turkish? He: I used to). The suburban lady might lose it in a moment and start spewing molten lava. The plump girl next to me carefully avoids catching my eye. We both slide our glances across each other in the way you do sometimes so as not to lock gazes and commit to a glance agreeing mutual loathing of someone nearby. I've had enough, and don't want to witness the scene if my two neighbours lose their patience with the two across the aisle, so I move further down the train, finding the seat my ticket told me to sit in originally is empty and out of earshot.
Down at the border is hot and sleepy, prosperous villages where everyone has new cars, freshly-tiled roofs, and there are not enough trees to shelter my head from the sun. I meet some slightly clownish cigarette smugglers.
For the train journey returning to Budapest I draw several pairs of curtains closed against the sun down my side of the carriage, and scrunch myself up into a range of shapes in order to pass out for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. I've remarked on this before, but railways have been around almost 200 years now, stage-coach transport several centuries before that, and neither they nor the people who build aeroplanes or buses or cars or anything seem to realise they make seats we cannot sit in comfortably. It's almost magical how headrests are perfectly designed to not rest your head. No-one seems to have noticed, over several centuries of design and passenger feedback, that humans have a gap at the back which goes in from the shoulders to the neck and comes back out for the head. As a result, I doze in different twisted postures like a rolled-up beach towel. I awaken at various bleary moments to find my slob-like slouching form is surrounded by three separate elegant long-haired brunettes - two across the aisle, one facing me - all with long tanned legs, simple white shirts, and quizzical dark eyes that could be full of flirtatious humour if they weren't so cross about something. They're all staring into different regions of space looking vaguely offended. Back in Budapest I eat 2 more slices of bacon pizza, again feeling this was a good thing to do, despite the heat on the street being like someone firmly thrusting a hot pillow into your face.
Tuesday. Feeling much better, but revolting dizzy spells continue, despite drinking lots of water. I'll be in a cold bath when the whole bathroom tips over at 45 degrees and I have to hold on. The pharmacist suggests I stop caffeine. I do this.
Monday. Shortly before midnight last night and through the small & not-so-small hours this morning, sickening vertigo and convulsive vomiting gets my attention. I repeatedly throw up the water I'm drinking to stay hydrated. I think "projectile vomiting" was the phrase those London lawyers used when boasting of their bouts of heavy drunkenness. Now I finally understand what Dean Martin meant when he said you're not really drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on. About midday I make it to the pharmacist who gives me vitamin B6 to suppress the vomiting. This works.
Sunday. Read a short pamphlety book lent to me by Troy & Zsandi: 'Body Talk Access', a cheery introductory manual to a kind of energy healing system devised by an Australian man called John Veltheim. Strangely hard to find a review of that text or any mention of it as a text. Everyone links me to a video instead.
Saturday. Last night, Friday, I set off rather late for a party in Buda. Troy had instructed me to get the bus 102 from the Southern Rail Terminus, and I'd found the bus route in my decade-plus-old spiral-bound street atlas. But it is old, so I checked with the two ticket inspectors at the top of the escalator at the metro station. Oh no, they both said very firmly, nowhere near here. Seemingly sincere, they insist the 102 bus route was right the other side of town, over the river. I show them the old 102 route on my street map where I want to go. Ah well if it's Swabian Hill I want then I need the 39. I placidly explain it isn't Swabian Hill I want to go to though (the other end of the page), and we repair to the giant wall map at the escalator exit. We are way past winding-up-passenger territory when one man reverts to telling me how to get to Swabian Hill and I start to wonder if he's had a bang on the head. As we stand together at the giant wall map I say again I'm hoping the 102 bus is this side of town after all. I look at the blown-up inset map of just streets around the railway station while he peers at the other map lower down where the street names are much smaller. Finding the 102 bus stop clearly marked in the inset map, I go for the tactful option. I already can visualise where the bus stop is, but just to check I ask if the street named in the inset map is where I think it is? Oh yes, they both cheerfully answer with slightly blank faces, really not like two men making fun of someone. We part on good terms. The bus stop is there about 100 yards away from them, and a 102 bus arrives 3 minutes after I get there. The bus charges up into the Buda hills, thick leafy trees so heavy with foliage that on some streets they join together over the top and block out the night sky. People on the bus itself are helpful. A man with a bald patch, steel-grey hair bound in a ponytail, and an abstract-patterned short-sleeved shirt (differently-sized scratchy blue-grey lozenges jumbled together: the sort of design that used to cover seats in National Express coaches & British airport departure lounges) is very thoughtful and makes sure when we get off together that I know where the right street is. Troy and his girlfriend Zsandi are out walking their bouncy puppy Romeo and looking for me. They kindly ply me with tasty food at their house: we watch a couple of intriguing videos on a laptop, including this one from as-yet-undiscovered Bond villain actor Thomas Myers, here explaining the human body is held together in a flexible robust way with a mix of tensile and compressive parts. On the night tram home I meet a group of revellers who have just finished a term at a French business school in town I hadn't heard of. I keep telling them it's woefully out of date, but two of the girls seem almost hypnotised by a short 2nd-hand reference book of mine: 'Coopers & Lybrand Guide to Financial Instruments' from the mid-1990s by Donald Brooks and Robert Hertz. It details and risk-rates the early forms of some of those mortgage debt instruments before they went wrong in 2008. I finish this rather dry text today, Saturday, and there is an innocent pleasure to reading about such exotically-named objects as heaven-and-hell certificates, circuses, kitchen-sink bonds, or bunny bonds. I'd forgotten Asian options averaged the strike price. The two girls on the tram last night celebrating finishing some business course gave the impression of never having touched something not a college textbook, but I might be wrong.
Friday. Everyday heat continues. English garden maze.
Thursday. Two of William Blake's angels.
Wednesday. Is this what it looks like if you dress in smoke?
Tuesday. The day France commemorates a street mob in 1789 killing several people to storm a near-empty fortress to free 7 prisoners, none of whom were political dissidents. I stay up late to finish the book Julia gave me last Wednesday. By Dave Eggers, 'The Circle' is a vaguely dystopian novel set in the present. Like all good dystopias, it shows how horror (such as the French Revolution) emerges from utopianism. It's about a girl called Mae (perhaps some kind of play on "me" and "may") who moves to California and gets a job in a huge cultish internet firm called The Circle. This creepy organisation is clearly meant to blend Google, Facebook, perhaps Twitter (but mainly Google) with its vast ambitions and maniacal zeal to "set information free." A quiet Scientology joke buried in the back third of the story adds to the creepiness. While the characters are a bit thin, and one or two plot twists are predictable, others aren't, the yarn is compelling, and the warning is vivid. It's meant as a parable: it captures the self-righteous US belief in salvation by technology with disturbing accuracy. During a conversation with student Akos earlier today he defended the idea of self-steering aeroplanes and cars, even if no-one understands in detail how they work, as long as the statistics turn out safer. I offered in return Weizenbaum's argument from the 1970s that some things ought to be done by humans as a matter of principle, even if it entails more mistakes. The book later that night echoes our chat. Eggers in 'The Circle' stumbles a little because he both wants to write about right now, and yet also about a dark near-future outcome. This means that some things are overstated for the sake of the moral, making the fit with today a bit unrealistic. The idea that the internet might be (as it is) moderately stocked with people arguing against invasion of privacy and against the idolatry of data is not given proper space. So the book fails to explain fully how those stick-in-the-mud fogey types get outmanoeuvred. Still chilling though. A convincing portrayal of priggish techno-utopians who tolerate no dissent. Because anyone who doesn't buy their creed "just doesn't get it."
Monday. Down to Szeged to do some data-gathering. Cloudy British weather the whole way. While there half-hearted big drops of summer rain keep spitting down for a few minutes and then tailing off for half an hour, as if the weather is too apathetic to decide what to do. The streets are half-empty and the mood so grey that I buy a specially-reduced paperback translation of Scruton's 'Uses of Pessimism' with a bleak-looking grey cover to round off the grey mood of making things hard for myself. On train back I finish 'How Buildings Learn' by Stewart Brand, a large hardback gorgeously illustrated in line drawings and monochrome photos, all about how buildings get refitted, adapted to new uses, refurbished - how they develop over time. In many places, Brand defends decoration, defends vernacular building, attacks the impracticality and arrogance of modernism, but still cannot quite bring himself to see the Bauhaus or the International Style as mistakes. He makes a functionalist argument against self-conscious functionalism again and again, against the perils of "magazine architecture", the harm caused by seeing the architect as an artist, the costs of new untried materials. Stories are told of how impractical Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes were and how bitter residents of Lloyd Wright's Falling Water House nicknamed it "Rising Damp". How Richard Rogers' explicitly adaptable Lloyds Building and (with Renzo Piano) Pompidou Centre in fact aren't adaptable at all. (The 1980s Spitting Image TV show puppet of Rogers with all his internal organs on the outside of his body comes to mind.) The book is a strange blend of 90% US examples and about 10% British examples, and random quotes from the Duchess of Devonshire pop up in 4 or 5 chapters as if hers was the only large country house he had the energy to consider (perhaps an artefact of the British television series the book got connected with). After she mentions that on a comfy evening in her sitting room she enjoys sitting with her dogs - some with thick coats near the door, others near the fire - he makes the slightly stiff announcement "The distribution of the dogs, and her perception of them, signal a room thoroughly grown into.", the kind of ponderous sentence he brings out in a couple of places. But the overall mass of examples, interesting histories of adaptation, contrasting "Low Road" and "High Road" building categories, fascinating details about property development and facilities management, the sheer good sense emanating out of the many tales of different buildings, make this a wonderful book. Shame he comes so close to - yet still stops short of - identifying architectural modernism as a damaging assault on knowledgable organic tradition, and one of the biggest cultural catastrophes of the last hundred years.
Sunday. Waitresses in the cafe playing this oldie. What white pony? Pop lyrics can be puzzling.
Saturday. This might change your personality too: tweets sent out by a CEO who thought he was doing Google searches. Do we believe this one?
Friday. Here are 6 experiences which can change your personality. Very interesting they lead with organ donation.
Thursday. St Petersburg girl DJ's radio show returns to form with number 337, even if not sure about the new fixed-camera angle. Traditional stressful stretch in the truck-tyre retread shop starts at about 15 minutes 30 secs. Got to admire one song's rhyme for "champagne supernova" though.
Wednesday. After yesterday's haircut, the sticky warmth continues. Today meet Julia and Ben - home from boarding school - for a coffee at Mammut shopping centre. Back near my flat in the evening, the girls in the cafe try to be pleasant but with electric fans fighting a losing battle against blood-temperature heat everyone's smile is a little bleak. A small squarky dog that seems to belong to the Persian cafe owner has a particularly piercing bark.
Tuesday. 1 or 2 commentators in the 1970s predicted automation & more computing would lead back to an economy where most people worked as servants: this article says something similar if less well-thought-through. Conversation lesson with Engineering Gabor, who a fortnight ago told me how a couple of years ago he began studying (alongside his many years of aikido) Systema Sibirski, a Russian martial art for Spetznatz commandos. At first sounded like a type of Soviet Krav Maga, but after listening to Gabor a bit more and watching 1 or
it starts to look more esoteric, like a kind of Siberian Tai Chi.
Monday. Greece's Dr V speaks.
Sunday. A vote today in Greece on whether they get lent more money, or refuse to pay back the previous loans. Win/win!
Saturday. The girls in the cafe are tuned to a radio station which has spoken Dutch and plays lots of reggae. More buzzing in the sky. A lovely map shows north and south Americans what country is directly the other side of the sea. So for example, New York is round about the latitude of Portugal, and Virginia is already at the height of Morocco.
Friday. Wake up to buzzing sounds in the sky. Little biplanes, probably painted in the colours of the Austrian caffeine drink Red Bull, practising I assume for the weekend air race over a stretch of the Danube that drinks brand usually sponsors. Irish online journalist acquaintance Ruth writes an article claiming Sinn Fein are getting scared as the implications of their support for the political party swiftly bankrupting Greece start to sink in. Late at night I finish reading and lingering over a short biography, beautifully illustrated, of 'Michelangelo' (concentrating on his drawings in red & black) by Hugo Chapman. Student Lorinc kindly lent it me. Mother would have loved to see this book.
Thursday. Very warm & sticky. My Wifi playing up again. How to cleanse the soil in your vegetable patch of heavy metals.
Wednesday. Now that no-one in Britain says "it's all gone Pete Tong" any more, time to play It's All Gone Pete Tong.
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