to links pages 
phone texts to Skype = mark-griffith
Tuesday. Run into Jay on street walking two handsome black labradors. He tells me a ghost-writer friend of his decades ago in New York was behind the 'French Connection' book & film.
Monday. Sun without sunspots every day for a fortnight - the longest period in almost a decade. More cool weather likely.
Sunday. Oddly cheerful article about the "Byzantine" trick images that show how easily "AI" visual "recognition" can be fooled. Anyone cosy with the concept of self-driving cars should read this.
Saturday. Some miscellaneous Bassett Allsorts of general info: (1) a chess problem Dr Penrose believes is vulnerable to human, not computer, intelligence; (2) A US Democrat bemoans thinking inside the Democratic party; (3) A Republican with an odd-sounding thesis about a
continued Obama role in US politics; (4) Scientists ponder how brains seem to
keep thinking 10 minutes after death; (5) 10 real Lysistrata-style
sex strikes that happened; (6) Perhaps interesting statistics on consumption of pornography in Muslim countries.
Friday. Must see a barber. My rapidly-growing mullet is moving dangerously into Teddy-Boy/North-Korean-dictator coiff-fusion territory. Speaking of police states: more good data from one of our contributors.
Thursday. Read a copy of 'The Real Right Returns' by Daniel Friberg. I don't really agree the term "right wing" is the one to use, but he argues trenchantly in clear short sentences for a non-violent, unembarrassed return to traditional values in Europe, a sort of moderate nationalism/Eurocentrism. Insofar as he suggests in one or two paragraphs we have lost something by exiling aristocrats from power, this could even qualify as real right-side Legitimist stuff. Rather charming be-a-man-about-it and we-must-protect-the-womenfolk themes embedded in the Proud Christendom manifesto.
Wednesday. Toothache returns, annoyingly on the day every single shop shuts to honour Hungary's opportunistic me-too uprising on March 15th 1848. This was a couple of days after Vienna rose up on the 12th & 13th, just for some unkind context. For this I have to spend an hour searching for a pharmacy that will sullenly serve me antiseptic against the pain through a small cubby-window at a higher price.
Tuesday. Sankt-Peterburg DJ chooses a surprisingly gentle, soft-centred set of tunes for show #420, while dancing around mainly for the benefit of someone on her phone. Could this be lurv?
Monday. Train back to Budapest. Lovely Indian dinner with Zoe & Mark, who tell me some gossip both useful and entertaining while insisting, despite my doubts, that Brussels is another dimension of boring. In separate developments, gentrification is apparently an evil plot.
Sunday. Some heave-ho at Robin's in the countryside as Gyorgy, Istvan, Robin, and I use shoulder bands to lug a big metal stove into the studio. Zeno the Alchemist directs operations. Apparently when I fall asleep in a corner of the studio later, I snore like Domor the larger Komondor dog, serenely undisturbed by sounds of sawing and hammering.
Saturday. Read a copy of 'What Am I Doing Here' I find in Robin's library, a miscellaneous set of essays, some very good in parts, by travel writer Bruce Chatwin. In an offhand remark at the start, Chatwin confesses to once lacking confidence in his writing. This might concentrate some readers' attention. Indeed his essays rather depend on closely observed situations with unusual people in exotic locales. Yet the actual writing, as he candidly half admits, is not so good. The final essay has a curious penultimate sentence where someone advises him not to let anything artistic get in his way. The essay closes cutely with the one-line paragraph, "I have always acted on this advice." The essay before (about a fly) ends with the one-line paragraph, "'It must have come in with you.'" An essay about three before that one ends with the smug one-line paragraph, "I too am mystified by this story." On top of which, like O. Henry's citizen of the world who betrays himself in a remark on his home town, Chatwin's composure suddenly slips when he meets two British soldiers who were in the Falklands War, unable to hold his parochial anti-patriotism in. In one rambling essay about Indira Gandhi, a string of recollections and vignettes, some good, are jumbled together, and in parts it's confusing to follow what's happening. The article about Chinese emperors and rare horse breeds has some fascinating reflections on the pastoralist, the settled farmer, and the hunter. His piece about Afghanistan and several others have small moments of anti-western snobbery. The exotic foreigners are loveable and admirable while Englishmen abroad less discerning than himself are crude and narrow, almost as if he was getting Kipling upside-down. The metal of that subdued sneer against his own civilisation glitters into view in a couple of places. At the same time, Chatwin is so wonderfully travelled and has met such a rich range of interesting characters it's very easy to overlook how much enjoying his writing derives from them, and to not notice his lack of skill as a storyteller. An uncharacteristically readable piece about someone he met in old age, nihilistic German officer and diarist Ernst Ju:nger, forms an odd mirror to his own writing. It seems the German was skilled at writing coldly grand accounts of heroic violence balanced by eerie, refined botanical scholarship. Chatwin would like to have been an equally dazzling (perhaps more peaceful) English version of Ju:nger, I sensed.
At the end of a quite charming couple of pages near the end about a fine-art customer called The Bey, who Chatwin seems to have been very fond of, he strains to say something bittersweet about the man. We get an arch mixture of admiration and condescension: "I write about the Bey because people of his kind will never come again. His life, I suspect, was a bit of a sham. The Eye [his aesthetic taste] was always young and pure." Why on earth should "people of his kind -- never come again"? And given Chatwin's distaste for any imperial vision that makes people like the Bey possible, why should it in any case matter if people of his kind never come again? This collection left me wondering if Chatwin's life was a bit of a sham.
Friday. Robin picks me up and we drive by night out of town into the countryside. We stop at a garage out on the puszta. While I finish my coffee inside he goes out for a cigarette, being careful to stay away from the pumps. Two Romanian men are struggling to change a tyre (with no tyre-iron) on their van - oddly enough a van filled to the roof with tyres. Robin astonishes them by handing them the keys to his new car over by the petrol pumps and telling them to get the right tool out of the back while he continues his cigarette at a safe distance. Once we are out in the Great Plain, he shows me a giant bar of soap two inches thick and about a foot square. He obtained the bulbous cuboid pumpkin-coloured bar, positively craggy with craters and deep cracks, from an antique dealer. It has a date from 1960 scored into it with a knife. He tells me he bought a second one, even bigger, for the flat in Budapest.
Thursday. In the last 2 or 3 weeks there are renewed signs of flirtation from Lady Luck, though like all women, she wants me to show my cards first. I'm not saying Fortuna is "fast", but she certainly seems to reserve her come-hither looks for the bold. It really is as if there's a certain perfect blend of self-critical realism and cheeky chutzpah that it takes to turn nothing into something. Or turn a pumpkin into a taxi cab to glamour.
Wednesday. Long-term study of vegans finds a vulnerability to mental illness. Cheery cartoon pig on my block of lard seems to agree. Meanwhile, a very interesting piece of research concludes that banks are just as unhelpful as Bob Hope said, and poor people are rational to avoid them.
March 7th; Tuesday. About 10 days ago, one of the male cashiers (oddly they, but not the women, are made to wear black shirts) at the supermarket in the shopping-mall basement asked me with a twinkle in his eye if I didn't "usually go to Shatzi's till?" (I assume that's a Germanic name meaning something like Little Treasure.) The idea I always go to whichever queue is shortest seemed not to have occurred to him - though I try to have a jolly micro-chat with whichever cashier scans my bar-coded purchases so perhaps I don't seem like a man in a hurry. I asked him which one Shatzi is, thereby probably answering his real question. The little red-haired one, he said, puzzling me a bit, since there are two such. This evening, I'm surprised to see a new person sitting alongside a male cashier, learning by watching. The small slinky brown-skinned girl, perhaps Gypsy, I've seen for a few months strutting around on shelf-related errands deep in the store now doing her one-or-two-day apprenticeship to become a cashier. She seems perky, restless, looking forward to the extra pace of things to do.
March 6th; Monday. President Honey Monster's Trial By Rumour just gets more and more interesting. Added to this.
March 5th; Sunday. Feminist lady says what she wants.
March 4th; Saturday. "Queering outer space."
March 3rd; Friday. An engine with no cams. Moving pictures!
March 2nd; Thursday. 3 days ago finished first of the package of books posted by kind Amanda. '1565: The Great Siege of Malta' by Joseph Elull is a useful short introduction setting out the main events of Suleyman the Magnificent's attempt to conquer Malta that year, and thereby subjugate the Mediterranean and resume earlier Islamic invasions of Europe.
March 1st; Ash Wednesday. To mark the day, woman MP & Christian sports a cross smeared in ash on her forehead to a parliamentary committee meeting. Good for her.
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
Shrove Tuesday. More long-awaited improvements in dentistry. Versus what they used to call science fiction.
Monday. Are the Sankt Petersburg DJ's shows fluffier these days, e.g. here with #418? Or more fidgety? Compared to 7 years ago?
Sunday. Drinks with m and n, both on good form as we briefly touch on last summer's Turkish almost-putsch. Among other topics, m explains to me that not only was Unity Mitford obsessed with Mr Hitler, but he in his turn was obsessed with her. This was on the basis of her having been conceived in a Canadian mining town called Swastika, having Valkyrie as her middle name, and being a cousin of Churchill. Also m mentions a relative who used to talk of people getting "above their airport in life".
Saturday. Interesting case that the Democrats fell too much in love with data-mining. Writer calls for more narrative & story-telling, but oddly enough makes a rather data-driven argument for less data-driven campaigning.
Friday. Air almost warm. A scent on the evening wind I have noticed in previous early springs - cannot describe or pin it down exactly: a vague but distinct amalgam of several tree & plant blossoms under a frosted tang of wood smoke. Perhaps the moment for a wonderful confession. Determined not to be caught out by embarrassing hidden sins, a US political candidate has issued a list of all the naughty things he's done. Talk about going on the attack. Last night, I finished a copy borrowed from Robin of 'A Concise History of Venetian Painting' by John Steer. With calm poise, the author sails through five centuries from Veneziano to Guardi at the time of Napoleon's destruction of the political base of this unique culture just before 1800. Every page is well-judged, but the chapter on Titian and Tintoretto, plus the chapter on Vivarini and the Bellinis, are particularly good. Steer crisply captures the distinct vision of La Serenissima's civilisation worked in paint with sentences like (of Veronese's 'Feast in the House of Simon') "-- there is a muting of drama and restful opulence about it which expresses a highly-developed hedonism. It conveys a patrician ideal of noble persons in a splendid environment, acting out great events with aristocratic ease" - down to the bittersweet words in the penultimate paragraph: "-- there is a real sense in which Guardi, although a Venetian born, is the first painter to look at Venice like a tourist. He sees her as a romantic image rather than a reality and, by thus raising her into a creature of the imagination, finally deprives her of life."
Thursday. I'm sure it lost lots in translation, but since a friend with a boat is currently exploring the beaches of Chile, broadcasting the occasional haunting photo of deserted coastline, some Neruda verse put into English: Enigmas
You've asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
Wednesday. Rather charming tapestry of triangles: orderly but with just a smidgeon of disorder (scroll right) to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Tuesday. So we have the Prince Charles project to sterilise grey squirrels with spiked Nutella.
Monday. One Bragg radio discussion that gives proper value: Boethius. Odd moment where the host, a left-wing Northerner, suddenly confesses deep admiration for Elizabeth 1st.
Sunday. Nazis tried to breed talking dogs: real journalism.
Saturday. Apparently a breaking story in the Telegraph about Mr Bercow and Mr Vaz. Or not.
Friday. Not so odd that the pro-Chomsky linguist misspells "peek" but never mind. Nice bit of multi-dimensional language wibble. Who ever thought language was linear, though?
Thursday. Talking of hateful things, here's a 14-legged telepathic shape-shifting megasquid reported by a Russian scientist in Siberia. Spending months at a time in that bleak landscape probably not good for a man's soul.
Wednesday. Lonely hearts can now bond with potential Valentines over hating the same things. A business idea that's born to win.
Tuesday. Canadian who beheaded man on bus in 2008 walks free. Seems he ate bits of him as well.
Monday. Engineer claims electric cars are "a fraud".
Sunday. Computers aren't automating dull chores, but
automating fun stuff instead.
Ewan recommends a book about leftist history leftists would prefer forgotten.
Friday. Internet identity can be tracked across browsers now.
Thursday. Some chill returns. People on public transport all over Budapest sulking again. Now we cannot trust taped speech or videoed faces. Good, in a way.
Wednesday. Another slightly weird attempt to do maths on novels.
Tuesday. Research suggests people in crowded conditions have fewer children. Thanks to Lily.
February 6th; Monday.
Lovely evening meal at Photographer Terri & Alvi. Philosopher Kerrie reminds me of a MacNiece poem I like: Snow
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it. ---
February 5th; Sunday.
On the subject of the streets coming alive, change in air and so forth, 3 versions of Donovan's 'Season of the Witch'. A puzzling song, that like many celebrated pop tunes hints at something it doesn't bother spelling out. What's all that "You've got to pick up every stitch" about, except as a lame rhyme? Yet frequently covered.
Driscoll, Augur, & overcoloured studio set;
Suck (Saffers, apparently);
Driscoll, Augur, & Trinity again.
Saturday. Temperature even higher, at around 5 of Mr Celsius's degrees - or 4 of Monsieur Reaumur's gradations - of warmth. Everywhere in Budapest, women are eyeing up any half-smartly-dressed man. Film-maker Troy shows me a piece on sound moving faster than light, not a misprint.
Friday. Suddenly a week of ice is thawing, and even at 3 degrees above freezing, it feels warm and like the first day of spring. From one day to the next, the mood on the streets shifts. As if from nowhere, there are now groups of girls at busstops and tramstops laughing, as if high, intoxicated on their own girliness. Suddenly 2 or 3 early-20s women on each tram have dark dramatic makeup, serious glares, and skin-tight black rubber or faux-leather leggings. The last couple of years this fashion has popped up more and more. The leggings seem to serve as a still daring, but slightly more prim, version of thigh-high leather boots, considered a little too raunchy for daytime wear even here. Bright sunshine coming through fog creates strange effects. Interesting conversation with Boardgame Orsolya about nutrition. Fascinating but misguided article on early digital pseudo-life (cellular automata etc). Writer seems to struggle to see that simulated molecules or simulated amino acids are still just simulations. In the last ten minutes before the supermarket shuts, I buy for the first time in my life a block of lard. It's wrapped in quaint waxed paper instead of plastic or foil, and on the paper there repeats a cartoon image, wallpaper-style, of a plump cheerful pig. He strikes a jaunty pose, dressed in blue dungarees.
Thursday. Recommended by
some vaguely gloomy not-quite-minimalist music from a German who lives, as did Sebald, in Britain. Perhaps being German and living in Britain is a combination which encourages melancholia. Listening to this all the way through, it strikes me as the kind of music for a film where aliens from a distant galaxy come to earth but are too depressed to make up their minds whether to kill us or not. Then I find as it ends that indeed it was the same composer who scored a recent sci-fi film I'd read about. In this a woman linguist communicates in a language of circular coffee stains with beings inside what one friend notes are giant segments of Terry's chocolate orange. My perceptive powers as keen as ever. Crossing the river for coffee with Esoteric Veronica, fog cuts off both banks completely and even the surface of the river under the bridge melts into the cloud.
Wednesday. Another article of mine, 'The Year of the Trumpster'.
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