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Tuesday. Experienced Hungarian lawyer tells me has seen in the last decade a fall-off in both 1) curiosity about international legal discussion and 2) intellectual quality among Britain's highest judges since a) drastic reduction to Lord Chancellor's role and b) removal of judges from House of Lords to separate Supreme Court.
Monday. Pet dogs frolic in 17th-century university library.
Sunday. Chilly weather suddenly lifts. Sunspot numbers are still falling though.
Saturday. Continuing disagreements about President Honey Monster and Russia. Article finds the Russia-hacked-elections evidence weak. Another piece points out that officials from FBI never asked to see servers involved. Another website catches Washpo puffing up Russian electric-grid hack non-story. Glorious urinating-Moscow-prostitutes allegation still in full blossom.
Friday. Two December radio shows from Sankt Peterburg DJ:
Thursday. 1960s actress Fran Jeffries died back in mid-December.
Wednesday. Vampirism works!
Tuesday. Lucid summary of foreign-policy events in December by man in cowboy hat, including thoughts on the ambassador offing.
Monday. Miraculously, after I get paid twice as much as I expected by the magazine, I'm able to redeem laptop, plus new topcase, from the laptop people. Otherwise couldn't have paid them.
Sunday. US women to protest against Donald Trump by wearing pink pussy hats. Not yet anatomically correct knitting, but doubtless that will come.
Saturday. Polish anglers find Nazi officer inside fish. Supposedly.
Friday. Young Lorinc explains some of the moves he finds hardest in skating, and I get him interested in one of the short stories in 'The King in Yellow' collection. All about a ghastly, unspeakably horrific book that drives you insane if you make the mistake of reading it.
Thursday. Good article about a new translation of a short book from John M.'s house by Spengler, author of 'Decline of the West'. Though I'm still an optimist. Am I "cowardly" or "criminal" in Spengler-speak, I wonder?
Wednesday. Get to the end of a compilation of verse borrowed from Robin, 'A Book of English Poetry - Chaucer to Rossetti', collected by G.B. Harrison. There are some odd choices, and the sheer number of writers forces him to trim down many to just one or two poems. The overall effect is grand though. The penultimate poem, Matthew Arnold's 'The Scholar Gipsy', is intriguing. One stanza reads
But once, years after, in the country lanes,
Two scholars whom at college erst he knew
Met him, and of his way of life enquir'd.
Whereat he answer'd, that the Gipsy crew,
His mates, had arts to rule as they desir'd
The workings of men's brains
And they can bind them to what thoughts they will:
'And I,' he said, 'the secret of their art,
When fully learn'd, will to the world impart:
But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill.'
Tuesday. Finish Heikki's gift to me from last year 'Righteous Gentile' by John Bierman, the inspiring yet sad story of young Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. The long back half where he disappears into the USSR's prison system for decades, recalls Wilde's bitter remark that no good deed goes unpunished. Countless Soviet bureaucrats literally could not imagine a wealthy aristocrat from a neutral power endangering his life merely to save hundreds of the Jews they despised so much (therefore he must be a spy). This fact is almost enough by itself to prove the worthlessness of the 1917 revolution.
Monday. Train journey back to Budapest. Finish reading Che Guevara's 'Bolivian Diary', a slightly odd but intriguing Christmas present about the pop-star communist partisan who died in 1967 trying to overthrow Bolivia's government and almost at once become a bedroom-wall poster. This is a depressing read because it's easy to imagine how thrillingly heroic it must seem to immature readers lacking in human sympathy or understanding (lonely schoolboys, for example). To anyone with a more experienced eye what jumps out is the humourless, unreflective dogmatism of both Guevara and Castro (the edition has a pompous, mechanical introduction from Fidel, who outlived Che, imposing the communist dream on several million luckless Cubans for another half century).
The stiff-necked dullness of Guevara's minutely detailed combat diary (there is almost no fighting) in his last 11 months leading his band of revolutionaries through Bolivian hill country is puzzling at first. It reminds us he was a medic as well as a Marxist, and therefore apt to take himself very seriously on both counts. Still, reading this account from cover to cover it's hard to see what the point of the diary was in practical terms. The claim is, Guevara is earnestly noting down lessons and mistakes so as to hone his team into a successful spearhead for leading the overthrow of Bolivia's government. Yet a reader soon feels this was meant to be a statement, a kind of justification for his short, violent life - a record of why he felt what he was doing was righteous and glorious, disguised as a low-key, no-nonsense combat notebook of daily privations, injuries to his team, and distances walked. It was obviously of huge potential value to the government forces tracking them, and therefore supreme recklessness to be writing it in the first place. Even had his force grown bigger, the geographical information alone in the diary if captured would almost certainly have made the decisive difference in crushing whatever larger revolutionary movement he'd created. Yet that was the thing he claimed to be sacrificing everything for.
However if the goal was to leave a personal memoir of a conflict he suspected he might not survive, to burnish his own Marxist sainthood with an autohagiography, then he succeeded brilliantly. Read naively by someone who lacks discernment, this is an exciting day-by-day account, written in modest, unpretentious entries, of a romantically doomed historic struggle. Read a little more shrewdly, this is a tedious 11-month text where he sabotages the chances of the revolution he claimed to fervently desire, as well as the plucky band of comrades he was leading to their deaths. Both were probably sacrificed on the altar of Che's posthumous reputation by this incriminating, boring, yet "gritty" document. It has thrilled millions of boy readers despite lacking any literary or military merit. The whole point of reading it is you know he dies at the end. Reading it is an act of religious homage by penitents who piously trudge through the daily entries up to his capture.
Che's sabotage of his band's chances is not only in the act of writing the diary. It slowly becomes clear that his feckless leadership is what gets him and his men killed in the end. This detailed account of a difficult, not to say pointless, long march trying to "raise the consciousness" of understandably nervous peasants in remote districts shows none of the cunning and patience of Mao, nor any of Castro's luck and audacity.
It quickly becomes clear that Guevara was not a talented officer, nor a memorable writer, nor a flamboyant bandit. Like the narrow-minded medical student in the German joke who's handed a phone directory and immediately asks when the test is, Che shows himself here as a plodder. The mass of detail, his tendency to note down any event without an apparent pattern or system ("---the pig arrived, quite a large one", "Two turkeys were caught, a small animal was trapped but its foot was severed and it was able to escape", "Miguel still has a high fever", "We postponed target practice because of rain", "No special news today") remind the reader of someone mediocre struggling with what he feels is a historic task, yet a task which is beyond him. Guevara has no overview of his band's situation as they get increasingly encircled. They frequently get lost. They frequently lose specific men for days on end. Simple things go wrong for them. They are incompetent at hunting for food. They go round in circles without any apparent plan, struggling to cut paths through thick undergrowth. Worse still, Guevara quarrels with his men and comes across as a poor commander. He has to resolve what he feels are childish disputes, yet fails to. He writes that he must have a word with this comrade, yet doesn't talk to him for days. He writes of one man's desertion, yet he is still recorded as with the band several days later. He punctuates their aimless forest wanderings with finger-wagging little speeches to (he thinks) buck up morale. He repeatedly blames other people, in prissy tight-lipped prose, for shortcomings like lack of maps it was obviously his responsibility as leader to secure. He lacks initiative or flair.
It started to cross my mind that Castro sent the good-looking wannabe commando on a doomed mission to get him out of Cuba (perhaps as a possible political rival) for ever. Castro and he had seen live action together before, and Castro perhaps knew from close-up experience of his character that Che was gullible and wouldn't last long if given command in hostile country without proper support. Not the slightest hint of any suspicion of this shows in Che's unimaginative, bureaucratic text. It never occurs to him he might have been duped by Havana. You get just the faintest feeling he subconsciously sensed he was never coming back though. Otherwise why record all this banal laundry-list prose, except as a testament?
New Year's Day. Robin returns from Debrecen. NYMEX closes open-outcry pit. Should be obvious by now this is a dumb move, you'd have thought. Intelligent people in the 1980s already could see it was a mistake closing trading floors - how slow off the uptake can you be? 30 years and they still don't get it?
New Year's Eve. Undisturbed by company, Zeno & I see in the new year with a small schnapps. As we prepare supper together by candlelight, Zeno tells me that (he says) all traditional cultures before the 19th century held the wife's family to be a bad influence on any marriage, even if they were kindly & helpful to a young couple. I wonder if that's true? I finish an interesting book Paul M. lent me, dismantling well-entrenched myths about negative Catholic influences on the modern world. 'Bearing False Witness' by Rodney Stark (not a Catholic) convincingly shows a set of claims, from Church antisemitism, hostility to paganism, hostility to science, vicious use of the Inquisition, promotion of slavery were all either hugely exaggerated or just made up out of whole cloth.
Friday. Zeno & I potter about at Robin's farm. Gyorgy brings strange news that Zsuzsi's horse Solero kicked his way out of his box last night and was found in the morning together with the two cows Daisy & Kamilla in their box, as if something frightened him in the night. In the day take Solero an apple and, back in his proper compartment he does seem a tad nervous and distracted, though he graciously acknowledges that I brought him a tasty snack for once. Here are some excuses for not doing homework.
Thursday. Robin drives off to Debrecen.
Wednesday. Robin & I tackle the chopped up acacia trees, moving the logs of firewood from under the big sheet of black plastic on the grass to the covered walkway outside the house. We stack them against the wall of the house, ends facing out, to dry out in a neat German-style, three-foot-high wooden barrier of fireplace fuel.
My laptop inexplicably dies. Might be another dead topcase.
Tuesday. It feels quite remote here, but what counts as remote?
Boxing Day. Empty pale blue skies scoured by scraps of cloud, like white wire wool. The upper studio windows next to the sofa look out on a bare tree, its bark golden in winter sun. One of the white shaggy komondor dogs has decided it is her responsibility to put me in my pen at night, so I find her dozing outside the door of the studio where I sleep the last two evenings and mornings. My Salisbury Review article about Scrooge goes online.
Christmas Day. Unto us a child is born. The latest estate worker Gyorgy pops into the kitchen early afternoon to announce a lamb was born this morning. Zsuzsi takes me to see the pigs, a new species on the farm since I was last here, and they have mud and trees in their chicken-wired enclosure. They crowd up against the wire, snorting and oinking loudly at us, indignant that we bring them no food. Nearby Zsuzsi & I visit the new lamb in a small roofed open shed fenced but without walls which can only really be described as a manger. The two of us climb on haystacks to see the other lambs over the wooden partition while the ewes watch us carefully. Darkness is already drawing in as we go back past the grumbling mob of swine. For dinner the girls make delicious roast duck with prunes.
Looking for another Scott, I find that hidden in his mass of nightclub-crooner ballads (each named after a woman), Scott Walker also wrote a handful of extraordinary compositions. Clean, crisp voice, rousing orchestral backing, simple-but-surprising melodies, clever-but-simple lyrics. Here's his grand monumental The Old Man's Back Again / then a
theme tune to a Spaghetti Western /
the psychedelic-new-childhood style Plastic Palace People /
another sound epic The Plague / and a defiantly ecstatic song of new beginnings:
Get Behind Me.
Christmas Eve. Back at Robin's farm on the Great Plain, and there are more animals each time. The whole thing is becoming very quack-quack here, a baa-baa there, here a moo, there a cluck, everywhere a so forth. After dark I slice strips of cloth out of a trouser pocket to stitch up ripped sleeves of a shirt.
Friday. Zsa Zsa Gabor died a few days ago, apparently at 99. Her joke about being a good housekeeper because every time she divorced a man she kept his house always made me uneasy, more so since I got to know Hungary. Her tall story about being deflowered by Kemal Ataturk was good though. Mid-evening after packing get to Robin's flat near Oktogon where I find Bela alone. We eat together and then while he goes to the other room to kill some imaginary commandoes in some virtual labyrinth on a laptop, I paint some of my fingernails silver to punish myself for biting them. Quite late, Robin, Bela, Zsuzsi & I drive across country in the dark, routing onto minor roads to get round some sad motorway crash.
Thursday. Among the animals, a Russian fisherman shows photos of his weird deep-sea fish, & a Russian biologist who spent decades successfully breeding tame foxes. Among the people, Japanese jazz pianist plays burning piano on beach, people convinced they remember watching a 1990s film that never got made, and another account of McKenna's favourite psychedelic drug, which still sounds alarmingly odd.
Wednesday. Another sexual-behaviour map: percentages of people in European countries who think consent is not always needed for sex. Eerie research suggests future criminals can be spotted even as toddlers. A major Swedish party's youth wing urges legalisation of incest & necrophilia: perhaps time to revive all those relatively boring & dead boring jokes. Venezuela's struggling socialist government gets festive by seizing toys off toy companies in the name of the tiny tots, reports one of our book's contributors.
Tuesday. Some chilly nights as temperatures drop. Thought-provoking map showing European countries legalising same-sex marriages over the last 20 years. I don't understand what the stripes mean, but behold the East/West divide!
Monday. On the time-travelling-Trumpster front, a fascinating suggestion that Honey Monster is attempting to rejoin parallel universes previously ripped apart. In other news, man with thin tie shoots Russian ambassador during art-gallery vernissage in Turkish capital.
Sunday. The ODNI & FBI are now falling into step with CIA claims that Russian state hacking enabled release of e-mails suggesting embarrassing things about Mrs Clinton's victory over Mr Sanders in the Democratic nomination. This detailed article describes what allegedly convinces US intelligence agencies that Russia tried to tilt the US election. Note the astonishing blunders that feared hackers of the FSB & GRU are claimed to have made, like adopting the name of a Russian secret-police officer during an exploit, or "forgetting" to set two accounts to 'private'. Plus an unrelated, but intriguing, article about the real-life struggles of Napoleon Hill, revered self-help writer and serial fraudster. (Not unlike the life of Carlos Castaneda 50 years later.) Interesting clues that one of Hill's later business partners was involved in Watergate in some unspecified way.
Saturday. Must be about 10 days ago now that I bumped into Xenia from the photocopy shop passing my building with a pram containing her six-month-old infant peacefully dozing inside. We chat briefly, while Baby snoozes.
Friday. Heartening news, O my brothers! Man flu is real.
Thursday. Apparently a strange 'Christian' cult is growing in China.
Wednesday. Provocative article + map claims immigration reduces almost every rich country's average IQ.
Tuesday. Two unusual articles for unusual people. The first urges death on Britons who voted to leave the European Union and gleefully argues Brexit voters are dying in larger numbers than the virtuous Remainers. The second reveals that lots of people in the USA are discussing whether Donald Trump has a time machine? Seems Honey Monster's uncle was asked to assess freshly dead Nikola Tesla's laboratory notes in the 1940s when the federal government seized them.
Monday. For more plausible evidence of Russian hacking: the 20,000 child-porn images supposedly found on the computer of Vladimir Bukovsky, long-time Russian dissident, exile, & critic of the KGB in his British retirement. The elderly, unwell Bukovsky, decades ago tortured by Soviet state psychiatrists, is countersuing Britain's Crown Prosecution Service. He deserves our help.
Sunday. A quick round-up of the latest allegations in the US presidential thingie. The CIA is claiming without citing any evidence that Russian hackers helped Honey Monster to win, even though those of us who were paying attention in the summer recall the incriminating e-mails in question being passed to Wikileaks by a (now-dead) Democratic National Convention staffer. A rather shouty retired British ambassador says the CIA is bluffing. Slightly more convincingly, the office that oversees all 17 US intelligence agencies also voices doubt & caution, although a bit more politely. Of possible relevance: a close relationship between the Washington Post, and Jeff Bezos, and the CIA.
Saturday. Refreshingly clear overview of gold market.
Friday. Not only are some evenings in this flat quiet enough to hear bubbles popping in a carbonated drink, but on occasion I can hear the muscles in my scalp and jaw move (it's a sort of low roar, like the sound of a distant bath filling). If I water my three potted plants, the rustling of water moving down through the soil is audible sometimes.
Thursday. Readable explanation of Bostrom's straightfaced claim we "probably live inside a computer simulation."
Wednesday. Interesting article about feared forthcoming Algerian civil war. Plus three articles about a scandal in the silver market,
three, emerging this week.
Tuesday. An article of mine about Sunday's vote in Italy goes online here. Meanwhile, academic paper ('Birth of the cool') claims written English fiction has become less emotional since 18th century / Biographer thinks Sylvia Plath might have been rejected by lover before suicide / Intriguing graph suggests people born since 1970 care less about democracy.
Monday. Buying some cheaper eggs all with white shells, realised that I haven't seen white-shelled eggs at the supermarket for years. Wonder if farmers now routinely feed hens some substance like caramel or some mineral to give the eggshells that country-goodness brown hue? Speaking of brown crunchy things, decided to check if burning my pasta sticks could affect health. Best that came up was an article about crusty bread & pastry: the Maillard Reaction.
Sunday. Rather political day, with Austrians (now they have enough envelope glue) choosing the Green presidential candidate by a narrow margin while Italians vote by a big margin against proposed changes to the country's constitution. One of our contributors noted market interest in this referendum some days ago. Partly an Italian protest against the devastation caused by the euro, partly a chance to force resignation of annoyingly smooth prime minister Matteo Renzi. Last Thursday's vote by a big swing to replace eccentric-but-once-loved MP Zac Goldsmith in Richmond, Greater London (one of the country's most pro-EU & pro-Green constituencies), with a pro-EU/anti-Brexit Liberal Democrat has been slightly marred. Allegations surface Lib Dems promised £1/4 m cash if the Green candidate stood aside. She did. The long-suffering Dutch finally get tetchy and address some pointed questions to their government about the euro.
Saturday. Unfortunate incident reported yesterday in Mongolia. Russian diplomat physically attacked the country's most famous rapper (of course, on the show 'Mongolia's Got Talent'), beating the man into a coma. Supposedly, displaying large swastikas in Mongolia is almost normal; ancient local symbol but also extreme-nationalist, anti-Russian symbol etc. Diplomacy thrives on free & frank exchange of views: "My son was hit in the face several times with a metal object."
Friday. Days and nights switching between temperatures. Sometimes warmish with winds howling or moaning through doorjambs & cracks all over the building, large crumpled leaves that look as if cut from brown paper piling up in mini-drifts in doorways. Sometimes mild rain, and sometimes numbing cold. Of course, local weather is not global climate, but apparently average global over-land temperatures fell by an entire degree Celsius, the sharpest drop ever recorded, just in the last 4 or 5 months. It seems the culprit might be the end of several years effect from a very warm El Nino current in the Pacific. For a bit of balance, here is a piece about possible major ice shelf calving in the Antarctic.
Thursday. Online chum Nick Jordan (no supporter of President Honey Monster, I should add) reports that "Last night I dreamt I was having dinner with Donald Trump. I gave him some much needed advice - something about making quick decisions like a businessman, not slow ones like a politician - and he gave me a battered, secondhand Rolex by way of a thank you. Then we went to the kitchen and put a couple of cats in the dishwasher. Only for a couple of minutes he said, it doesn't hurt them."
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
Wednesday. 4 days left before not one but two further Jenga bricks might be withdrawn from the tottering tower of Euro-doom. Postponed from October 2nd due to a curious lack of envelope glue, the Austrian presidential election revote is set for December 4th. Presumably Austria, a fairly modern economy last time I looked, has now obtained enough envelope glue to restage the 2nd part of the presidential election that narrowly defeated the Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer on May 22nd but was ruled July 1st to have suffered from irregularities. I wrote this up soon after (not my choice of headline, citizens). What everyone is worried about of course is that the nationalistic anti-foreigner party's candidate Mr Hofer will defeat the Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen. Peculiarly, both men are promising to be strict about immigration for Merkel's million migrants from the Islamic world, and yet at the same time both candidates deny the validity of Austria's current borders. Mr van der Bellen believes all Europe should be one borderless state, while Mr Hofer would like Anschluss (union) with Germany. My German-speaking lawyer friends assure me this kind of strangeness is completely normal in Austria. Excitingly, this latest date on Sunday now coincides with a referendum in Italy which is making financial traders nervous because Italy's banking sector (containing half the eurozone's bad debts) is unhappy about the euro currency - naturally enough. This is despite the actual referendum (to strip Italy's second chamber of many of its powers) seeming quite boring on the face of it. At least one of those two Jenga bricks coming out methinks.
Tuesday. I'm now worried about going into the pharmacist in the basement of the nearby shopping centre. Several years ago, buying a brand of children's vitamins I like, a friendly lady there asked how old my children were. Knowing that Hungary is a country that will sometimes refuse to sell you something because of the rules (children's vitamins must only be taken by children!), I lied, blurting something off-the-cuff like "3 and 8" (I think). I was hoping this had been forgotten, but the other week the same nice twinkly-eyed lady, beaming with parental camaraderie, asked me across the counter how my little ones were doing? Heart thumping, I mumbled fine and got through that moment, but knowing how women's memories work I bet she knows exactly how old my imaginary offspring are. Whereas I don't. She's probably ready with all sorts of motherly advice for whatever phase they're going through for that age. I might have told that fib 3 years ago or 5 years ago. No idea. How right the Jews are to drily warn that a liar needs a good memory. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.
Monday. It emerges that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died aged 90 on Friday. A fascinating split opens up between those who say he was just a police-state thug, and the others on the left still vaguely in love with those youthful photos of him and Che, fresh from killing some women & children, but looking romantically wild in battle fatigues, tousled hair, cigars, and (in Castro's case) a beard that gave him presence. Much nonsense said about Cuba having a good health-care system (from people who don't know any Cuban doctors personally), dealt with here. No-one seems to notice that the US trade embargo cannot be what kept Cuba poor since the much smaller, much poorer, and totally lacking in natural resources Hong Kong was embargoed for decades by neighbouring China. Yet Hong Kong went, under hands-off British colonial administration that supplied only policing & fair trials, from quiet fishing port to major world city. Cuba, however, didn't. It now lives off cigars and the remnants of what was once a better health-care system under the pre-1959 dictator Batista. Creepy new Castro-era word: 'exsanguinate' - to drain the blood out of someone the regime's going to kill anyway. Cubans driven into exile on the other hand made Miami a world city.
Sunday. Wake in the dim shadows of the small hours oddly convinced that a small stocky angel with outstretched wings is standing on my desk, watching over me. Part of me realises that this is a narrow stack of books symmetrically topped by two large-format books, and then my centrally placed round clock as the head - all seen at an angle - but the illusion is surprisingly persistent even after I decode it. Perhaps vaguely influenced by this modern bronze of a Saxon goddess pointed out to me by Troy.
Saturday. Tasty lunch and natter with Zizi & Csenge. Meanwhile, a new crypto-currency combines BitCoin & Ethereum.
Friday. Several impressive impersonations of US politicians. Plus a new beer which is bottled inside dead squirrels, thanks to 'Simon The Stuffer', since "Beer is art. Art is also art." The beverage "carries a distinct presence of candied fruit and marmalade."
Thursday. Lovely long lunch with Paul, who recommends I read some Stanislav Jaki.
Wednesday. Was it American comedian Chris Rock first pointed out what's odd about Honey Monster's leggy Slovene wife: she constantly looks like she's seen you somewhere before but can't quite remember where?
Tuesday. Disturbing research into spotting criminal faces before a crime is committed, even if hysterically written up.
Monday. Chat with student's father about Runyon short story The Brain Goes Home.
Sunday. 6 days ago on Monday, the Christmas trees reappeared in the shopping centre, alien green cones decked with balls of gold. The sentinels have returned to watch us consume. After the Spanish stall selling numbered perfumes vanished, and that section of floor was empty for a few days, a double-sided stand appeared hung with about 150 leather bags, wallets, and handbags. Warily minding the stock there all day every day is an authentic street-trader type. He has silver hair, steel spectacles, wears a zip-up parka indoors with the fake-fur-lined hood down, and scans the scene with a pair of sharp flinty eyes. He looks just how Britain's greatest 2nd-hand-car salesman of his generation, Bernie Ecclestone, would look after being stretched 6 or 7 inches longer on a mediaeval rack.
Saturday. My first time inside the Literature Museum. With Mihaly & Agi to a screening of Polanski's 1971 version of 'Macbeth' (co-adapted for screen with Kenneth Tynan). It's introduced by a genial British linguist with an interest in Shakespeare and films. He leads a short discussion afterwards, also in English. Before we watch it, this academic's ten-minute run-down of interesting features in the film to know about is excellent. For example, the fact this was Polanski's first film after his 8-months-pregnant wife was butchered by 3 crazed members of the Manson Family cult in 1969, or that a small eerie scene is added at the end, or that he ran out of cash filming on location in Northumbria and had to get emergency funding from Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. He also mentions in passing Welles' older film version of the Scottish play, shot entirely on theatrical stage sets, which sounds intriguing. Bit startling to see Keith Chegwin's name in Polanski's cast. Although as Mihaly points out to me in a whisper, the progressive-rock-musician haircuts very much identify the date it was shot. I felt Lady Macbeth was not quite sinister enough. In the discussion afterwards, someone English-sounding in the audience helpfully answers my question about how politically daring the original performance in front of Scots/English king James 1st was. A Hungarian man and a Hungarian woman several rows apart begin to disagree about the nature of Macbeth's villainy. They both show deep sensitivity to, and grasp of, the play in awkward contrast to my sketchy knowledge of Magyar literature (*fidgets*). After sharing wonderful insights, the linguist veers rather off-piste with a suggestion that the Brexit vote, the death of Jo Cox MP, and the election of Trump mark some strange new "post-truth" era when all presumption that politicians should speak truthfully is lost (as if entry into the EEC/EC/EU, never mind All Previous History, didn't mark that point better). I ask him what he thinks the Stalin show trials were, if not "post-truth", but no answer. Handling the hiccup much better than me, the police-state-reared locals tactfully conceal their embarrassment with the parochial visiting Brit, and gently steer him back to what he knows best.
Friday. Lorinc asks about chi & telekinesis.
Thursday. Meet Katarina for coffee.
Wednesday. During her lesson, slightly to my surprise, Zizi coins the phrase "trumping out" to capture the behaviour of some disappointed Clinton supporters. She then suddenly suggests tongue-in-cheek that the election might have been altered in Honey Monster's favour by time-travelling desperadoes coming back from the World-War-3 future in which Hillary won the election. Goodness. We talk for a while about alternative history and timeloops.
Tuesday. A new theory about small children's hide & seek games.
Monday. Robin & I are still both sad and a bit shocked that Sanyi of the Stranded Truck died suddenly a year ago or so, when both of us were preoccupied with other worries. Thin, wiry, cheerful, late 40s, missing some teeth, addicted to nasty black coffee, Sanyi was virtually the only adult on the Great Plain within 15 miles radius of Tiszainoka who never touched alcohol.
Sunday. Beautifully-illustrated piece on the struggles of Leibniz to build a mechanical calculator.
Saturday. Last night slept 10 hours. Annoying grey skies & rain all day. Cross town for coffee with Robin. Late in evening eat fabulous creamy chocolate/mousse/cake-in-pot from Romanian Adina. So intensely chocolatey as to be almost drug-like.
Friday. Last night slept 14 hours. In small hours of Saturday read a strange 1911 book by Rider Haggard 'The Mahatma and the Hare' with some wonderful
Recommended by Troy. Perhaps a source for 1972's 'Watership Down', only with an eerie esoteric component. Haggard says it was a vivid dream he had one night (that changed him), and the blend of local clarity and global vagueness feels authentically dream-like.
Thursday. Unusual day starts with the glamorous Adina hand-delivering her special chocolate cake to me in a cafe straight off the plane from Montreal, and ends with an evening of pizza slices at three interesting data-science presentations with programmer friend.
Wednesday. Read intriguing article recommended by Claudia about the people Piketty calls "supermanagers" and how they ran industry in Nazi Germany. Some interesting parallels with today, but the author's thesis looking strained by the end.
Tuesday. The office-block-building Honey Monster is elected US president in perhaps the strangest campaign of media bias and underhand tricks since ---well since this June.
Monday. A beautiful new gear-transmission mechanism. Elegant.
Sunday. Sad aftermath of the Carlos Castaneda yarn, still being sold as non-fiction.
Saturday. Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot; I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot! Yesterday evening as darkness fell in late afternoon, I once again descended like Gilgamesh into the sprawl of sheds and old warehouses up at the Chinese market district, in search of a herb. In one building the size of an aircraft hangar with steel rails (partly swallowed by old tarmac) set at right angles to the roof there was a huge space of deepening gloom. Only some grey dusk sky showed through a strip of glass roof fifty feet up not changing the blackness. At ground level inside the giant shed a few tiny stores were lit where weary but busy Chinese and Vietnamese people were heaving cardboard boxes of cheap clothes in or out of the backs of vans in the shadows.
Friday. Much excitement in Britain where a High Court judgment rules that the government cannot leave the European Union using royal prerogative (although royal prerogative seemed to be just fine for enacting the Single European Act in the 1980s deepening integration with EU law and enabling some euro-laws to bypass Parliamentary debate). While in 2013 when Britain's government obtained an opt-out from EU Lisbon Treaty provisions, again this move away from EU integration had to be debated in Parliament, not just prerogged into law. British parliamentary involvement seems very important to people who want to slow or modify any disengagement from the EU, yet not the other way round. A pro-federal valve? Odd also that parliamentary sovereignty should (they claim) matter so much to people who believe in the EU integration project and therefore ultimately want Britain's sovereign independence to dissolve smoothly into a larger, nobler eurostate.
Thursday. In the supermarket by day encounter a lass testing her power. Small, with improbably high heels and impossibly slim legs, she is moderately cute looked at coldly. Yet she generates an impressive force field around herself with exaggerated femininity. Deliberately prancing (not quite strutting) slowly around the aisles examining shelves in a vacantly posed way, she emits the classic some-suitable-male-could-flirt-with-me-now vibe at fairly high voltage. Tempted for a moment, I decide against. Something too steely and controlling in the whole presentation - but if this was Britain (or somewhere Nordic) the whole shop would be giggling and mocking her for "taking herself too seriously". Perhaps why there's more unironic sexiness on the Continent: less desperation to always find things funny.
Meanwhile, from the Donald-and-Hillary show, a careful analyst shows that famed pollster 538 has a pro-establishment bias, specifically a pro-Clinton bias. Some agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation seem to be furious with Mrs Clinton. One retired FBI official publicly describes the Clintons as a "crime family", comparing them to the Gambinos. One side is accusing the FBI of outrageously partisan behaviour so close to an election, while the other side accuses the Democrat campaign of politically pressuring the FBI to stop its year-long investigation into alleged abuse of high office by both Clintons. Meanwhile colourful ex-husband of Huma Abedin gets his moment of glory in a Steyn article.
Wednesday. A couple of academic papers to deepen our knowledge: the perilous whiteness of pumpkins / the black anus "as a critical site of pleasure, peril, and curiosity". Lots of peril, suddenly.
Tuesday. Day of the Dead. Nice cheery map of suicide rates across Europe (poor Lithuanians!) Since it increases with closeness to the poles, researchers into people who top themselves used to say Hungary is like a country with the profile of a Nordic nation, but 1,000 miles further from the Arctic. Notice here how perky Britain is, SelbstMord-wise, like a Mediterranean country, but 1,000 miles closer to the Arctic. Every place north of Milan has more suicide than Britain. Upper lip perhaps not so stiff after all.
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