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phone texts to 00 36 30 301 0712 & 00 44 794 792 6614
Thursday. After decades of drivel & destructive sedition, The Guardian finally redeems itself with
a worthwhile news story: 16th-century cats wearing rocket-powered backpacks.
Wednesday. A mild-mannered but intelligent article about why someone isn't a 'sceptic' (or more precisely, materialist).
Tuesday. Train back to Budapest. Vague stirrings of enigmatic uberhope as
spring plans comeback tour. Latest theory apparently is that
we're not fully adult until 25. That early?
Last night finished a book from Robin's library called 'The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici' by Christopher Hibbert. A grand overview with all the crucial family members well outlined over the period from the 14th to 18th centuries. What would have been helpful is a timeline or two, enabling overlapping lifetimes to be seen clearly, and more detail on some of the later patronage. While it is still extraordinary to realise just how many of the great artists of the Italian Renaissance (Fra Angelico, Fra Lippo Lippi, Michelangelo, Cellini, Botticelli, Donatello and more) were directly employed, promoted, and personally helped by Medici family members, there are later pieces of patronage connected to the rise of science that tantalisingly suggest that had Florence and their great family Medici managed another couple of centuries in the sun, the scientific revolution might have stayed and flourished in northern Italy. The ruthlessness of both the Medici and their enemies comes out well, though Hibbert makes the banking family sound relatively restrained. Nothing here to echo Anthony Blunt's eerie suggestion that the Medicis directly promoted neo-Platonist mysticism so as to subvert Florentine intellectual life and make it more amenable to political manipulation. Interesting portrayal of the firebrand priest Savanarola, and how he almost became the Italian Luther, 20 years before Luther.
Monday. Very quiet and restful day on the Great Plain. Things getting rather Graeco-Roman
in northern California again. Is it the return of the Purple People? "... or just another everyday San Francisco sex cult?"
Sunday. Online progress in the small hours with helpful advice from Cryptocash Sam.
Saturday. Robin & Letty drive out to the countryside with me, as I doze fitfully in the car,
bleary like a narcolept. I meet the new Transylvanian housekeeping couple Lacko & Joli properly
and hear about life in southern Romania. Interesting chat online later with Anaida. Oh yes,
Russian troops have invaded Ukraine to a/ "protect" Russian-speaking communities (perhaps the same
way they are protecting the pro-Russian president who fled Ukraine in recent days), b/ secure
their naval ports in Crimea. Events being described by one cruel wit as Obama's "Chicken Kiev" moment.
Friday. Boring rain in Budapest. Three curious articles:
a/ Ovulation makes women harsher to other women, but keener to appease men;
b/ Quite sweet story - the Dalai Lama on skiing & the meaning of life;
c/ Not-so-sweet story of Florence Nightingale's reputation being downgraded in favour of another woman in the Crimean War called Mary Seacole.
Thursday. A man born in 1790, the largely forgotten John Tyler who served as president of the
US in the 1840s, has two grandsons still alive today in 2014, although one is ill.
Wednesday. Sobering article showing how sometimes serious, life-changing accusations
are made very casually, that there can be smoke without the slightest scrap of fire. For those who didn't know this.
Tuesday. Pop over to see Paul up past the City Park, currently at home with a bad leg. We have a good natter, or at least I talk a lot, which perhaps isn't quite the same thing. He's currently reading
'The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England'.
Monday. Televisions that watch people (as laptops do already).
Sunday. Interesting research written up in the New Yorker suggesting that neither competitive job markets in the US, nor Scandinavian social democracy, nor communist revolution can level the playing field between talented families and the rest. All those three types of society get social-mobility scores around the same as England over the last 1,000 years. Perhaps time to stop the self-deception.
Saturday. Looking vaguely like a particle-physics diagram, here's a theory of everything from
the second-century AD. Followed by two bits of retro electronica, both set to footage of surfing in the 1960s and 70s:
Friday. Finish an Everyman collection of G.K. Chesterton's
'Stories, Essays, & Poems' I found in Robin's library in garish 1960s paperback format a fortnight
ago. To a book publisher's jaded eye this looks like an anthology of whatever bits of
writing it was feasible to get rights on cheaply. Many famous short stories are missing, and
there wasn't his intriguing essay 'The Province of Britain' (the English Catholic's interesting reminder of the need for historic humility written at the height of Britain's status as a global power circa 1900). Two essays directed at Dean Inge were one too many - one a kind of rambling Rome-versus-Britain discussion, the other a cleverer case made with Chesterton's usual paradoxical wit that Protestantism is the more superstitious denomination. His Zen-like Father Brown stories were limited to three, although two were very good, including 'The Blue Cross', perhaps his best. It's a scene from this tale that justifies the almost psychedelic cover of the paperback with the "small Essex priest" on a park bench and two helmeted London constables peeping out from behind trees, rendered in black, white, and violet pink.
Like most writers so much of their time, it can be hard to see 50 or 100 years later what all the fuss was about. Chesterton was partly an English Mark Twain, a generation younger. Both were waistcoated curmudgeons with walrus moustaches formed by the late 19th century. Both depicted themselves (not entirely convincingly) as plain-spoken champions of the simple man and consciences of their nation. Both rather enjoyed advocating unfashionable older ways of life (Chesterton's Victorian-mediaeval dream of the honest yeomanry of Catholic England / Twain's nostalgia for the fast-disappearing pre-1850 USA of small villages of pioneer backwoodsmen). Both defended fun and fairy tales, both were more than a little anti-intellectual. About the time Chesterton was writing The Province of Britain, Twain was expressing disgust at his country's new imperial identity during the Spanish-American War. The Christian poems at the back of the collection are especially odd: part-Hopkins, part-Yeats, part-Belloc, they show talent (there are gems like 'The Aristocrat') but it's no surprise that it was the magazine story and essay where Chesterton found his true voice. Sometimes his style palls - there is a kind of reflex use of paradox. Children's stories are very serious; the French are pragmatic and the English romantic; Protestantism is more superstitious than Catholicism, and so on. He appreciates Dickens in a slightly simplistic, Bolshie way. He's clearly misled by a mythologised French Revolution. But the writing on something he loves often reaches heights of wisdom disguised as whimsy. 'Pickwick Papers' is a "lump of Dickens", like a lump of coal or leather; "very great and rich talent" has "a certain disdainful generosity which can turn its hand to anything"; Dickens is a kind of buried pipe, bringing Merrie England through centuries of (as Chesterton sees it) Puritan darkness to bubble up again in the present. At his best, Chesterton weaves it all into one fabric. As he describes a London panorama by night at the climax of 'The Blue Cross', his playful mysticism almost hints at some common secret land inhabited by many English writers - Travers of the Mary Poppins stories for one.
Thursday. Mobile-phone app that claims to improve your eyesight via brain training. Final vindication of the much-mocked Bates?
Wednesday. Odd surge of online & offline interest in The Paperback of Hope, along with offers from some Greek translators.
Tuesday. Courtesy of the zexy & charmante Catheline, some adorable goatlets playing on a bendy sheet of steel, and a fascinating rubbery laurel thing for use in cooking. A student describes this film
here as "depressing."
Monday. Half-hour interview about atheism between American physicist Steven Weinberg and British stage director, Fringe alumnus, and media thinker type Jonathan Miller. Some sensitive & thoughtful points. Full day of lessons with Kata, Akos, and Dorina.
Sunday. A day & night of translating. Yes, radiopacity's a word.
Saturday. Interesting article round-up:
1/ German government suggests safest to avoid using too much WiFi;
2/ Some slighty creepy
3/ Eccentric joke about an intellectual version of the Daily Mail;
4/ Peculiar Viking board game - they can't even agree what size the board was;
5/ Belgian bureaucracy shows its teeth;
6/ How the EU cannot dictate terms to Switzerland, so obviously not to Britain.
Friday. The Day of Saint Valentine, two years to the day since I got that friendly letter from my
bank! In honour of the spring festival, some early 1960s tunes:
Swinging Drums, then
Shaking All Over, followed by
people talking about 60s dancing. Look-but-don't-touch eroticism. Two sentences to listen for are "dance had really progressed
to a point where the rules were broken and it's OK guys nobody's going to stop us now because - we're all like doing our own thing - you know, we're out there and there's no going back now." and the even more revealing "Our partner would grab us and dance very close and hold us so close - and I like this because we can completely keep it at arm's length and dance how we please."
After which, the
full Going to a Go Go song with some of the same footage.
Thursday. I show Psychology Eszter Plath's boastful suicide poem 'Lady Lazarus'. She laughs at the obvious (to her) signs of borderline psychotic disorder, then mentions a Hungarian poet who is apparently very open about her own similar psychological condition: Orsolya Karafiath.
Wednesday. Five interesting articles & a talk:
1/ There are three types of people who can afford to write books;
2/ Creative Writing courses as a kind of admission of failure;
3/ Doing maths without the excluded middle - surprisingly clear in parts;
4/ Sam Harris berates Daniel Dennett, as both of them struggle with free will;
5/ A man spends months walking towards the edge of an invented world, former student Ben's favourite universe;
6/ Sloppy police work putting law-abiding people under intensive surveillance.
Tuesday. Train ride back from Robin. An exhausted Robin kindly drives me to the station at
Lakitelek, having stayed up late into the not-so-small hours welcoming the married couple from Transylvania who will be his new housekeepers. Later in Pest, I drop in on my local fitness gym. This time there are fewer mastodons strolling around, only two on duty today. The fake-custard-yellow painted brick walls are still
quite hard on the eye. They're marked here and there with the words 'Brutal Nutrition' printed in black capital letters from a packing-case-stencil font. On the way in one reception girl eyes me and my proffered currency with suspicious puzzlement, the other girl giving me the angry glare that's flirty in this part of town. The milder girl summons a mastodon for advice, one prowls over and then smiles, recognising me. He ushers me in, reassuring the girls with a glance. Perhaps I look like a local-council business-permit snitch. Since they later change clothes and start toying with the machines, it seems the two girls were not actually working on the front desk, just briefly needed a place to pout.
Monday. Young Bela Grant tweaks the subtle art of film-trailer-voice declamation, and
cites this mighty weblog on his YouTube channel.
Sunday. Robin & Zsuzsi cook dinner together. I get quite excited by rereading
Chesterton, and am intrigued to find that
Sylvia Plath and
Woolstonecraft had things in common. Such as suicidal tendencies.
Saturday. Left alone for a couple of hours with two stoves to manage at Robin's, I
manage to smoke poor Bela Grant's bedroom out, silly me.
As we should know by now, some people smeared as paranoid turn out to have
been right all along. A
biologist persecuted by a herbicide company.
Friday. A disorganised night of work on Lutheran college speeches leads to a morning where
I'm woken first by chimney sweeps, then after going back to sleep woken by a
woman with a face like a slot machine come to read the gas meter, and then again later by
Letty. We drive down through cold lunchtime mist to the Great Plain, blobs of
semi-frozen snow still on the ground.
Thursday. Very chilly at nights last 2 or 3 days. Good overview of the
sticky debates within quantum physics. For anyone wanting the
Everetts, the Bohrs, and the Bells straightened out.
Wednesday. Interesting article about why Russia and other poorer countries are so
down on homosexuality. And
a correcting the widespread belief that women get paid at 3/4
male wage rates. Not true. Women earn
just as much.
Tuesday. Welcome snideness about Saint iSteve of The Blessed Mac.
Monday. Teach Rheumatology Kata at her strange Order-of-St-John hospital, its corridors thick with the
bad-eggs sulphur smell of (I assume) the nearby spring of spa water, doubtless piped in for medicinal
bathing. Each corridor ends with a clock over the doorway where the clock face is a shallow soup bowl with hours marked in blue on the white china. Via Franc, some research that finds (surprise surprise) that
taking notes longhand helps people to
remember & analyse salient points much better than copying, pasting, or recording through a machine.
Sunday proves long. In this psychology article notice how the columnist, discussing magical & superstitious thinking, describes it as an attempt to create an illusion of freedom in determined situations, failing to notice the rather obvious fact that superstition is equally often (perhaps more often) an attempt to create an illusion of inevitability when a free event has gone badly wrong: it was fated thus, my friend. Meanwhile, talking of magical thinking, some physicists are apparently trying to integrate panpsychism into their equations. Might help a bit if this article thought to include one of these equations by way of vaguely showing us what it means.
Saturday. Oldie but goldie from the wonderfully weary Dead Can Dance as they sing in deep
grand timeless things with end-of-century gravitas. A sort of
continuation of Joy Division by other means.
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
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
Minority languages are a
issue?One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide
suffer persecution from
national governments for speaking their
mother tongue - in their own
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
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
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