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Thursday. Clear overview of the Bostrom claim we are "probably living in 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."
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.
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