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Sunday. Wasps are massing near my head upstairs in the gallery of Robin's studio, probably building a nest. I keep waking up with 30 or 40 of them on the window pane next to the sofa. A bit Amityville, though they generally just make grumbling noises and only buzz near my head in ones and twos as a well-meaning way of getting me to arise and engage with the day. Last night I puffed candle smoke all over them, and they seem a bit hungover this morning as a result. A large white cockerel accompanied by (his?) four fat white hens wanders across the grass I can see through that pane - I had no idea the birds roamed freely outside the wired enclosure. Strange portents abound.
Saturday. The investigation of President Honey Monster continues to turn into an investigation of Obama, Clinton, & the FBI.
Friday the 13th. Exciting! The Day Of Unluckiness goes relatively well, apart from accidentally arriving at work in Obuda short of sleep and an hour earlier than the early-enough 8am. In more Dr Moreau news, researchers are growing tiny human brains inside rats. Are we concerned?
Thursday. A reflective piece about liberals versus "progressives".
Wednesday. A short update on the global warming story.
Tuesday. Back in the Big Pogacsa, at Michael's place. Suddenly weather is getting warmer. A "very angry badger" closes part of a castle.
Monday. Looking out of an upper window in the studio, I vaguely realise that there is a subtle difference between the colour of the slices of sky between the branches of the bare tree depending, of course, on time of day. In the morning, when the sun is coming from that direction, the blue is sweeter, "higher". By evening the sun is the other side of the barn-sized studio, behind whoever is inside that window looking out, and the blue is more powdery, very slightly more violet. Closer to the opaquer, denser evening blue of a painting where the sunset is behind us. Yesterday, more baby chicks got installed in the smaller winter studio next door, and the orange-lit floor swarms with them day and night in the couple of feet low down under the heat lamps dangling on long leads from the high ceiling. Either black or cream, they crowd around like animated balls of cotton wool, fat furry apostrophes hopping, tumbling, and bouncing in the social melee. A peculiar effect from Saturday still sinking in, a sensation of freedom at giving back the keys to my former flat, despite the fact I'm dependent on friends and am now homeless.
Sunday. Around 11pm an early count of today's votes seem to suggest Orban and Fidesz are not only returned to power, but have obtained the 2/3 majority that can change Hungary's constitution to further entrench his party's grip on power. Slightly oddly, this constituency map erases the region's largest lake.
Saturday. I do a long day cleaning and packing, Robin turns up and we somehow pack his car. He folds his 18-year-old son Bela and me into the parcel-packed vehicle like some kind of 3D origami puzzle. Stopping for coffee at a petrol station on the way, Robin remarks how he threw a block of butter across a supermarket the previous day for his daughter Zsuzsi to catch, she dropped it, he called her 'butterfingers', and she didn't get the joke.
British firm designs a tea that tastes like biscuits dipped in tea.
Friday. Wake up in the morning at 5.25am out of a vivid dream in which I'm near the top of an office block which rumbles lightly and then the top 3 or 4 floors twist round about 90 degrees, come off the block in one chunk and then somehow crash hundreds of feet to the ground without killing any of us. Feels momentous, yet oddly enough not really frightening.
Important stories in recent weeks include prosecution of Sarkozy in France over missing money and the war on Libya, and a Chinese firm buying a stake in Deutsche Bank. The first suggestion is that Gaddafi funded his election, and then France attacked Libya with British & American help and made sure Gaddafi was shot dead. The second suggestion is that China is picking up influence on European policy by taking on some German bad debts.
Thursday. Dr D tells me more of the changes to the voting law that were made a couple of years ago, and discover that the prime ministerial candidate for the opposition socialists (and their election partner Dialogue for Hungary) rejoices in the name Gregory New Year Christmas (Gergely Szilveszter Karacsony).
Wednesday. As I shift bags of dust and junk out of the slowly emptying flat, I run into the Man Of Shadow on the ground floor several days in a row. We greet each other as though in some kind of unspoken alliance. A memory comes back from last September when all the power went out in much of the district. I was downstairs on the front steps enjoying the sight of the whole street in darkness and he was standing next to me soundlessly rolling a cigarette. After a moment's silence he asks me about a time half a year earlier when I'd locked myself out of my flat for the first and only time and went to him for help in his janitor persona. He'd advised me against climbing up the outside of the building and said regretfully he had no spare keys. As we now stood in the darkness he takes his first drag off the roll-up, and quietly asks in a voice of mild curiosity how did I manage to get back into my flat that night six months ago? I explained I persuaded my neighbour to let me practise on his door with a relatively bendy store discount card I have in my wallet, locating exactly where his latch was so I could find just the right height on my own door to slide the card in. Small crumpled man takes another puff on his roll-up, exhales, squints out at the power-cut-darkened city borough, and murmurs with faintly donnish approval, "I was pretty sure you'd manage it somehow."
Tuesday. Back in Budapest, I was worrying about how to get the two giant plastic boxes Martin gave me off the balcony and into the rubbish, and then I find the upper parts crumble to the touch. My guess this is a UV light effect is confirmed when the parts of the boxes on the underside protected from daylight are much tougher and harder to break up.
Easter Monday. No nonsense today splashing aftershave on village girls.
Easter Sunday. Hristos Anesti! Christ is risen. A delightfully odd 1830s account of spontaneous life created in the lab.
Easter Saturday. Major scandal at US agency FBI now simmers on back burner. Britain's Labour struggles to respond to changing Facebook algorithms. Article with moving graphs suggests racism overrides social class in the US. Actual patent on robotic bees granted. Undemocratic nature of EU highlighted by rise of Martin Selmayr. Discredited sex-assault research warps US justice system.
Soon after we arrive at Robin's in the countryside after dark, Zsuzsi and I rush to the attic of the garage to find Sissi the Komondor daughter of the late Lupi has had 7 puppies after a romantic tryst with some local dog. Some black, some white, one cream, all with eyes shut, making small squeaking noises as they crawl around the dozing mother, taking milk.
Late at night in bed upstairs in the cavernous studio, I read by candlelight a 1954 edition of Aldous Huxley's 'Doors of Perception' I found in Robin's library. His title is poised between Jim Morrison & The Doors' 1960s use of the quote and the original William Blake line from the 1790s. Although he describes the effect of mescaline on him one day in 1953 Los Angeles with beautiful clarity, it was slightly odd to hear his confession he had always been a "bad visualiser" and struggled to form mental pictures under any conditions. This combines strangely with his frequent mentions of painters from the 17th to 20th century to explain some of what he sensed while the drug was in effect. Huxley speculates carefully & thoughtfully about mystics who have religious experiences, painters who see the world afresh via their visual artistic sense, and other people who enjoy neither way to glimpse the "isness" of the world outside our petty human frame of reference.
Good Friday. A claim that historic trends between Islam & Christianity will be decided in Nigeria.
Thursday. Does every sexually-permissive society decline & fall?
First trip to OBI in some time to buy bits for making the 2nd transparent plastic bookcase mobile on wheels. Feeling tired & hungry stay there another half hour in a sort of fake lorry-drivers' cafeteria inside the OBI building where I eat some chips with chicken, and then a goblet of tiramisu. The tiramisu is reasonable enough except that it smells powerfully of the epoxy resin adhesive I used to assemble those Airfix models of aircraft carriers or fighter jets or whatever they were. Older men courting my mother used to buy me them when I was around 5 or 6. This must be some non-alcoholic essence-of-rum flavouring the pudding is drenched in, but the aroma memory of small military plastic bits gluing together is strong.
Wednesday. Self-driving car kills 1st pedestrian. Of course, the AI-boosters still make the utilitarian argument that robots killing people is better than people killing more people.
Tuesday. Turns out a major feminist, Kate Millett, was mad & nasty. So claims her little sister.
Monday. US military shows off creepy new weapon.
Sunday. Haul boxes up to Robin's attic, even though somewhat wiped out from yesterday's lugging. Chat with Zeno. Late in the afternoon, the family of Robin's friend Aniko turn up and kindly drive me back to Budapest. They are returning to the metropolis after a peaceful day lounging in warm spa water in the nearby Alfold town of Cserkeszolo.
Saturday. Student David generously helps me haul boxes down from flat to street level. Drive to Robin's in the countryside with a Russian man and a van. He tells me how he used to be a tax lawyer in Moscow, but found that even if you win in court against the Russian state and get awarded costs, the state then decides to only give you 10% & 20% of costs so you still lose money and go out of business.
Friday. Cambridge Analytica + Facebook scandal is overblown?
Thursday. Designer alleges golden ratio is twaddle.
Wednesday. Here's one of Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic students, a Paris feminist thinker from the 1970s, denying she was a communist informer.
Tuesday. Useful piece about "thinkers" who deny consciousness.
Monday. Despite photographs & film footage of ballot-box-stuffing, Vladimir Putin is again confirmed as Chairman Of All The Russias in yesterday's election. A brief word on his behalf a decade ago: "I Crush You".
March 18th; Sunday. Catch a bus to the now-enlarged Kunszentmarton cake shop for a coffee with Linguist & Folklorist Edina for the first time since her return from Azerbaijan. Pouring rain in both directions slightly dampens things.
March 17th; Saturday. Ewan Morrison calmly dismantles the dangerous mirage of intentional communities. On the other hand in Robin's rural cell of good living out on the Great Plain, wonderful cooking by Zeno the Alchemist, together with the mass of home-laid eggs and home-slaughtered meat, makes every meal a candelit feast.
March 16th; Friday. A woman entrepreneur who was the darling of Silicon Valley turns out to have committed fraud, and to have been seriously out of her depth running a biotechnology start-up. Pre-war, a now-largely-overlooked aristocratic woman was prescient in warning both of the darkness of both communism and of nazism, sounding the alarm before male politicians.
March 15th; Thursday. Bridge collapses days after completion, killing six. Turns out the building firm is proud of its women engineers & managers, and was given minorities-diversity preference during the construction tender.
I still have no flat to go to, but must move out. Robin swoops to the rescue, and drives me and my first 8 boxes out to his place in the countryside by night.
March 14th; Wednesday. China's sinister online 'social-media' network moves into a creepy new phase.
March 13th; Tuesday. Julia, Erika, & Krisztian come to see me in the Croatian pirates' bakery. Suggesting I might move into the spare room of a mutual friend, Richard, Krisztian waxes eloquent and waves his hands around: "Both you and Richard are intellectuals! You and he can enjoy a common life of the mind!" The two girls nod happily at this idea.
March 12th; Monday. Last night finished a book kindly lent by Mr Saracco, 'Life 3.0', by Max Tegmark. This is a very reasonable attempt to give an overview of what "machine superintelligence" might entail, and how we might be wiser to fear AI competence rather than AI malevolence. Strikingly, the cheery and thoughtful narrative is undermined by some blithe assumptions Tegmark doesn't think to question: for example that humans have mastered animals purely through intelligence. At one point he says that man has mastered tigers through cleverness, not through force, which is clearly wrong. Humans largely avoided tigers for centuries, and sometimes fought them not with cleverness but with spears or fire, which can be counted as forms of cleverness, but also required physical force, strength, courage. It's hard, for example, to imagine a race of super-intelligent mice overcoming tigers on the same timeline, or even being free to develop tools & technology while being constantly predated on by larger animals. Even worse, the idea that minds can be uploaded into machines, or that machines can become self-consciously intelligent and purposive, is also taken for granted with the exception of one sentence. Here the assumption is that physics is the supreme subject, and somehow from this Tegmark deduces that intelligence must be substrate-independent, that silicon (or some other substance) must be as able to carry a thinking mind as the fatty, meaty tissues of some mammals. Again, this completely fundamental problem with AI is just assumed away.
March 11th; Sunday. Still feeling weak, I finish a paid translation. I've slowly become myself again as the hours pass since Friday night's sickness.
Suddenly warmer the last evening or two, I go for a walk around 3am hearing spring-themed birdsong: yet more bachelors looking for a wife. One small tree behind the all-night grocer's has a very dark brownish bird, like a double-sized sparrow with an orangeish-yellow beak, warbling away in hope of companionship. I watch it from 4 or 5 feet off. Realise I've never been this close to a bird while it sings its song before. Seems unbothered by me.
Ways to infect a computer through the printer.
March 10th; Saturday morning. A bathroom sink filled with cold sick perhaps not the best welcome to the weekend, but at least my stomach feels less poisoned. Never before have I had vomiting where each heave made me involuntarily shout or bark like a dog the second before the puke comes up. Dignified! But such are the wondrous powers of our bodies as they defend us from harm.
March 9th; Friday. I get
food poisoning. Really not a good night.
March 8th; Thursday. Communism was helped, not harmed by the west.
March 7th; Wednesday. Royal secret ritual. Part-return to form from the Mash.
March 6th; Tuesday. An academic wants to drug Germany. Not very encouraging.
March 5th; Monday. Yesterday's election in Italy shows big shift by voters against the EU lobby. Very high turnout at 73%.
March 4th; Sunday. A good discussion of Socrates, Plato, and the big lie.
March 3rd; Saturday. Frigid sort of weekend weather. I've been going easy on the one-shirt look, making sure to wear a shirt and pullover so as not to attract stares.
Interesting article from the BBC suggests life is mainly about luck.
Friday. Book review of superbly barmy-sounding AI tome. Review is readable and charming. I suspect unhinged tome will be fascinating.
March 1st; Thursday. Some rather lovely ley-line-type talks about esoteric landscape stuff.
Landscape Zodiacs / The Belinus Line / The Arrow of Apollo.
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