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2002
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November 30th; Ah.... so now it's clear who I almost disturbed in the office that Sunday morning two weeks ago, when the door was locked from the inside.... Quite sweet to imagine those two getting it on together. Dearie me.

November 29th; Saw 'Monsters' Ball' at cinema. My description of this as a 'Gone with the Wind' with pick-up trucks [and there are so many of those films, aren't there?], was not quite right, sorry Simon, but it certainly is a life-goes-real-slow-in-the-South movie. Some very good music - a sort of swamp-blues version of ambient - and the cross-river car-ferry scene is excellently atmospheric. People go through some harrowing personal experiences which are direct results of their positions on each side of the racial divide {though almost no-one says it out loud}, and the film's two main characters slowly overcome their pride and habitual stiffness to find happiness. The first sex scene is finely judged and works well {despite the pretentious 1/2-second intercuts of hand in birdcage}, but the second sex scene was cloyingly sentimental enough to have some European filmgoers squirming with embarrassment. Overall, a good film, though s-l-o-o-o-w.
It oddly reverses 'The Man who Wasn't There' {a much better film from 2000, but eerie black-and-white comedies don't pack in audiences, sadly} where Billy Bob Thornton's character has a quite different interaction with the electric chair. 'Monsters' Ball' is a pretty irritating title, isn't it?
November 28th; Tonight finished 'The Kruschev Era' by Donald Filtzer. This is a typical book from the best kind of American academic - crisp, clear, factual, and not a wasted word. Filtzer examines how Kruschev de-Stalinised the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and repeatedly tried to reform its structure while keeping the Communist Party at the core - failing as a result. While Filtzer agrees that Kruschev was rash and hasty as so often charged, he is clear that he thinks his rashness was not the real reason for Kruschev's removal, and the reformers' failure. Filtzer concludes that Kruschev really failed by
1] removing the bureaucracy's privileges while he still needed their support to rule {"Who will de-Stalinise the de-Stalinisers?" he quotes one contemporary Western commentator as asking};
2] more specifically, by promoting the agricultural bureaucracy at the expense of the heavy-industry bureaucracy, and losing the resulting power struggle. But Filtzer thinks Krushchev did as much as anyone could have done, without going the full reform path Gorbachev went thirty years later, and dismantling the structure that had put him in power.

November 27th; Got to the end of 'e' by Matt Beaumont, a promising novel about a London ad agency in 2000 told entirely in e-mails. Beaumont is archly given in his bio as a copywriter who has been "sacked by some of London's leading ad agencies", and this book suggests they sacked him because he's not a very good copywriter. The only glimpse of actual ad creation we get in the entire novel is the ancient "I wish my wife were as dirty as this van"-/-"She is, mate" chestnut. But as from a true adman, we get great presentation - and hey, all that matters is we sell the idea to the client {in this case the publisher}, right? Who cares if the final product is any good?
You can see just how he sold the publisher into doing the real selling for him. 1st, a legitimate excuse to title a novel with one lower-case letter ('e' is for 'e-mail'), for a novel entirely in e-mail form. Wow, that combination sounds pretty cool. Plus, a novel by an adman about how all admen are lazy sad wankers, so it's dead satirical too. The copywriter's white-space trick: a book of e-mails takes up much of each page in e-mail headers and empty lines, so 25,000 words can look like a novel. Of course for at least 5 years Londoners "in the meejer" have been texting each other on their mobiles, so Beaumont must have been well relieved to unload his rapidly-cooling hot concept in late 99 right before its sell-by date. He could write another novel called 'SMS'? Nah, too much like work, mate.
I laughed a lot in the first few pages but tired of the book's hundreds of variations on "if you don't get your arse into my office right now, I'm going to..." {add surreal-sounding threat}. Beaumont's tin ear for dialogue makes you struggle to distinguish David, Daniel and Simon - all interchangeable whining executives if not for their convenient e-mail labels. The comical Pertti van Helden {a Dutch Finn?} from Helsinki shows Matt's London provincialism at its worst. Pertti's is not like any Finn's or Beneluxer's odd English. And it's obvious on page 2 that Pertti and the perky Finns {as if there has ever been a perky Finn}, with their naffly naive bubbliness, are going to win the Coca-Cola account. But since the Manchester girls don't sound like Manchester girls, and the San Franciscan grenola head is off too, we have to take it on faith that Beaumont knows what London ad people sound like, since he gets everyone else wrong. The only thing that really rings sadly true is everyone's constant straining to make their unfunny e-mails sound sharp and witty. Only
TBWA comes out well, the only real agency to get a proper mention, an oddly respectful one too. I hope someone there is tickled poor Matt wrote a whole half-novel as a roundabout way of asking them for a job.
November 26th; In the small hours finished Koestler's 'Sleepwalkers' from school library. Very refreshing. I wish I had read this years ago. Koestler uses the book to do four quite tight biographies (Copernicus, Kepler, Brache, and Galileo) to give the traditional darkness-into-light story of those astronomers acting as midwives to experimental science a new spin, ho ho. Shows how their human frailties and strengths directly shaped their cosmologies and research. Koestler depicts Koppernigk as a cowardly mediaeval "sourpuss", Galileo as an arrogant and unethical modern, and Kepler and Brache are the complex and absurd heroes of the real "watershed" between mysticism and systematic natural philosophy. At the same time, he deplores the {he says} unnecessary split between soul and mind, faith and fact, that the era consolidated. K particularly claims that Galileo's insistent feud with the Church was needless, destructive, unscientifically personal, and dishonest. The Vatican and the Jesuits even emerge in Koestler's version as more modern and open-minded than Galileo, keeping an eye on more recent developments and updates in astronomy {such as Kepler's elliptical models}, while Galileo pigheadedly clung to Copernicus's already-outdated circular orbits system. Kepler comes out as the real child of the cosmos, the {lost} last chance in Koestler's eyes for Western metaphysics to stay holistic and open to both religion and science. Does several different things and the book succeeds at all of them.

November 25th; I can hardly recommend strongly enough that everyone check out Safety Tips from Anubis, found by the remarkable 3 Bruces.
November 24th; Saw Heather and David perform poetry with Peter Finch in Gellert Hotel. Got a bit overly merry on the free white wine afterwards with Henry, Neil, and Friendly Owl.

November 23rd; So at last I wrote a chapter list for the outline cookbook. Also read most of the Koestler book I borrowed from Marion's school library, 'The Sleepwalkers'. Very readable.
November 22nd; Drank rather a lot of Gordon's gin, only it wasn't Gordon's gin... er... Goodness.

November 21st; The computer-talented Milov's photos of Holland are getting better and better.
November 20th; I seem to have lost August. Oops.

November 19th; Via Pat: language-learning page.
November 18th; Ryan & I again look at the palindromically-priced 45,554-forint teapot in the kitchenware storefront. Yes, a 190-dollar teapot.

November 17th; Finished checking the English in Edina's Old Turkic dissertation. Quite startling stuff. Try this for size: "If the sky above does not press down or the earth below does not split, Turk people, who could destroy your imperium and your law?" Or perhaps: "By the grace of Tengri above and the Earth below, I have settled my people / across such great territory the like of which / eyes have never seen and ears have never heard, as far as forwards to the rising of the Sun, rightwards to the apex of the Sun, backwards to the setting of the Sun, northwards to the darkness of the night." All rather Trigan Empire.
Went with Ryan to see 'Arccal a fo:ldnek' - one of those delightfully self-pitying Hungarian films that thinks it is sophisticated because it is about Hungarian self-pity. Ah, of course. While there was some good acting, and some fun moments {I very much enjoyed Toby, the moustachioed porcelain mystic}, the overall problem is that the film is about a boring central character, familiar to all victims of European art cinema, the alienated young Etranger type {done much better by Lermontov and Turgenev of course}, here called Kornel, or Korni, who strolls around being vacant and a bit rude. Mr Corny is not very interesting, so it's hard to watch a film about him. Especially when it has a pretentious, jarring score on a buzzing, blurred soundtrack where the voices are irritating to listen to. We crawl through all the Stations of the Cross in turn: the Brush With Authority / the Sick, Frail Parents / the Aren't Drunken Old People Hideous? scene / the Meaningless Attempted Rape / the Perfunctory Sex with the Sad Slapper / the Rambling Conversation in Forest with Other Guy in Love with Same Girl / the Oompah Band Surreally Playing by Breakfast Lakeside / the Oompah Band Surreally Playing During Fight on Small Train. And so on.
November 16th; The freedom-oriented folk at samizdata.org discuss liberty and statism, hereinside looks suspiciously as if it is from Manchester and bulges with improving minibios of Britons as diverse as J.M. Keynes and Mrs Beeton, and the inspiringly bad-tempered textism lives in France, cares about text design, and collects handy links like I, Faker, evolution of writing, and ads from early 80s biker magazines. Hairy Eyeball's link to the elgooG sdrawkcab {done that way to slip past Chinese government censors} deserves an immediate visit.

November 15th; Went with Lily to review the Indian restaurant that turned out to be an African restaurant, and then she took me to see a quite good guitar-&-T-shirt band called Stig roar husby. Nostalgically fun - imagine a blend of Josef K and Husker Du perhaps. On account of having a couple of Scandinavians in their line-up, the Stigs {I'm sure they'll forgive me getting informal here} had several very blonde Nordic fans along, including one Norwegian girl vet I think I met while I was shamefully squiffy at a rural pig-killing some years ago. Oh dear.
November 14th; Saw 'Bridget Jones' Diary' film on video with Tamas. {check creepy photomosaic...} Wonderful casting made inevitably compressed version of book much better than expected. Making Colin Firth an awkwardly stiff romantic rival was refreshing, but Renee Zellweger daringly turned suburban Bridget into an adorably vulnerable Sloane. But absolutely right. The combination of earnestly ignorant yet cutely aspirational, pretty, good-hearted and consistently lucky would be unconvincing with any other type of British woman. With this, the film improved on the book. But could this be why the story's real Sloane, Perpetua, ended up cut to nothing like other good characters (eg the jumpsuit-clad TV producer and the excessive Shaz) who made the book fun? And a whole Jane Austen subtheme just dwindles into someone being named Mark D'Arcy without comment. But the soft-voiced, lovably-frowning Renee/Bridget might be the first screen woman I've fancied for some time. Shame books like this cannot be made into 3 or 4 films to use more material & at a statelier pace. Renee could have carried it, and they might have got up the courage to do Earls Court by day instead of that Disney/Dickens London paperweight-snowscene set by night. After all, the magical words were "I like you just as you are". London has feelings too.
Like the 'Blair Witch Project', 'Bridget' is another social story about the 90s eerily plotted in the very last months before everyone and his dog got a mobile phone. It all looks so almost up-to-date, you keep wondering what the missing element is?

November 13th; Awoke several times from horrible dreams with pounding heart. Absurdly, felt in great spiritual danger.
November 12th; Tiring, sticky day because I wrapped up too warm for the lakeside. Why does no-one teach a language by building up from substituting 5 or 6 words a page on early pages of a novel to substituting all the words by the back pages of the same novel? Translation of word given in brackets immediately after inserted foreign word, again footnoted at bottom of page and indexed at back. Would need close collaboration between a good storyteller and an experienced linguist. Surely ideas this obvious occur to other people too? I can still remember the 7 or 8 Russian words Burgess inserted for his futuristic teenage slang in Clockwork Orange, and they weren't even translated on the page. You just had to guess.

November 11th; Prepared for a doubtless rather chilly day by Lake Velence tomorrow. Tonight I finish proofing the train magazine. Tomorrow I go on a real choo choo. Wish I could remember the words to Half-Man Half-Biscuit's cover version of the Chigley traindriver's song.
November 10th; Oddly placid today. New list.

November 9th; Waypath is cross-indexing weblogs.
November 8th; Stuart at blethers is doing the write-a-novel-in-November thing and reports that someone is writing one in Galician. As Pat and Steve discuss the bold decision of Asda supermarkets to post signs in Cornish as well as English in Cornwall, can we hope that at last linguistic variety is blooming?
Recent visitors to my humble page of greyness came with rather specific requests, like girls + having + sex + in + bengali + internet + cafe, not to mention this, this and this. Dear oh dear.
Weather quite parky last couple of days, as Chorlton the Happiness Dragon used to say.
Along with the lively interest in skank they share with mijnkopthee, the lads at sargasso find sites like this restaurant designer {who is not only health conscious, but has a "health conscience" no less}, served up, obviously, with 3D mahjong.

November 7th; Affable Henry drops by. The Kesher talk site mentions an Aramaic-speaking people who lived in Persia until WWI, then Georgia/Gruzia, and, since Stalin, in Kazakhstan.
November 6th; With Ryan saw Hungarian-dubbed French film 'Amelie' a 2nd time. What a fetching cliche the Swish & Simple French Film Heroine is. Here, a bit like 'Repo Man', weird detailed whimsies doodle around a human comedy of likeable cameo roles. Amelie lives in an oddly timeless Dixon-of-Dock-Greenified Montmartre, its gentle wit making this a Parisian Ealing comedy. Despite dating by Princess Di's death, it could be 1957 or 1927 as easily as 1997. Since we all long to kiss the neck of someone as elegant and sweet as Amelie, even the acting mustn't be too stridently good (as maybe in Amelie's Welsh sister film 'Very Annie Mary'?), lest it disrupt the daydream. Perhaps, just sometimes, pure charm is enough.

November 5th; Check this eerie London Transport poster in praise of surveillance cameras.
November 4th; A story in Wired vindicates the pro-low-tech Dead Media Project archivists. Clock-designers and culture-preservers around Danny Hillis at the Long Now Foundation have inspired a group to engrave information about 1,445 currently endangered languages on a robust disc in tiny writing, so that no obsolete hardware or software will be needed {nothing fancier than a good lens, anyway} to recover the information a thousand years or more in the future.

November 3rd; Stupidly, I fail to find Tim & Gordon. Through Robin I meet architect Azhar.
...& a film about WWII Navajo code-talkers? But Anja's review makes it sound not very good.
November 2nd; Yesterday rather blurred. After plentiful red wine with Miklos and Erika, a lost afternoon. Made it to 'Minority Report' with Ryan and Rob. Another film predicting a future world of blue-grey shininess & [Rob's right] greasy perspex. I didn't really need the Schubert, either. Worryingly, for a tightly-plotted film about a 'precrime' agency in 2050-odd that psychically solves murders before they happen, I couldn't work out how the Tom Cruise character got framed. Did the nutty old geneticist lady know about the conspiracy? Nice to see a sci-fi film that shows we'll always have office politics - but all those metal spiders, copter thingies, jet-packs, iris-scanners + grimy tenements and log cabins look a bit standard. A sort of 'Blandrunner'. By the end, hard not to sympathise with the enervated 'precog' Agatha as, during yet another spin in Tom's wall-climbing scalectrix car, she whimpers wearily "Is it now?... ...I'm tired of the future."
Thus totally forgot to go to u:bertrendy jazz event I had free entry for. Hum ho.

November 1st; Hungarians celebrate their thigh-slappingly festive Day of the Dead.
October 31st; I still remember Monday morning, waking refreshed from a dream where I designed in great detail a classroom science toy to demonstrate the Coriolis force. Peculiar. Why was I dreaming about the atmosphere? Perhaps the draught under the door?

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Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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