otherlanguages.org
. . . Main links

Basque / Dutch / English / Hungarian / Japanese / Swedish

link to i-mode page

#

#

non-alphabetic scripts

#

other links

#

endangered languages

#

sign languages

#

maps

#

songs and music

#

dead languages


*1

#

linguistic philosophy

#

artificial languages

#

AI, speech recognition

#

encryption, steganography

#

language history

#

calligraphy

#

cognitive psychology

#

mathematical linguistics

#

animal communication

#

language list

#

non-language links

2005
...............................................................................................................................................................


October 31st; More work on Pluto book proposal. Robin's photographer friend Piera arrives from London.
October 30th; Work on Playboy Russia article and Spectator article. Akos & his lovely half-Syrian wife Zena come to stay the night at Robin's. The mysterious Zeno, who is also expected but has no phone, does not come. Akos & Robin are good at table tennis, I find.

October 29th; On the stopping train to Robin's dusk falls over the Great Plain. I send a phone text to Scott to apologise for not going to his Hallowe'en party tonight. He texts back that this is a pity, because his party will probably be groaning with crumpet. Scott means girls, but I get a sudden vision of mediaeval banquet tables groaning with actual crumpet. Monks feasting on posset & capon. I get out at the deserted Tiszaug signalmen's hut. Chilly, almost dark. The last traces of sun tint the horizon magenta on one side, indigo on the other. Three-syllable colours all over the place.
October 28th; Go to dance class at wrong hour. Then an iced coffee with Edina, who has a slightly lost-in-the-supermarket experience entering the WestEnd mall.

October 27th; Robin, unable to go, refers me to excellent party hosted by William to show paintings by Bullet Shih. These mainly featured slightly wild-eyed girls, more waif than gamine, as seen by a Schiele-ish Lucien Freud. As if in response, the party was full of chic, soft-eyed girls, more gamine than waif - in fact so many delightful & charming people there, quite wrong to name anyone.
October 26th; Mihaela back, kindly offers Romanian page. Franc & Alan for drinks later. Jorn's page is alive again.

October 25th; Early night. Ten hours sleep. Wise.
October 24th; Lunch with Liia at Lite. Like yesterday on the Great Plain, it's warm & sunny again.

October 23rd; Robin & Letty see me off in Kecskemet. Dull train trip back. Quick drink with Mariann in Goa where the waiter decides my tip is insufficient, so extracts extra from my change. Not convinced this country is going to learn.
October 22nd; Georgina afraid to have her Tarot cards read. Letty decides she disapproves of the whole exercise.

October 21st; Grey, rainy. Catch train to meet Robin in Lakitelek.
October 20th; Food not bad at Goa, either. I finally send first part of proposal to Pluto.

October 19th; Esther's & Edit's old flatmate, Tarot reading Elysia, sends news of her new job in the US. Perhaps everything does start with an e, after all. Goa cafe has WiFi.
October 18th; Wake up humming 'Strangers in the Night'. The bookshop near the office still has its small blackboard outside with a chalked message in Hungarian: "book, from the bookshop", which, since they put "book" in the object form, suggests you fill in a verb in the imperative. Reminds me of the large sign outside Ghana's Cape Coast University bookshop in the mid-70s, which read "You too can own a book". Pricy Menza also has no WiFi, despite being listed as a hotspot. I strike 5th time lucky at smoky old Szimpla Kert, however, where part of the bar has a WiFi signal, the first venue in Budapest to honour its promise on this point. Despite the "garden" label ('kert'), Szimpla looks set to stay open for the winter, with the courtyard roofed by some kind of tarpaulin-type fabric. Better get used to air replaced by cigarettes.

October 17th; Wake out of depressing dream about an unstoppable crystalline growth taking over the world, and go into the office earlyish. By night I try to find the WiFi hotspots at Sark Cafe and Zsolnay Cafe: neither is on. I pay six dollars for a middling beer and a small bowl of soup, and an irritated waiter at the half-empty Abszint restaurant tells me that they switched off the WiFi five hours before I arrived because the restaurant is too full in the evenings. Very South of France. This fuller Budapest hotspot list looks promising, though.
October 16th; Wake up in Budapest. Put more details into Scott's IMDB page. Attend David & Kalman's poetry-reading event near Deli railway station in the evening.

October 15th; Bright sunshine. Nigel & I have a late breakfast at a Catford cafe table spread with newspaper supplements. I bore Nigel, burbling on about jigsaws & packs of cards. The Greenline bus to Luton airport is uneventful. A French-looking girl across the aisle sulks all the way. On the flight, I ask if I can have the beer & crisps changed to fruit juice & crisps. This cannot be done, but when I order the crisps & juice as two separate items (& cheaper) this is no problem. The second stewardess adjusting my seat gets offended when I gently explain the seat is broken, snapping at me "Did I say anything? How am I supposed to know that?" Ah yes, Hungarians. At Budapest it takes 15 minutes to get passengers on and off an unnecessary bus that drives us 100 yards - we could have walked it in 1 minute. Then it takes 1/2 an hour to get us through passport inspection, so making me miss the last BKV bus. So I must pay for an overpriced minibus and put up with more self-important Hungarian girls, irritated by a customer who actually asks for a receipt.
October 14th; Train down to London, for over four times the price I could have paid for it if Trainline's website was not designed by muppets and so worked properly. I find Nigel at home. Together with Rimas, his Lithuanian builder, the three of us have coffee together while throwing around a squeezy purple rubber ball covered with noodly appendages that glows in a sequence of gorgeous green, blue, pink, orange lights when it hits something. This magnificent toy was indeed too good for Nigel's giant dog, Juno, moping under the kitchen table, but Nigel chides me for voicing this thought aloud and hurting her feelings.

October 13th; I try to buy a train ticket online, learning what a rubbish website Trainline is.
October 12th; Official discharge from hospital, so mother no longer out just "on leave". Dr Orange, face to face, looks startlingly like Andrew, from QIC, right down to the beard, build, soft voice, and slow, thoughtful manner. Read Thomas More's 'Utopia', in Paul Turner's mid-60s translation from the Latin. Lucian's 'True Story' is referred to in the introduction as being a favourite of More's - a book he and Erasmus translated from Greek. As a 1st-century-AD story of people on the moon wearing flexible glass clothing, eating smoke, and breeding without women, it sounds very curiously ahead of its time. More's Utopia sounds bearable and cheering to someone with his sense of duty, humour & discipline, but pretty ghastly for everyone else. Thoroughly worked out in detail, yet curiously unreflective, it has numerous upside-down pre-Malthusian explanations of poverty and trade, all committed to the lump of labour fallacy [still with us among modern speculative thinkers who, unlike More, should know better], and a wonderful section on gold being seen with amused contempt, as material for children's baubles or chamber pots, not viewed as better or cleaner than other metals. The simple insights that gold became favoured for decorative trinkets because it is soft and easily worked to a fine level of detail, remains shiny without rusting, and does not cause irritation when worn next to the skin, seem never to have occurred to More. This is all assuming that the book is not meant as a huge wind-up, but is a satire only in the sense of saying how things could be, and having the occasional dig at contemporary institutions with funny names like Lietalk [Parliament]. The translator suggests we should take More at his word, and makes a convincing case of unpicking attempts to show that More's views elsewhere differed. Utopia resembles a monastic life with modest added facilities for marriage and families, and More's own lifestyle suggests he was sincerely recommending Utopia, a country that placed fairness and good will above what he seemed to see as England's and other European countries' traditions of luxury, hypocrisy, privileged elites, and overworked peasants. It is interesting to see the authoritarian undertone in his imagined state, where everyone keeps an eye on everyone else, and contrast this with More's own experience of the authoritarian nature of Tudor England - his failure to express support for Henry VIII as leader of the church in England leading to his own execution. On one level, More was clearly an astute, yet principled, politician and manager of men. On another level, Utopia suggests he hardly understood people at all.

October 11th; Mother & I shop, then cook a chicken.
October 10th; Reread mother's copy of 'The Ancient Greeks' by M.I. Finley, and got a little less vague on all those backward-counting dates in the 400s and 300s. A nice, tidy account of what made one of the greatest periods of human history great, and what kept it nonetheless sadly fragile. Especially intriguing that after Herodotus and Thucydides made their great start at objective history, no subsequent historians followed their lead. Then finished a copy of Daniel Dennett's 'Brainstorms' that mother bought me 3 or 4 years ago. Some rather plodding analytical essays about philosophy of mind, including a discussion of how changing one's mind is a good way to understand the process of thinking, a piece which is not quite a defence of free will, but a suggestion that there is room for a defence, and a detailed discussion of pain in which Dennett divulges that he found that by paying close attention to his own pain in the dentist's chair he was no longer distressed by it. That paper mentions how some painkillers remove pain, while others leave pain there, but the patient no longer cares about the pain. The suggestion that perhaps pain is an instruction to stop doing something accompanied by the urge to stop it [requiring that the being be able to choose what to do and what to stop doing] almost, but never quite, occurs to Dennett, who still defends the idea that a robot programmed to complain about a pain, just as a human would, to all intents and purposes is experiencing the same thing as the human. One essay discusses consciousness with the aid of several flowcharts, and a curious paper suggests that people could easily be instantiations of Turing machines if they are Universal Turing machines [UTMs] simulating one or other Turing machine at different times. This seems odd, since we need another mechanism to change the Turing machine the UTM is simulating, and since the Halting Problem clearly rules out any living creature evolving to be a Turing machine [since it would get eaten while stuck on a non-halting calculation]. Of course Dennett has moved on since the 1980s, but to have thought so carefully about the topic even then, and yet to have come up with so little, is a bit depressing. I don't really know what to make of any of Dennett's thinking on mind. Finally got through the last few pages of Pollack's second volume. 'Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom: Part 2' covers the Minor Arcana, and three types of Tarot reading. Pollack muddles herself in a couple of places, overlooking an illustration printed upside down [two reversed cards and one right way up, where it should have been one reversed and two the right way up], and on page 134 writing that "...the left hemisphere ... deals with rational and linear activities, while the right hemisphere ... deals with intuitive, creative and holistic activities. (Left-handed people would appear to function the other way round, the right side governing intuition, the left rationality.)" Elsewhere, however, she retains her clear approach, and sums up the meanings of the other 56 cards in a 78-card pack, card by card. Back when I read lots of Michael Dummett at college, I was intrigued he had written a couple of non-philosophy books - about the Tarot. Might be time to check those out. As with Part 1, the puzzling charm of Pamela Colman Smith's 1909 drawings for the Rider Waite pack is a big part of the book, especially as Smith & Waite decided to create a picture for each number card, breaking with centuries of Tarot tradition. This means there is a lot more to say or imagine about the three of swords, the four of swords, the five of swords and so on - since they each have an illustration of their own. I bought a Rider Waite pack in Bradford to practise Pollack's chapter on readings, and a friendly shop assistant warned me to beware of the power of the cards by imagining a bubble around myself which I should fill with blue light.

October 9th; Why would anyone go out of their way to buy food or drink at a hostelry which charges to connect you to WiFi? Cafes which offer free WiFi deserve our custom far more.
October 8th; The friendly Bradford Internet cafe helps out again - I drop in at Ed's for bread & cheese, then to his friend Galia [a Mordovian speaker] for tea & cake. Later I try out WiFi in Leeds at a free-access hotspot in the bar of a pioneering hotel. On the slow train back from Leeds, I read the book Ed lent me, which he warned me against: 'Beach Watching' by Geoffrey Beattie. A psychologist [the cover bills him as 'Dr Geoffrey Beattie'] writes a picture book meant to be both fun and thought-provoking about body language at the beach. Unfortunately, many people read Desmond Morris a couple of decades ago, and there is not much here that is new or interesting. People mirror postures if they like each other, and adopt non-mirror postures to show that they dislike someone, or to create distance. They mark out territory with towels or beach umbrellas, and... that's about it. Repetition suggests the 120-odd pages with large colour photographs was hard to fill. Page 9: "On holiday we often sit on miniscule and very crowded stretches of sand with thousands of others, all jostling for the best spots, all jostling for easy access to the water and the cafes to the rear. Furthermore, on most beaches there are many different nationalities all cooped up together, often not even able to speak a common language. The potential for some sort of misunderstanding is enormous". Page 46: "We sit often on a crowded stretch of sand with thousands of others, all jostling for the best sites, and all jostling for easy access to the water. On most beaches, there are many different nationalities, all crammed together, often not even able to speak a common language. The potential for misunderstanding is enormous, the potential for open conflict surely could not be greater." Beattie explains at least four times that beaches are interesting because people there wear very few clothes, so cannot show their social status as easily as usual. A handful of detailed descriptions of incidents on the beach [attempted approaches of girls by boys, families ignoring a nude male bather by looking elsewhere, a conflict between two Glaswegians and two Germans over poolside recliners] just add to the hum ho factor. Don't pay money for this book.

October 7th; It seems mother will not need an MRI scan after all. We cook together after I try out WiFi in Bradford.
October 6th; Shopping in Manchester for a laptop.

October 5th; Mother continues to get better. I read one of her books, called 'Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom: Part 1' by Rachel Pollack, which is not just about the Tarot pack, but about a specific section of a specific Tarot pack: the Major Arcana of the Rider Waite pack, redrawn in 1909 by an American woman born in England called Pamela Colman Smith. Overall the book is short, clear and sensible, sticking to the use of Tarot cards as psychological reference points rather than magical predictors of future happenings. Smith's drawings are attractive, faux-mediaeval, vaguely reminiscent of some Yellow Book illustrations in the 1890s. These sometimes get contrasted with differently designed cards from other packs, although only three or four of Rider Waite's Major Arcana are sharply changed from earlier Tarot sets. Pollack avoids claiming that Tarot is ancient or Eastern, and while making some convincing sounding comparisons with Kabbalistic tradition, and dropping in Shiva a few times, steers fairly clear of most occultists' tendency to see Buddhism, quantum mechanics, and Sufism inextricably blended wherever they look. Pollack writes as if Smith was working to close instructions from Arthur Edward Waite, and Smith gets less credit than you might expect from a woman writer. The pack has his name, not Smith's, perhaps rightly if he edited her drawings rigorously. The book's structure is clear: Pollack explains each card in turn, with one or sometimes two pictures, following up with the second meaning in the case when the card is 'reversed', so if it is upside down as a picture compared to the other cards when laid out.
October 4th; Mother readjusting to home. I finish an indifferent book from Hebden library called 'The Pig that Wants to be Eaten - and 99 other thought experiments' by Julian Baggini, one of the last decade's many book efforts to show folk what stimulating stuff philosophy can be. Sadly, the book succeeds both in making the thought experiments look silly and the resulting philosophical discussion sound dry. Perhaps forty thought experiments might have worked better, though the publisher probably begged for them each to be kept as short as possible. Baggini closes triumphantly with a thought experiment along the lines of 'would you eat at a restaurant which was very cheap because the staff are all low-paid immigrants who have to live in the cellar?' then claiming that buying imports from countries with low-wage labour amounts to the same thing. He says that "conversely competition from Nest cafe means properly paid workers elsewhere lose theirs", showing that he does not understand the lump of labour fallacy, and completely missing that Japan, Korea, Taiwan [and every other rich country] all got rich, as China & India are currently getting rich, precisely by competing initially as cheap-labour manufacturers. Nor does he realise that being poorly paid in a high-wage, cold-winter country with expensive prices is not the same as being paid the same amount in a warm country with cheap prices. He calls comparison with other people's wages in other countries bogus, when of course the real comparison is with what food and shelter costs in those countries, which in turn sets average wage levels there. A number of the experiments close with Baggini saying something weak about how there is still a lot to discuss, or it is hard to decide what is the right answer. Nice idea overall, but neither the writing nor the thinking really up to the challenge. As with many book ideas built using a round number like 100, several of the thought experiments are not really any such thing and show the writer was struggling to make up the set. Searle's Chinese Room metaphor gets complicated by being translated into another, unhelpful metaphor which is even more obscure than Searle's.
Later I finish 'The Encyclopaedia of Stupidity' by Matthijs van Boxsel, translated into English by Arnold and Erica Pomerans. Filled throughout with small line drawings taken from woodcuts and engravings over the last five centuries, this is an odd and intriguing book. The front cover photograph, a close-up of a sheep gazing into the camera lens with amiable curiosity, is particularly appealing. Claiming that intelligence really emerges from stupidity, and that "no-one is intelligent enough to understand his own stupidity", dotted with literary quotes about daftness and dull-wittedness, van Boxsel seems to be saying something clever, carefully disguising its own cleverness. An odd section in the middle dives into a discussion of the French formal garden versus the English garden tradition of Capability Brown, contrasting the French 'ah-ah' with the English 'ha-ha': one being a flat trench enabling the formal layout of Versailles-style French gardens to seemingly carry on horizonwards without an edge, while the 'ha-ha', the one-sided English trench, apparently does the opposite, bringing the countryside into the garden. At least if I understand what he's saying. [Both trenches are virtual fences for sheep or cows, hidden to human spectators looking from a distance.] Another bit hidden among all the joking is about Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees', which he says in 1714 claimed that exactly the qualities which make individual people so irritating is what enables them to work together successfully as a community - foreshadowing Smith's remark about the butcher and baker supplying us with meat and bread out of self-interest, not out of benevolence. Elsewhere, van Boxsel suggests that the stupidness of constitutional monarchy is vital to making democracy work well - he makes this paradox quite convincing too. Some irritated book reviews complete a charming package. The New Scientist asks "Surely no-one would buy such a book? But it turns out the tome was a hit..." [Obviously true believers in the virtues of cleverness]. The Tatler gets on the front cover, saying "Some may not need this; for everyone else it's essential." My favourite is what sounds like an exasperated Spectator reviewer, quoted as tartly remarking "I tried reading the book in ten-second bursts."

October 3rd; A morning of negotiating on the phone. Dr Orange cautiously agrees that I can take mother home this evening, but that she remains legally in hospital. Ed takes me there, and drives us back. She is extremely glad to get out. Each of the four days I visited, the compulsive patient was anxiously cleaning behind the hand rail in the ward corridor. We leave him still at it.
October 2nd; A day conferring with Ed as to how I should get my mother out of hospital. We meet in Bradford's importantly named National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, where I am immediately taken with a book written by a Dutchman called 'The Encyclopaedia of Stupidity', and so buy it. Ed laughs when I complain of the overwhelming aroma of chip fat in the museum's clean and modern looking restaurant, so go elsewhere for lunch at a place called the Love Apple. He shows me an Internet cafe near his home. On my way home from the hospital, I sit down to a dinner of battered haddock, with the stupidity book, in a completely empty Halifax fish-and-chip restaurant [with much less chip fat in the air], called Pride of Whitby. As far as I recall, Whitby is one of Britain's former fishing ports consigned to poverty by Iceland grabbing 200 nautical miles of territorial water for itself in the mid-1970s while successfully portraying countries like Britain as aggrandising bullies. Entering mother's dark empty house at night I smell the warm, furry scent of her several-years-dead Alsation, Liam.

October 1st; A very alert grey squirrel crosses the track at Hebden while I wait for my train to Halifax. On the train a slumped man gloomily watches a miniature television screen in his lap. The death of Patrick Caulfield, an artist I liked when at school, makes the Guardian front page.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

back up to top of page