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2006
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March 31st; Am in Hebden Library when they suddenly close it, announcing bits of the roof might fall in.

March 30th; Notice FT magazine has a men-meet-women section, with ad placement free if I understand correctly. Contemplate putting in a four-word one: "Bored male. Impress me." Wonder if I can be bothered.
March 29th; Obtain a new Hebden Library card for mother.

March 28th; Mother and I are driven to again see the mysterious Dr Orange. He seems pleased but a little bemused to learn that I have got mother off Nitrazepam and onto daily exercising. Ed rings me up later, saying he has photocopied one of my poems and will take it along to the Hebden poetry group if I feel like attending later that evening. On impulse I go, am first to arrive, pleasantly surprised to find that The White Lion, in whose upper room we will meet, sells Murphy's stout rather than Guinness. Frank and Nula arrive next and are welcoming. Group assembles and Ed has forgotten to bring the poem that was providing me cover, so that after my chicken & sweetcorn soup I have to recite a couple of short ones from memory. Sean and I remember each other from a meeting 3 or 4 years ago. Gaia, who has recently had a book of her verse published ["...soft lenses of jellyfish packed in jigsaws of ice"], is able to recall what was for dinner the time we met a couple of years back.
March 27th; Finished mother's copy of 'Alone of all her sex' by Marina Warner. This is an interesting, scholarly account of how the cult of Mary mother of Jesus within Catholic and Orthodox Christianity has influenced women over the last two thousand years. Though the idea is a feminist one, the book is more interesting than most feminist works because instead of writing about herself, the book is filled with details of something else: in this case Christian history. Church fathers like Origen, Jerome, Augustine [must track down Matt from Cornwall, the Late-Antiquity specialist] are filled out a bit, and Warner flatters readers by quoting all sorts of material, from troubadours to saints, in Latin, Provencal, Italian, French as well as the English. [Warner studied French and Italian.] I dutifully read each one before trying the English, remembering almost nothing. The title is from a rather misogynistic line "Alone of all her sex she pleased the Lord" of Caecilius Sedulius, whoever he is.
Her constant, though low-key, emphasis in the book is on how women are confined by the role men put them into, and how the many sides of Jesus' virgin mother reflect and channel this manipulative definition of what women should be like. Curiously, the book also reads like an elegy of regret for her lost Catholic faith. The wealth of interesting research is rather spoiled by the publishers. The text refers constantly to colour plates (there are none in colour) and the fact that there is a separate numbering for black-and-white and "colour" illustrations which are also in black-and-white means it is quite hard to find the pictures Warner frequently refers readers to. Sloppy editing.
As a result of her thoughtful and meaty thesis, I felt inspired to look again, and judge Marina by her appearance, rather than her book. A fascinating contrast between the front and back covers of the 1985 Picador paperback reprint was there to be seen once I started looking closer. The front cover has a modern painting of a madonna with child by
Anita Kunz. With the exception of an unflattering frock in drab blue stripes, the whole painting is entirely in oatmeal colours. Mother and child have opaque halos looking a lot like two large wooden plates. Meanwhile, on the back is a small but not too small black-and-white photograph of the author, Warner, brushing long, dark hair away from her face, looking, thanks no doubt to having an Italian mother, feminine and pretty. Looking back at the front, I was struck more and more by the facial expression of Kunz's painted madonna. Not only is the cover Mary severely plain, looking tragically Anglo-Saxon with a large round jaw over a broad bull neck, but she looks seriously narked in that way northern European women do particularly well. The cover artist clearly understood the thesis of the book in hostile terms, and has left out the tenderness with which Warner describes some of that ensnaring or deceptive beauty in what she calls the Catholic Church's mariology. The Kunz madonna is not going to be fooled into any false feminine roles, however. Her heavy, masculine jaw looks locked angrily behind small, tightly-pursed lips, and hard gimlet eyes sneer with cold sullenness out of the picture frame at the viewer, her gaze angled a couple of degrees down at us, like a newscaster on Soviet television. In amusing contrast, Kunz makes the Christ child both much smaller than his bitter, bovine mother, and gives him a smile of village-idiot vacancy, his tiny head dwarfed by the sacred poppadum hovering behind it. This uncompromisingly dikey vision jars suddenly with the soft, yielding, semi-Latin authoress in another glance at the back-cover photo. Warner pierces us with dark, gentle eyes, mouth slightly parted, touching her cheek with one hand, framing her dark locks as she pulls them back with the other. Above all, she looks up at us, by over thirty degrees is my guess, coaxing us at her prettiest angle to please like her book. In terms of the visual depiction and attitude of women, if I have to choose, than yes, I prefer Warner's effort to persuade by calculated charm over Kunz's insistence on bullying with raw resentment. Marina, like a lot of girls brought up in Catholic Europe [in her case Belgium], even looks a bit like images of the Virgin Mary, a kind of sugary mildness. Kunz's picture of an actual madonna, in contrast shows some benefits of the English Reformation: women spared centuries of propaganda images of saintly meekness, boldly set free to discover the fishwife within. The two pictures together capture nicely two crass extremes of 1980s British feminism. Perhaps the first decade when the horrible truth began to dawn?
Also finished mother's copy of 'Social Studies', a very sharp and witty set of 1970s essays by a New York woman called Fran Lebowitz. Good tips on how to socialise with "poorer people" such as "In general, poor people winter where they summer."

March 26th; Finish the programming book Nigel posted me: 'Q-Basic' by Mike James. A lot on 1980s computer graphics, but also very useful and clear explanations of how to write simple programs with loops and counters and arrays.
March 25th
; Read the 'Little Book of Music Theory' by Wise publications - so short this book doesn't even list an author. Quite good in a tidy way. One more time through scales and keys. Perhaps I'll understand it next time. Another weak Guardian: the colour magazine had four unreadably dull main articles. An American television actress in New York is in some new films and shows. An Englishman in London whose wife often writes about him in some newspaper column is now writing about himself. An Irishman in Ireland has apparently spent several decades raping and killing young girls. An American woman in London who is only well-known because she briefly married a pop musician from Manchester, takes time off from her busy schedule to talk about her furniture. Impossible to finish any of them. The only part of the magazine remotely suggesting wit was a section of photographs by Stephen Gill using an interesting technique: he had scattered flower petals and berries on the surface of colour photos, and then rephotographed the results, making them into urban scenes with sprigs of plantlife oddly floating in the foreground. None of his pictures were in any way attractive - none were striking or stylish, some just ugly. But a promising technique. Would be good to see it employed by somebody with some visual talent.

March 24th; Wash mother's hair. She's still improving.
March 23rd; Read library copy of 'Beyond Reason' by A.K. Dewdney. An enjoyable tour through some limiting cases, from the impossibility of perpetual motion to Turing's Halting Problem and NP-hard problems. Some interesting bits on Emil Post and Alonzo Church.

March 22nd; Read 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead' by Tom Stoppard. Seems to be from the school that says Hamlet is suffering a kind of existential angst. Stoppard takes the two side characters from Hamlet, and imagines what they would feel like in the partly-sketched-out fictive space Shakespeare gives them, with even more reason for doubt than Hamlet himself. A comedy, with lots of quickfire humour nicely balancing the darkness of being two minor characters who will soon be killed off for no special reason. Something like 'Waiting for Godot' crossed with 'What the Butler Saw'.
March 21st; More liquid food from the pharmacy arrives for mother. This time two flavours, chocolate and "tropical mix".

March 20th; Reread the well-written short book 'Godel's Proof' by Ernest Nagel and James Newman. Tackles the detail of what Godel showed about the inconsistency and incompleteness of arithmetic, and how he showed it. Shall re-reread to consolidate.
March 19th; The FT weekend edition extremely disappointing. Magazine cover article about the unstoppable China turns out to be a very ho-hum account of a team of Chinese construction workers disassembling a steel mill in Germany's Ruhr and packing it into boxes to ship to China, by an FT China correspondent advertising his new book. Sometimes having to listen to next door watching television, or playing one of their rockist live Thin Lizzy records is tiring, yet at other times mother's house is strangely quiet. Every second day or so we hear some geese honking outside in the night. To finish the last few pages of the 'Knots' book, before watching 'The Wicker Man', I lay down on the floor late with a glass of fizzy white wine. A high, thin, tingly sound was audible in the silence. I thought it was the lightbulb at first. Took me a couple of minutes to work out it was the sound of bubbles rising in my wine glass and bursting on the surface. I drank some and the tiny tone shifted up from a high C to something like the E above.

March 18th; Apparently Blair has been awarding peerages for loans, to get round the law against actually selling them. Odd to see people's surprise. Were there really people who couldn't see in 1995 what he was like?
March 17th; Mother definitely recovering now. I print out a rousing Clive James poem.

March 16th; Finish mother's old paperback of 'The Eighteen Nineties' by Holbrook Jackson, originally published in 1913, and then reissued in Pelican some time around World War II. From so recently afterwards, the view is interestingly different. Two poets called Francis Thompson and John Davidson get a chapter each. Someone writing under the pseudonym of Fiona McLeod was apparently important. There is a chapter on book printing, and another on black-and-white illustration in general. Though Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde loom large of course, it was a shock to realise that George Bernard Shaw seemed a major fact of the landscape back then. His chapter is called 'Enter G.B.S', not even needing to spell out his name, it seemed so central. Interesting to learn that Beardsley wrote some prose as well. Must track down 'Under the hill', as well as finding 'Zuleika Dobson' I remember Mr Hubbard enjoying at college. Don't Beardsley and Beerbohm deserve a revival? Two parodies of the 1890s - 'The Green Carnation' and 'Autobiography of a Boy' - sound worth looking out.
March 15th; Breakfast: poached eggs on toast with spring onions. Mother finishes her half. A good chat with Adam by phone, then I cook supper: tortellini with button mushrooms in butter, cherry tomatoes and pesto sauce. Mother eats about half her plateful, so a partial success.

March 14th; Finish Hebden Library copy of '1421' by Gavin Menzies, a retired submarine captain. Very interesting. Menzies charts not one, but five separate missions by large fleets of Chinese junks in 1421 to explore the world, planting colonies in the Americas, Australia, as well as charting some of the Arctic and the Antarctic centuries before Europeans. An astounding change to how we view history, really. The Portuguese discover America before Columbus and the Chinese discover America before the Portuguese. Chinese chickens and DNA the length of North and South America, Chinese copper and lead miners in northern Australia centuries before Captain Cook. If all this is true - and the evidence is modestly, but convincingly, arrayed - then the first question is what have professional historians been doing for the last five centuries? Menzies meets a couple of academics also uncovering the Chinese exploration voyages which China later suppressed and burned all records of, and graciously thanks them for their support. What else we all thought we knew for certain about the last half-millennium is going to turn out to be totally wrong?
March 13th
; Finish rereading 'Hamlet' by William Shakespeare in the Harold Jenkins edition, checking up on what Harold Bloom says about it in the Hamlet chapter in his Shakespeare tome. I sense the break in mood between Act IV and V, but it doesn't strike me, as it strikes Bloom, as resembling an ageing of ten years. Plenty of 30-year-olds could act like the prince of Act IV, and a few 20-year-olds could sound like the Hamlet of Act V. Also, while Bloom's infectious excitement is fun, I think he exaggerates his business of the 'otherness' and uniqueness of the central character. The idea of a play about Shakespeare's might-have-been son, the by-then dead Hamnet, is interesting, and Bloom's constant comparing of Hamlet and Falstaff is stimulating up to a point. This time the play seemed less about hesitation and doubt than when I last read it, and, as Bloom suggests, a better guide to Nietzsche than I recalled. There is something eerie about the play, though, as if it showed us how to characterise, and we're all still re-enacting it whenever we think about how we think.

March 12th; Correct my Arabic homework.
March 11th; Finish the surprisingly powerful read 'The Silent Partner' I found in mother's bookshelves by Anders Bodelsen. Translated from the Danish in the 1960s [the original title 'Think of a Number' is much better - what can the publisher have been thinking?] this is a gripping thriller set in a bank in a small Danish town in about 1964. A lurid cover says it was a 70s film with Susannah York in and I find it was a Danish film under the original title. The atmosphere of daily life in the bank is well-drawn, and the tension mounts steadily as quiet clerk Borck works out that a Father Christmas is planning to hold up the bank. Worth reading.

March 10th; 2nd drink with Ed in Bradford.
March 9th; Start 'Hamlet' on train to Bradford.

March 8th; Scientific American piece on Cognitive Radio.
March 7th; Mother's relapses worrying. Finishing 'Design Literacy', by Steven Heller and Karen Pomeroy, was more of a chore than I expected. A book about 20th-century graphic history, rather slanted towards typography, it has lots of interesting short chapters about individual designers and poster campaigns, but a lot of other sections seemed to have no reason for being there. Patchy. Nice sections on the Pushpin Studio and some individual pack designs, but confused overall.

March 6th; Read 'The Tipping Point' by Malcolm Gladwell. Rather fun. A beautiful package, which tells you in chatty snippets of genuine science all about how people meet each other, why some folk know so many more people than others, and so how rumours and crazes spread. Fascinating section on the overnight word-of-mouth campaign that led to the British meeting opposition at Lexington, starting the American War of Independence. In terms of doing it yourself, it seems you have to find some 'connectors' & 'mavens' & 'salesmen' and get them interested - not necessarily an easy thing to do. The section on 'Sesame Street' is a bit exasperating, because it reveals how psychologists did lots of experiments in the 60s to assess what small children like, got it totally wrong, and then did more experiments 20 years later to change their mind and produce 'Blue's Clues'. All they had to do in the 60s was ask a couple of experienced nursery teachers [or watch children's shows like 'Jackanory'] and they could have learned back then that small children like lots of repetition, long pauses, and mixes of fact & fantasy. Instead, they did lots of misconceived experiments and produced the dog's dinner of Sesame Street, which Gladwell still refers to breathlessly with words like 'genius'. The anecdote about one scriptwriter deciding he had to work on the Street on the basis of one feeble pun is just embarrassing. This part of the book looked oddly like a space filler. Despite being a bit less than the sum of its parts, a good read overall with a stimulating open and close.
March 5th; Finished a Hebden Library book called 'Icons of Fashion' , subtitled 'The 20th Century', edited by Gerda Buxbaum. I wonder how long we'll be using 'icon' in that horribly loose sense? Eighty two-page chapters of facing text and illustrations, both intriguing and yet not quite good enough. Lots of today's designers seem to admire Madeleine Vionnet, for example, yet the pictures for her page do not quite show why. Startling to read that someone like her can be credited so precisely with inventing the bias cut. Did no-one before the 1920s really cut cloth diagonally? How odd. The book was predictibly skewed towards the 1990s, and less predictibly skewed towards New York and away from Milan. The biographical list of folk like Azzedine Alaia at the back missed out from the main text might have made a better book plan. I would have preferred a book of only designers, instead of designers mixed with rather vapid chapters called 'sportswear', 'second skin', 'street', 'outsize' and so on. Neither fish nor fowl. Illustrative clutter fails to really show the clothes.

March 4th; Read mother's old paperback copy of 'The Age of Scandal' by T.H. White. Entertaining. White uses the title to refer to the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, roughly 1750 to 1815, a period of - he enthusiastically claims - unabashed aristocratic self-confidence. With High Tory zest, White contrasts a proud, gossipy era to the shrunken mid-twentieth century as he sees it. Some plates of contemporary satirical engravings by Hogarth and other artists add to the book. One interesting chapter tells of how strange some of the fashionable pronunciations of the time would sound now. 'Oblige' was pronounced as 'obleege' by some older people, who were also, in the 1780s, still stressing the middle syllable in 'balcony' and referring to the capital as 'Lonnon'. Apparently Gladstone [an accent midway between 1950 and 1750, supposedly] can still be heard on very early sound recordings. White also says people of the Age of Scandal spoke more slowly, read books and walked around much more slowly than people do now. I would have liked to learn a little more about the Gordon riots.
March 3rd; The Baptist church opposite Hebden Bridge's cinema has a new embarrassing poster up. A large hand, dripping with blood, is replacing a jagged fragment into a shattered and sad-looking red heart which has a downturned mouth and eyes with eyelashes. Arrows link three pairs of words: Toothache >> Dentist / Earache >> Doctor / Heartache >> Jesus.

March 2nd; Read library copy of Edward Wilson's 'Consilience'. Quite a disappointment. His writing is lucid, even with his fondness for dropping in words like 'corybantic', 'conferee', 'introit'. 'Consilience' seems to mean something between 'consistency' and 'interlocking'. His book says that the arts and the humanities need to converge more with the natural sciences and base more of their work on clinical psychology, and I think he's right. They do. He goes to great pains to show sympathetic respect for the folk subjects of the past [theology, religious art, most of philosophy, etc], and tries his best to depict a rich, exciting future of interdisciplinary co-operation based on a scientistic paradigm maturing in all fields. However, aside from this tone of tactfully magnanimous in victory, the book is a bit short on actual ideas or insights. There are many good bits. The part showing how Westermarck's work on incest taboos damages Freudianism beyond repair is nice, but the book fails to add parts like this together. Wilson writes about the adequacies and inadequacies of economics and sets out lists of what a proper subject must offer, including predictive accuracy, without once reflecting that any accurately predictive economic theory would immediately falsify itself. People would trade on the theory's predictions in financial markets and thereby invalidate the predictions. A moment's thought shows that this problem threatens any predictive or repeatable social result. Early on, he owns up to some teenage years of Biblical literalism as a Southern Baptist, reminding me of Dawkins, another vigorously scientistic Darwinian who admits to his own evangelical Christian anti-evolution teenage period - before, like Wilson, being born again to the noble project of science. Even as Wilson leaves behind the Genesis account of biology, he describes himself arriving at university as an ant enthusiast, enthralled by the universal species classification of Linnaeus, which he revealingly describes as seductively simplistic and unifying: "It is, in other words, a conceptual world made for the mind of an eighteen-year-old." [Speak for yourself, Edward.] He describes how his Phd on ant-pheromone signalling involved him in co-operating with a chemist and then a mathematician, and contrasts this, quite rightly, with the pompous way most humanities theorists come up with their own amateurish sketches of human nature. But many of his descriptions of other subjects left me wondering how much he really understood them. The page discussing Milton mystified me - I can't see what purpose it serves, other than to show he has read some Milton. Wilson's final rousing vision of empirical co-operation between subjects progressing piecemeal on many fronts sounded like more of the same, in all directions, on and on. Oddly Linnaean, even.
March 1st; Check my e-mail at local library.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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