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2010
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April 30th; Buy more see-through plastic board. Dinner with Robin.

April 29th; Read a friend's copy of 'The West and The Rest' by Roger Scruton, an excellent, sympathetic, yet also critical, account of why Islamic societies differ from Europe and by extension North America's tradition. The short argument is that Islam conceives of a united religious society, while Christianity from the beginning separates politics and the law from the divine. As a result, Islamic societies cannot accept a secular society in which power is limited by an impersonal, non-religious tradition of law - hence Islam's incompatibility with democracy, or even with liberal autocracy. Scruton understands the attacks of September 2001 more clearly & deeply than anyone else I've seen. Later listen to Melvyn Bragg's guests discussing the cyclical-history theory of Ibn Khaldun while I attach castors to underside of bookcase.
April 28th; Mexican lunch & visit some offices.

April 27th; The rage continues.
April 26th; I wake from a vivid dream in which I help a quite attractive blonde blind woman across the road and she reproaches me for not remembering we met some years ago. An online poster called Clergham tells a vivid tale of a woman accosting her in a Scottish public loo and telling her, uninvited, that her figure will never be as good again once she has had a child. Clergham's trenchant summary: "Fvck off with your foetus chat, toilet woman." Inese intriguingly suggested two days ago that Europe's Gypsies need a 'Hochdeutsch'-style unified version of the Roma language. Tonight Mystery Friend 2 flies into town in time for a late evening drink, and expresses some ennui & tiredness. He mentions that some weeks ago a woman in his building asked after his elderly frail neighbour Jeno. Had he seen Jeno recently, she asked? No, he replied, but promised to tell her if he did. Going abroad on business a fortnight ago he noticed an odd smell around Jeno's door. By his return this odour has now, he says, become an overpowering stench.

April 25th; Change a cupboard door round, make some clay stuff, and some new cufflinks, and assemble the other few needed castor holders for the see-through bookcase. This is again while listening to Melvyn Bragg's radio show picking out topics as diverse as the 1429 Siege of Orleans, Anti-matter, Robin Hood, Roman Satire, and Socrates. Oddly, just as the two-part discussion on the history of cities makes no mention of Jane Jacobs' critique of town planning {and spends several minutes on Los Angeles without mentioning the famous cartel of Firestone Tires, Standard Oil, and General Motors that conspired to buy up and shut down the LA public-transport system}, so the discussion on Socrates makes no mention of Izzy Stone's book on his trial. Bragg and his guests vaguely discuss Socrates' anti-democratic teaching without adding that several of his students took part in the two anti-democratic dictatorships that seized power in Athens just a couple of years before the trial. As Stone plausibly suggests, it's highly likely that this is what the charge of "corrupting the youth" was really about, not that this seems to occur to any of Bragg's specialist guests. Still, they are interesting enough that I am frustrated when I cannot play many of the podcasts from the archive, such as the one about the Siege of Munster.
April 24th; In the morning finish 'The Book of J', an interesting book by American literary critic Harold Bloom. It is about the author that scholars call 'J', believed to be the writer of most of the first three books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. Along with Bloom's discussion, the book contains a new translation into English from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg of J's text - Rosenberg's prose is fresh and sharp. Bloom says J is one of the great writers of world literature, and has an overlooked ironic humour. He thinks J was an aristocratic woman in the late days of Solomon's court just after 1,000 BC. Much of the oddness of the text Bloom takes as J politically commenting on the weak state of Israel in her own time, 3,000 years ago. Jahweh/Jehovah is, according to Bloom, a brilliantly idiosyncratic character, all-too-human, painted with a wry woman's view of male unreasonableness. Changes much of what I thought I knew about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As usual, Bloom scatters wonderful provocations through the book, such as suggesting the other writer from the intervening three millennia closest to J in style and mood is ....Kafka. In the afternoon go with Inese down a cave system in the Buda hills for three hours. Much wriggling on our tummies through worryingly small gaps, and passages with oppressively low ceilings. One American in our group gets stuck for 20 minutes in one tight passage but luckily no-one has a panic attack.

April 23rd; British election getting interesting.
April 22nd; Lunch with Marguerite, tea with Magdolna.

April 21st; Castor holders sit around.
April 20th; I phone the electoral people, and they kindly say if I fax them before 5pm then they can register me. Perhaps I'll be back for that.

April 19th; Make eight holders with which to attach the castors to the underside of the see-through bookcase. As I do this, listen to Melvyn Bragg getting his guests to talk about, among other things, William Hazlitt. Hazlitt sounds like another gifted, persuasive apologist for violent dictatorships.
April 18th; Find the 24-hour post office. Instead of the gloomy, high-ceilinged, overheated socialist hall of old with its deep shadows, shabby modernist furniture, and dozing groups of smelly people, it has moved. Now it is a small neat desk attached to an inside wall of a warehouse-sized Tesco supermarket in a suburb, living inside the belly of the retail beast like gut flora. All over town, warm sunshine suddenly reappears. The totty wander about outdoors in ones and twos, glaring suspiciously up at the clear blue sky in case it tricks them again. Scrabble evening in Hungarian at Marguerite's, with Csilla & Kati. Quite testing but enjoyable - first time I've ever played the game in Magyar. Still remember how white-haired Marjorie Hall, along with her three-wheeler bubble car with joystick, hundred-odd budgerigars in her small house somewhere in south Manchester, startling knowledge of science-fiction for a lady of around 70 {at least startling back then, or startling to the six-year-old me}... also had four separate Scrabble sets. Each had different-valued tiles for the letters. One set was for each of English, German, Polish, and French. She spoke all four well enough to play and win in them. Playing the game in Hungarian, I come last out of four, but really not too bad. I get a renewed respect for people who are good at Scrabble, and Marguerite is much encouraged and enthused about the language.

April 17th; Cloudy again. At the gym, one of the girls behind the counter is wearing a black shirt with very big white writing on it, in English, each letter at least 3 or 4 inches high. It says LIFE IS FULL OF SWEET - the final word {probably THINGS} down just above her crotch isn't visible. I ask what it is, and she gets embarrassed and says I can't see it. Later then, I say. "Nor later", she snaps. The mysterious Josh sends me another intriguing find - some quite extraordinary Argentinian political art. Still haven't followed up his suggestion to try out chatroulette. Many claim this is mainly random males showing off their todgers on camera, but your fearless correspondent must see these things for himself, and not simply rely on rumour.
April 16th; Buy more castors from the man at SKF, visit the steel rod warehouse, drop in on Ilan. We discuss his recent reunion with schoolfriends in Israel and walk down to the river in bright sunshine.

April 15th; Around 6am, read 'Dowsing' by Hamish Miller. This is an extremely short book of fifty odd pages, half of which are rather lovely line drawings by Jean Hands. Some of the drawings include a bearded New Age Codger in a floppy hat, whom I take to be Mr Miller. A simple, encouraging how-to guide in learning to dowse, the illustrations, short sentences, and small-page format give it the comforting feel of a prewar children's book. Since it says little more than "Here's how to try it yourself, so get on with it", I can't comment much unless I cut up a coat hanger and have a go.
Cloudy & rainy all day, probably down to those dashed cunning Icelanders and their fiendish Magma Weapon.
April 14th; Buy large piece of white card from the craft shop. Solemnly make a half-month calendar. Draw a box for each of the next 17 days.

April 13th; Finished a friend's copy of 'The King of Oil', by Daniel Ammann, a biography of Marc Rich. Rich is the commodities trader who invented the modern spot-oil market while working at Philipp Brothers, and then branched out with his own firm. Spanning his successes through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the book gave me odd visions of chunky white telephones, telex machines, sideburns, big lapels, jumbo jets in simpler days when you just walked across the tarmac to get on the aeroplane, and business meetings where everyone smokes. The Swiss journalist who wrote the book keeps emphasising how Rich's life is the "American Dream" probably because the book was aimed at US readers, and to put into contrast how betrayed Rich feels by the USA, but the most striking thing is how unAmerican his life really was. After his parents move from Poland to Belgium, Rich lives his first few years in Antwerp, and from there they flee hurriedly to Morocco in the early months of World War Two. Rich grows up speaking French with his mother and German with his father. Arriving in the US from Morocco, he learns English, and starts young in the 1950s at the New York branch of a commodity trading firm entirely run by Jewish exiles from Europe, many of them German-speakers. Rising fast as a young deal-maker, his firm sends him all over the world, and he spends six-month stints in various South American countries learning Spanish and arranging long-term metals contracts. He comes to love Spanish culture, is sent when still young to manage the firm's Madrid office, adores Spain and lives there for years with his wife, doing business with African, Latin American, and Arab countries. To this day he has Spanish-speaking servants. While living in Spain, Rich breaks with Philipp Brothers over his frustrated desire to do bigger, riskier oil deals, sets up his own firm, headquarters it in Switzerland, and divides his time between a Swiss village near Zug, his home in Spain, and New York. Nine years on, in 1983, while at the top of the spot-oil market he has invented, he is prosecuted in the US for illegal trades under a byzantine set of price-fixing laws Nixon enacted during the early-70s oil crisis, involving three price bands for oil, all identical in substance so tempting some sort of arbitrage abuse. Prosecutors widen the scope of their investigation as they raid Rich's firm for documents. Rich flees to Switzerland as the young prosecutor Rudy Giuliani turns his case into a cause celebre possibly to promote his own political career, and deploys anti-gangster laws to seize Rich's assets in the US. Rich becomes demonised in the US press as a billionaire fugitive from justice who even traded with Iran during the hostage crisis {though his Swiss firm can do so legally, just as it traded with the Shah of Iran before the revolution, and Rich believes by 1979 he is Spanish, not American - the New York prosecutors retort he renounced US citizenship invalidly}. American prosecutors do all they can during a stubborn almost-20-year siege to either recapture him from abroad {with an illegal kidnapping on Swiss soil one attempt that fails} or at least damage his global network of trading contacts {One US investigator approvingly quotes without irony a motto used by the Persian Shah's secret police SAVAK "If you can't catch the fish, take away the water."} After appeals from friends high up in the Israeli government, Rich at last gets his case looked at by Bill Clinton who issues a presidential pardon as he leaves office, to a general reaction of fury in the American media. Even if Ammann has been overly sympathetic and has left important episodes out of the book, Giuliani's repeated refusal to be interviewed by the author about the subject of his first big passionate prosecution makes it hard to take the original tax-evasion case very seriously. Rich claimed, and continues to claim, that every oil trade he did prompting the original prosecution was completely legal. Of course he would. There was never a trial, either civil as would have been normal, nor criminal as the prosecutors unusually made this case, so both sides' allegations remain untested in court. However, you might expect Giuliani to want to give his account of his pioneering use of RICO anti-racketeering laws against a business he never alleged was organised crime, the case that made the New York lawyer famous. With a curious symmetry, Prosecutor Giuliani made extensive use of the press at the start of the case, but now has no desire to talk about Rich's case, while Rich spent years avoiding the press before finally submitting to this biography. In fact it's not that easy to imagine what's missing from the book since Ammann interviews several people who spent their whole career pursuing Rich, like lawyer Sandy Weinberg. If they could have mentioned anything other than 1) the original oil-trade offences under Nixon's emergency laws, 2) non-US-citizen Rich's probably legal sanctions-busting through his Swiss-based firm, and 3) his decision to flee the US because he knew a show trial when he saw one - you'd expect them to cite some other crimes. There's even a suggestion that Giuliani & Weinberg deliberately avoided extraditing Rich from Switzerland in the early 80s when the Swiss authorities were still co-operating, perhaps because the two prosecutors knew the case was weak and served them better having Rich "on the run". At the same time, it's easy to see how Rich fell into the trap. A cold fish, a stickler for punctuality and hard work, naive with women, suspicious of journalists {therefore "secretive"}, he seems to inspire great loyalty but to be hard to actually like. The vast amounts of money arouse envy, and while most US critics might not be explicitly antisemitic, Marc Rich does seem an ideal model for the rootless cosmopolitan loyal to no nation that has always been the caricature of the manipulative Jewish plutocrat. With his relentless seven-day working week, Rich could easily be accused of greed. I wouldn't underestimate how many Americans loathe him instinctively just for speaking four languages and liking other parts of the world. His first wife Denise was born in the US [though only just - her Mitteleuropan Jewish parents came from near in Eastern Europe to where Rich's parents came from] but Rich divorced the Brooklyn girl and married a European, so that's another strike against him. In mid-marriage the billionaire's wife Denise became, slightly bizarrely, a successful songwriter and wrote one tune sung by Sister Sledge - how could the stony-hearted Rich turn his back on good homey American culture like that?
What conclusion can be drawn from this American Dream life? Well if a European Jew who was born in Antwerp and will probably die in Switzerland, who has had his daughter's grave moved to Israel so he doesn't have to ever enter the US again to visit her graveside, speaks three European languages aside from English, and has lived as much of his life in Europe as the US can be called "American", the lesson seems clear. Don't go to the United States, and if you do, never ever take citizenship there. Renouncing US citizenship seems to be rather like trying to leave a cult. And if you get bad PR or make a blunder, you might just be hounded across the world like chess-player Bobby Fisher, another global fugitive from ambitious careerist prosecutors. This book confirms my growing hunch that beneath its free-trading British-Dutch veneer, the US is really a Continental European country like France or Spain or Russia; a monolith that thinks inflexibly; government and legal system only distantly linked to common sense. Already by Rich's time in the early postwar boom, that veneer was rubbing thin to reveal the chipboard beneath.
April 12th; Still need to test the light-fitting in my bathroom.

April 11th; Meet Mystery Friend 2 and 3-Girlfriend Tamas for drinks. Hungarians go to vote. Exit polls show the main right-wing party and the red-neck anti-Gypsy far-right party do very well. Their vote was probably slightly assisted by the plane crash of a Russian aeroplane in Russia yesterday killing around 90 senior people from an anti-Russian political party in Poland, including that country's president. The Poles, pointedly not invited, were on their way to an event commemorating a massacre of some Poles in Russia in World War Two.
April 10th; Kind Alvi helps me through a mammoth session actually sending in the e-text to The Mighty Apple for approval. Simply the process of steering through the application process for an iPhone app takes us five hours in a cafe, and Alvi says it took him days to send in his first app from his software firm. Good to see how the firm famous for usability in the country famous for being clear, simple, and customer-centred handles people as soon as it can deal with them on its own terms.

April 9th; Rather wonderful how empty the floor of my main room is now that the books are on a bookcase. Of course, books will come off for a day or two next week while I fit the castors. Drop by SKF ball-bearing showroom to order six more castors from the man and check their name. They're 5/8ths he says, not saying the inch, since it's a standard size I suppose. During day, edit the XHTML in the iPhone app which, as Alvi warned, is like HTML but "less forgiving".
April 8th; Bookcase now semi-finished, hurrah! Only the casters need to go on, and I think I see a way to do this. Yesterday made a pivot for the kitchen scales, so can declare them finished. Lunch with Alvi, who is extremely helpful about what is going wrong with the e-text for iPhone. By night, attend the opening of Robin's impressive joint show with Hans & Fukui. Robin leads with his recent cracked-earth pieces. Later go with Terri to quickly look at another opening. This is a set of cookbook-style pictures of magic spells by Hungarian photographer Luca Gobolyos. These are for a woman to bewitch a man, including scones with fingernails baked in them, some recipes with knicker-boiling, and pudding or wine containing drops of the girl's menstrual blood. Presumably ironic. Perhaps.

April 7th; Two differently amusing talks about architecture from that TED website, both by Americans. The first is unintentionally funny. A man in a fabulously clashing shirt and tie enthuses about his firm's visionary aesthetics, designing buildings with rounded bits. This is Greg Lynn, who smugly uses the revealing metaphor that "turns out it's not rocket science to design a sacred space." He says "organic" a lot. Many of his structures do look organic, often resembling fungal growths: distended, bulging, eerie, globular forms, sometimes in vile colours. Wait for the eye-wateringly ugly tea set he proudly shows towards the end of the talk. He presents this as a great leap forward beyond the boxy paradigm of 20th-century modernist rectangles, but of course it is the exact same thing in its new curvy, bulbous disguise. These are people unaesthetic to the point of mental handicap getting dizzily intoxicated over new materials and techniques: just as the Bauhausers were drunk with excitement over their thrilling steel girders, sheet glass, and moulded concrete 90 years ago. At one puzzling point he shows a slide of a tropical frog's coloured markings and claims that "a change in the form indicates a change in the colour pattern", when it clearly does nothing of the kind. Despite invoking all the modernist buzzwords, 'utility', 'form' and 'function', it's easy to see these buildings are functionally poor and will be very costly to maintain and mend. The talk begins with a crass overview of architectural history. This is where he starts by saying that classicism is based on fractions {fair enough}, that gothic architecture was invented after the invention of calculus {what?}, and that his design work fully brings differential calculus into buildings. Apart from misplacing the gothic by six centuries he shows a slide of what looks to me a lot like the ceiling of King's College Chapel, attributes it to Christopher Wren {born about a century after the chapel gets finished} and refers to it as "King's Cross". I'm not making this up. If he meant the railway station, of course, that isn't even neo-gothic so he's wrong there too. Watch Lynn's video yourself if you don't believe me. We're obviously not safe from innovator-genius architects yet. The second talk is intentionally funny as well as irate. {"It's a despotic building. It wants us to feel like termites."} by an entertainingly angry man diagnosing bad cityscapes and sterile suburbia acoss the US. His criticism is sharp and important. James Kunstler, perhaps shrewdly, stops just short of taking on modernism in architecture per se, but when he speaks in the modernist argot of "vocabularies" and "syntaxes" of town spaces that "work", notice that most of his exemplar slides are pictures of cities made before 1900. I listen to all this while staying up most of the night putting more holes and rods into my perhaps rather foolishly modernist bookcase. I suspect I too have created a pseudo-functional object that pretends to be practical, but really shows off its austere, faux-industrial look for shallow reasons of fashion.
April 6th; Wake late, feeling sluggish & a little confused. Finish novel lent to me by Mystery Friend 2, 'The Fascination of Evil' by Florian Zeller, translated from the French by Sue Dyson into a smooth, lucid English often described with words like 'lean' and 'spare'. About a troubled visit to Cairo by two French novelists, this book has a curious effect on me. For most of the evening I have trouble shaking off its strangely thin yet compelling mood, even with the empty-after-the-Chinese-takeaway feeling. Long ago I used to like the way English translations of books from other languages read, and even try to write that prose. Clear, simple sentences, with slightly plain choices of wording - that curious, flat, sometimes pleasantly hollow feel writing has once all native-tongue nuance has been rinsed out. No new slang can really replace the old {or at least publishers frown on translators trying} and you're left with something like a business-English summary of the text. This translation, despite thie inevitable flatness, still gripped me to the end. The themes of the book are The West versus Islam, men's attitudes to women, and why people write novels. The mood of the novel might also match how I feel today.

April 5th; Dinner with Mystery Friend 2, where we discuss Anthony Robbins, the Burmese campaign, and whether strong spice can slow the growth of tumours. After that, along with 3-Girlfriend Tamas, we watch the original 'Italian Job' on DVD, which is a lot funnier than I remember, but has some strange omissions. I feel sure there was a section now missing where Benny Hill has to introduce the naughty computer tape into the traffic-control headquarters building. I now see better the symbolic power of the closing scene where they balance over the abyss, the gold bullion slowly sliding down the bus. A dramatic image for irony, frustration, and paradox worthy of Greek myth.
April 4th; Finish a book by Michael Frayn, 'The Human Touch'. Frayn is unusual, being someone with an analytical philosophy degree who then became a successful novelist and playwright. His grounding in logic and philosophy of mind - subjects this book muse over - might explain his fiction being quite intellectual. That's a fair description of his stage play about quantum physicists, 'Copenhagen', or his novel about computer engineers, 'Tin Men'. This book is like a rambling review of philosophy from a charming dinner guest. In parts it goes on a bit, in other places captures the topic well. Intriguingly, he saunters round by page 290-odd to a leisurely but very polite destruction of Chomsky's Deep Grammar dogma, followed by a concise attack on 'mentalese' {which he seems to know of only from Pinker, not its originator Jerry Fodor}. Then something which looks like a more shy or sly undermining of Wittgenstein's social-rule-following fundamentalism, without him actually saying it, and a mildly convincing critique of artificial intelligence which drifts alongside the salient points. Some of his thoughts I disagreed with, but might be a good introduction to philosophy for a reader who likes his novels & plays.

April 3rd; New Facebook page about biotech ivory.
April 2nd; Buy a couple of darling little ball-bearing units from nearby SKF showroom. It has the poignantly faded window display of all Eastern-Bloc industrial-parts suppliers. Different bearings are arranged among 5-inch-wide yellow-sprayed European-Union stars cut out of 2-inch-thick polystyrene visibly coated with dust.

April 1st; Sunny streets. Get to Rob's for a late breakfast. He plays and explains some Mozart.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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