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2012
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June 30th; Just look what the cat brought in. Stumble across a curious piece of early Zappa from around the Mothers of Invention period ...he is smiling in an oddly guileless way in the cover art, he is singing "I love you", and the song is about romantic happiness. Either a cynical attempt to have a conventional hit, or a glimpse of Frank before the sneering days? Contrasting this with the later records, all of him with an utterly serious face (or a snide smirk) singing about anything except love, tempting to wonder if "that girl he left behind before he went out to see this great big world" perhaps didn't "feel the same way she felt before" when he got back? Compare that to the later and longer Yo Mama with its interminable anguished guitar break sandwiched in between the smart-alec mocking open and close, so obviously the song of a man whose heart has been broken, is too proud to show his feelings in words, and can only do it with elaborately clever instrumental bravura.

June 29th; This book looks a bit worrying.
June 28th; The cover art with fish swimming over the heads of cattle probably has special resonance for Dutch people. This apparently is "post-stoner" music. A sort of heavy-metal jazz, by the sound of it.

June 27th; A couple of days ago watched with Olga rather depressing but very well-made Iranian film 'A Separation'. It is about how Persian society, at least in Teheran, seems to be filled with a difficult mixture of hypocrisy and pious adherence to religious dogma. Clever plotting. What looks at first like a low-key domestic drama moves forward in surprising directions.
June 26th; With a friend compare reactions to Parmigianino's Madonna of the Long Neck. I find the long fingers the most uncanny, she more notices the weirdly elongated baby.

June 25th; Can one Canute-like senator defy the wiretapping tide?; Did governments spend it all on pensions?; Does time ever flow backwards?
June 24th; New illustration for the physics-book site. Old illustration depicting what an American academic I know says is a typical day at the office. Take a train and a bus with Olga to see Dobogoko, the Beating Heart Stone, which seems to be a hill, a rumour, and some national park woodland. The woods are dotted with boulders scratched with Hungarian runic inscriptions about pagan myths.

June 23rd; Just discovered that Julian of Norwich was a woman, not a man. Embarrassing how many basic gaps are still unfilled. And an anchoress, no less, which seems to have been a woman who chose to get bricked up for years into a cell in the wall of a church, with nothing but a grille or a couple of windows to allow food in and a bedpan out. Rather drastic way to remove distractions in worship, but probably effective. This King-Jamesish English transcription is wonderfully clear and vigorous, even if the text on this Wiki page must be a couple of centuries more recent than Julian herself. "Here saw I a great oneing betwixt Christ and us, to mine understanding: for when He was in pain, we were in pain." The idea that worthwhile suffering can bring purification has gone slightly out of fashion, but there is no mistaking the intense and sincere yearning. "Love was without beginning, is, and shall be without ending. For which love He said full sweetly these words: If I might suffer more, I would suffer more." Extreme as it sounds now, she is constantly moving, and thereby urging us also to move, from anguish into peace. She even seems to have a name for this shift: the Overpassing. "He willeth that we set our hearts in the Overpassing : that is to say, from the pain that we feel into the bliss that we trust." These saints and mystics were believed to be doing a kind of cumulative spiritual work to advance the rest of us, and if we feel more smug (or more confident, to be kinder) about our lives these days it might be a sign the 1370s were well spent after all.
June 22nd; What made this High Sixties song a success beyond the tune? It has (1) twisted romance, (2) pompous politics, (3) self-righteous rudeness, but is there something else? Perhaps a rejection of sexually assertive women? Hard to tell with just a paper napkin's worth of lyrics to go on.

June 21st; Longest day, though they all seem a bit long right now. Something very odd about this diagram showing (I think American) movie-poster colours since 1914. This is that the shift from black-and-white films to colour films seems to have had no noticeable effect on the posters, not something the person who did the analysis mentions in his explanation. Also, the overall bank of coloured lines looks strangely consistent, but how different would any other data set of coloured images be? For example advertisements for cars since 1914, or posters for stage plays. The coder who did this break-down this has an Indian-sounding name, and promises to do a similar analysis of Bollywood and other national cinema film-poster colours when he gets time, but would a colour scan of canned-food adverts or holiday travel posters look much different?
June 20th; Finally got Marion's book about Hungary in the 1980s up onto Amazon.com. Getting Amazon.co.uk to co-operate a tougher proposition, it seems. Interesting, slightly complicated 2-hour film about a religious heresy. Despite its dreadful title and ridiculous introduction, this is worth watching. Goes over much of the material Dan Brown plagiarised, contradicting most of it. A strong black coffee might help - after 5 minutes in a quite dense explanation begins and the details come fairly thick and fast from there on. Perhaps a tad worrying is that the central person in the documentary, a Canadian "professional code-cracker", also helped come to the rather unconvincing conclusion of the Lockerbie air-crash investigation. Still, on its own merits, this story sounds plausible and raises some intriguing questions, not least to do with the peculiar building in Manhattan and the involvement of the strange prewar Russian artist and mystic Nicholas Roerich. I try to persuade Olga that Roerich is a more outgoing & consciously political version of the 'English Surrealist' painter Cecil Collins.

June 19th; Over a week now since the newer seamstress told me a simple mend cannot be done, droning on with her "expert" opinion, not even realising she is interrupting me as I try to politely explain there are two things I want her to do to a pair of cord trousers I took her. I never got to tell her the second thing (finishing off something she could have done more thoroughly the first time) because I just get fed up with her interrupting and leave, taking my business away for ever. How many centuries is it going to take Hungarians to grasp that this is why they are poor? I didn't go there to be lectured on what she thinks can be done. I went there to give her some work and to pay her to do the best she can with a mend on a cheap pair of trousers so as to save my valuable time and energy. Now of course I will have to do the sewing myself, and it will obviously be a much better mend than a Hungarian seamstress would do, but her obstinacy has succeeded in wasting some of my time, again, time I badly need to use for other things. What is remarkable about countries like this is the way people think they are in a position to negotiate what work they decide to do and yet at the same time complain bitterly about not having enough work and not getting enough money for it. It's a kind of autism where understanding how the customer whose money they want feels about that work is just completely beyond them. Meanwhile, despite the kind patience of Xenia at the copy shop, I am still reeling from the sheer slowness (a total of two man days standing over her spread across almost two weeks) and the fact that the last half-day - when I left her to work alone for a couple of hours - I came back to find all the rulers misprinted, so useless. After a fortnight of polite patience, I found tears welling up despite myself. Of course I was courteous, paid, went home and started again with the wearying task of redoing the last 3/4 of the work myself - ie. properly. Never mind that the inch scale she commissioned out to someone called Zsolti within the shop was in tenths not sixteenths (no-one thought to ask me if I wanted that), both inches and centimetres had the 7 digits all the wrong size, and two different sizes of 1 digit (barely discernible to the naked eye, in their defence, though people who work at printers are supposed to see things customers do not). Forget that the millimetre markings were irregular, and were laid out by Xenia for hours of work before she realised the edges would not print so we had to lose half a day of work and change the layout - despite all this, I go back one more time to work with the amiable lad taking her place during her ten days off. He does it badly of course, cutting out a set of postcards so poorly they are effectively unusable. So I have to go back to the rival copy shop that also got a job wrong for me in the past. Now, after about twelve hours of work myself over several days I should be doing other things, and despite my lack of experience with Photoshop, the work already looks better. I have done what I have to do every time. Do as much of the job myself as I can so as to cut the amount of intelligent or willing effort required from any worker (Hungarian or even English these days, judging from the extraordinarily shoddy work and consistently insolent attitude I got from the British section of this firm) to the absolute minimum.
Amusing self-pity song by a duo, at least one of them Hungarian. Despite the moaning about how sad it is to be vain & self-centred - you can see and hear that the singer really is vain & self-centred. Perfect case of someone pretending to criticise themselves but actually demanding more of everything.
June 18th; Some kind of football event is on. At bars in the sticky heat of the evenings that unsettling muffled roar or moan of football crowds comes out of television sets set up for outdoor tables. By night meet Franc for a quick beer at a bar. To make the whole experience odder we are being sprayed by cold-water mist as we sit hunched, heads low, at the only empty table - one right below the big screen showing a match. Portugal versus some country, perhaps Holland.

June 17th; Finish one of the Flashman novels Jeremy kindly lent me. 'Flashman at the Charge' is entertainingly narrated by the dastardly and rogueish coward Flashman. This adult character lives out the adventures in adult life that his 20th-century recreator, George MacDonald Fraser, imagines for a character well-known from a 19th-century book - but there only as an adolescent boy. Flashman was the evil swaggering bully of the famous 'Tom Brown's School Days', a tale of sadistic violence at a famous English public school in the 1830s which shocked readers in the 1850s. Fraser's novels centre round invented later exploits of Hughes' vicious brute, Flashman, ignoring the earnestly Christian boy heroes of the original novel. (For anyone who saw Michael Palin's 1970s television comedies 'Ripping Yarns', in the story called 'Tomkinson's School Days' the character simply named School Bully is Palin's version of the original Flashman.) In the 1973 novel Flashman accidentally gets sent to the Crimean War, despite his best efforts to avoid any fighting, and finds himself caught up in the doomed Charge of the Light Brigade against Russian artillery. Characteristically, the cowardly antihero emerges totally unscratched, wrongly celebrated as dashingly and inspiringly heroic.
June 16th; I finish a book I got for Christmas from Robin and family 'I Before E' by Judy Parkinson. This is a cheerfully old-fashioned set of little rhymes and mnemonics to help people remember things, like Richard Of York ....Gave Battle In Vain (Red Orange Yellow ....Green Blue Indigo Violet) to recall the order of the spectrum colours. Some interesting little ditties and poems, a refreshing return to a recognition that memorising is important too, not just comprehension - the mantra of the 1950s and 60s, and a mildly amusing cover (at least on my copy) deliberately mimicking the look of a battered pre-war Penguin paperback.

June 15th; This seems to see itself as nostalgic, gentlemanly porn. Note naughty proximity of lit cigarette to aircraft fuel tanks.
June 14th; Why didn't I design my bookcase like this instead of the way I did? One of those shockingly simple ideas that show true talent.

June 13th; Although Olga cooked something delicious and healthy on Monday night, the cakes I baked an hour or two afterwards seem to give me some kind of nasty food poisoning. I slip in and out of consciousness on her sofa throughout the lost Tuesday, watched over by her round-eyed, mildly-concerned, non-allergenic cat Katja (never allowed out, therefore no parasites or ticks, therefore stimulating no allergic reaction). Vague memories from about thirty hours of sickness waking up now and then seeing Olga's eerie electronic cigarette, a strange green glowing tip. This little green light dims and brightens in the darkness as she puffs away at it, sitting at her computer steering a virtual-reality puppet through a set of snowy mountain passes in some bleak-looking imaginary world. Here is one of those occasional long articles that seriously justify the New Yorker: Brainstorming Doesn't Really Work.
June 12th; Yesterday only 5 hours, from 7.30am to half past midday, getting kind Xenia at the copy shop to finish the fusion-book publicity ruler. Still much to do, but at least gives me more to post to Melanie in England.

June 11th; For kitty-lovers, 2 jolly images: Naughty Pussy / Defiant Feline.
June 10th; Still a bit weary after spending midday to 9pm without break on Friday with the wondrously patient Xenia at the local copy shop. I pay her for design work as she pulls together images for promotional materials for the physics book, and all through the day, people walk in off the street, just come up to the counter next to me, ignore my presence completely, and issue her with their demands. Since I am also standing on the customer side of the counter, this is interesting to notice. Not a single Hungarian thinks of asking if I will be long, or if I am doing something, or how long they will have to wait while I finish - the way most customers would in Britain on entering a shop and seeing someone already at the counter who might be a customer perhaps in front of them in order of being served. Not one person. At the end of all this, I take the publicity materials Xenia has helped me print to the 24-hour post office inside the big Tesco supermarket at Pillango utca. Trying to be friendly, I say "Good evening" to the girl at the counter, since it is 11pm by that point. "Good day," she replies rather pointedly, giving me an icy glance, as if it is somehow my fault she is working a night shift.

June 9th; Now for some male lunacy. In this interesting little slide show we see someone try - and then give up - making a huge pyramid of carefully stacked loose coins. One of the unexpected successes of this 9 and a half minute presentation is that it shows us how close to madness a project like this can push someone.
June 8th; Help women's magazines see themselves as they really are.

June 7th; Yes, there is a man who claps faster than anyone else® 
June 6th; One of the odd things about this part of Europe is the moment when a man and a woman (sometimes two men or two women, but this seems to work differently) kiss cheeks. At least in Hungary, the girl appears to be the one - if she can - who decides when this will happen, although I think I have seen men imposing it. Most of the time, just like British people, two people part at a slight angle to each other (about fifteen degrees from facing straight on), say goodbye and just move apart. Sometimes a girl suddenly jabs out her hand to give a firm handshake with almost exaggerated decisiveness, using this to hold the man at a distance. Either he looks likely to kiss her uninvited, or she is tempted to move closer but unwilling to give him the satisfaction of seeing that she is tempted. More interesting is the cancelled or withdrawn kiss-on-the-cheek. The girl smiles and bobs curiously, seeming to ripple her spine. This is because she has moved forward slightly to kiss, then realised a third of a second later the man is not doing the same. Then she cancels the kiss, while trying to conceal that she was ever moving forward to do that in the first place. The fact many do this suggests it is a very important moment for women. Of course, even when the kiss goes ahead, much is still ambiguous. You can sometimes feel the woman's lips are saying "I want you,""Now I know you want me. You do want me, don't you?" This is probably how it normally works everywhere - ambiguous for as long as the woman keeps it that way, if she can.
Here is a very odd half-hour film. Julian Assange, still stuck in somebody's house in England appealing extradition to the United States where he will without doubt get a very unfair trial, interviews two Muslim activists one of whom was detained for several years in the US-run Gitmo Bay camp without charge or access to a lawyer (the camp, I have the growing impression, that Barry O. was handpicked some time before his nomination to keep open). It is clear that this uncharged inmate was treated very badly by the Americans, so proud of the British legal tradition they have convinced themselves they invented. The two Muslims, from a group called Cage Prisoners, make the very reasonable point that while Bush was having people locked up extra-judicially, Obama really did make a change, just as he promised, and with the use of drones is now having people killed extra-judicially. Yet, remarkably, by the end of the film, these two men are starting to sound quietly fanatical and dangerous, perhaps worse than the loudly fanatical and dangerous Americans. The stuff the two Islamic campaigners intone about due legal process and a proper justice system is just a thin veneer for their real beliefs based, literally, on primitive nonsense taken word-for-word from the Quran (or perhaps from the hadith as well, as if that would make a difference). For example, when Assange questions them closely on the Sharia death penalty for a woman convicted of adultery, one keeps repeating that there are so many procedural safeguards in the Quranic stipulation for conviction of adultery, that the evidential bar is set so high (several eyewitnesses must be present during the adulterous sex act), that if a woman is indeed condemned to death (by stoning), then the trial has not been conducted properly. Of course, as any half-educated real lawyer could appreciate at once, this argument completely fails. If proper conviction is in fact impossible then there could be no objection to simply removing that penalty. Whereas, if there is some small chance of conviction, however tiny, (as there must be, otherwise why have the law?) then you must be ready to defend the penalty (death by stoning) on its own merits. It is no defence of a penalty to say it will never be used in practice. The fact they can't even imagine the idea of changing their desert-blood-feud legal code in the smallest detail suggests the idea of having a conversation with them is in fact a waste of time. Whether shouty or politely soft-spoken obviously makes no difference. What they seem to have in mind is total, unswerving adherence to every syllable, every letter, of their unaltered tribal text as an actual legal system. Even for a traditionalist like me generally happy to leave old laws in place, this interview is very worrying indeed.

June 5th; An upwardly mobile sort of day.
1. Cats jump higher than you think. / 2. A tribe in Papua New Guinea points uphill when they discuss the future. / Mr Saracco draws my attention to this handy guide - 3. How to open a bottle of beer with a chainsaw. / 4. Ants that supposedly jump a lot, filmed to suitably eerie music. Nothing happens for the first 30 seconds of footage.
June 4th; A few days ago finished reading in manuscript form 'Secessionist Movements and Ethnic Conflict', by Beata Huszka. Despite being a specialist book this book manages two things. It presents what is at least to me a new analysis, and this analysis tackles a very important question: why some movements agitating for a region to secede from a larger country succeed, or fail, peacefully, and why some succeed, or fail, only after a nasty civil war. Her thesis is that if a region with an independence movement has an ethnic minority politically linked to the centre the region is trying to break away from (for example the Krajina Serbs inside Croatia during the Croatian drive for independence from Yugoslavia) ethnic violence and war is still not inevitable if the secessionist movement, that is to say the seceding nation, avoids defining itself ethnically. Following three examples in detail (Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro) and comparing them with four others (Catalonia and the Basque country versus Spain, plus Aceh and East Timor versus Indonesia), she comes up with some surprising details. The Basque terrorist movement, ETA, for self-interested reasons abandons an ethnic definition of Basqueness, makes Basque separatism into a movement anyone can join, and inadvertently defuses potential for an ethnic war. Serbian nationalists inside Montenegro abandon Serbian brotherhood as the motive for keeping Yugoslavia together but find they cannot change how non-Serbian voters see them. Aceh and East Timor independence movements both end up killing Javanese immigrants, but with opposite effects. By changing sides early on, Slovenian communists keep their independence movement non-ethnic and peaceful, while Croatian communists stay loyal to Yugoslav unity long enough to bring about exactly what they wanted to avoid ....unintentionally making their independence movement aggressively ethnic, leading to vicious civil war. Although unavoidably dry in parts, hard to dispute the importance of the topic.

June 3rd; The sort of buildings that enter dreams during fever.
June 2nd; A rather difficult fortnight just passed. Am starting to regularly find myself slumped on my sofa having simply passed out for random periods of a couple of hours even though in theory I am up to date with body-rest requirements. This film looks it might be fun pictorially, being another fantasy from Terry Gilliam, whose visual imagination was presciently pomo already in the 1960s. Although obvious it was lovingly made, even the trailer seems to show why it vanished without trace: Hollywood's desperate urge to explain, simplify, and remove all risk simply kills any story form apart from the epic.

June 1st; Stay up long past my bedtime trying to bake cakes with the help of Olga and her cat. We watch two episodes of a television series new to me, The IT Crowd, which turn out to be much funnier than I expected. I was hoping Britain could move on from comedy, but this really was very good. Olga (whose cooking is a lot better than mine to date) explains a slightly confusing Chinese system of divination, which she has an iPhone app to calculate.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com