Someone wants to commoditise art, creating a kind of tradable, hedging-friendly
art fund. A new bubble under starter's orders?
Finish Robin's copy of
a fascinating book published in 1989
about events of 200 years before in France. American historian Simon Schama
unpicks the retrospective romantic excuses made for the sickening infighting,
betrayals, lost chances to do anything positive, pointless cruelty, and lawless police-state slaughter in the first four years of 1790s France. An excellent account, well illustrated with engravings of the period. Shows how perceptive Edmund Burke was to say, before the repression had begun and no-one else saw the danger, that "Kings will be tyrants from policy, when subjects are rebels from principle." Lessons later politicians learned from the French Revolution were, as Burke predicted, all negative - either how to repress an uprising; or how to mount an uprising, grab power and then repress anyone else who tries to take it from you. Lenin, Hitler, Pol Pot, other tyrants, all studied Europe's first fascist state. Just two lessons mattered to them. (1) How to be like Robespierre long enough to seize power, and (2) how to not get guillotined himself, as Robespierre was, but to carry on killing others until total power is achieved through perfect terror. Revealingly, Lenin said that Robespierre's mistake was not to kill more people.
Light, almost effortless comic observations on
cats & dogs.
Sylvia. Anastasia and I sit in her kitchen, sharing Sylvia's mother's goose
liver among the three of us.
Yesterday had an interesting long conversation on the phone with
American radio host and TV producer who is writing
an article for the next collection in the series
book started. After work, visit Regina to make changes to
the latest book specs to fit
the new printers' binding process. In the evening Henry drops over for some fruit tea. He recommends
this film, and I stumble on this piece of
Alan Watts talking, backed by some pleasantly dreamy music.
Enjoyable lunch over at Medical Attila's flat. Give him my still cheerful but now tainted
tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
On the web, come across a conspiracy-minded point of view never heard before,
but oddly persuasive - that the 20th-century
cult of sport
is/was a deliberate way of diverting men's emotions away from political action.
Comedian Dave Chapelle talks about food. Comedian Louis CK talks about
sleep. Oh, almost forgot: eternal youth.
Wedding of Jeremy & Csilla. All takes place outdoors at an intimate courtyard restaurant
with walls covered in ivy. Article from Foreign Policy magazine blames Goldman Sachs for
current food shortages.
Non-stag night of Jeremy W. Meet several interesting people.
Surprisingly angry article
about Mr Assange.
Strangely compelling compilation of video-footage moments of
cars banging into one
another. Hard to work out if all the accidents are Russian, but the whole thing
has a certain characteristic bluntness about it.
Lovely lunch with John M., over from London. We speak of
music & parties.
My guest post gets published on a finance weblog.
Handy catchphrase S.W.A.G. for sage investors squirrelling away their hundreds of millions in silver
/ & gold.
Tasty dinner at Heather T. by night, with Esther, Andrea
a photographer, and Valery
a painter from Odessa as the other guests. Heather T. & I chat late.
Wonderfully odd mood-changing
technique. Let the weirdness begin.
Wake this morning out of a peculiar dream where Barry Obama is, strangely but not
strangely, my Phd supervisor for a period of about 10 weeks, to fill in for
someone else. Although he happens to be head of state of a country, he and I need
to briefly discuss book lists and my thesis over the phone for half an hour 3 or 4
times in the next three months but - in the wonderful way that dreams work - I have
no idea in the dream what my thesis is or what academic subject this happens to be,
nor does this thought even cross my dreaming mind. Perhaps stray memories of waif-like Daniella of the Tumbling Locks' father still being Phd supervisor for that Egyptian bloke even though her father had in the intervening couple of years risen to become head of the country's statistics office. In our first phone conversation (back in the dream) a silence falls as I realise I have offended President Barry somehow, and I wake up feeling pleasantly calm. Excellent cold bath. A few hours of quite successful editing
with Medical Attila over at his flat. Pay my landlady in the evening. By night, down
to the Danube to release Norbina the Fish into the Great River of Life's Adventure.
The "kitsune will teach you how to cast spells", eh?
August 18th; More
about extraditing Private Assange.
Quiet hideaway for that refreshing
Slightly silly remarks in London suggest Britain is considering revoking diplomatic status for the Ecuadorian Embassy where Julian Assange is currently taking refuge. He has been given asylum in Ecuador to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden on bizarre sexual-assault charges. Thence he would be extradited to the United States where he would face trial for publishing confidential American diplomatic
cables. Can he get to Ecuador though?
publishing plans in late-night discussions with Anthea.
Might be good for a laugh. A legal objection says that for technical reasons the Republican
party counts this year as a minor party in one American state, so cannot go on the ballot paper. Takes me back
to the hanging-chad days.
Morning tea with Emma, over from Dublin. We swap stalker stories.
Slightly odd photograph of a railway station in London. How long does it take you to see the strange thing?
Walking by the Danube with Heather & Fred. Think back to Fred's intriguing remark
last summer that he had had several long-term Dutch friends, who all in the end
let him down, and several long-term German friends, who all stayed good friends. They tell
me more interesting things about Western Australia's
view of the rest of the country.
Heather & Fred in town, since they are staying a few weeks in Vienna, so we meet
and go to the Rudas Baths night session to bathe in the healing waters.
Wonderfully unselfconscious girl lectures
all men, or at least a particular Turkish man codenamed Ponytail, about breasts.
Alain de Botton talking about work. Perhaps
not very original, but a sympathetic and refreshing speaker.
Weather still very warm and sticky. The page for the first edition of
our financial-crisis book now
looking sharper. Links to online debates at page bottom, along with a lovely
Like early, Like often, as they used to say in Chicago.
Rather wonderfully, poor Frank Rose has spent three decades in Artificial Intelligence,
and has still not understood why
AI isn-t happening. He remains, like the rest of them, bewitched by the idea that an accurate enough simulation will be the real thing. Still no sense for the way intelligence overlaps with free will. Perhaps it is not odd that in a period when philosophers largely regard free will as a stubborn illusion, they and other academics cannot see why an artificial intelligence isn't intelligent. Flatness of American intellectual culture really shows through here. Notice how Rose quotes Dreyfus, a philosopher in the 1980s sceptical of the possibility of AI, is only able to remember one of his metaphors (a "staircase to the moon"), yet has not actually got what Dreyfus meant. Rose moves straight on to lauding the fresher approach to conquering AI, emergent systems, never spotting these are even more like a staircase to the moon than the previous line of attack. He heard but he didn't listen.
Finish 2nd George MacDonald Fraser novel lent by Jeremy.
'Flashman and the Great Game' is another rollicking tale told by Fraser's ex-school-bully
coward-in-arms antihero, Flashman. This time the endlessly lucky scoundrel is in
India in 1857, briefed to counter scheming plans of Russian Tsarist agent Ignatieff
to undermine the British Raj, only to find himself amidst the horrors of
the Indian Mutiny.
A few days ago, Anti-Market-Garden Mark popped over for some late-night tea and kindly
identified some of the plant action going on my suddenly overgrown big pot on the balcony.
He says I must get the tomato plant out at once and give it more space.
Quite shrewd comment from Alain de Botton on romance versus religion and - again that deluded era that still holds us so much in
its thrall - the 18th century.
The internet empowers a billion pub bores: article via Anthea.
Out in the evening to visit the 24-hour post office embedded inside an enormous Tesco supermarket at Pillango utca. Later on come back, feeling strangely alert,
noticing all sorts of body-language signalling on the tram. Two hard-eyed young whores glare at other girls the same age, a nervous man in his 20s twitches with dark, bridling shyness, checking out his gaydar. Walking home through the shopping centre, I pick up some kind of playing card on the spotless fake-marble floor. It has six pink umbrellas on it, says this in English, with phonetic spelling at the bottom. Some child might be sad to have lost this. Or perhaps not.
While out near the end of the red metro line, finish a mercifully short book by Bela Hamvas called 'Szaz
Konyv' ('100 Books'). I thought I would enjoy this and might
learn something about Hamvas without having to wade into one of his longer works. It turned out that this, even at a super-slim 52 pages, was a chore.
Hamvas is a sympathetic figure in many ways, reading through the classics by himself and writing in his notebooks during decades of communism on his quiet job as, I read somewhere, a warehouse clerk. He sounds like a sort of Hungarian literary Ramanujan. He took the (still) unfashionable position of looking back
to a golden past, doubting the 18th-century Whig theory of enlightened
progress, and insisting on the importance of spirituality and public morals against their substitution by scientific rationality and materialism as the new spirit of civilisation. Hamvas saw clearly that it was this substitution that had led to atheism, liberalism, and totalitarianism. One of his best-selling works
since the end of communism allowed his writing to find a large audience has been a short, conversational book, almost booklet, about the Philosophy of Wine, saying many of these things while talking about grapes, Bacchus, and so on. This is all quite encouraging. A text that aims to list the 100 books worth saving if they had to be rescued from the monastery's burning library when the next Dark Age comes promises to distil all this considered antiquarianism into something good. The result is disappointing though. The books turn out to be writers, so we have the collected Dickens, the collected Homer, the collected Moliere. This dodges much of what makes the exercise interesting - better handled in Desert Island Discs, where they are stricter about that kind of trick. In none of the entries do you learn very much about what is in the texts - sometimes Hamvas even forgets to say this man was a playwright, that man wrote poems and so on. What we get instead is a string of whimsical half or three-quarter page entries where the goal is to say something clever about the writer, different from any of the other clever entries. Keats is The Poet, but Swinburne is The Superpoet. "Which is the most important work of Nietzsche? All of them." "He who has not read the Vedas does not and cannot know reality; He who has not read the Old Testament does not and cannot know God; He who has not read the New Testament does not and cannot know how to live; He who has not read and does not follow (taraaa) Thomas a Kempis is not a Christian." All credit to Hamvas for not including a single Hungarian, a temptation nobly resisted regardless of who objectively deserves to be on the list or not. Nonetheless, what we get is fifty pages of these pompous, sphinxic pronouncements, one or two surprising omissions (no Ovid, no Plotinus, no Chaucer, no Richardson), one or two ancient and oriental writers I somehow doubt he read, and not much on what any of them actually wrote.
"Powys learned from the sea how to write." You get the idea.
Amateur statistician discovers intriguing life-expectancy gap between the mothers of post-World-War-Two American presidential candidates and the mothers of British Prime Ministers and opposition leaders. The former group on average
lived until 84, the latter group on average until 75, a significant difference. I'm reeling from the detail that Clement Atlee's mother was born in the 1840s, a century before the 1940s Labour government her son led.
Now it's August. Full moon tomorrow. This German lady is clearly well-meaning and keen to help us with her Tibetan singing bowls, but that "enjoy to" phrasing and her accent manage to make the poor woman sound rather like one of Fu Manchu's sinisterly mesmerising brides. In flavour not unlike that
slightly unsettling "Do you vont to lyeev forever?" midnight moment a few weeks ago.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com