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2012
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September 30th; Anyone in Budapest who wants a full-time show-business-management job right now can contact me on markgriffith@yahoo.com. The two most important qualifications are advanced English fluency with a good accent and a valid driving licence, while keenness and organisation ability obviously matter too. An interest in ice-skating not essential but a plus. Life gets stranger by the day. Find more interesting bits of English Buddhist Alan Watts speaking on the internet. When I read a couple of books by him as a boy I had no idea he had a speaking career or appeared on television. This entertaining segment has an unobtrusive slide show with quite fitting music over the top of Watts talking about the Christian sense of the future. It includes a rather nice image of aristocrats being like potatoes. Watts comes up with 3 or 4 sharp turns of phrase and clever metaphors, though he seems unaware of Augustine's argument that heaven is not in the future but outside time altogether. It is hard not to get the impression that Watts measures Buddhism by its greatest teachers and thinkers but measures Christianity by the crudest, dullest sermons he heard in school assemblies. Here he is again, again with music added, talking quite lyrically about the (rather Zen-flavoured) Buddhist notion of the eternal present and the illusion of the self. But now for something early of his, I think. Particularly interesting is this next television lecture by Watts, broadcast it seems in 1960. By the look of it he is casually puffing on a cheroot as he strolls on to the studio set. Practice with Japanese calligraphy shows when he draws freehand circles with ink brush on a flip chart as diagrams to explain differences between Christian and Buddhist thought. Quite the most lucid half-hour explanation of the two faiths I have seen on any TV show. Most recent television compares very poorly with this, and even Watts himself changed over the years to go with the beard and the kimono he started to sport. Once he had been beatified by the beatniks later in the decade, his talks are much wittier, more provocative, more enjoyable, but also more self-indulgent and self-consciously hip. Whereas this earlier talk, dry and didactic as it is, is much more informative, as well as beautifully paced and laid out. Rare nowadays to see anything on television spoken in full, clear sentences.

September 29th; While on the tram, finish a short curious book called rather amusingly 'Saint-Germain grof Titkos Tarot Konyve' (Secret Tarot Book of Count Saint-Germain). Far from being a summary of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana by the great mid-18th-century trickster Saint-Germain, it shows signs of being translated from a late-19th or early-20th-century English text. It is illustrated by a set of charmingly fin-de-siecle faux-Egyptian Tarot cards in monochrome with English labels. It is published by something called the 'Fraternitas Mercurii Hermetis', and credits no-one with translating it into Hungarian, unless the editor Madame Laszlone Kassa did that job. I do not know if anyone in the Order of the Golden Dawn ever produced an ancient-Egypt-themed Tarot pack (neither of the decks by sometime members Waite and Crowley are as pseudo-heiroglyphic as this). However, the fact that the designers, despite all the Nile-style drawings, cannot resist the temptation to associate card 14, water being poured between two vessels, with magnetism and electricity, rather suggests a date between 1890 and the 1920s. A little bit more care by editor Mrs / Dr Kassa with perhaps a different typeface or smaller font or a few blank pages could have had all the cards facing their descriptions, but in fact in many parts the text for the previous card faces the next card. The first inside title, out of only five words on the page, misspells the Hungarian word for count as 'grog'. The explanations of the 22 cards puts a strong, Crowleyesque/Nietzschean emphasis on the power of the will.
September 28th; Wonderful long chat over tea & buns with Paul M. at an outdoor/indoor cafe table on what was once a street but is now an indoor space under a glass roof inside a large hotel. If we don't quite speak of cabbages and kings, we certainly touch on atheists and kings. This is a few hours after I finish Jeremy's copy of 'Operation Mincemeat' by Ben MacIntyre. MacIntyre's book relates the World-War-II ruse to make Nazi German generals think that Allied forces were not going to make their main Mediterranean attack via Sicily (when in fact they were) by having a dead body dressed as a naval officer wash ashore in Spain chained to a briefcase of misleading letters. Fascinating that the man at the head of the operation had a table-tennis-promoting communist brother who British intelligence felt sure was passing secrets to the Soviets (and he was). Many similar interesting details, though the book suffers slightly from researchitis, the need of an author to show how much detailed research he did in order to justify the length of the book. In a number of places we have to have a tangential character described in painstaking detail, whether it holds the story up or not. Still, haunting to read about a Britain so near and yet so far, a place where a spy chief could engage in a strange flirtation with the MI5 secretary whose photo supplied the dead man's wallet with a fictional love interest, both people play-acting the parts of dead officer and dead officer's crush with ever-greater earnestness. This strange perhaps-romance reaches its climax in an outing to a West End show called 'Strike a New Note'. At the show are four people including the manager of the deception project, the supposed girlfriend of the dressed-up corpse, and two friends, using tickets two stubs from which have already been put in the dead man's effects to create the impression he was in London days before washing up in neutral Spain. In fact by then the weeks-dead cadaver was in a metal tube on a submarine already several days at sea when the musical show he had tickets for was playing in London. At this point MacIntyre's side note that on stage that night in the 1940s were the as-yet unknown 16 and 17-year-old Eric Morecombe and Ernie Wise is a successful use of detail. At least for those of us who remember those two as older established comedians thirty-plus years later.

September 27th; Last night met Alvi & Terri. Then dinner with Magdolna & her two cats. Zdravko alerts me to a graph of films by genre. This is quite interesting - the slow growth of documentaries, the recent explosion of porn, the death of the Western, the slow growth of sci-fi, the early sharp decline and then recent partial recovery of short films.
September 26th; Meetings with Bea & Zsuzsa & IT Attila in recent days. Yesterday I bought a one-month transport pass and on a tram heading west in the afternoon find myself standing next to a man who seems to have a bald spot. On closer inspection I see that this is not a bald spot but a fleshy knob or growth about the size of a brazil nut, sprouting out of his thick black hair on the crown of his head. After travelling out to the edge of town to meet Attila I am again on the same tram in the evening travelling east. I find I am standing next to a woman who seems to have a bald spot, but again on closer inspection this is another fleshy bare-skinned buttony bean the size of an almond, sprouting out of thick black hair on the crown of her head. / Here's a short talk by a physicist rejoicing in the name of Wubbo. He suggests that time is a creation of life "in response to gravity". A bit broad-brush for a physics talk?

September 25th; Anti-Market-Garden Mark refers me to a bold, almost head-on, attack on Ricardo's model of Comparative Advantage.
September 24th; Sobering interview about American policy on torture.

September 23rd; Lovely image of machinery in the cell by science illustrator David Goodsell. Read a book of his drawings in the early 1990s. Last night finished Jeremy's copy of  'Chocky' by John Wyndham, a novella, the only book of his I did not read in my boyhood sci-fi period when some friends left all Wyndham's books in our sitting room for a few months. Quite light, simple tale of a boy with a very special imaginary friend, an imaginary friend whose own character gradually comes into focus in the end for the boy and his father. Wyndham shows some tart 1940s-style cynicism about human nature in this 1960s tale of trying to keep a young boy's strangeness secret from local newspaper reporters. Just enough detail of an alien personality to make it work, and not a word too much. Inspired cover art.
September 22nd; A funny moment some days ago when in a Budapest book shop to spend the 5000-forint book token a friend kindly gave me. I choose three books summing to around 4700 forints and take them to the counter shortly before closing, explaining that I know I will get no change out of the token and this is fine. A cheerful lad tries to ring up the purchase and the till will not let him. It emerges that not only do I get no change, but the till has a sub-routine set to block me spending the token on too small a purchase, trying obviously to force me to add another item and therefore spend cash on top of the token. I explain I have no cash - I have around ten forints on me - so we pile on items like some overpriced red ribbons on sale next to the cash register, trying to coax the total up to a number where I will be allowed to make the purchase. I am still blocked. Only by buying another ribbon and going over the total will the register permit a sale. I calmly refuse to be chiselled out of any cash, pointing out I have next to nothing on me. Itching to go home the girl assistant irritably opens her own wallet to extract a 50-forint coin to top up my bill, rolling her eyes either at me or at the programmers who wrote the smart-alec code.

September 21st; Italian whore trade-unionist in white platform boots with megaphone. The girls are incensed by cut-price competition from "students & housewives". Outrageous.
September 20th; Meetings in recent days with Mariann, Andrea, Regina, Medical Attila helped take my mind off things. The cold baths continue. News is The Vanishing Bee Mystery is solved.

September 19th; English Buddhist Alan Watts speculates more about power. Especially interesting is the way he chooses for his example how awful it must be to be J. Edgar Hoover, pitying him his paranoid lifestyle, unable to relax, unable to let his guard down, seemingly unaware that the FBI chief held lots of quite wild, informal parties, at which Hoover enjoyed dressing up as a woman. The enormous power of the secret-police bureaucrat in fact bought him considerable fun and freedom from convention. Watts, with his austere dignified sense of integrity, shows himself completely unable to imagine the kind of person who is not oppressed by having power and control over others but actually rather enjoys it. There is of course an important kernel of truth in his claim that most people who believe they want more control are mistaken and have not thought through what it would mean for them, but Watts exaggerates. He does not see how he misuses reductio ad absurdum. He skips from having no power at all to having total power, rejecting the second as destroying the joy of surprise, not realising his argument crumbles in the face of people who simply want (as most people do) a lot more influence. Some good thoughts on how Blavatsky popularised Eastern mysticism as a kind of advanced technology, but an unfortunate failure to see his own radical north-European certainties hiding inside his understanding of Buddhist tradition. Blavatsky was wrong, so the wisdom of the east must be something wholly different, a mystery that is a trick the seeker plays on himself. Wisdom in fact strikingly like Dutch or English impatience with nonsensical, mystical detail.  
September 18th; Got woken up yesterday, Sunday, at 8am by someone ringing my doorbell on the street. Go back to sleep. More of Alan Watts, here sounding very plausible. Interesting how Far Eastern Buddhism appeals to northern-European Nordic/Protestant-type purists and the resulting mix helped flavour the beatnik 50s and 60s. Notice how while seeming to explode dogma and liberate his listeners from dogma, he breezes in a crisp, dogmatic way through a series of quite rigid steps reasoning that control aspires to total control and therefore a totally determined future. Even as he accuses Westerners of thinking in over-clear well-defined categories, those categories follow him into Buddhism.

September 17th; "China hints at bond attack on Japan". Prelude to war?
September 16th; Dry but clear article about airline economics. Apparently everyone pays for Ryanair, not just its passengers. Author assumes readers all know that LCC is short for 'low-cost carrier'.

September 15th; Charmingly scribbly little stick people in brown ink to populate an epic adventure. Look for 'the dancing bear' & 'the apparition'.
September 14th; Slightly dense but very worthwhile article: a game-theory analysis of corrupt societies. Rewards re-reading.

September 13th; Excitable-sounding but serious archeology documentary looks at the mysterious  'Sea People' who made war on Ancient Egypt and its neighbours.
September 12th; Skywriting as sciency conceptual art. Oddly like telex tape.

September 11th; Meeting Martin and Heikki last week, each briefly in town, were lovely surprises. Weather now cooler but still gorgeously sunny. Here is Part 1 of an extremely interesting 4-part talk to Washington DC's National Press Club by Gore Vidal in 1998. Vidal emerges as a witty and erudite speaker. He starts talking at 9 minutes 46, after being introduced at 6 minutes 36. Name of the 4-part talk: National Security State. Parts 2, 3, & 4.
September 10th; Surprised to meet some bigots online. The Nigel of Light sends me this short article in sympathy. I notice something odd at the lift door in my apartment building. It is not quite straight on with the lobby. The whole lift shaft is at a slight angle, 4 or 5 degrees, the doorframe deeper by about an inch down the left.

September 9th; Clever simple idea for a video - three pretty Slav girls in their car. Works mainly because they are young, curvy, and feminine-looking, but despite the outward show of girly charm you can just tell they would be obnoxious people to live with. Meanwhile, Azealia Banks has all the smart-mouth rap-diva act (she likes saying 'cunt' and 'bitch' a lot), but despite the outward show of Bad Girlness you can tell she is actually rather sweet and good-natured.
September 8th; Those chilly North Korean nights are drawing in. Via Zdravko.

September 7th; Yesterday, Brother Tim brought the first proof copies of our fusion-physics book back from the printers. You can buy copies here. They are brand new, not used, by the way, and there is more than 1: Amazon's web code unwell again.
September 6th; Ilan sends me this curious bijou filmette. Thanks, Ilan.  

September 5th; Read a delightful little booklet by Krishna Lester, illustrated by his brother Guy, called 'The Little Book of the Vine'. This involves a conversation between a young rabbit and an older vine plant in a vineyard about their differing stations in life. The sketches are quiet and naturalistic, avoiding anything as crass as a vine with a face. An intriguing final drawing of a rabbit in a wine cellar suggests the story and characters might develop further in a later and larger book. The story makes a plea for wine drinkers and connoisseurs to show more interest in the plant that makes the grapes. Perhaps even some respect.
September 4th; Anti-Market-Garden Mark alerts me to this slightly depressing interview with a constitutional lawyer about the effect of its last two presidents on US pretensions to law and liberty.

September 3rd; Finish a book lent me by Brother Stephen. 'Poor Economics' by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo is interesting and important. It describes the work of a group of economists (which includes the authors) who test different theories about poverty and test programmes designed to help the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world. Many of the research results are surprising. The two writers steer a middle way between what they call the 'supply wallahs' and the 'demand wallahs'. Supply wallahs believe that the poorest need cheap health care and cheap education before anything else, while demand wallahs believe that what the poor need is less corruption and the freedom to set up businesses. They describe how a New York Times journalist went looking for how the 2009 banking crisis was affecting the very poorest and found that it wasn't. They tell fascinating stories of how micro-lending has transformed some lives, but warn there is a limit to what small businesses can do in poor countries. They find sobering evidence that most of the Third World's tiny shops and firms are set up not because the poor are natural entrepreneurs, but because they cannot find other work. To a man, the poor hope their children get a cushy government job. They find that food is cheap, and many poor people on semi-starvation diets prefer something tasty rather than simply eating more calories as theory says they should. So worthwhile that the only thing I can seriously criticise is the shoddy cover art. Richard Green might have been overruled by publishers - his cardboard boxes with windows scrawled on them in marker pen have the distinct look of something done after five better ideas were rejected.
September 2nd; A man-in-a-grey-suit sort of day. Who is he?

September 1st; Apparently people who sleep late are more intelligent. Much as this appeals, it sounds a bit unlikely to me. Here is what sleeping late looks like.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com