Friday. Boring rain in Budapest. Three curious articles:
a/ Ovulation makes women harsher to other women, but keener to appease men;
b/ Quite sweet story - the Dalai Lama on skiing & the meaning of life;
c/ Not-so-sweet story of Florence Nightingale's reputation being downgraded in favour of another woman in the Crimean War called Mary Seacole.
Thursday. A man born in 1790, the largely forgotten John Tyler who served as president of the
US in the 1840s, has two grandsons still alive today in 2014, although one is ill.
Wednesday. Sobering article showing how sometimes serious, life-changing accusations
are made very casually, that there can be smoke without the slightest scrap of fire. For those who didn't know this.
Tuesday. Pop over to see Paul up past the City Park, currently at home with a bad leg. We have a good natter, or at least I talk a lot, which perhaps isn't quite the same thing. He's currently reading
'The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England'.
Monday. Televisions that watch people (as laptops do already).
Sunday. Interesting research written up in the New Yorker suggesting that neither competitive job markets in the US, nor Scandinavian social democracy, nor communist revolution can level the playing field between talented families and the rest. All those three types of society get social-mobility scores around the same as England over the last 1,000 years. Perhaps time to stop the self-deception.
Saturday. Looking vaguely like a particle-physics diagram, here's a theory of everything from
the second-century AD. Followed by two bits of retro electronica, both set to footage of surfing in the 1960s and 70s:
Friday. Finish an Everyman collection of G.K. Chesterton's
'Stories, Essays, & Poems' I found in Robin's library in garish 1960s paperback format a fortnight
ago. To a book publisher's jaded eye this looks like an anthology of whatever bits of
writing it was feasible to get rights on cheaply. Many famous short stories are missing, and
there wasn't his intriguing essay 'The Province of Britain' (the English Catholic's interesting reminder of the need for historic humility written at the height of Britain's status as a global power circa 1900). Two essays directed at Dean Inge were one too many - one a kind of rambling Rome-versus-Britain discussion, the other a cleverer case made with Chesterton's usual paradoxical wit that Protestantism is the more superstitious denomination. His Zen-like Father Brown stories were limited to three, although two were very good, including 'The Blue Cross', perhaps his best. It's a scene from this tale that justifies the almost psychedelic cover of the paperback with the "small Essex priest" on a park bench and two helmeted London constables peeping out from behind trees, rendered in black, white, and violet pink.
Like most writers so much of their time, it can be hard to see 50 or 100 years later what all the fuss was about. Chesterton was partly an English Mark Twain, a generation younger. Both were waistcoated curmudgeons with walrus moustaches formed by the late 19th century. Both depicted themselves (not entirely convincingly) as plain-spoken champions of the simple man and consciences of their nation. Both rather enjoyed advocating unfashionable older ways of life (Chesterton's Victorian-mediaeval dream of the honest yeomanry of Catholic England / Twain's nostalgia for the fast-disappearing pre-1850 USA of small villages of pioneer backwoodsmen). Both defended fun and fairy tales, both were more than a little anti-intellectual. About the time Chesterton was writing The Province of Britain, Twain was expressing disgust at his country's new imperial identity during the Spanish-American War. The Christian poems at the back of the collection are especially odd: part-Hopkins, part-Yeats, part-Belloc, they show talent (there are gems like 'The Aristocrat') but it's no surprise that it was the magazine story and essay where Chesterton found his true voice. Sometimes his style palls - there is a kind of reflex use of paradox. Children's stories are very serious; the French are pragmatic and the English romantic; Protestantism is more superstitious than Catholicism, and so on. He appreciates Dickens in a slightly simplistic, Bolshie way. He's clearly misled by a mythologised French Revolution. But the writing on something he loves often reaches heights of wisdom disguised as whimsy. 'Pickwick Papers' is a "lump of Dickens", like a lump of coal or leather; "very great and rich talent" has "a certain disdainful generosity which can turn its hand to anything"; Dickens is a kind of buried pipe, bringing Merrie England through centuries of (as Chesterton sees it) Puritan darkness to bubble up again in the present. At his best, Chesterton weaves it all into one fabric. As he describes a London panorama by night at the climax of 'The Blue Cross', his playful mysticism almost hints at some common secret land inhabited by many English writers - Travers of the Mary Poppins stories for one.
Thursday. Mobile-phone app that claims to improve your eyesight via brain training. Final vindication of the much-mocked Bates?
Wednesday. Odd surge of online & offline interest in The Paperback of Hope, along with offers from some Greek translators.
Tuesday. Courtesy of the zexy & charmante Catheline, some adorable goatlets playing on a bendy sheet of steel, and a fascinating rubbery laurel thing for use in cooking. A student describes this film
here as "depressing."
Monday. Half-hour interview about atheism between American physicist Steven Weinberg and British stage director, Fringe alumnus, and media thinker type Jonathan Miller. Some sensitive & thoughtful points. Full day of lessons with Kata, Akos, and Dorina.
Sunday. A day & night of translating. Yes, radiopacity's a word.
Saturday. Interesting article round-up:
1/ German government suggests safest to avoid using too much WiFi;
2/ Some slighty creepy
3/ Eccentric joke about an intellectual version of the Daily Mail;
4/ Peculiar Viking board game - they can't even agree what size the board was;
5/ Belgian bureaucracy shows its teeth;
6/ How the EU cannot dictate terms to Switzerland, so obviously not to Britain.
Friday. The Day of Saint Valentine, two years to the day since I got that friendly letter from my
bank! In honour of the spring festival, some early 1960s tunes:
Swinging Drums, then
Shaking All Over, followed by
people talking about 60s dancing. Look-but-don't-touch eroticism. Two sentences to listen for are "dance had really progressed
to a point where the rules were broken and it's OK guys nobody's going to stop us now because - we're all like doing our own thing - you know, we're out there and there's no going back now." and the even more revealing "Our partner would grab us and dance very close and hold us so close - and I like this because we can completely keep it at arm's length and dance how we please."
After which, the
full Going to a Go Go song with some of the same footage.
Thursday. I show Psychology Eszter Plath's boastful suicide poem 'Lady Lazarus'. She laughs at the obvious (to her) signs of borderline psychotic disorder, then mentions a Hungarian poet who is apparently very open about her own similar psychological condition: Orsolya Karafiath.
Wednesday. Five interesting articles & a talk:
1/ There are three types of people who can afford to write books;
2/ Creative Writing courses as a kind of admission of failure;
3/ Doing maths without the excluded middle - surprisingly clear in parts;
4/ Sam Harris berates Daniel Dennett, as both of them struggle with free will;
5/ A man spends months walking towards the edge of an invented world, former student Ben's favourite universe;
6/ Sloppy police work putting law-abiding people under intensive surveillance.
Tuesday. Train ride back from Robin. An exhausted Robin kindly drives me to the station at
Lakitelek, having stayed up late into the not-so-small hours welcoming the married couple from Transylvania who will be his new housekeepers. Later in Pest, I drop in on my local fitness gym. This time there are fewer mastodons strolling around, only two on duty today. The fake-custard-yellow painted brick walls are still
quite hard on the eye. They're marked here and there with the words 'Brutal Nutrition' printed in black capital letters from a packing-case-stencil font. On the way in one reception girl eyes me and my proffered currency with suspicious puzzlement, the other girl giving me the angry glare that's flirty in this part of town. The milder girl summons a mastodon for advice, one prowls over and then smiles, recognising me. He ushers me in, reassuring the girls with a glance. Perhaps I look like a local-council business-permit snitch. Since they later change clothes and start toying with the machines, it seems the two girls were not actually working on the front desk, just briefly needed a place to pout.
Monday. Young Bela Grant tweaks the subtle art of film-trailer-voice declamation, and
cites this mighty weblog on his YouTube channel.
Sunday. Robin & Zsuzsi cook dinner together. I get quite excited by rereading
Chesterton, and am intrigued to find that
Sylvia Plath and
Woolstonecraft had things in common. Such as suicidal tendencies.
Saturday. Left alone for a couple of hours with two stoves to manage at Robin's, I
manage to smoke poor Bela Grant's bedroom out, silly me.
As we should know by now, some people smeared as paranoid turn out to have
been right all along. A
biologist persecuted by a herbicide company.
Friday. A disorganised night of work on Lutheran college speeches leads to a morning where
I'm woken first by chimney sweeps, then after going back to sleep woken by a
woman with a face like a slot machine come to read the gas meter, and then again later by
Letty. We drive down through cold lunchtime mist to the Great Plain, blobs of
semi-frozen snow still on the ground.
Thursday. Very chilly at nights last 2 or 3 days. Good overview of the
sticky debates within quantum physics. For anyone wanting the
Everetts, the Bohrs, and the Bells straightened out.
Wednesday. Interesting article about why Russia and other poorer countries are so
down on homosexuality. And
a correcting the widespread belief that women get paid at 3/4
male wage rates. Not true. Women earn
just as much.
Tuesday. Welcome snideness about Saint iSteve of The Blessed Mac.
Monday. Teach Rheumatology Kata at her strange Order-of-St-John hospital, its corridors thick with the
bad-eggs sulphur smell of (I assume) the nearby spring of spa water, doubtless piped in for medicinal
bathing. Each corridor ends with a clock over the doorway where the clock face is a shallow soup bowl with hours marked in blue on the white china. Via Franc, some research that finds (surprise surprise) that
taking notes longhand helps people to
remember & analyse salient points much better than copying, pasting, or recording through a machine.
Sunday proves long. In this psychology article notice how the columnist, discussing magical & superstitious thinking, describes it as an attempt to create an illusion of freedom in determined situations, failing to notice the rather obvious fact that superstition is equally often (perhaps more often) an attempt to create an illusion of inevitability when a free event has gone badly wrong: it was fated thus, my friend. Meanwhile, talking of magical thinking, some physicists are apparently trying to integrate panpsychism into their equations. Might help a bit if this article thought to include one of these equations by way of vaguely showing us what it means.
Saturday. Oldie but goldie from the wonderfully weary Dead Can Dance as they sing in deep
grand timeless things with end-of-century gravitas. A sort of
continuation of Joy Division by other means.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com