Monday. Review of a neo-Hobbesian history book that argues war is what ensures peace.
Sunday. Never heard 1970s singer Laura Nyro before. Her thumping tune 'Eli's Coming' leaves quite an impression of Eli, Laura, and women in general.
Saturday. Attila drops by and gives me some antibiotics. Just as well: my persistent 9-day-old infection starts by night to turn into a cough. It's digging in its heels.
Thought-provoking article about materialist worldviews & taboos.
Friday. Interesting research suggests that wherever in the US people owned slaves poverty still blights black and white people, a century and a half on.
Thursday. Finish book borrowed from Laura 'The Magic of Reality', a rather lovely picture book written by Richard Dawkins and illustrated by Dave McKean. There are only a couple of mistakes (the old canard that glass is a very viscous liquid slowly "flowing" down old windows on page 81, and the slit drawn wrongly in the diagram for Newton's light-spectrum experiment). On the other hand, the explanation of weight not being mass, and how gravity imposes elliptical orbits is exemplary. Dawkins is spot on about the strange particularity of old creation myths (such as why precisely forty days?) and he has fun gently mocking how legends tried to explain the world before science got going. A good book for children, though somehow I sense the kind of child who enjoys it will have read all this stuff before. Some nice illustrations.
Wednesday. In the midst of my illness, slipping in and out of mild fever, the texture of my dreams has completely changed. I suppose I am very slightly delirious the whole time, the back of my neck constantly sticky and wet, but the dreams do not feel like they are mine at all. I fall asleep and at once am in coherent detailed stories that seem to be broadcast on some internal television channel from God knows where. I wake out of them refreshed, still engrossed in matter-of-fact stories of vividness and everyday otherness I cannot remember since childhood. Talking of dreams & stories, here's a thoughtful criticism of the Harry Potter creator's adult novels. I remember having the same problem with the Harry Potter books themselves, stopping reading the first half halfway through. I was impressed by her storytelling craft but something quietly bitter, something hidden & false, made me not care to re-enter the story. Also recall my wizard, as I called him, remarking he had seen Rowling's face in an interview and sensed strongly that she had tried the occult herself for real, with consequent damage to her character.
Tuesday. Since my flat is rank with disease and bacteria, I take Akos to the corner cafe for our lesson. In the midst of an interesting chat with smart-phone calculator apps to hand, he tells me one 1970s fighter jet had 8,000 metres of copper wiring in each aeroplane: five miles. Was it the F15?
Monday. Liking the pale-green wristwatch I bought a fortnight back from the toy shop right next to the middle-of-mall cafe tables where I meet Boardgame Orsolya twice a week. It's performing well so far. It channels my inner 9-year-old with its chunky translucent day-glow-coloured plastic scuba-diving-style nonsense and its excellent price of slightly above one pound sterling. However it has one mysterious quality which is irritating, and clearly deliberate. It runs slow - about four minutes a day. Enough to cause serious lateness if you go 4 or 5 days without resetting it. Since it has a digital display and no moving parts, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the delay was designed in (about as much work, if not more, as building it to just be accurate) to make its little customers upgrade to another, more expensive timepiece sooner rather than later. The brightly coloured one-pound plastic wristwatches I used to buy - one a year - in the 1980s from sweet shops all ran on time. But of course the business cockroaches have learned since then - think we adults are allowed to get a cheap reliable chronometer even for a year just by buying one marketed to children? Ho no no, consumer filth, think again.
In other developments, you wear a blindfold for 4 days, you start to see things.
Sunday. Not sure I have beaten that cold I wanted to go to bed at 8pm on Friday to head off after all. It hovers worryingly in the background, marshalling its forces. Here's a depressing article about how life fell apart for the reporter who first broke a detailed investigation of routine CIA involvement in Latin American cocaine trading. "And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I'd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn't been, as I'd assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job," Webb wrote. "The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn't written anything important enough to suppress."
Saturday. Breakfast with Robin in the concrete pseudo-square behind the shopping centre. Slightly chilly, with cloudy skies.
A couple of interesting stories: one populist newspaper claims the sex-scandal rumours we've heard about Leon Brittan's behaviour in the 1980s were actually started by spooks in British intelligence in a private vendetta against him; and meanwhile an intriguing article says the phrase 'conspiracy theorist' was created by a CIA propaganda unit to smear (as mentally unstable) anyone puzzled by the hardly-credible official accounts of the two Kennedy murders.
Friday. Garden football with young Lorinc. Robin appears in evening.
Thursday. Teach new students. Scots vote today on independence. Things quite emotional on both sides of the debate.
Wednesday. Budapest as only a few of us know it. Here, worried by an epidemic of suicides in the 1930s, and as a result setting up eerie-looking 'smile academy' courses to get Hungarians back into their usual cheery mood.
Tuesday. Farewell to Balint, whom I've been teaching for a couple of years. Off on his great adventure to New Zealand in just a few days. Confirming what we secretly knew all along about the Arab Spring: democracy never had much chance there.
Monday. Harsh but useful truths on searching for erotic love.
Sunday. More rain. Sometimes it's loud, hundreds of high-pressure hoses roaring down into the street, a semi-tropical downpour. Since you're all on camera now, time to become Leo.
Saturday. Tedious amounts of rain. This has been the rainiest summer I can remember in this country. A transparent tub of coconut fat has been sitting on my table for months, and it functions like a simple thermometer. If it is a clear yellowy liquid then it is very warm. If it is clear but cloudy, then warm. If verging on waxy gel then mild, and if a solid block of white wax then it's cold. Meanwhile, do aircraft evolve like animals? An interesting new view on why that Anglo-French state-funded white elephant failed to lift off.
Friday. A strange day. One of my English conversation students tells me in her office that I should liberate my dark side, and be unafraid to use the left-hand path in certain cases. The other conversation student tells me in the cafe of a shopping centre that she has found out how to empty herself of self and has discovered that we are all one soul in many bodies.
I have the odd feeling that these two pieces of advice might be compatible. Meanwhile, here's a handy explanation of how payments in book publishing work.
Thursday. A chirpy Hungarian song-rap by a male duo. The accompanying video gives a good idea of
how Hungarian men view the Hungarian girls they go out with. The gist is the old male complaint that if you don't tell us what the problem is, we can't address it can we?
Wednesday. Intriguing short radio broadcast about the prowess of a certain tribe that gives Kenya some of its best athletes.
Tuesday. Got through my 2nd-hand copy of what seems to be the standard Hungarian middle-school 'Tortenelmi Atlasz / Historical Atlas', which has quite a lot of content for the little ones to absorb. Some wonderful maps with rich colours, and lots of actual detail. Not as Magyarcentric as I expected. Some excellent stuff in there: page 18 has a map of the Italian peninsula 7th to 4th century BC confidently dividing it up into coloured zones for Etruscans, Sabines, Greek colonies, Carthaginian colonies, and the small enclave of Latins just south of Rome; page 20 ventures to give an economic breakdown of the whole Roman Empire in the 2nd century AD with tasteful little icons of cows, horses, bunches of grapes, symbols for lead, silver, tin, iron dotted all across Spain, England, France, the Balkans. In a book packed with so much info there are inevitably going to be some mistakes: on page 55 two small maps of the countryside surrounding Budapest in the 15th and 18th century are clearly the wrong way round. But the sheer coverage is impressive: Turkey in the First World War (page 91); China's economy in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century (page 75); late-19th-century development in New York (page 71); Aztec territory, Holy Roman Empire, Christian states in the Crusades - no complaints about the ambitious scope of the whole thing. The little ones then face a set of pages at the back with lists of names to memorise, such as Greek mathematicians (Archimedes gets classed as a natural scientist, not a mathematician) or Spanish philosophers. Seven composers make it into 20th-century musical culture, and Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Ravel sit slightly oddly with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ennio Morricone. Still, I know how those books get written, for what kind of pay, and I'm grateful that wasn't one of my deadlines.
Monday. IKEA explain their new product, Apple-style. The bookbook.
Sunday. Some interesting talks about quantum anomalies. A brisk 25-minute outline by a French-sounding researcher who asks
Are there quantum effects coming from outside space-time? This is followed by
a 'quantum information' talk at Google, by someone who says the many-universe model can be replaced by a zero-universe model (tragically he distracts himself at the end and forgets to answer the one questioner who politely asks him to say "a little more about what a zero-universe model might entail", a question several of us would love to have heard the answer to). Very clear in parts, quite technical in others.
Finally a wonderfully lucid talk by Julian Barbour, the Oxford physicist who asks Does Time Exist? He goes nicely through the history of views of how time fits in with the physical universe and keeps his own theory as accessible as it can reasonably be.
Saturday. Read a 2nd-hand paperback detective novel (haven't read one of those for years), reprinted in Penguin in 2005, the green of the old two-tone prewar covers now confined to a fill inside the penguin-mascot's half-inch logo ellipse. Translated into English from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli, 'The Smell of the Night' by Andrea Camilleri was a good piece of escapist reading with convincing human observation by the detective hero, Sicilian gourmand/glutton Inspector Montalbano. Found this in the used-book store in the ugly disc-shaped sunken pedestrian area beside the 1960s concrete Southern Railway Station over in Buda where I got
light reading not long back. I keep forgetting that Andrea is a man's name in Italian, but the picture of the fiercely bespectacled author, bald, check-shirted, and with cigarette, unmistakably shows a man. The translation felt slightly odd, with perfect English, but some of the prose very mildly stilted or stiff in places. Still, readable, and clever enough to be an entertaining mystery, yet believable as an authentic criminal case.
Friday. Intriguing pic. If the illustrator sees this, I'd love to hear.
Thursday. Anthony Daniels = Theodore Dalrymple on how vital it is to be "judgmental".
Wednesday. New office block on corner, finished four months ago, still has black crosses of tape in all the ground-floor windows.
Tuesday. Last week, popped in on Xenia at the new photocopy shop, next door to the old one. She showed me the curious translucent paperweights her father makes, and
Monday. Important article about Keynes' famous (and the writer argues, dangerously overrated) essay criticising the Versailles peace terms against Germany after World War One.
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