Thursday. Disgruntled "refugees" discover streets not paved with gold, sell their western passports, and return to their supposedly dangerous homes.
Wednesday. The case that Obama oversaw use of intelligence agencies to rig the 2016 election strengthens.
Tuesday. My evening in a platinum blonde wig & lipstick riding around in a stretch limousine (waving a plastic demon's trident at passers by), goes reasonably well. Terri & Alvi relatively pleased with their footage.
Monday. After instalments over several days, finish watching Polanski's depressing corruption film 'Chinatown' with Michael. I definitely saw bits of this before, but I couldn't work out which bits I was remembering. Apparently it was originally planned to be one of a trilogy of films about water, oil, and land.
Sunday. A cute attempt to find sex robots in ancient myths.
Saturday. The potential "cost" of leaving the EU hugely overstated. Of course.
Friday. Last day teaching two study groups at the security-camera firm up in Obuda. Possible hoax, but a service seems to be offering to hypnotise you into forgetting your favourite TV series, so you can watch it again and again.
Thursday. Something that reminds me of one or two childhood Mediterranean holidays about Michael's town-centre flat. Half-closed shutters filter out bright sun, but windows stay open for air, so there are periods of quiet at night punctuated by isolated drunk people shouting in a range of tourist languages, sometimes even Hungarian. Morning comes with cleaning machines and an echoey bustle of breakfast-bar commerce that reminds me of the sound of an Italian or Spanish or Greek street.
Meanwhile, has there been a counter-coup in Saudi Arabia?
Wednesday. Get to the end of 'Homo Deus', a book which claims to plot out the next major steps in the history of mankind. As if following on from de Botton, this author's outlook is even more overconfident and juvenile. Very much the kind of book corporate managers leave on their desks to show they're keeping abreast of current trends, the two basic ideas are that 1) humanist liberalism defeated religion, and that very soon 2) AI-enabled 'dataism' will defeat humanist liberalism.
There's pretty much a mistake and glib assumption on every page, so a bit tiring to read, but at the same time touching to follow Harari's sixth-form beliefs marching through the text. He thinks liberalism defeated socialism by co-opting some of its solutions, whereas of course the opposite happened: socialism failed because its analysis was shallow & wrong to start with. He thinks (in a section trying to claim that algorithms could become legal persons) "Toyota and Norway belong to no-one" when of course they precisely do belong to people. He buys the idea that brain science has shown humans have no free will, because it doesn't occur to him that the conscious decision doesn't need to be the locus of free will: even Dennett can see that the conscious decision to flip a switch will be the climax of a cascade of earlier neurological processes, like an empire gradually digesting a peace treaty. So these experiments don't rule out free will at all, they merely smear responsibility for the free decision across the limbic, subconscious & conscious minds. He swallows hook, line, and sinker (as late as 2016) the manmade-global-warming story, having not checked it in enough detail to see it isn't an example of humanity ignoring scientific data at all, but in fact humanity processing scientific data very well. He calmly describes how dataism has already conquered biology and computer science without once noticing its obvious parallels to behaviourism, a deeply daft research fashion that captured huge swathes of academia for over half a century. He gets some things right - medicine will indeed increasingly be about upgrading people, not just rescuing them from disease - but still fails to see this clashes with his other claims that individuals will cease to matter and become 'dividuals'. He actually grasps this subject so poorly that he alleges that evolution is incompatible with free will, a monumental schoolboy blunder. He echoes the claim that randomness and determinism have divided the cake between them, leaving no room for willing in the middle, an empty idea which openly exposes its own driving metaphor. He thinks that if there are lots of competing voices in the head, then there cannot be a single self made up from this.
It's tricky to know where to start with a book that gets so much so plainly wrong, so perhaps best to end with one other mistaken assumption, that "intelligence is decoupling from consciousness". This is as if he's already established what intelligence is. As if chess or face recognition are essential to mindyness in a way in which lifting stones or knitting pullovers are not. He spends some time on the claims of people who said computers would never write a symphony as if that also settles the matter of what intelligence is. Instead a God Of The Gaps, he invokes a kind of HAL Of The Holes. Any silly attempt to name some hitherto unmechanisable process as a line in the sand is suitable proof for him, when crossed, that machines can think. The same argument could claim that steam engines or aeroplanes already proved that AI must one day surpass us because some human said people will never move faster than 30 mph or will never fly in heavier-than-air machines, so we can use refutation induction from a chain of previous foolish claims. Of course, blankly asserting that artificial intelligence is already here and can only accelerate is a way of dodging having to show what intelligence is, but the assumption that computing capital will cease to be owned by humans sounds pretty funny from someone who thinks Marx had "insights". In reality, none of the things (religions, nations, free will, individual persons) he thinks have fallen by the wayside have in fact fallen. With the single exception of life extension, none of the things he thinks are the new main stories will replace them.
Tuesday. My fingernail cuticles are all dyed black from coring cherries today and yesterday on the farm. On a small, battered stopping train across the Great Plain, finish reading 'Religion for Atheists' by Alain de Botton. The tone is lucid and humane - or at least sympathetic. In his usual way, lots of black-and-white photos dot the book to illustrate his points. He goes through several religious traditions (Jewish, Christian, Buddhist) finding artworks he sees as uplifting or comforting, rituals he finds soothing or inspiring, and institutions he believes bring people together for celebration or isolate them for times of reflection.
Bravely, he says at the outset that it is boring to ask if religion is true or not, and that in fact we know it isn't. This breezily clears the decks to pursue his main idea that religion - even if based on factual mistakes - is a huge store of human wisdom and cultural good practice atheists can happily borrow from. This is all rather worthy yet humble, refreshingly good-natured. He suggests 'Shrines to Perspective', 'Temples to Tenderness', and though also patronising it does feel like a sincere effort to appreciate the benefits and huge role in human history taken up by religions. Thing is, it's hard not to ask why anyone would bother with all those rituals and art objects if they thought they were entirely a comforting illusion? If it turned out the question his opening paragraph's dustpan & brush sweep away, the "obviously false" claim religion captures something true, matters? Might that truth question be vital to any attempt to treat these moods and states of mind with dignity or seriousness? His modest closing chapter about August Comte's failed secular religion in the 19th century answers the unspoken question for him. We're left with the earnest, pleasant author displaying by his own example the full flatness of post-17th-century thought in its wonderfully rich banality. Having absorbed the likeable de Botton's vision of a kind of 1940s-social-services Kindness Cult quenching our thirsts and comforting our torments, I get off at Kecskemet. There I buy some snacks and gaze up at the blue summer sky for half an hour while waiting for the smart, groovy, modern train to arrive and take us on to Budapest.
The smart, groovy, modern train is surprisingly crowded. A blonde in thin cardigan, tanned legs, and long slender neck showing off her ponytail, gestures I can slot in next to her without once looking up. Engrossed in her phone the whole journey, smiling and pouting enigmatically at her messages, her legs are not so much crossed as sleekly entwined, as if she is enjoying the smooth surface of her own limbs. I get the immediate instinct that any attempt to start conversation will give her refusal satisfaction, so I settle to my next book, an oddly familiar detective story my mother bought in the 1980s. Reaching Budapest, I feel a sort of unspoken urge inviting me to suggest help with some bag or be addressed by her as she stands, so I get up two minutes early, drift away towards the front of the carriage, and join a small queue of people getting off. Glancing back, there's something slightly irritated about how the blonde gets up, gathers her effects, and visibly decides that, yes, she will join the queue for the exit at the back of the carriage in the other direction. Off the train in the giant glass steam hall of Nyugati in Budapest, I'm offering help to another woman to hand her bags down at the train door when the pretty blonde struts past us busily along the platform, importantly trundling her wheeled suitcase at a near scuttle. If people will set up these little games, perhaps it's sporting to play along sometimes?
Monday. Train down to countryside to obtain a change of clothes from Robin's attic. Zeno the Alchemist and his friend Andras meet me at Lakitelek railway station. Many shops are closed for Whitsun. All three of the black and white lady cats have given birth, and yet only four kittens remain, in a basket under a table in the kitchen. It seems that under the quietly grumpy exterior of the shaggy off-white komondor Sisi, some resentment might simmer at having her seven puppies disappeared Argentinian-style the other week. Zeno explains to me that she chomped five or six kittens that got in her way.
Sunday. Coffee in the shade with elegant Julia, discussing life & love.
Saturday. A royal wedding today in Britain, on the same day Ann Boleyn had her head cut off 18 years shy of exactly 5 centuries ago.
Friday. Dinner with Zoe & Mark. Apparently I look liberated, even wearing the ridiculous leather trousers forced on me by having most of my clothes in Robin's countryside attic and one bag when in town staying on various kind friends' sofas. Tommy Jones & The Shondells perform 'Crystal Blue Persuasion', doubtless many many moons ago.
Thursday. Octopuses are from space? / Chinese re-education camps force Muslims to eat pork / Mountaineers are wondering how to get hundreds of dead bodies off Everest / Google creates creepy video "purely for internal use".
Wednesday. More dismal science about renewable energy.
Tuesday. Claim water struck by lightning has healing properties.
Monday. In town with Michael. Curious feeling of freedom & buoyancy continues. Scandi impresario Jimi Tenor in the mood for romance.
Sunday. A visit just outside the property from Car Dealer Csaba. He & Robin talk in Hungarian about spare Mercedes parts as the two komondor dogs growl at Csaba's parked car through the bars of the gate. The sun shines down.
Saturday. After he sees me wearing black leather trousers given me by the NZ film director, Robin is amused by my new Berlin Gay sado-dungeon guise. He, Andras, & I drive out to the countryside in the warm sun of late afternoon. In a queue stretching back into the drinks section of a Lidl supermarket in one small town, Robin explains "Really, she's a professional sex person." Half an hour later, as the three of us drink coffees and eat icecreams outside the Albanian cafe in Cserkeszolo, a wedding procession strolls by with a drummer at the back beating an oddly funereal rhythm. A man in a dark suit walking up and down the procession leans over the cafe fence and insists Robin accept a shot of pear schnapps to the health of the bride as they pass our table. I tell Andras about the BBC radio show Gardeners' Question Time, and the odd tradition of swingers and wifeswappers planting a few stalks of pampas grass outside their suburban homes to signal to others in the know.
Friday. Go out with Michael to hear Tunde Kolcsar sing jazz standards at a small venue along with her current pianist Peter The Vegetable, as Facebook online translation algorithms decode his name. Michael hopes to chat briefly with Peter (who has a black shirt and a tie with a graphic of a keyboard down it) about possible music work together on his compositions, and they got together for a moment. Having heard about Tunde's vocal skills from both Robin & Michael, now I hear her do a complete musical set I'm struck by how right my original instincts 2 years ago were. She shows off with misapplied technique, she oozes smugness, and it's clear we the audience are all there for her, not the other way round. She's all over each song, her voice swaggers here and there showing the tricks she can do with no reference to either the emotional integrity of the given song, or to any consistent stage persona of her own. No originality or wit in the choice of ballads to cover for her audience of 25 people. She renders 'Cry Me A River' with the same thumping insensitivity, and I remark out loud to Michael that she's never cried a river in her life for anyone except herself. To applause (and demands for an encore) she does her horrible cover of 'It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World', a song about the indispensibility of women only a straight man has the right to sing. Peter The Vegetable, a modest middle-aged pro on the piano, a working musician in command of his craft, knows perfectly well he's playing hotel lobby music. She has no clue.
Thursday. Interesting new bit of bigotry, use of the word gammon to describe men who disagree with the left.
Wednesday. On the small stopping train through small villages until Szolnok, I tell another woman with children that being a mother is the most important job in the world. This one is young, weary, but very cheerful, regarding the endless bounciness of her 4-year-old girl (and the more passive 2-year-old boy) as exasperating but funny. At one point both blond-haired tots are side by side on their tummies squirming down the aisle of the carriage like a pair of caterpillars.
Interesting piece doubts racial disparity comes from racism.
Tuesday. Two club tracks from Kaskade: 'I'll Never Dream' / 'Tonight'.
Monday. Istvan, new worker living on Robin's farm, is quiet, gentle, grey-haired. He's rather talkative if you get him going, but so decent and trustworthy he actually goes to church every Sunday. Robin tells me he's seen Istvan in the fields arguing with the farm animals, with whom he seems to have regular discussions.
Sunday. Chatting to Zeno the Alchemist, he and I realise that Robin's new Netflix TV habit (Narcos & Breaking Bad), is an addiction to dramas about addiction.
Saturday. Turkey's Erdogan, one of the two political leaders of recent decades brassnecked enough to wear a small square moustache, hits back at French language-teaching. That'll put The Hexagon in its place. On my way across the flat fields of central Hungary by sun-filled train, I sit near a remarkable woman dealing gracefully and firmly with three daughters ranged from about 5 to 13. She has considerable reserves of calm, an understated feminine elegance, and eyes filled with wisdom. Perhaps a very youthful and pretty 45 or 50. At the start of the trip as we pull out of Nyugati Station in Budapest, the youngest girl is sobbing angrily about leaving something behind and she sulks for about an hour. Another daughter is struggling with fractions. I offer to help, and her mother laughingly encourages her to accept my maths help, checking with glances at my eyes that my offer is genuine, but the girl is shy and stubborn. A quarter of an hour from our destination in Kecskemet I walk back down the carriage, coming back from checking on my mobile recharging on the floor at one end under the legs of a girl student who graciously agreed to guard my phone as it fed. I return to my seat just as the hitherto sulking youngest daughter throws herself laughing joyfully into the arms of Mama. All is forgiven. I remark to that woman in her 40s as she hugs her no-longer-angry little one that being a mother is the most important job in the world (something Robin sometimes says) and her eyes open wide with a quite sweet mixture of sincere surprise and grateful charm.
Recently bereaved Gyuri picks me up from Lakitelek as darkness falls and insists on inviting me for a drink at a bar in Tiszakecske on my way to the farm.
Friday. Surprise, surprise, two spaces between words really is easier on the eye after all. How did anyone find this hard to guess? Now that I've trained myself after years to conform to the one-space rule, thanks you lot.
Thursday. Ingenious hope, where craft meets art.
Wednesday. More twaddle about sex robots.
Tuesday. As Louis MacNiece says: so much to live.
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. --
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com