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euskara {basque}
magyar {hungarian}
nederlands/vlaams {dutch}

other links : i ii iii

Can you translate the next 300 words into Hindi, or Korean?; if so, please contact me and there will be rejoicing.

2002 Q1 & Q2
March 31st; Dinner with Bob. I contact Weekly Standard.

March 30th; As often, last week's cat-allergy asthma blends smoothly into a thick head cold. Is my immune system hoaxing itself? Or dinner with Gordon last night?
Still, lying on my floor in bright Sunday-morning sunshine, I finished Len's English translation of Antal Szerb's 'Journey by Moonlight'. Lovely, light readable English prose with not a word out of place. A late 1930s honeymoon in Italy of two Hungarian newlyweds, Mihaly and Erzsi. Mihaly is likeable and human enough, but the whole book palls for any reader who has actually met all those Hungarian types so accurately portrayed in it. With their pompous little musings about the questions of life, expressing flamboyant certainty about vague things and fake confusion about simple things, these puffed-up Hungarians were not hard to recognise. Both sexes see the other with a precious mixture of awe and condescension (as they still do in Hungary) - tiresome in the extreme. Erzsi goes hunting for a 'tiger' of a man, while Mihaly is so pathetically in the thrall of one old love, Eva, that he wants nothing more than to die in her presence. Yuck. Much of the writing is gorgeous and weightless and some of the portrayals of Italy as a place are truly mesmerising, but the people.... In particular, the smug self-regard of the two Hungarian females, effortlessly at peace with their own wise, instinctive mystery, was repulsively familiar to this reader. A cameo American girl called Millicent is patronised by Mihaly as endearingly trivial and flat, lacking all that wonderful, tragic, sophisticated Europeanness, one thing Szerb's unsure Hungarian heroes are very sure of. Much of the characterisation is uncannily true to type - my problem is who the uncannily true-to-type characters are.
March 29th; Check: NY-based gawker & schooling-themed Brian's education blog.

March 28th; After 12 hours' sleep I feel quite reasonable.
March 27th; Drive to Budapest on low sleep in hot sun.

March 26th; A pretty busy day. We go for lunch with Assunta, a famed friend of Robin from his Berlin days, in her garden just outside Vienna. A curry and a very friendly dog. Then we coffee with ex-gourmet-chef journalist Severin and his young Danish wife Majken in the Palm House, a sort of mini Crystal Palace full of 30-foot-tall palm trees. Then we join Oliver, his gorgeous sisters Eva & Vilma, and mother for dinner with Oliver's colleague Angelika & her computerist boyfriend Thomas.
March 25th; Playing Christian Death and Psychic TV tapes, Robin and I drive (past many Austrian pig farms, but also rousing views of authentic Alps) to Vienna, where Oliver and his mother welcome us. We learn about military history from Oliver over an Italian meal near the Turkish Embassy.

March 24th; Lunch with Finky, who alarms the Polish au pair by taking Puedi's children onto the garage roof, followed by a trip to help Puedi ferry rubbish from Elka's house to a municipal recycling place. In the evening I find easyinternetcafe is not actually easy at all {no staff, so blocked sites undeblockable}, then a stimulating drink with Florian and Clarissa, who works with glass artists like Brian Clarke.
March 23rd; Robin and I sleep late enough to miss the lunchtime outing to lake with Puedi and Fuffi. We wander around doing a long afternoon breakfast.
Later Googoo and Lucy come for dinner. Lucy and Puedi explain the ski-resort-based TV drama series they are writing. Googoo casually mentions a Munich socialite who vomits in women's handbags.

March 22nd; A long drive to Munich. After Puedi chats with us into the small hours, I drift asleep at 5.30am in a room full of toys where a giant fluffy green M&M character watches over me from behind a red and yellow hammock.
March 21st; Hello Cora! Still don´t understand how I got 120 hits today from her Brazilian site, since I can´t read a word of Portuguese.
We visit two galleries, Johen and Schoettle, showing photos by Elgar Esser, and Nuel´s one-time boss, Thomas Rehbein, showing ceramics and sketches by Elmar Trenkwalder. A fine dinner at Alice´s where we meet her neighbour, portrait painter Alexander, a gentle soul in the same family as Schlieffen of the Plan.

March 20th; After a relaxed start, Robin and I wander around Cologne. Alice, a painter of natural skies and treetops, takes us to an exhibition called ´Schweigern´ in a set of lawyers´ offices and then to her 39th-floor flat. We look down on the lights of Cologne, hear a few belching, rhythmic roars of a lion rogering one of his lionesses down in the zoo below, and leave. Robin gets vertigo, insists on walking down while we get the lift, and has to telephone us for help when he locks himself in a 2nd-floor garden. Alice says I should read Frans de Waal´s other book, a companion to ´Chimpanzee Politics´. Then to a Vietnamese restaurant.
March 19th; We bid farewell to Kate and Jules. Robin becomes slightly tense as we struggle to leave the traffic jams of south London behind. Miraculously, we make the 5pm ferry crossing and reach Nuel in Cologne at around 2am.

March 18th; Welcomed by Kate last night, today once again Jules helps out and puts me in touch with Ben. Then I meet Billy the linguist in person at the Festival Hall for a herbal tea! Every bit as mellow yet precise as his weblog suggests. I buy the DNA special print edition of New Scientist, get back to Kate´s, and she, Robin and Amir are relaxing.
March 17th; Bus down to London today. Not yet had a chance to check that Caucasian oil-pipeline website mentioned by Laura, who I met while out having a coffee with John on Saturday.

March 16th; Also rich in black and white line drawings, mother's 1962 copy of T.H. Savory's 'Zoology' in the Teach Yourself Books series - back when they had the stern, wasplike yellow and black covers, was an odd read. On one hand enjoyable to find an old-fashioned straight-into-the-action book starting with single-celled microbes and going from there. On the other hand, a slightly fuller glossary of zoology terms might have helped. Unapologetically taxonomic. Here's the first paragraph of Chapter 5, page 51:
"The mesenchyme or more or less solid mesoderm of the Platyhelminthes is the focus of attention in the next stage of the evolution of the animal body. It is found to have changed from a mesogloea supporting a few more or less isolated cells into a distinct cellular layer with functions of its own. In it there appears a space, known as the coelom, and the cells which line this, the splanchnic mesoderm outside the gut, and the somatic mesoderm below the ectoderm, play so important a part in the lives of animals that possess them that these animals are customarily preferred {sic} to as the Coelomata."
Has so much really changed since 1962?
Remember, this is a teach-yourself book {priced, not cheaply for then, at 7s / 6d}. The slogan "Alert minds choose Teach Yourself Books" certainly made me feel a bit dozy. I obviously had not been paying attention in chapters 1 to 4. Coelom & Coelomata do get defined, but some of the other terms caught me a little off guard. Am I silly to want a bit more explaining? Perhaps lists of names really do/did define biology. What would Savory make of the new suggestions to replace Greek and Latin naming of species with DNA-based barcodes, I wonder?

March 15th; Robert Kaplan's book about the history of zero from the library was interesting, and has lots of charming black and white drawings taken from historical sources. A double page of herb-like plant drawings showing the evolution of various modern words for zero, nil, nought etc is a treat. Disguising his strong views with lots of cheerful wit, he comes down quite firmly on the idea that the zero-and-place-value system was not [as usually claimed] an Indian 6th or 7th century AD innovation, but actually was something they got from more secretive Greeks in a roundabout way in the late Hellenic period. 'The Nothing that is', like Adrian Woolfson's book, rather indulges its own sense of the lyrical, but with much better judged humour, and a lighter touch. The point where an Old English author from 1300 is quoted to explain Knuth's notation for Ramsey numbers is a typical moment. Even where, later in the book, Kaplan keeps the whimsy pedal pressed fairly close to the floor, you're still left wishing you'd had him as a maths teacher, instead of the grey-faced dullards we all actually got.
March 14th; Finish mother's copy of Bede's 'History of the English Church and People' over breakfast. Strangely soothing to read. Wonderfully plain and unpretentious in tone, earnestly recounting various miracles with a mixture of apologetic assurances that a friend had spoken to a witness who really saw it, and a touchingly sincere concern that each miracle story may help the reader's own soul. An appealing glimpse of a nation with four languages ['English' {like modern Dutch or Frysk?}, 'Pictish' {in Scotland}, 'Scots' {mainly Ireland and the west of what's now Scotland}, and 'British' {Old Welsh?}]. The idea of Old Welsh/Cornish being spoken all the way down from Ayr to Carlisle to Blackpool to Liverpool through Wales to Bristol and the whole of the West Country is nice. Striking how everybody back then [from about 600 to the 720s AD] was (a) routinely racked by sickness, death, & thoughts of heaven or hell, and (b) very glad to politely and generously entertain strangers and guests, despite language barriers, probably for a bit of company. Presumably the few above peasant level had a lot of spare time to either pray with great intensity morning and night, study and teach scriptures in a variety of languages [quite a few Dark-Age Brits, Bede approvingly mentions, understood Greek as well as Latin], or invite in holy travellers from a neighbouring kingdom for a fortnight of discussion. I suppose people still like meeting travellers, but find it harder to justify.

March 13th; Finish the Hebden Bridge Library copy of Adrian Woolfson's 'Life without genes' around midnight. Compelling in parts, deeply annoying in others. An initial foray into various kinds of increasingly-large toy hypermarkets, culminating in the awesomely-sized 'Toy Space' is clever. Woolfson uses Toy Space [a planet-sized shop containing all possible toys, once made, to be made, and that can be made, ever] to explain the idea of Gene Space, a vast collection of kits of all the possible permutations of DNA-codings and perhaps other codings too. Woolfson's obvious debt to Borges' more crisply expressed 'Library of Babel' image - a combinatoric collection of all possible strings of printed characters, so all possible books, containing all actual books as a tiny subset - is vaguely alluded to later, but not really acknowledged.
The main ideas are interesting, but clouded over by Woolfson's hip-scientist pose. He discusses the structure of DNA, how it might have evolved from simpler mechanisms for inheritance, and how very early life must have had not digital, but analogue genetics, like analogue gramaphone records before digital compact discs. These might have been temporary clusters of molecules in tiny rock pools or small fluid-dynamic cells of perhaps thermally self-ordering fluid within bigger seas of chemicals. This would have been interesting if he hadn't got carried away by his version of Borges' metaphor into producing so much dodgy prose. Perhaps writing like this: "And you embrace these things with open arms. The cowboy greets the Indian. Together we kiss the ether, our saddle is every tomorrow. But we have no space for this conjuring deception, these tricks, this hocus pocus. - ..." [and on and on and on, across the vast expanses of Pseudy Waffle Space...] helps many readers. A refreshing glimpse of wild science? I hope so. But other affectations, such as always writing 'discreet' when he means the other word 'discrete', pale into insignificance next to Woolfson's substance-abuse-style fantasies. I would have liked more about the early, self-organising, almost shapeless forms of pre-gene life, more about the future of modified genes, and frameworks for heredity other than DNA. And a lot less lurching between florid passages and paragraphs bristling with big biology words. Some wonderful ideas, interesting facts and speculation, and plenty of energy - 2 or 3 books later could be something superb. Once it's evolved a bit.
March 12th; Encouragement, from both John by phone and Liberty Belle, via Samizdata, by e-mail, to write about Jumping Jacques Chirac for a US magazine.

March 11th; I finish Peter's copy of 'The Figure in the Landscape' by John Dixon Hunt. A very smooth, but quite bewildering read. Bewildering largely because it's about 18th-century English poetry, landscape gardening and landscape painting, and I know next to nothing about any of the three. Towards the end, the scraps of things I half-recall of Alexander Pope, Capability Brown, or Thomas Gainsborough all started fitting a bit better into bigger changes of fashion and beliefs. Like any new subject area, a bit of a slippery ice wall at first. Probably starts to take shape more after 3 or 4 books.
March 10th; I trot over to Hebden Bridge and back. Again.

March 9th; I wade through the Sunday newspapers. The Observer Magazine has an article about art curators who are "iconoclastic" [i.e. break pictures]. What's wrong with simple words like 'bold'?
March 8th; Last night Ed & I heard Simon Armitage read his poems. This morning Len's translation of 'Utas es Holdvilag', 'Journey by Moonlight', by Antal Szerb arrived by post.

March 7th; So, I'll put links here to wherever I stick it, but the brief outline of my view is that Searle's Chinese Room argument is just as deeply flawed as the artificial-intelligence community claim, essentially assuming what it seeks to show {the specialness of first-person consciousness}, but that Searle's philosophical instincts are still in the right direction. Inverting Turing's simulation test, so as to claim that even a perfect simulator [a person locked in a room full of rulebooks for turning Chinese writing into English writing] is still not a real intelligence, is bold of Searle. He attacks Turing's simulated-thinking-is-as-good-as-real-thinking case apparently at its strongest point. But the room-bound nature of the Chinese Room [like the Turing Test] "pumps" Searle's intuition just like everyone else's, and stops both detractors and proponents of machine intelligence from seeing the real issue, which is autonomy. The Robot Reply seems to get close, but is just cladding the Chinese Room in a moving shell. Both Searle and his opponents, AI defenders like Daniel Dennett, have got it upside down. [Though Dennett got very close, worrying about what he called 'cognitive wheels' and the AI 'frame problem' - but notice how in his very 2nd sentence "Its only task was to fend for itself." the design assumption subtly smothers any autonomy assumption before it could even get started.] Bodies are not vehicles or add-ons for intelligences. Rather, intelligences are subordinate features of bodies, serving higher-level animal needs like food, survival, sex. No system built into a box, even a moving box, is going to be intelligent, because both the consciousness defenders [like John Searle] and the cognitivists [like Dennett or Pinker] have misconstrued thinking as a facility giving clever answers and both see the essence of thinking as somehow about thinking {albeit contrastingly: experiental + circumstantial on the one hand, logicist + functionalist on the other}. In fact thinking is about doing, so as to do what that animal wants. It's a facility assisting clever decisions by an autonomous entity [such as a squirrel] which already has other things it needs to do more urgently than think.
At 5 pages it's a bit long for here {I've only just pruned this page}. So 'Giving the Chinese Room a mind of its own' or 'A linguist locked in the Chinese Room' or whatever, will link from here when/if it finds a home....
March 6th; Tomorrow and tomorrow for the Chinese Room. How to summarise? I hope it isn't another 'intuition pump' as Dennett would put it, but we'll see.
No cash-journalism replies yet. Those busy-busy-busy London editors still frantically occupied, pumping printers' ink through the arteries of this great nation.

March 5th; The second day I bump into Peter on the approach to Hebden Bridge, again wearing a yellow flower in his buttonhole.
March 4th; Perhaps I'll post something about Searle's Chinese Room argument against strong artificial intelligence tomorrow. Not really enough room [ha!] here. Can anyone suggest a decent discussion list? I might call it 'A linguist locked in the Chinese Room' if I find somewhere to put the whole article, though lots of other fun titles beckon.
But I'm pretty sure now I know what's wrong with Searle's argument, and where his cognitive-science & AI opponents go wrong too.

March 3rd; Sent article to editor at Loaded.
March 2nd; Ed takes me along to a lovely dinner party at Peter's {a poetry-filled cottage up on the tops} with Gaia and Tim.

March 1st; Meet Ed for a drink in Halifax.
February 28th; Finished another old book I was 3/4 through. Steven Pinker's 'Words and Rules' takes us into the heart of his own specialism, which is grammar, mainly regular and irregular verbs in English and German. This can be a surprise if you've previously read him chattily discussing evolutionary roots of human thought in general, cheerily introducing us to other people's research.
He explains how people with different brain conditions make revealingly different kinds of mistake with "wug tests" [tests to put endings on invented nonsense words], giving us clues about how those languages distinguish regular and irregular [Pinker supports Twain, perhaps German exceptions do outnumber German rules by some counts!], and how our brains do the same. The book gives an excellent feel for the austere precision needed for real science - one question at a time, carefully chosen to give one clear answer either way. By the end, he is claiming Wittgenstein's "family resemblance" argument is a fresh view of the classes of things we pick out in reality from Aristotle's defined types. Though the idea that classes of resembling families have 'prototype' [he means 'archetype', I think] members sounds like a bit of a slip. Bluejays are more essentially 'birdy' [for Euro-American experimental subjects? surprise, surprise...] than cockatoos or penguins. Wouldn't that depend where your particular culture stood along a spectrum of resembling, overlapping categories? Is a Wittgensteinian fuzzy category any more than an Aristotelian category where a couple of other Aristotelian categories pop up unusually close by?
More interesting, he suggests that far from mistakes like 'buyed' and 'thinked' revealing something distinctive about children's brains, these typical children's mistakes shaped the very language - the other way round. They may have helped, he says, decide which verbs kept which endings and which dropped out of the irregular clan, being regularised [and very occasionally going the other way] by each new generation of children's & other new learners' errors over the centuries.
Despite its big ideas about how we categorise the world, the book's thin air of high-altitude cognitive research is a bit overbracing. Nagging doubts lurk. Is it really possible to deduce so much about the evolution of the brain from the difference between German s plurals and German n plurals? Isn't MIT the institution that rode much of its reputation on the detailed do-ability of strong artificial intelligence? If some things are understood according to rules, and some case by case, so what? And shouldn't this kind of linguist learn a few more languages before they start looking for this kind of brain-culture fit?


Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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