Robert Trivers

August 29th, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

The Guardian has a wonderful profile of Robert Trivers. As an ignorant arts student, I hadn’t heard of him before today, and now I’m regretting it.

August 25th, 2005 § 0 comments § permalink

Storms are so much better when there’s a very bendy tree right outside the window.

This is going to be an impressive place to sit in winter.

Update: the last four posts on my friends-list, this one included, are *all* about the weather. So stereotypical it hurts.

Job and house

August 23rd, 2005 § 0 comments § permalink

House and job are finally sorted – yay!

On (about) 5th September I’m moving into naranek‘s spare room (the one currently occupied by feanelwa). Then a week after that I begin working at Jagex – which means I’ll be seeing a lot more of raggedyman, necro_angel, and mazzarc.

I’m slightly distressed that I can write a paragraph like that where everyone has a livejournal. But hey, they’re all nice people, so who cares?

Now that’s all sorted, I need to work out what to do for the next three weeks. Suggestions welcome!

Translating the internet

August 21st, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

I don’t know what to make of this report by Reidar visser, which analyses the effect of the internet on separatist Shi’ite politics in Southern Iraq. Much of the report is devoted to translating and commenting on articles from fairly minor websites. I’m delighted that people are taking apart arabic-language Iraqi politics on the internet, and making it available to those poor fools who don’t speak Arabic (i.e. me).

But at the same time, isn’t it a waste of time? At one point, Visser reveals that one article has had only 10-30 readers. Is it worth an expert’s time to translate this stuff?

Arabic discussions about Iraq are so widespread on the internet that no human is going to be able to translate them all. If you want to understand what Iraqis are saying on the web, you’re really going to have to learn Arabic. You’ll get so much more information by skimming though lots of sites than by reading erudite deconstructions of a few articles. Case studies are inevitably misleading: they’re subject to the biases of an academic, and no one piece of writing can explain an entire discusison.

But – there are so many people, myself included, who don’t read Arabic and yet write about Iraq. In an ideal world, we’d all either learn the language or stop talking about Iraq. In my case, either is a possibility: I’m likely either to finally learn to read arabic, or to shift my focus off Iraq and onto the CIS, where I can at least read what’s going on in Russian. But in general, most people won’t know the languages of countries they’re trying to understand.

Given that, I suppose translating and analysing extracts from foreign-language sites is worthwhile. But it still feels as though Visser and others like him are flinging themselves at an impossible task.

Translating the internet

August 21st, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

I don’t know what to make of this report by Reidar visser, which analyses the effect of the internet on separatist Shi’ite politics in Southern Iraq. Much of the report is devoted to translating and commenting on articles from fairly minor websites. I’m delighted that people are taking apart arabic-language Iraqi politics on the internet, and making it available to those poor fools who don’t speak Arabic (i.e. me).

But at the same time, isn’t it a waste of time? At one point, Visser reveals that one article has had only 10-30 readers. Is it worth an expert’s time to translate this stuff?

Arabic discussions about Iraq are so widespread on the internet that no human is going to be able to translate them all. If you want to understand what Iraqis are saying on the web, you’re really going to have to learn Arabic. You’ll get so much more information by skimming though lots of sites than by reading erudite deconstructions of a few articles. Case studies are inevitably misleading: they’re subject to the biases of an academic, and no one piece of writing can explain an entire discusison.

But – there are so many people, myself included, who don’t read Arabic and yet write about Iraq. In an ideal world, we’d all either learn the language or stop talking about Iraq. In my case, either is a possibility: I’m likely either to finally learn to read arabic, or to shift my focus off Iraq and onto the CIS, where I can at least read what’s going on in Russian. But in general, most people won’t know the languages of countries they’re trying to understand.

Given that, I suppose translating and analysing extracts from foreign-language sites is worthwhile. But it still feels as though Visser and others like him are flinging themselves at an impossible task.

Jerome

August 21st, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

I’ve also been having another look at Latin and Greek recently. And, at risk of seeming horribly religious, I’ve ben reading some of the letters of St. Jerome.

This is hilarious in an exactly opposite way to the dream of the rood. It sounds uncannily like current evangelism. Or rather, it sounds exactly like the kind of stereotypical CICCU evangelising that makes people run screaming. Nothing has changed, it seems, over the past 1600 years, and perhaps the Jerome Method works.

I was going to paste in some of the gems I came across, but I can’t find the appropriate letters on the internet, and certainly not in English. One day I’ll go back to the classics library and copy down a few of the best bits.

Incidentally, I’d not realised that Jerome and Heironymus are same name. Not quite as good as Catamite and Ganymede, but getting close.

Dream of the Rood

August 21st, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

I’ve just escaped from four years of trying to bluff my way around an ancient language I could barely understand. So what do I do? Move onto another one.

Since I’m still in work-limbo, I’ve been spending part of my time learning Old English. It isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds – I’ve been interested in this stuff since my teens, and it was mainly personal circumstances that made me do the Sanskrit course at Cambridge rather than Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.

More importantly, this time round I get the benefits of doing it as a hobby. I don’t have to do any more grammar than necessary, I don’t need to feel guilty when I consult a translation, and I get to cherry-pick the interesting bits.

Unfortunately, the corpus is pretty small, so there aren’t many interesting bits. The one that is great fun is the Dream of the Rood. I first came across this when I went to an ASNAC open day five years ago, and all the students agreed it was the best text on the course. I’ve picked at it a few times, but this weekend is my first attempt at reading all the way through in the original.

It’s the story of the Crucifiction – but it’s the crucifiction told by the cross, and Jesus is a Saxon hero. Here’s how Jesus gets on to the cross:

Geseah ic þa frean mancynnes
efstan elne mycle  þæt he me wolde on gestigan.
Then I saw that lord of mankind
Rush with great courage to climb onto me
þær ic þa ne dorste       ofer dryhtnes word
bugan oððe berstan,     þa ic bifian geseah
eorðan sceatas.     Ealle ic mihte
feondas gefyllan,  hwæðre ic fæste stod.
There I did not dare to bend or break against the
word of God. Then I saw the surface of the earth trembling.
I could have fallen on all those enemies, but I stood firm.
Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð,  (þæt wæs god ælmihtig),
strang ond stiðmod.  Gestah he on gealgan heanne,
modig on manigra gesyhðe,   þa he wolde mancyn lysan.
Then that young lord (who was God Almighty) undressed,
Strong and resolute.  He climbed onto that wretched cross,
Going boldly into the sight of many, since he would liberate mankind
Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte. Ne dorste ic hwæðre bugan to eorðan,
feallan to foldan sceatum,  ac ic sceolde fæste standan.
I trembled because this warrior had climbed onto me,
But I didn't dare bend to earth, to fall onto the dark ground. And I had to stand firm.

There are texts, translations, and notes on this all over the web. For reading it, the best I’ve found is this one, which links each word to a dictionary definition. And since the sentence structure is pretty similar to modern English, it’s not too hard to understand without formally learning the language.

Circus to Afghanistan

August 21st, 2005 § Comments Off § permalink

Back in the dim and distant past (2004?), Jo Wilding took a Circus to Iraq. Now it turns out somebody else has been doing the same thing in Afghanistan.

Perhaps with slightly different politics from Jo, or perhaps not – but who cares, it’s a circus!

August 12th, 2005 § 0 comments § permalink

The front page of yesterday’s Independent quotes various high court judges grumbling about the government and civil liberties. My favourite is Lord Carlile of Berriew, who said that:

“If the Government under-mines the judiciary then the judiciary might be tempted to undermine the Government”

Somebody give that man a Kalashnikov, and let him start cells of guerilla judges.