by ammophila


 Thought for the day, and the century How much more evidence do we need (whoever we are)  before accepting that neoliberal capitalism is a sure route to economic disaster?  How much more evidence do we need that an opposition between ‘our side’ and ‘their side’, is not just a morally stunted way to run a society, let alone a world,  but a guarantee that attempts to build a human civilisation, using homo sapiens, will end in chaotic failure?

            All we have to do is look at the evidence.


  As Editor I boldly assert that more geopolitical truth has flowed through this site in the past ten years (along with a good deal of knockabout stuff aimed at entertainment) than in all but a small minority of journals available in English with comparable resources and no reliance on advertising.  And this is not only a matter of reporting on current events.  A good journal offers a view on how matters not yet decided may be going to turn out.  We have a pretty good record on that score too, going back quite a few years. Recently trawling through some ancient effusions of these columns I came across this:

….the troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq so that they can be trained in preparation for the American invasion of Iran.  G [Bush]  has been told by his helpful advisors that this will result in world economic chaos, and by more clear-sighted advisors that the general effect of economic crises is that the strongest survive, and come out even stronger relative to the others

That was posted in 2007 following one of the many announcements about withdrawal of American forces from the Middle East.  (And it is alarming to note how closely the approach to realpolitik taken by those clear-sighted advisors matches the views of the ‘other IMF’ as expressed in the much later contribution 15-11-2016 on the ammophila website from Jojo Ceausescu.)

NB ‘Ammophila’ involved no kind of pun.  Zoologically ‘ammophila’ is the solitary sand wasp


In signing off, we need to deal with a number of short notices, herewith: 

Plaudit of the month  Congratulations to the tycoon from the celestial empire who has bought a seventeenth-century grade 1 mansion in rural southern england and set it up as a blandings castle theme park in the interests of international cultural misunderstanding

Question of the month  From time to time writers on pop-science can be found swinging from the chandeliers to celebrate the news that scientists have discovered a twin planet earth which may harbour an intelligent civilisation, and which could be a refuge for the last desperate survivors of humanity (or their greatgrandchildren, given the time needed to make the journey) when greed, anger, and stupidity have finally wrecked the world they were living on.  But can the writers please pause in mid-swing to reflect on the possibility that that world’s population might be desperately trying to plan a move in precisely the opposite direction?

Question of the year  Women may want men to take a bigger share in baby care, and the politically correct tendency may want men to be playing a bigger part, but what do babies want?

Question of the century  Many economists have pointed out that a long-term effect of a free market would be to transfer resources from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, given that the latter have initially far better access to information and a much wider freedom of action.  But another long-term effect would  be to also transfer resources from the relatively stupid to the relatively talented.  And what do you think the results of that might be?

Military question of the month  Trump complained that the Kurds had not gone to help the US as allies in World War II.  (Part 1) Were they actually signed up as allies in the first place?  (Part 2) How long did it take the US to go to help their allies France, the Netherlands and the UK in World War II (and World War I)?

British Parliamentary question of the month ‘If education really makes such a valuable contribution to the future development of this country, can the minister guarantee that overseas students will get a substandard version, unless they give thoroughly convincing evidence of continuing long-term commitment to our economy?’

Historical query of the millennium  Which tends to come first – dominance over other nations, or callous barbarity?

Package tour of the month  This tour will take visitors to the secret centre which stores ex-dictators cryogenically, with an opportunity to view their present condition (but with a strict ban on the taking of photographs), and a basic introduction to the processes involved and how they can in principle be reversed. Please note this tour is only available to military officers of senior rank and accredited agents of Nato security agencies with top clearance.

Definition of the month  A social-media network is a freely available psychotechnical dummy for would-be adults

Analogy of the month  Money is like ice, in that at first it stimulates activity in the recipient, and gives a pleasurable thrill, but thereafter causes degradation of the condition of the body (in this case, the body politic)

Health Issue of the next decade for those who survive that long   Given that we are what we eat, but even more continuously we are what we breathe, what is needed is more urban pollution (of the right sort, which will kill bacteria but be more or less harmless to humans)

Police report of the month (and very many other months as well)  “The suspect was carrying shopping which appeared life-threatening, so we shot him in self-defence”

Infrastructure question of the month  Given that gigantic sums of money have been spent finding ways of making use of the vertical dimension to make marginal improvements to the flow of the myriad vehicles that have pushed their way onto the roads over the past century or so, with tunnels, flyovers, bridges, and underpasses, might it not be that perhaps a much smaller sum could have achieved better results if from the start it had been applied to developing new types of vehicle instead of ever more ozymandian deformations of the earth’s surface?

Investment opportunity of the month  The best things in life are still free, so join our private equity company formed to celebrate and appreciate these boons of humanity, by lobbying governments to make them the property of the state and then issue us with licences to exploit them.

Phobia of the month  Paraxenophobia – That fear of encountering unfamiliar opinions which drives people to go to the sites which have already told them how to think, in order to get their ‘news’.

Question overheard (and answer)(Islington)  “Amicable divorce?  His ex-wife starts a catfight with his fiancée whenever they meet; I suppose you could say he  is undergoing a mid-wife crisis.”

Late news  Health and safety officials are trying to find out who planted tracking devices recently found in English south coast oysters

Apology of the month  We apologise for the typographical error in last month’s posting which stated that a combination of boiling water, baking soda and vinegar was an excellent way to clear brains


For disposal  Mechanical Long John Silver with fitted parrot (squawks at 95 decibels).  Contact via PO box 20, Hangdong Chiangmai 50230


Lexicographical tailpiece

Writing about the business of writing itself has a long and not wholly fascinating history.  One tends to assume that all the main factors have long been recognised along with the ways that they can be put to work.  But occasionally something useful has slipped through the net and risked being forgotten.  One such item is Fegan’s Dictionary of inexact equivalents (subtitled: An invaluable aid for creative writers when inspiration fails) published between 1927 and 1953 in Europe.  This was originally designed to overcome one of the main problems facing students trying to learn a new language, namely the onset of boredom or (in severe cases) catatonic loss of morale and mental breakdown, when required to read and translate, or to compose, page after page of tedious verbiage detailing the trivial activities and conventional ideas of characters who, to avoid offending readers, were always and only portrayed as taking part in predictable ‘safe’ and uncontroversial situations.  (Material of this sort is sometimes unkindly described as written in Reader’s Digest dialect.)  Liam Tyler, sent by his parents in 1922 to spend two years in Germany learning the language, found the classroom experience so stultifying that he gave up after 5 months.  Talking to friends after returning to Dublin it occurred to him that the biggest obstacle to learning German had been the programme painstakingly devised to teach it to him, which had its occasional flashes of interest and indeed wakefulness only when someone unintentionally flouted translational norms, as for instance when what should have been ‘He always had trouble with vertigo’ is rendered as ‘He always had trouble with virginity’.   This led ultimately to the compilation of the first Dictionary of inexact equivalents, which was designed to make it easy for teachers to insert specimens into lessons whenever they thought it might help in raising consciousness levels.  Material was acquired easily enough by circulating questionnaires to language schools to collect examples which could be guaranteed incorrect by  experienced professional linguists.  In due course, the principle involved was taken up both by teachers of ‘Creative Writing’ and by would-poets who felt that their work could be spiced up with a helpful dose of deliberate unconventionality.

             At one point there were three dictionaries of Inexact Equivalents (English-French, English-Spanish, and English-Dutch, all now out of print.)  At present only one exists, published independently, for English and Thai, evidently still harvesting fine crops of ‘inexact equivalents’, even without having to rely on students’ mistakes, since all the following examples have been extracted from published books.  The genuine English word or phrase is given along with an orthodox translation back into English from the Thai word or phrase that had been ambitiously thought equivalent to the original English.  All these examples are guaranteed by the editor of this journal to be genuine products of mistranslation, not invented to appear in this report.

implicit > explicit                            uncanny > honest

outside > inside                               prosaic > hateful

thigh > face                                     enigmatic > splendid

hectic > fat                                       cautiously >  eagerly

spectacular >  satisfactory            emulate > extinguish

cyclopean  >  spiral                         patiently >  uneasily

cloned  >  castrated                         repressurised  >  curled up in

enclosed space  >  open space      hiking boots  >  boots for hitch-hiking

I have a vivid recollection  >  I remember vaguely

a muffled figure > a man wearing things to protect his ears

with the artistic flair of a five-year-old > with five years of experience in art

his eyes glazed over > his eyes opened wide

assorted > so fat they seemed to have been stuffed

sexual desire offset by the ironic smile > sexual desire set going with a mocking smile

emanating bad taste like a cold draught > emanating bad taste like an arid barracks

clanking up and down on his tractor > climbing up and down on his tractor

non-deductible > with the mud not yet washed off

incontinent  holidaymakers > european holidaymakers

the seeker after sunshine and free lodging > the seeker of  free lodging

                                when the sun is not in the sky

It is hard not to admire those who decide to write what they feel should be written, not hamstrung by worries about conformity to an alien language.  “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean,” said Humpty-Dumpty as reported by Lewis Carroll.  But that was in the Victorian era.  Modern rule-following students, confronted by a word or phrase they do not recognise, may simply look it up, or even resort to asking a native speaker of the language to explain it.  (A third option sometimes encountered in Thai is simply to omit the sentence or paragraph containing the problem. The longest such omission I have encountered was, in the original, two pages of a story by Roald Dahl.)  But old traditions may live long, and I can conclude with this fine example of a refreshing refusal to be bound by conventional translation:

    The girl is young, and we would not have her wed grey hairs, neither would we    deprive her of  all choice > Your daugher must marry the man that we choose for her