Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Family Money

Personal Directions

The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Ask your local US Consul

Family Money: Know Thy Client

By Leslie Wright,
Managing director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd.

Each investor is an individual, and no two are ever quite the same. That’s one of the factors that make the financial services industry so fascinating.

Fundamentally, the financial services business is founded upon relationships. Even those investors who do it all themselves may still have to deal with a disembodied voice on the telephone 10,000 miles away, or someone on the other end of a computer network.

Many investors prefer the personal approach, and want to deal with a personal financial adviser, or portfolio manager. But before that client will do business with him, the adviser will have had to establish a certain level of trust and rapport with the client.

Get-rich-quick
merchants

Sadly, many financial advisers are concerned not with giving their clients “best advice”, but only how much money they can make for themselves in the immediate short term. Also, many financial advisers try to sell ‘one-size-fits-all’ investments, which may be inappropriate to that particular client’s needs & circumstances.

Similarly, few IFA’s are prepared to put in the time and effort necessary to building a long-term relationship with their clients once the initial sale is made, and provide the level of service required to keep a client “loyal”.

In the initial stages, and in order to provide ongoing best advice, a financial adviser has to understand as much as he can about his clients’ circumstances and financial aspirations. So a detailed fact-find should be conducted in their first meeting, from which the adviser should formulate appropriate recommendations.

These would typically be presented to the client in a second meeting, rather than pulling out a glossy brochure and “selling” the client during the first meeting what might turn out to be an inappropriate investment. All too often in such instances the client has not understood the investment product and how it works, the charges that will be levied, and any penalties that will be applied should he stop it early. He is sold the benefits without being made aware of the downside.

The newly affluent

In the financial trade press there has been much discussion of the opportunity the mass affluent represent to the IFA community, but most IFA’s are poorly prepared to address those opportunities.

When a new kind of client emerges, they often do not fit neatly into the IFA’s existing business model. Not so long ago, affluence was primarily a function of birth: the baby-boomer generation changed all that. Having redefined what growing up was all about in the 60s, they then moved on to begin a revolution in the workplace in the 70s. The importance of intellectual property meant they could demand a link between their value to their employers and the remuneration they received for it. In the 80s, the UK was awash with ‘yuppies’ and Mrs. Thatcher’s ‘trickle-down’ theory accelerated the distribution of relative wealth.

So the mass affluent have typically made their money themselves and usually through employment. And that is why they won’t adapt themselves to supplier behaviour. The more successful they are, the more confident they become, and as their confidence grows they are increasingly demanding of good value products and high quality service.

They share another characteristic: they are promiscuous. Their loyalty to any particular financial adviser is directly related to the value that IFA delivers. And if the IFA fails them, they’ll leave.

The reason any of this matters is that there is little point in recognising the mass affluent as an important market if we in the financial services industry aren’t able to woo you and keep you satisfied. We have to invest time in understanding how our clients behave and what drives that behaviour.

Research into a number of focus groups, supported by quantitative input from the MORI Financial Services continuous tracking survey, uncovered three key factors:

Understanding: If consumers have a grasp of the products available to solve a given financial requirement then it’s easier for them to act.

Interest: Interested consumers will invest time and effort in keeping on top of their finances.

Organisation: Consumers who are poorly organised will procrastinate.

By allocating high or low scores to each of these we find several different types.

A person who scores high on all three will display particular and predictable behavioural characteristics as a result. High organisation will force him to get things done, high understanding will give him the confidence to do it, and high interest will mean he knows how to go about it. This person reads the personal finance press or uses the internet. He is likely to buy direct, believing that if he had the time he could do as well as any professional. He expects high performance and plenty of contact.

Alternatively, someone who scores low on both understanding and interest but high on organisation requires completely different handling. His bewilderment makes him unsure and slow to commit to any investment program, but he’s driven by the need to get things done. In the discussion stage the IFA will need to earn his trust. After the program is up and running he will be content if his IFA’s administration is efficient and he’s given a call every six months.

Between these extremes we might consider the group who, though high on understanding and organisation, score low on interest. They can’t be bothered to deal with it themselves because it doesn’t interest them – although, being organised, they recognise the need to deal with it; but the confidence they derive from understanding means they’re delighted to give their financial adviser the problem.

This research reveals that the mass affluent represent many different segments, rather than just one group. The research explains not just how these segments behave but gives an insight into why.

It’s not enough simply to announce one’s interest in the mass affluent and expect them to form a queue. Success is reserved for those financial advisers who are prepared to take the time to segment them into smaller groups and understand how each behaves and why. And then find them the investment vehicle that most closely matches their particular needs, aspirations, and investor profile.


Personal Directions: The Great Secret: Organization

By Christina Dodd,
founder and managing director of Asia Training Associates

Normally when we hear the term “organization” we think of something rather ordinary and mundane. However, if we look a little closer, we will find that organization is one of the great secrets of life.

We all know that we can organize our lives in better ways; such as by keeping an accurate and up to date to-do list, or keeping up on our bookkeeping, or ordering our priorities in life. When we take such actions we are in essence organizing our consciousness.

There are a number of ways we can organize our consciousness, our being; e.g. by a greater degree of direction in life, through higher skills and knowledge, greater energy, greater strength, more goodness toward others, by implementing personal values in our lives, through positive attitudes, and in many other ways. As we organize our consciousness, we grow and evolve; we achieve and succeed, we find happiness and joy in life.

Organization is not of course just limited to the individual. A business for example can also organize itself. When a company organizes such components as its job positions, activities, systems, and focuses its direction, goals, and values, it is organizing itself to a higher level, which inevitably results in greater revenues, profitability, energy, satisfaction, and success.

Higher organization is also available for any social entity, institution, community, nation, as well as the world itself. Like a business any social entity can evaluate itself and rise to higher levels of organization. What is particularly interesting is that not only can it organize itself internally but it can also learn to organize itself externally, through higher levels of cooperation, coordination, and integration with other related social entities.

Surely the world would be a better place if there was more of such cooperation and integration among the nations of the world. For example, when there is a dearth of food in impoverished nations, it is not because there is not enough food in the world, it is because of lack of cooperation, coordination, and integration - i.e. organization - amongst the nations.

Consider this dictum: “all problems in life are essentially problems of harmony.”

When an individual organizes himself he is creating greater internal harmony. For example, when a social entity organizes itself with other social entities, it creates greater external harmony. In either case, higher organization results in higher harmony, unity, and oneness of purpose. In such an atmosphere, there is an enormous energy built up that inevitably will lead to great achievement, success, and joy in life.

If we examine the world we will see that everywhere there is a movement toward greater, ever-accelerating organization. The Internet is only the latest example. It is the ultimate, dense, multi-system organization; and it is shared by all the world. Such developments of organization in the world are a reflection of the emerging power of the human mind in the world. That power is accelerating in the last several decades, reflecting the evolutionary movement of humanity up from a physical and vital-based consciousness to a more mental based consciousness.

That power of mind in the world is in fact the power of organization. The Internet has come about because of the further emergence of this power of mind in humanity. Whereas the human body gives substance to our being; it is the physical part of us; and the vital is the energizing force in us, mind is the ordering mechanism of life; it serves the purpose of ordering and organizing the world we live in for us.

As we know the mind organizes life around us through the functioning of our senses. It also has the capacity to think independent of the senses, as when we think logically or self-conceptualize the world. In either case it is organizing data, information and ideas. The physical brain itself is a vast amalgam of neurons and other parts that organizes pulses as data, and develops them into stored knowledge, and formulates them as ideas. This is interestingly not so different from a company which organizes its activities, or the Internet organizing information and knowledge, or social entities, such as nations, coordinating and integrating with one another, and so forth.

Perhaps we can even say that the universe itself is a vast and complex organization, with its processes and functions that are organized, coordinated, and integrated.

We can also see that higher organization inevitably means higher progress; such as personal growth for the individual, or more development for the business or the social entity. So higher organization is higher growth and development. Perhaps we can also say that higher organization is higher consciousness, because whenever we develop further we are increasing our level of consciousness.

Finally, beyond the powers of mind to organize, there are powers of spirit itself to organize. As we learn to tap into the powers of the spiritual mind we can really learn to organize our consciousness, enabling the greatest power and efficiencies of life. As we organize ourselves as spiritual beings, we open to the infinite potentials, possibilities, and powers of life.

So we are left to ask these questions. What then will we do today to raise our level of organization - for ourselves as individuals, for our companies, or the institutions and social entities we partake of?

If you wish to talk further on matters of personal and self development, or on matters that concern your business, the effectiveness and needs of your staff, then please contact me directly at Asia Training Associates – email: christina [email protected] atasiam.com

For details on our programs and Asia Training Associates, please visit our website: www.asiatrainin gassociates.com

Until next time … Have a Great Week!


The Doctor's Consultation: Dangerous Liaisons! Lots of them!

by Dr. Iain Corness

Well, that got your interest up, didn’t it? There are (have been) plenty of dangerous liaisons in the world, and we’ve probably all had one (or two)? However, the liaisons I want to discuss today are the interactions between various drugs and how to avoid a fairly explosive situation in the way some drugs can interact with you. This is a topic I discussed a year or so ago, but is still one of the big problem areas in the pharmaceutical world.

What is the commonest drug taken by human beings in the western world? Hands up all of you who said alcohol. Yes, our old friend ethanol, AKA booze, is really a drug. It is a depressant, it dilates arteries and does all kinds of neat things to the body (and the brain). One of the big problems though, is that alcohol can heighten the effects of other drugs. In other words, it is not a simple 1+1 additive effect - the combination multiplies the effects of both the alcohol and the other drug too. For example, the anti-anxiety drug Valium (which I used to call the “Health Food of the Nation” in my younger and more cynical days) plus alcohol make a very nasty cocktail. This combination produces “space” travel without having to go to Cape Canaveral. A most dangerous way to be bombed out of your brain.

Simple cough medicines are another group of drugs that do not combine well with alcohol. A couple of beers and a shot of something for your cough can combine to produce a lethal combination. Lethal in the fact that the interaction can make you fall asleep at the wheel.

Let’s imagine that you have now found out that you have high blood pressure and have gone on a type of medication called Beta Blockers. They do work well at reducing blood pressure. They also stop trembling hands, and many people take them for this - even concert pianists. There are some drawbacks, though. One it can exacerbate asthma, and two, it can make Willy the Wonder Wand not work like it used to. A dangerous way to draw a halt to dangerous liaisons!

Some of you will be on medication to reduce your blood sugar, a condition we sometimes called NIDDM (Non Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus). You may also get indigestion. There is a particularly nasty interaction between certain sugar reducers and some antacids, which can make you go into a hypoglycaemic coma. Again, not the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Now here’s one for all the people who have had a stroke, or a heart attack or a deep vein thrombosis and have been put on a blood thinner, such as warfarin (also known as “rat poison”). Got a headache today? Taken a common old aspirin for it? You have just set the scene for a haemorrhage, as the effects of these two are again multiplied.

So just what is the message I am putting across this week? Well, it is simple. Whilst it is great that you can just wander into a pharmacy and buy all the cheap drugs you want and self-medicate with whatever you think you need, there can be a downside to all this. And it can be a big downside. Letting your doctor prescribe is much safer than doing it yourself. After all, the doctor has been trained to look for the dangerous liaisons!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
This is a very quick note to you explaining where the word spam as used in e-mail jargon comes from. It is from a Monty Python sketch about a cafe serving everything as long as it had spam in it. Monty Python was a great comedy series on the BBC in England. If you didn’t get to see it, you missed some really good TV.
George

Dear George,
A delightful, but not quite accurate, explanation of the origin of the term “spam”. SPAM (capitals) is a type of corned meat which was famous in the UK during the war years and immediately post war. It is still available on the shelves, both here as well as in the UK, George, and made by Hormel Foods. While “spam” (all lower case) refers to Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE). The following I gleaned from the SPAM people themselves: “Use of the term “spam” was adopted as a result of the Monty Python skit in which our SPAM meat product was featured. In this skit, a group of Vikings sang a chorus of “spam, spam, spam...” in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet.
We do not object to use of this slang term to describe UCE, although we do object to the use of the word “spam” as a trademark and to the use of our product image in association with that term. Also, if the term is to be used, it should be used in all lower-case letters to distinguish it from our trademark SPAM, which should be used with all uppercase letters.
Today’s teens and young adults are more computer savvy than ever, and the next generations will be even more so. Children will be exposed to the slang term “spam” to describe UCE well before being exposed to our famous product SPAM. Ultimately, we are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, “Why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk e-mail?”
Unfortunately, Mr. Hormel, I think that day is here already!
Dear Hillary,
Can YOU tell me whether my girlfriend has to go back to her village to get her driver license, or can she do the license testing anywhere else? Everyone we ask seems to have a different idea. She can drive, but I have told her that it is important that she gets a license as well. Do you have a license? Can you help?
Motorman

Dear Motorman,
What do you think I am running here? The motor vehicle licensing column? Do I have a license? Petal, I have a chauffeur, I wouldn’t dream of driving myself around. After all, when arriving at Hi-So do’s you can’t really ask the man with the red carpet to wait a bit while you park the pickup, now can you? If I can’t get a chauffeur, then I don’t go. Why don’t YOU go to the licensing place and ask there? Or is that too obvious? One thing I do know is that if she has no license then your insurance is also null and void.
Dear Hillary,
A very good friend that I have known for a long time and who works out of the capital is going through a bad patch. He doesn’t know whether he should give up his job and move away, or stay where he is, but where he is not happy. I have told him he would have no trouble getting another job, but he seems reluctant to let go of this one that he has got. What can I do to get him to move up to Bangkok? I would be able to take care of him better if he lived in Bangkok. How do I get him to see what is best for him? Even his friends say it would be better for him to move. What suggestions do you have, Hillary. We all want the best for him, so it is sometimes so frustrating when he does not see what to do himself. Probably can’t see the way out of the wood for the trees I suppose. Anyway if you could answer this quickly it would be good as then I can show it to him and get him to come to his senses.
Mima

Dear Mima,
There is one person who has not been consulted here. That person is your “very good friend”. Don’t you think that he should have some say in all this? You and his friends (according to you) have decided it is better for him to relocate. Have you stopped to think why does he not think the same way? He is the one with the “bad patch” you tell me - so let him work out what he is happy at doing. All you have to do is be there for him if he needs support with his decisions. That is support, my Petal, not telling him what to do. Unsolicited advice is never appreciated.


Camera Class: Cartophily for amateurs, or collecting naughty postcards!

by Harry Flashman

The new social order is upon us, and there are mutterings that nipples are going to be a no-no in the go-go chrome pole palaces. That made me think of cartophiles. A new perversion? Of course it was! After the Victorian era, Prince Edward VII took the throne of England in 1901 and a new age of permissiveness took hold in the photographic industry, and the naughty postcard was born.

One could have easily predicted the new lewd, or perhaps that should have been the lewd nude, was coming, as towards the end of the 1800’s relaxing of the previously strict laws regarding the showing of female anatomy was becoming evident. Take for example, the Chicago Fair of 1893. Photographs and reports of Fahreda Mahzar Spyropolos’s naked navel still exist today. In fact, her anatomical bit managed to change the fair from downright flop to financial success. She was the famous “Little Egypt” who did her belly dance in front of amazed (and outraged) clerics, whose reports of the lewd behaviour brought the crowds in their thousands flocking to the fair. Ms Spyropolos certainly knew that sex sells, even if it were only a belly button.

The newspaper business also knew that a bit of female anatomy helped an otherwise staid selection of newsprint to become wanted items. This was not something that Rupert Murdoch and his page 3 girls started, no matter how much the Murdoch publicity machine would have you think. The New York Police Gazette (now there’s a catchy title for a paper - sorry about the pun!) began publishing illustrated supplements of actresses and dancers in the 1890’s and even offered “cabinet-sized finished photographs” described as the snappiest of all girl pictures.

And then there was “Photo Bits” - an English magazine started in 1898, which became Photo Fun in 1908 to run double page pin-ups, copies of which could be purchased for nine pence (including postage) and were advertised as being suitable for billiard or smoking rooms.

However, it was the “feelthy postcards” that really brought the pin-up to pride of place on the locker room wall. Once again it was the French who did all the running. Seeing the success of postcard pictures of the Eiffel Tower, enterprising photographers began in earnest that most noble of artistic pursuits - persuading young ladies to pose in their pink one-buttons.

They were successful too. In 1910, more than 100 million were printed in France alone, and by that stage the rest of the world was producing theirs as well. The cartophiles were being very well catered for!

The large postcard had only one problem - it was difficult to carry around. Enter the cigarette card. These so-called “stiffeners” of soft cigarette packets very quickly realized the collectible value of continental actresses and others eager to return to nature in return for cash that could allow themselves to purchase expensive dresses to cover up again.

But beauty lay in the eye of the beholder, and the Edwardian cartophile beholders were fleshy (fleshly?) fat persons, who consumed large dinners and showed their wealth through an excess of avoirdupois. Their ideal female was then the same - big hunks of women with large bellies and legs that looked as if they would hold up billiard tables. However, although the modesty was starting to disappear, the neck to knee flesh coloured “tights” were still de rigeur for anything other than the true ‘nude study’ which was paraded under the title of ‘art’. A bit of chiffon and a rose was all that was needed to elevate the naughty nude to an artistic study, incidentally, both being props still in use today!

It did not stop there, of course, and post WWII, the photographic industry pushed the boundaries even further and the bits of chiffon and the appropriately placed rose were also discarded by many. A quick glance at a Pirelli calendar will show you that.

However, the wheel may now be going full circle. Stock up on chiffon and scoop the market!


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

IGiven that the last two weeks have seen the largest attack on the Internet in the world so far, barely a story can go by without mention of two protection essentials - anti-virus products and firewalls. If you haven’t heard about what has been happening with the Internet, you’re probably not a user or were traveling around the remotest of regions.

Many people offer advice about safety, virus’s, Trojans and this column has added its fair share to the mileage. This week I want to discuss a couple of recent gadgets you might just find useful in the battle against spyware, hackers and so on. Some of your letters to me have highlighted several very interesting areas of concern.

Q. Dear Dr Byte

Can you suggest any tools that will protect my computer from someone accessing and controlling my computer from somewhere else?

What worries me is that I understand from all the recent news regarding the Sobig and Blaster viruses, they infect your computer with sneak attacks through open back doors (I didn’t know there was a back door on a computer).

Worried and frustrated
Hang Dong

A. There are many kinds of safety-focused programs hoping to earn a place in your toolbox. Like a handyman’s favourite gadget, some of these tools have just one or two specialist functions. They can ward off browser hijackers, remove spying software or reject the ploys of hackers.

Most were born of necessity, created by irritated experts, annoyed developers or victims who decided to get their own back.

Back in 1997, Perth-based developer Wayne Langlois was a victim of a Trojan - a sneaky program used by hackers to control other people’s computers. It only happened once, however, but Langlois turned the experience into an Australian software success story.

“One of my systems was infected with one of the first remote access Trojans ever released, called NetBus,” says Langlois, who was a security researcher at the time.

“I was made aware that the system was infected when the CD-ROM drive opened on its own and abusive messages started to show on screen - it was quite obvious that somebody was ‘inside’ the system, due to that level of control. You can’t remotely open CD drives, you need to be running inside the system to be able to do that.

“So, from there it was just a matter of basic forensic analysis to find the culprit file and trace back to the hacker. I was easily able to obtain the hacker’s IP address [a computer’s address on the net], and after I started running scans on his computer he quickly realised that I had found him.”

It was enough to persuade the hacker to leave, and it gave Langlois a business idea, the result of which is a highly regarded security product called Trojan Defence Suite (TDS). These days, many anti-virus products also detect Trojans, but there’s room for a specialist solution. “Viruses and remote access Trojans are physically different, they work differently and they have different approaches to infection.

“If you’re infected with a Trojan and I connect to your system, I can literally make your computer do anything ... I could plant material and then call the police.” TDS is just one of many useful tools that allows Internet users to take control of some of the problems they face online.

The Trojan
horseman Product: Trojan Defence Suite

History buffs will know of the Trojan horse. In a computer, a Trojan stealthily provides a hacker with means into your files and ultimately control of the system as if they were seated in front of it.

TDS can identify more than 8000 Trojans (plus 10,000 or so variants) and promises to raise the alarm even if a previously unknown program starts behaving suspiciously. It costs AUD$49 for a single user. Other Trojan fighters include Trojan Hunter, BOClean and The Cleaner. Website: tds.diamondcs. com.au

Q. Dear Dr Byte

I visited some porn websites last week and my computer came to a shuddering halt as page after web page kept opening automatically. It wasn’t me. Something took control of my computer. And yes, I know I shouldn’t be viewing these kinds of sites, but I was curious.

Im still trying to stop my computer going to one of these sites every time I turn on the pc. Is there anything I can do?

Voyeur
Wat Ket, Chiang Mai

A. Well they do say curiosity killed the cat. But in answer to your plea, yes here are some tools that will help.

Hijack defender - Product: Start Page Guard

Some programs and web pages can use malicious code, JavaScript or ActiveX to alter browser settings so a home page is stuck on a particular site - often not a very tasteful one at that! Browser hijacking is particularly a problem for Internet Explorer. Sometimes the solution is as simple as changing the home page yourself. Other times, it’s not so easy. Depending on the hijack technique, the settings can revert back the next time you restart. So, you may have to edit the windows registry (delicate work) or locate a malicious program that’s hiding on your computer. Website: www.pjwalczak. com/spguard

This free program (StartPage Guard) stops unwanted changes to the browser, including Start and Search pages, and it can get rid of many known offenders.

Spyware spies - Product: Ad-Aware

I have already talked about Ad-Aware before. And okay, not all advertising-supported software is bad. But those systems that aren’t up front about how they work, the information they collect and the resources they drain are certainly giving the rest a bad name. As insidious as the name suggests, “spyware” is a pet hate of Internet users (not far behind spam in the unpopularity stakes). Ad-Aware won the gratitude and allegiance of thousands when it offered an easy way to identify and remove all traces of the worst offenders. Happily, Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy (spybot.safer-networking .de) is building on the foundations. Both programs are free. Website: www.lavasoftusa.com

There are other tools for protecting your browser’s health and these can be found at Mike Healan’s anti-spyware site Spywareinfo.com

Help with helpers

Product: BHODemon: Browser Helper Objects (BHOs) are small programs that run whenever you start the browser. They can be helpful and powerful, but as with most good things, there’s a dark side, too. Privacy exponents worry that these can be installed without a user’s knowledge and put in place by another program. For example, the notorious Go!Zilla program uses a BHO to track advertisements surfers see. The free program BHODemon from Definitive Solutions lets users manage BHOs, see which ones are installed, what they’re up to and offers to disable them. Website: www. definitivesolutions.com

Health checks

Product: ShieldsUP! The creator of the first spyware removal tool (the predecessor of Ad-Aware), Gibson Research Corporation offers a variety of tools, but the most popular is a security check-up called ShieldsUP!, which is free and performed online. There are plenty of other bits and pieces to interest the security conscious. One is a LeakTest - a testing tool to check if your firewall can be easily tricked. Another colourfully named Windows utility is UnPlug n’ Pray, which will automatically disable a service Gibson says is downright dangerous.

There are other great security sites out there. Wilders.org Security Advisors has a great listing of security products, including free anti-virus tools, anti-virus add-ons and firewall accessories such as report-makers and log analysers. Meanwhile, The Home PC Firewall Guide’s motto says it all: The Internet is a hostile network like the Wild West without a sheriff. Website: grc.com

My thanks to Nicole Manktelow for some of the above information. If you have any questions or tips which you would like to share with me, contact Dr Byte at Chiangmai Mail.


Ask your local US Consul

Dear Consul,

I keep seeing ads for places that offer ‘visa services.’ Do they do anything? Are they legal? Do they improve my chances of getting my girlfriend a visa?

- Looking for a Way In

Dear Mr. In (and I’m going to presume you’re referring to getting *in the country*), No. Yes. No. Next question.

Ok, ok, here comes my favorite answer: It depends. One perfectly legal and helpful service some of these agencies provide is assistance with mail-in visa applications, when the country to be visited doesn’t have a Consulate in Chiang Mai. The U.S. does not accept mail-in applications for nonimmigrant visas, no matter where the applicant lives. But that doesn’t mean these agencies can’t serve a useful purpose when it comes to U.S. visas.

If you were getting married and wanted to get an immigrant (permanent) visa, you would soon find that the process is somewhat convoluted and involves a lot of paperwork. (You’re shocked, I can tell.) This is even more the case if your girlfriend were applying for an immigrant visa on the basis of a category such as “Extraordinary Alien” (and no, I’m not making that up. How could I?). An agency might save you time and grief in sorting through those regulations.

I say “might”, because an agency is only going to help if they have staff who are familiar with the intricacies of the ever-changing U.S. immigration laws, and because you’re almost certainly capable of doing the paperwork yourself, especially if you’re the sort of person who enjoys doing his own taxes. Using an agency will only speed up the immigration process in the sense that a correctly-filed application will be processed before an incorrect or incomplete one, which will be returned to you for revision. That works both ways, of course: it’s not unheard-of for the agency to be the ones to file the application incorrectly. Caveat emptor.

With U.S. nonimmigrant (tourist) visas, an agency can help in two ways: One, if the applicant doesn’t read or write English, they can help with translation. There’s no such thing as an “official translator” when it comes to visa matters, however, so a friend or family member could perform this service just as well, if not better (oh, the “translations” I’ve seen...). The second service these agencies perform is that when we recognize the hallmarks of a fraudulent “visa package” purchased from one, we can make the visa decision instantly, thus shortening the time each legitimate applicant has to wait for an interview.

Yours in the belief that there’s no such thing as an “Ordinary Alien,”

- The Consul

Dear Readers:

The rumors, just this once, happen to be true: I’ve left, and I’m not coming back. Though a full list would fall well beyond the word limit I keep exceeding, I’d like to use the last words of my last column to thank at least:

- the visa applicant who, when asked if the sponsor was her boyfriend, answered shyly, “not yet.”

- the visa applicants who managed not to storm out in disgust before I consistently remembered to use “bai” after “ao” in asking “do you plan to bring your child?”

- the tourist, distraught that all the news from the U.S. was dated “yesterday.”

- the anti-U.S. protestors who asked to borrow our sound system for their demonstration.

- Michael and Marion Vogt, for so frequently letting me exceed my word count, and for offering gin-and-tonics in lieu of payment (I may have gotten the better of that deal).

- Eric Rubin, Consul General, for recognizing the value of community dialogue, despite the time it took away from my other duties.

- You, dear readers, you. Be kind to my replacement, and do stop in and say hello if your travels take you to the U.S. Embassy in London.

Fondly,

Ruth Bennett, Vice Consul

Have a question about visas, passports, travel to the United States, services for American citizens, or related issues? Ask the Consul. Send your e-mail to acschn @state.gov with “ask the consul” in the subject line. If your question isn’t selected, you can get an answer by calling the Consulate at 053-252-629, from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.


Mrs. DoLittle’s Corner

Animals, being unable to voice their sentiments in human terms, suffer a great deal in the hands of mankind. Because they don’t think as much as we do, their feelings and senses are more developed.

Trying to eat its own tail?

Even though cows and pigs don’t understand that they’ll end up at the slaughterhouse, they sense an impending doom and live their lives in fear from the moment they are taken away from their mothers.

It is a well known fact amongst pig farmers that a week before slaughter, the pigs fall ill with high fever, and they are then, systematically, put on antibiotics.

Swiss Alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541), father of modern chemistry and founder of homeopathy, wrote in his treatise on bovines and large mammals that mankind has inherited the sense of family bonding from the large mammals. Cows have a deep emotional connection with each other and know their own relatives. If this is true, their life on this planet has become a living nightmare as they are forced to die together by the droves. Millions of animals die in shock and terror on a daily basis.

As carnivorous predators, humans have to be considered the worst kind of all, having organized factories for killing sentient beings. Furthermore, in the midst of this holocaust, the planet is being destroyed by over grazing of cattle. The Amazon has lost 5 square meters of forest for each 100 grams of American hamburger brought to market. Thousands of South American plant and animal species are becoming extinct because of gross world consumerism based on wrong eating habits.

So I’ve given you something to think about next time you crave a hamburger. Or perhaps you don’t want to think about it because you enjoy your meat too much? Well then, what can I say, except, perhaps it’s a case of the lizard eating its own tail! When you eat your own tail, you tend to get the rear end view of the situation.

The moral of today’s story is: Whilst we are busy consuming our own tails, we may not notice we are heading for a ‘black hole’!