Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Your Health & Happiness

The Doctor's Consultation 

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

Your Health & Happiness: AIDS control amongst hill tribes

Nopniwat Krailerg

The Planned Parenthood Association has run an "AIDS prevention" project for the past six months, checking blood and giving advice to hill tribes. Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Akha and Tai tribes have been checked at 11 tambons in 7 districts, Chiang Dao, Fang, Mae Ai, Mae Wang, Hang Dong, Samoeng and Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai. 220 married couples and 265 tribesmen were checked. Seven infected persons were found.

Tassanee Srimongkol, director of northern AIDS prevention project, Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand.

Tassanee Srimongkol, director of Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand’s northern AIDS prevention project, said that the association has realized the importance of teaching northern hill tribes about HIV and AIDS since 1988.

They’ve found that most hill tribes people do not understand much about AIDS and still maintain some risky practices; therefore the association has concentrated on these people who live far from other communities - to improve their lives and reduce the risk.

Members of the association have been cooperating with the Public Health Office, Royal Project Foundation, districts and tambon and TAO Health Centers, and the Hmong Association. So far, it has proven to be a successful project and a model of cooperation between government and private sectors.

"Many people don’t accept blood testing because they are afraid the information will be disclosed. Young people are seldom found in the villages although they might be the at-risk group. However, the association will continue to survey and research the disease in hill tribes," she added.

The association discovered that Hmong women and Karen men preferred sterilizations, while Karen women prefer birth control by injection and young people by using condoms and oral contraceptive pills.


The Doctor's Consultation: What kind of test do you want?

by Dr. Iain Corness

I once saw an advertisement for a going business for sale. It was for a health food shop and the reason for sale was illness of the owner! That is not the only reason why I am slightly skeptical of ‘over the counter’ health food supplements, but another reason is the fact that some ‘health supplements’ can affect blood tests. Of course the patient does not tell the doctor that these things are being taken, because they are ‘health’ additives, which most people seem to think means "natural". They are no more "natural" than aspirin, which came from the bark of willow trees, if I remember correctly, or digitalis which came from the foxglove flower. Both are potent chemicals, and can affect blood test results.

One of the common questions that doctors get asked, after a patient has had a blood test, is "What was my blood group?" or even, "What was my AIDS result?" It may come as a surprise, but neither blood groups or HIV testing are ‘routine’ examinations.

The tests we order are designed to assist us to work out the "Definitive" diagnosis from the initial or "provisional" diagnoses. Unhappily for the doctor and the patient, this can sometimes be a complex and expensive detective story.

Take someone who presents with unexplained bleeding. Haemophilia? Sure, it might be - Factor VIII, Factor XI, Factor XII or even Factor XIII. Unfortunately the cause might also be from metastatic carcinoma, drug ingestion, poisons, kidney failure, systemic lupus erythematosis, von Willebrand’s disease or even something called the Bernard Soulier Syndrome, about which I could write all I know on the back of a matchbox and still leave room for the national anthem (long version).

Tests are requested to identify, or exclude, the diseases that the doctor feels are ‘possibles’ after the initial clinical impression. If the ‘most likely’ causes turn up negative in the initial batch of tests, then the doctor has to rack his or her brains a little more and start going into the ‘less likely’ ailments and testing for those. This is why you may need more than one round of tests to come up with the definitive diagnosis. And then after that you will need repeats of the tests to see if you are in fact getting better.

Another poorly understood concept is that of the "Normal Range". Just how or where do we get this "Normal Range"? Actually it is relatively simple. We examine the blood of 1000 people, take off the bottom 25 low results and the top 25 high results, and we keep the 95 percent in the middle. That now gives you the Normal range, but this does not mean that it is the "healthy" range!

Take cholesterol as an example. If you live in a Western community that has a diet high in cholesterol, the majority (the 95 percent in the middle) will have higher levels than a similar community living in the East that has a diet low in saturated fats. So the "normal range" can be different between communities (and even between laboratories). So what may be considered within the guidelines for one group, may be outside the 95 percentile limits for another. So if you just "scraped in" under the top level for the Normal range, I wouldn’t bee too complacent about it!

No, interpretation of tests is a veritable minefield out there - that’s why we have specialist Pathologists to lead us through it! Now getting back to your blood group - if you want to know you will have to ask doctor to add it in.


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
I have the answer to the water shortage problem which some provinces of Thailand are facing. Here in England it rains every day. Simply run a pipeline from here to Thailand, and hey presto! More water than you’ve ever seen. However please make the pipeline nice and big so I can fit a jet ski through thus eliminating the need for costly airline tickets. We could charge a small entrance fee for others. So it’s Chocolates and Bubbly for you and some spending money for me. Problem solved! Alternatively, just move Thailand here, but don’t forget to bring the sun with you, oh and some nice Thai girls. Or some bad ones, we don’t really mind!
David in the UK

Dear David in the UK,
You are a resourceful little Petal, aren’t you! However, with London having won (?) the Olympic Games for 2012, the stream of traffic in your pipeline might be going in the wrong direction for you. Problem still not solved! And as far as getting some nice, or even not so nice, Thai girls with me, there would still be visa problems at your end. However, I am a little worried about more promises of chockies and champers. That dreadful Mistersingha creature has been promising me faithfully for the past three years, and still nothing, but I suppose you could always say, "It’s in the pipeline!"
Dear Hillary,
You keep on telling men who write in that there are many what you would call "nice" girls around, but where do you find them? I have been looking for some time now, and other than bar girls, there does not seem to be much choice. You keep on saying that we wouldn’t go taking out the girls from the local bar back home, but there it is easier as you can find girls at work, in supermarkets and clubs and get to know them and then go out on dates with them and their mates and you and your mates. You don’t get that here. What do you have to say now, o wise one?
Gerard

Dear Gerard,
You amaze me, my little Petal. Do you go around in blinkers all day and night? Perhaps if you got yourself a job here then you would meet some lovely girls at work too, and the last time I strolled down the supermarkets pricing chocolates there seemed to be plenty of young ladies that would come under the heading of "nice" too. Have you thought of joining some clubs here too? There are many, many clubs and organizations that have lady members. In fact, you can do exactly what you say you do in your own country to find "nice" ladies. Try it, you’ll find a nice Thai lady is out there, waiting for you, without your being told "Welcome! Sit down please. What you drink? You want go with me?"
Dear Hillary,
My Thai girlfriend is driving me crazy with her family. Anything they want, she will give them, even if it is personal items of jewelry that I have given her. They want money and she will dish it out - only problem is that it is my money that is going out. And it’s not just a few hundred baht, it’s thousands. I know in Thailand children look after their parents, as a matter of duty. I did not know that this covers greediness by the family. Is this the norm for this country?
Dewayne

Dear Dewayne,
Duty to one’s parents is part of Thai culture, but how that is applied is not quite so clear. Since you are worrying because your finances are part of all this, you should consider that you also have a duty to your bank account, and your duty is not to her parents. However, once you give something to your girlfriend, it is her prerogative as to what she does with it. Never the less, it is also your prerogative to ignore the begging, no matter what the good reason is for the asked for hand-out from her family. There are families in Thailand that are not so avaricious. In all countries there are cultural differences, you have come across one extreme. There are others in Thailand not so extreme. The choice is always yours.
Dear Hillary,
With so many of the men writing in with problems, would it be possible for you to start some kind of dating service so that we would know that the girls have your recommendation. This would stop a lot of problems and heartache, surely?
Me First

Dear Me First,
Have you been standing over Gerard while he wrote in his tale of woe? I’m sorry, Me First, but you are not the first to suggest this as an answer for all the broken hearts out there. Apart from the fact that Hillary is a columnist and not an introduction agency, I see many, many problems with your suggestion. How could I possibly give the girls a ‘recommendation’ as you suggest? Even after an interview, I would still not really know the full story behind any Thai girl who would want to have an association with you. The responsibility and care is yours, Petal. Not mine. The words are "Caveat Emptor".


Camera Class: Going up in flames

by Harry Flashman

Flames are always spectacular and can make for similarly spectacular photographs. However, by the same token, flames are difficult to reproduce on film.

There are many reasons for this - flames as you perceive them are dynamic. You are not really looking at a ‘slice’ of the action in time. You are looking at the movement of the flames over a period of time. Understanding this fact is the secret to taking photographs of naked flames (and by that I do not mean naughty pictures of ladies hanging off chrome poles). This then encompasses torches, flares, candles, cooking, rockets as well as bonfires and arson.

There really is no trick to this, other than a slow shutter speed, so that you are recording on film the movement in the flames over a period of time. The longer that period, the more dramatic and strong the image of the flames.

The shutter speed should be roughly around 1/15th of a second at the fastest, through to about one second for most "fire" photographs, because you will find that if you shoot at the usual 1/60th to 1/125th the flames disappear altogether. If at all possible, make the flames the light source for the photograph, and meter accordingly.

This is especially so if you are shooting at night or indoors and using a flash. Although the flames look more visible at night, the power of the flash "kills" the light from the flames and the wonderful candle-light shot turns harsh and stark white instead of the pale amber glow you were hoping for. Once again, here is a situation where you do better by turning the flash off. However, without a tripod, this is often not practical.

Personally, when taking ‘fire at night’ photos, I set my flash on f 5.6, the camera also on f 5.6 and the shutter speed around 1/15th of a second. This is enough to show the flames in most circumstances, without overexposing the rest of the picture. Again this is a situation where you need to be able (or know how to) over-ride an automatic camera and set the controls manually. I am fully aware of the fact that I harp on about this a great deal, but the "lazy" (automatic) way of photography will not give you spectacular photographs, and only by experimenting will you get the kind of results that make people sit up.

In the shot of the chef at the flambé table, this was taken at 1/15th and the flash and the lens aperture pre-set at f 5.6. When taking these kind of shots, I knew that I was going to get a sudden burst of flames from the wok, so I also pre-focussed the camera and made sure the flash was turned on, primed and ready. The flash burst took care of recording the chef’s image on the negative, and the slow shutter speed of 1/15th took care of getting the flames.

Did I use a tripod at this shutter speed? No, this is not necessary. The flash burst itself stops any movement of the chef, because the flash has its output for thousandths of a second only, so this is why it remains a sharp picture, even at slow shutter speeds. However, the movement in the flames recorded on the film emulsion during the 1/15th of the second helps give a more solid look to the conflagration. Mind you, there is still a necessity to keep the camera as still as possible during the exposure. Don’t tempt fate too much! There is a limit!

Remember, however, if the flames are the only source of light (or the main one) then you will need a tripod for exposures longer than 1/15th of a second, because you will not hand-hold steadily enough slower than 1/15th, and this is one time when you can set the camera on "A" for automatic and let it work out the exposure for you. But this is the only time! Learn to drive your own camera, rather than the little (untrustworthy) electronic bits inside!


Money Matters: Asset-Backed Lending

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

Background

Asset-backed lending funds have enjoyed good returns in recent years, sparking the interest of investors and their advisors in the process. Over the five-year period from ’96 to 2000, for example, when most stock indices exhibited bi-polar behaviour with large gains being followed by sometimes larger gains being followed by sometimes larger falls, many asset-backed lending funds averaged over 12 percent annually, with few losing quarters and little market correlation. Not many investors are familiar with this part of the investment houses. This report introduces the subject and sets out to provide answers to the following questions:

1. What exactly is asset-backed lending?
2. What are the key risk factors and qualities required for investment success?
3. What investment performances can we anticipate?

Asset-Backed Lending

Where does a middle-sized business go when it urgently requires short-term liquidity? Not to a traditional lender such as a bank if it has already mortgaged its real estate and pledged its receivables (money owed by its customers). Traditional lenders typically prefer larger clients, while other asset classes generally fall below their radar. So the business approaches a recommended non-traditional lender who in turn will carry out the following tasks:

1. Major elements of the business will be analysed, its strengths and weaknesses determined and cash flow projections developed.
2. Each unpledged asset class will be identified, reviewed and conservatively valued.
3. Where necessary, industry experts will be consulted to confirm key conclusions.

If such investigation unearths assets which can provide ample collateral, the lender will then prepare, negotiate and close a loan offer secured by the assets. Typically such loans are short-term by design - about twelve months - coming with relatively high interest rates and up-front costs and little in the way of prepayment penalties.

In such a deal, both parties stand to benefit. The lender obtains a good annualised return - more than fully secured by conservatively valued assets. The business gets quick liquidity, the ability to capitalise on an opportunity or solve a problem, and the flexibility to re-finance with a traditional lender or restructure.

Clearly such deals do not make the front pages but they go on all the time. For example, a software development company was losing money, needed liquidity, and had a valuable if unconventional asset in the form of a customer list that included many Fortune 500 firms. The customer list presented value to its competitors should they acquire the company. Using the customer list as collateral for a loan, the company had time to approach competitors and finally negotiate to be acquired.

Risk Factors

These can fall into three categories:

Mild: In good economic times it is not unusual for an asset-backed lender to find it harder to place loans. While not exactly a risk, funds are not fully deployed.

Short-term: During times of financial crisis there is typically a capital flight to quality, such as occurred in 1998 after the problems in Russia. Here, interest rate spreads between ‘safe’ treasury securities and ‘less safe’ bonds widen. This causes a drop, albeit a temporary one, in the market value of asset-backed loans.

Severe: Here, companies become distressed and pledged assets are sold to repay associated loans. Should this occur during recessionary times and asset values drop significantly, losses can be incurred.

Success Factors

Successful asset-backed lending requires a strong set of skills and assets which include:

1. A good brand name or reputation (most businesses seek out the lender).
2. Good industry experience and analytical skills.
3. Strong negotiating skills (the costs of such loans to business are high, but typically so are the benefits).
4. Strong risk-management techniques which include:
- diversification of investments by company, industry and region;
- modest use of leverage;
- focus on short-term loans;
- strong collateralisation of loans where pledged assets substantially exceed the amount of the loan.

In summary, non-traditional lenders go where banks fear to tread. Those with superior reputations, skills, speed of response and risk management controls fare the best.

Future Returns

Asset-backed lending is classified as an "event-driven" investment strategy, as returns in this arena are driven more by the volume of loans, their pricing and the quality of their collateral than by the movement of equity prices. Market correlation is very low, although economic crises do cause a degree of temporary volatility. In recent years, banks and traditional lenders have moved away from this more complex sector. This suggests that the future could look even better than a very respectable past, where asset-backed funds achieved equity-like annual returns with minimal volatility or market correlation.

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Alan Hall on [email protected]


Life in the Laugh Lane: See you soon, Suckah!

by Scott Jones

My parents named me after toilet paper. At least my name is known throughout the world. If they wanted a major brand name, they could have chosen General Electric. (General Jones certainly would have helped any career.) Jaguar Jones sounds sexy. If they’d named me United, my nickname could have been "U." (Hey, you!)

With a last name like Duh, the first name doesn’t really matter.

No, they went with toilet paper, emphasizing an unfortunate series of rhymes that made elementary school difficult. ("Hey, Scott the Pot! Scotty going potty?") It’s better here in Thailand where Scott is associated more with tissue paper for the table since they use hoses, buckets and whatever in the toilet. (I still don’t quite understand what to do in there without my namesake.)

Few Thais can pronounce "Scott" correctly since "sc" together or "t" at the end of a word is tricky. I become "Suck Ah", which is exactly how successful thieves say "sucker", so it’s very appropriate when I leave yet another motorcycle repair shop with an empty wallet on a bike that will run for just under three hours and they say, "See you soon, Suckah!"

Some think I’m named after the SCUD, a deadly American missile sold worldwide to rich rogues ruling developing countries armed with sticks, stones and religious text books. I normally settle for "Scotch" since it brings a smile to their face, perhaps a glass of the same to my hand and it’s way better than toilet paper or weapons of mass destruction.

Nicknames are easy to remember here since 78 percent of the people are called "Nam" (water), "Noi" (little) or "Porn" (bar girl). You can stand in a market, yell "Nam!" and sixty people come over, half carrying glasses of water and half named Nam.

The full names are a challenge since they’re very, very long, have a minimum of 27 vowels requiring business cards the size of personal checks, and don’t sound familiar like John Doe, Dick Smith or Kirby Turnipseed. (Kirby was a real live person in my home town and his name made me feel better about the toilet paper thing. I’m surprised he wasn’t killed during elementary school.)

I have to make elaborate associations to remember some Thai names. Okay, the waiter is Nopedaam which rhymes with Notre Dame, except it’s not Notre Dame, nope, it’s Nope-a-Daam. A friend explained this association concept to his wife who could never remember names. "Just think of something about the person that reminds you of their name. For instance, my business colleague Durante’s wife has a huge nose like that old actor/singer/comedian Jimmy Durante." The next time Mrs. Durante came to their home, my friend’s wife opened the door and shouted, "Honey, Mrs. Nose is here!" (They’re divorced now.)

If you’re naming a baby, consider these creative names that are easy to remember and already familiar in English: Justin Case, Anita Drink, Dee Liversome, Bud Wiser, Eileen Dover or her brother Ben, Ivan Nitch, Willy Maker, Betty Wont, the very scholarly Dick Shunary or Ed Ucate, the Irish katoys Gerald Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzgerald, Warren Peace, Skip Pitt, Bill Fold, Bill Ding or Bill Ian Pounds, Parker N. Lockerup, Ken Tucky, Al Abama, Virginia Shure (Virgin? Ya, sure.), the infamous Hugh G. Recksun, and if you want to ruin your kid’s life: Helen Weels, Rusty Faucette, Harry Pitts, Seymour Bottoms or Liz Ardbreath.