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: Thai Public Health Department plays host to five SE Asian countries

Bird Flu vaccine coming?

Chiangmai Mail Reporters

The 11th associated conference of five SE Asian countries took place on August 24 at Dusit Island Resort, Chiang Rai. The five countries were Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand attending with almost 100 public health officers, CEOs and professionals.

The highlights were discussions of diseases with human to human transmission and from animal to human, environment hygiene and food and medicine control.

Anutin Chanvirakul, deputy minister of public health said that the conference was to follow up the current situation amongst member countries to build up strong networks in which public health information could be exchanged and updated continuously. This association would assist in dealing with new diseases like bird flu or SARS.

“This conference has agreed to support bird flu antigen even though this kind of medicine is hard to find and expensive and has a restricted shelf-life. The parties have concluded that they would produce bird flu antigen in sufficient amount to be used in case of the expected epidemic,” he concluded.


The Doctor's Consultation: Beware of doctors’ neckties, they could make you sick

by Dr. Iain Corness

The heading to this week’s article was in an email I received recently. Eye catching enough for me to read further, it went on to say, “The next time you meet with your doctor and he or she is wearing a necktie, feel free to compliment them on their taste, but immediately ask them to tuck it in their shirts and then WASH THEIR HANDS. Neckties are the carriers of a myriad of germs and bacteria. If the tie rubs against you, or your doctor touches you after adjusting his/her tie, the chances for contracting an infection are high.”

I read on further, getting more and more annoyed with the sweeping statements, and then came to the punch-line. Here it comes, “Available on DVD and VHS video tape for $29.95, (it) gives valuable insight into the potential hazards of the hospital experience without instilling fear or blame.” Excuse me? Without instilling fear or blame? That was the whole thrust behind the email, complete with statistics claiming two million people enter hospitals in America and contract infections, and 90,000 of them die! Worry the reader enough and they’ll cough up $29.95 before they go to hospital, for that DVD that will save their lives (suitably sterilized of course).

Now I am not going to deny that my necktie might have the odd bacterium on it, but so also does my nose, and so does yours. And what about the stuff in your pockets called money? Goes from dirty hand to dirty hand and then into your pocket. Probably the most dangerous thing you routinely take everywhere! Perhaps I should make a DVD called “Your money is killing you!” Instill enough fear and they’ll sell like hot cakes for $29.95 too. Just don’t pay cash, it’s too dangerous.

Hot on the heels of the DVD that will save my life if I have to go to hospital (and since I go there every day as part of my work, I am really facing certain death, it would seem), there came another email to alert me to the dangers of aspartame, one of the sweeteners regularly used in diet carbonated drinks.

The email warning went, “If you are using aspartame and you suffer from fibromyalgia symptoms, spasms, shooting pains, numbness in your legs, cramps, vertigo, dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, joint pain, depression, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, blurred vision, or memory loss-you probably have aspartame disease!” Wow! I think I’d better stop breathing, just in case I inadvertently inhale some of this incredibly potent and dangerous toxin.

Even Time magazine was prompted to write, “A widely disseminated email by a ‘Nancy Markle’ links aspartame to Alzheimer’s, birth defects, brain cancer, diabetes, Gulf War syndrome, lupus, multiple sclerosis and seizures. Right away, the long list warrants skepticism. Just as no single chemical cures everything, none causes everything.” Well said, Time magazine.

The very highly reputable medical journal, The Lancet commented, “Our research revealed over 6000 web sites that mention aspartame, with many hundreds alleging aspartame to be the cause of multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosis, Gulf War Syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, brain tumours, and diabetes mellitus, among many others. Virtually all of the information offered is anecdotal, from anonymous sources and is scientifically implausible.”

The email finished by stating that “Monsanto, the creator of aspartame, funds the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the Conference of the American College of Physicians. These Associations cannot criticize any additives or convey their link to Monsanto because they take money from the food industry and have to endorse their products.”

Gentle reader, let me assure you that this is fatuous nonsense. Before any scientific papers are published, the researchers have to declare any ‘Conflicts of Interest’ to ensure a lack of bias. They can, and do, criticize the chemical industry, where scientific evidence exists. Once again, scare tactics being used to distort public thinking.

However, if you want a chemical that does cause tremors, brain function loss, ascites and liver failure, coma and death, go no further than C2H5OH, otherwise known as Ethanol, and often called beer. And I had one (or two) at the weekend! Perhaps I should strangle myself with my necktie before it is all too late!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
A frequent visitor to Thailand, I have read the books written about bar girls also read with interest your column whilst in Thailand and at home on the net, it is a great source of quality information and amusement.
Two years ago I met a young lady in one of the bars and the usual holiday romance ensued, liking this girl too much I arranged for her to return to her family home in Chiang Rai whilst I returned to Manchester sending her money on a monthly basis.
After lots of contact via email telephone and a further few trips back to Thailand we applied for a 6 month visa to the UK and brought my young lady home, we returned to Thailand in the November last year and were married; now we reside in the UK but hope to live in Thailand by this time next year.
All my family and friends adore May and she brings to me fits of laughter on a daily basis, this Thai lady is a joy to be with full of genuine love affection and compassion.
May works extremely hard in and around the house and garden and always has a smile to give to everyone, the elderly people next door think she is a true treasure and are extremely fond of her, so am I one of the lucky ones or are the Thai girls too much maligned by a few bad apples amongst them?
Happy Harry

Dear Happy Harry,
Firstly, may I congratulate you and your wife and thank you for writing in, showing that there can be another side to the well tossed coin. In any group there will always be a bad apple or two, and the question really comes down to the relative proportion of bad apples in the local beer bar(rels). Judging by the plethora (now there’s a nice word) of letters of complaint, I would surmise that bad apples might be more plentiful than nice fresh and tasty ones, but I doubt if there has ever been an in-depth study, possibly because any researchers would probably have fallen in love by the third evening and all results would be the subject of extreme bias and too many “buy me colas”. Enjoy your times with your delightful young lady, and always remember that 50 percent of UK marriages fail, without any “buy me colas”!
Dear Hillery (sic),
Has it not come to your attention that the term “farang” is as much a racist term as “Nigger” or “Gook” or “Whap”? The Thai people have come to a place where they can choose to be racist or not. It is up to you. Hillery (sic), are you a racist, or can you choose to be better than that?
Al from Canada

Dear Al from Canada,
You’re not a lumberjack, are you? I’ve heard some bad things about those guys. No, Petal, I am not a racist, but the term “farang” is one used by Thai people to generally describe all the white-faced foreigners with big noses. This is merely a terminology that says “not brown-skinned locals with small noses”. It comes from the French, and is a derivative of “francais” who were the most usual white-faced foreigners with big noses a few centuries ago. However today, when discussing people in this country, “farang” is non-specific as far as the country of origin is concerned. Now if you had chosen “Kak”, which is used to describe those of Indian descent, then it is a racial term, even if not racist. There is a significant degree of difference, Al from Canada. Racial refers to race, while racist refers to racial superiority. And no, Hillary (get my name right, Petal) is not a racist.
Dear Hillary,
I’ve got just a short one for you, Petal. Are you one person, or are there more than one of you? Just can’t imagine some one person sitting down and reading all the drivel that must arrive every week. Surely you must feel like throwing them away unopened? Do you use a secretary or anything? Just interested to know. I do enjoy the weekly columns.
Jimbo

Dear Jimbo,
Glad it wasn’t Jumbo, Jimbo. I must commiserate with you too. Having “just a short one” must be a definite drawback these days (size does matter, Petal, don’t believe what the other magazines might tell you). No, there’s only one Hillary, and as for a secretary! Are you kidding? On my salary? Although are you looking for a job? Was this a kind of toe in the water exercise? Unfortunately, Jimbo, even if you stand in the water to mid thigh, I still don’t need a secretary to open letters for me. And as far as reading drivel every week - I read yours, didn’t I? And I didn’t complain either. I get a masochistic pleasure out of some of them, I must admit. By the way, do you know what a sadist is? It’s someone who is nice to a masochist! Glad you are enjoying the columns, and thanks for your letter too. Opened by myself, read by myself and answered by myself (but sometimes I use a dictionary for some of the big words!).


Camera Class: The best digitals?

by Harry Flashman

I am not sure if the cameras mentioned in this week’s column really are the best digitals around, but they are the ones that got the nod from the judges at the TIPA awards in Europe. These are the European Photo and Imaging Awards from the Technical Image Press Association (TIPA), and they were presented in Cologne at the Photokina in August this year.

These awards are given only to cameras and other photographic products released in the past 12 months, so even though they might have won an award, it does not mean that there was not something better released more than 12 months ago. The onus is on you to judge what’s best for your needs.

The judging parameters included innovation, the use of leading-edge technology, design and ergonomics of the products and their ease of use and price/performance ratio. The main category winners in the digital camera group were the Canon EOS-1 DS Mark II (SLR Professional), Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro (SLR Midrange), Canon EOS 350D (SLR Entry level), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 (Superzoom), Nikon Coolpix 7900 (Compact), Sony Cyber-shot T7 (Ultra Compact) and the Sony Ericsson K750i (Mobile phone Imaging Device).

The Canon EOS-1 DS Mark II, the winning pro digital, was described as the real sensation of the year, pushing digital photography to a new level by creating image files up to 16.7 megapixels. This amazing output not only enables print-sizes up to 60 x 90 cm, but also ensures that professionals can safely crop images without the fear of losing quality. In addition to the huge file sizes, its 24 x 36 mm CMOS sensor is a true full-frame, so keeps the focal lengths of lenses exactly equivalent to those of 35mm film SLRs. This is a huge advantage to users of wide-angle lenses, and the large viewfinder image that results gives professional photographers the clarity they need for critical composition and focusing. The image processing is also second-to-none, and offers excellent detail at high sensitivity, up to at least ISO 800.

Best mid-range SLR went to the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro. While retaining the Nikon F-mount and the handling of the Nikon F80 film SLR, the FinePix S3 Pro offers a new Super CCD SR II sensor, with a total of 12.34 million pixels. Being half the weight of high-end professional digital SLRs, the FinePix S3 Pro is a very competitive option for studio, location or still-life shooting.

In the digital compacts, it was the Nikon Coolpix 7900, incorporating several new features such as the D-Lighting function that adds light and detail to dark areas of shots, while leaving brighter areas unaffected. The In-Camera Red-Eye Fix function automatically corrects red-eye in flash photos, while the most innovative new function is Face-priority AF, which can automatically sense the presence of a human face in the frame and sets accurate focus accordingly. Great idea, as long as the face was intended to be the subject matter!

Best Digital SLR Entry Level was the Canon EOS 350D. With its CMOS 8.2 MP sensor and Digic II image-processor, the Canon EOS 350D is both powerful and compact with a very attractive price-tag (in Europe). While being easy to use, it also incorporates the latest technology employed by high-end models in the Canon professional range. It can be used either on its fully automatic setting, or with complete manual control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings, thus allowing newcomers to develop their photographic skills. The EOS 350D is compatible with all Canon EF and EF-S lenses, giving a large choice of optics for the discerning user.

Just to show that film is not dead (yet), Nikon picked up the Best 35 mm SLR Camera award with its Nikon F6. With its robust build quality, its exceptional viewfinder, its incredibly accurate exposure system, and its fast and responsive auto-focus, the Nikon F6 gives the dedicated film user all the benefits of the very latest developments in technology and ergonomics. It is without doubt the best analog SLR that has ever been produced, and will provide its owners with a tool that will never go out of fashion. It’s rugged construction will last for many years - at least as long as film is available!


Money Matters: A short history of the only real currency (part 1)

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

Further to our articles over the last couple of weeks the one thing that concerns us is that while the long-term weekly charts look bullish, there is negative divergence on the daily index charts. This suggests that the long-term trend is up, but that a pullback will probably occur shortly.

Also, most of the internals that we track, such as the summation indices, bullish percent indices and a few other ratios seem to support the price action. However, the negative divergence is also starting to show up on these indicators, thus a short-term pullback is a distinct possibility.

Oil stocks are actually setting up again for another possible rally, and this sector may attempt to break out to new highs again. However, use caution with this area because (yet again) there is negative divergence in the MACD histogram.

This brings us to the focal point of this week’s letter. Gold metal has been in a correction since late June. The commercial net short position indicates that it may soon hit another major bottom, possibly within another week or so. Gold stocks are outperforming relative to physical gold bullion and the sector is starting to look interesting again. I think a major buy signal could occur within the next month or so.

Last week we had an in-depth look at the action and history of the US Dollar (A Short History of Nearly Every Fiat Currency – 26 August 2005). I thought it opportune to look at the market action of gold and why we believe investors should hold some insurance (via gold bullion) in their portfolios. If central banks and governments around the world hold part of their reserves in gold, why is it that Joe Bloggs doesn’t keep any of his hard-earned retirement money in the only currency that has stood the test of time?

Before we have a look at the market action of gold and gold equities, I think it worthwhile to quickly go through a couple of economic figures as background information. Although this is not my specialty, it doesn’t take a specialist to get the gist of it. If the sheer size of the figures isn’t scary enough, the trend is!

The Internal US Lending Machine

First quarter total US mortgage debt expanded at a $US 1.127 TRILLION seasonally-adjusted annual pace to $US 10.774 TRILLION. US bank credit expanded $US 1.054 TRILLION seasonally-adjusted and annualised over the quarter to $US 7.0 TRILLION. US total credit market debt (non-financial and financial) expanded at a 6.9% annualised pace to $37.31 TRILLION. That’s 306% of US GDP.

The US economy supposedly expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent during the first quarter. But (and it’s a big BUT) US federal government borrowings expanded by 13.8 percent, US household debt by 9.3 percent, US corporate debt by 7.5 percent, and US state and local debt by 16.7 percent. All this shows that the US economy - at all levels - borrows at a rate which is now expanding much faster than the US economy.

A leap in the US Broad Money (M3) numbers

Over the week to May 27, US M3 jumped $US 23.8 Billion to $US 9.622 TRILLION. In one week, the US credit money machine created an additional US $23.8 Billion out of thin air. Those new US Dollars are now in full circulation. If the US Federal Reserve keeps this weekly rate of money creation up for a year it will have added an additional $US 1 TRILLION 237 Billion to the already outstanding stock of money in the US monetary system. This is where the global spill-over starts.

Let the record show

The wider US M3 money supply has grown from $US 7.3 TRILLION at the start of 2001 to $US 9.622 TRILLION through May 2005. Over the mere four and one-half years from the start of 2001, the US money machine has decanted this additional $US 2 TRILLION 322 Billion on top of the pre-existing $US 7.3 TRILLION, which is an increase in the total stock of money in the USA of 31.8 percent in that time!

US trading with the world

At $US 57.0 Billion, April’s trade deficit was up 18 percent from one year ago. Annualising the April trade deficit gives an annual deficit of $US 684 Billion. US goods imports were up 15 percent from April 2004 to $US 136.8 Billion. US exports were up 13 percent to $US 74.5 Billion. US May import prices were up 5.7 percent from one year ago. That hits right at the everyday American’s standard of living, unless his or her earnings (less taxes) have also climbed by 5.7 percent. It also hits businesses in the US if they have to acquire imports in order to complete their final products. Unless they can raise their selling prices to cover for this cost increase, they will take the hit right on their bottom line.

The US Global Trading Score
Card - for April

The US trade deficit with Japan narrowed to $US 7.2 Billion from $US 7.8 Billion. The deficit with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries widened to $US 7.1 Billion from $US 6.6 Billion. The deficit with Canada, the largest US trading partner, widened to $US 9.8 Billion from $US 9.3 Billion.

The gap with Mexico widened to $US 4.4 Billion from $US 4.3 Billion. The US deficit with Europe increased to $US 11.8 Billion from $US 10.9 Billion. The real geo-political issue that arises here is why is China’s trade surplus with the US such a huge problem? After all, the US has a GLOBAL trade deficit.

Trading up a storm with borrowed money

The US trade deficit reached $US 228.7 Billion over the first four months of 2005. The equivalent in 2004 was $US 187.3 Billion. Over 2004 as a whole, the US trade gap reached a new record of $US 617.6 Billion. The first four months of 2005 annualised comes to almost $US 700 Billion. The OECD has predicted a $US 900 Billion trade deficit for 2006. We are looking at a totally out-of-control situation. Its cause is straightforward. It is the immense generation of credit in the US; new additional credit issued through loans and then spilling over into external trade as purchases with the money which has been borrowed internally.

The Global US Dollar Spill-Over

Global international reserve assets being held by other Central Banks (excluding gold), as reported by Bloomberg, were up $US 563.93 Billion, or 17.5% over the past 12 months to $US 3.778 TRILLION.

A couple of questions

How come the US doesn’t have to keep any meaningful reserves? Is it because they can print reserves (currency) at will? Gold, as a tool of fundamental personal savings, as globally tradable and very private money, has at all times walked parallel with our new global fiat and credit money regimes. It has been patiently waiting to roll over the hill and charge when the monetary malfeasance has gone far enough. The IMF says in its own rules that Gold is a useless item. If that is so, why does the IMF hold Gold? Why does the US hold Gold? Why do the European Central Banks hold Gold, more between them than any other Central Bank? Why did the ECB acquire its own stock of Gold when it was established? If Gold is such a “relic”, why haven’t ALL these Central Banks sold the lot, simply to get rid of it? How come ANY financial institution is prepared to lend you 100% of the value of your gold, but not your share portfolio (especially if it contains the likes of Google and Yahoo)? Because it IS a store of wealth!

Gold is never mentioned in polite Central Banker company.
Continued next week…

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: The S.S. Cellulite: Chapter Two

by Scott Jones

Last week Chapter One (online at www.chiangmai-mail.com) set the sinister scene for my performance on the Christmas leg of a world cruise on the QE2. For the first 36 hours, we skied up and down Mount Waves during the Storm From Hell. Somehow I survived while driving the white porcelain bus in the bathroom.

Finally, Mother Nature mellowed. When the bones in my legs solidified, I retrieved my stomach lining from the toilet, and ventured out. My performance was only a few hours away. The elderly audience was laying by the pool, eating and sleeping as the ancient organist played the best loved melodies from Mesozoic Era. The salty smell of the sea was masked by the sweet odour of cocoa/banana suntan oil. The bodies looked like hundreds of over-stuffed, self-basting turkeys, browning in the hot sun. I went to prepare for the show and considered new stage names more familiar to my audience - Jerry Attrick, Arthur Rightus, and Ben Gay.

Half of the passengers came to my first show. 600 people hoping to hear Mr. Muzak and the Elevator Sisters. I started out fine with a couple of jokes about the storm, but lost them during a routine about getting the most out of a motel room. They couldn’t grasp why I’d take a shower until I had used up all the soap and hot water. They completely forgot I was joking when I told them I dried myself off with toilet paper, and were visibly shocked when I said I saved the towels to wash my van in the parking lot. When I took out my props and threw them around the room, pacemakers began to malfunction.

I regrouped and brought out my letters from little kids. Senior citizens had always loved the kids’ letters. Sorry. These people hated kids. Why would anyone be on a Christmas cruise unless there was some discord at home? There were all the Uncle Adolphs and Aunt Ednas that plague innocent families everywhere, “We put up with ‘em last holiday, so it’s your turn this year. No way. They ruined our whole day. Let’s all chip in a couple of hundred bucks and send them on that Christmas cruise.”

Hordes of them tried to leave. A simple spotlight mounted on a six-foot stand at the top of the main aisle lit the stage poorly. As the Uncle Adolphs and Aunt Ednas stood up and turned around in the aisle, they caught the spotlight in the eyes and became legally blind. They were stranded like deer on a highway, frozen by the light, so no one could see me, though no one seemed to care. I’m not sure what happened next, but I remember the kneeling position in the men’s room.

Somehow I got through the second show with different material although the attendance was a bit slim. Word had travelled fast about some maniac throwing things around the room and drying himself with toilet paper. Normally, if a performance isn’t acceptable, I can leave town quickly and everyone forgets about it. Sorry. I had to remain on the ship for five more days while people avoided me and spoke in hushed tones whenever I was near. “Careful Edna, he might start throwing around those rubber things.”

I haven’t been back on a cruise ship. I love hanging out with older people but not performing for folks quite this advanced. I’m not sure how old this one guy was, but his social security number was 7. Since then, I’ve done a few nursing homes which worked well because my audience was incapable of leaving the room.