Vol. V No. 31 - Saturday July 29, - August 4, 2006
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Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

The Doctor's Consultation: Dosage alone determines poisoning

by Dr. Iain Corness

Dosage alone determines poisoning, seems to be rather obvious for some, and rather obtuse for others. That concept was spelled out many centuries ago by Paracelsus (1493-1541), more properly known as Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim (so you can see why he adopted a somewhat shorter moniker), who was born in Einsiedeln, Switzerland.
In the popular press world-wide, there has been some fairly harsh words printed regarding the “safety” or otherwise of some of the artificial sweeteners available over the supermarket counters. Whilst the scientific data may have been correct in principle, the effects do not necessarily or absolutely make themselves evident in homo sapiens, the ape that learned to walk on its hind legs. Us!
The very wise physician, Paracelsus, came up with the scientific principal of “Dosage alone determines poisoning,” and he was correct and he is still correct. In other words, some compounds which may cause adverse effects in high dosages may actually be quite innocuous or even beneficial in low doses.
Take for example one of the finest drug entities that mankind ever found – aspirin – a salicylic acid compound. This drug will get rid of most headaches and other minor pains, lower raised temperatures and decrease inflammation. No wonder aspirin has stood the test of time. However, if you look up scientific texts you will also find that aspirin can cause gastro-intestinal tract irritation, bronchospasm (asthma), bleeding into the gut and an increase in bleeding time – and that is in the higher but still therapeutic doses. Increase the dose beyond the therapeutic and the principal adverse effect can even be death.
So on one hand you have a drug that has saved lives – and on the other it has killed people. What was the difference? It was simply the dosage.
Taking poor old saccharin as another example; this artificial sweetener was banned in the United States as it was reported to be cancer producing – and it certainly did. The cancers it produced were discovered in laboratory rats at a dosage equivalent to you and I stuffing thousands of tablets down our throats every day. Fortunately, the scientific world eventually remembered that man is not a large rat and worked out that we did not have enough time each day to swallow thousands of saccharin tablets and removed the cancer producing label.
Another interesting chemical is one called ethanol. This little beauty can cause convulsions, coma and death – and if we forget about Paracelsus’ wise words, we should ban it immediately. This is the kind of knee-jerk reaction which unfortunately is all too often seen in today’s panic stricken world. I would not support a ban on ethanol, even though it produces lots of other lingering pathological conditions as well. I just happen to like a nice wine with my dinner or a beer after work on a hot day. You see, ethanol is the principal ingredient of alcohol, no matter which fancy labeled bottle it comes in. In low doses it can lower blood pressure and lessen the risk of heart attacks – but in high doses causes cirrhosis of the liver as well as the aforementioned convulsions, coma and death! Once again – dosage alone determines poisoning.
So even though I do agree with the principal that “natural” is better in many cases, I do not on the other hand believe that popping an artificial sweetener in one’s tea today will lead to Alzheimers Disease tomorrow, next week or even in the next three decades. However, I believe it will keep giraffes off your front lawn.
Fortunately I do not have to worry, as I always did take sugar!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
Why do so many of your male correspondents think that sexual intercourse is the most important thing in their lives? Their whole focus on life is sex, and it seems that it is the major event to keep them going. I thought men were supposed to slow down after a while, but it seems that Viagra has perked up their interest to the stage where they must be an embarrassment to everyone around them, even though they cannot see it. They talk about their relationships with Thai bar girls as if they were conquests, but in the ‘pay for sex’ business there is no contest. Or do they forget this, or blot it out from their consciousness? Is it the male ego, or is it peer pressure? This constant need to perform and brag about it interests me. Is it the same all over the world, or is it something that just happens here? Do you have any thoughts in this direction, Hillary?
Enquiring Edith
Dear Enquiring Edith,
Whether we like it or not, my Petal, men do seem to equate masculinity with their ability to perform. It used to be that the ability to procreate was what indicated virility; for example Charlie Chaplin was still fathering children into his 90’s, but these days with contraception and Zero Population Growth (and condoms), for these men, their virility is only expressed by their ability to talk about their exploits. Something like the fishermen loudly lamenting the ones that got away, the bordello braggarts boast of the ones who did not get away, ignoring the fact that the prey was not running, other than to the bank or the gold shop. “Nailing them down” is a phrase used which has an obvious allegory associated with it. I believe it is a phenomenon that exists all over the world, hence the global sales of Vitamin V, but the actual situation is probably closer to the surface here in Thailand than it is in some of the more conservative societies. Quite frankly, I don’t consider it to be a crime, Edith, or if it is, it is a victimless one. It is really neither contest nor conquest. Let the males continue with their self delusions, while the bar girls continue to send money back to the villages and buy motorcycles. It helps the economy, I suppose.
Dear Hillary,
At lunchtime or in the afternoons I often stroll through my local shopping mall, and I have noticed a rather dishy young lady sitting there every day. Usually she is on her own, or maybe with a girlfriend, but she always gives me a big smile. I have also seen her talking with some foreigners even older than I am (I am 67 by the way), though it looks to me like she is just passing the time of day, or even giving them advice on something Thai. (She is Thai, I am sure of that, even though she has curly hair.) Now I don’t want to make a fool of myself here, but do you think she is looking to make further contact, or is this just the usual Land of Smiles stuff? I have not been here very long, and am on my own, my wife having died several years ago back home. I am tempted to talk to her, but as I said, I don’t want to make a fool of myself in public. Hope you understand.
Carl from Carolina
Dear Carl from Carolina,
I can understand you not wanting to make a fool of yourself in public, my Petal, so you would rather make a fool of yourself, hiding behind a pseudonym! Carl, let me take you to one side here and whisper a few things in your ear, where nobody can hear us. Why do you think this “dishy” young lady is there every day? Why do you think she is smiling at elderly farangs? Where do you think she gets the money to live every day, sitting in a shopping center and obviously not holding down your regular 9-5 job? Do you think that some hairdresser will perm her hair for nothing each month? In this country, she is also certainly not a supported pensioner. There is no Social Security in Thailand, the way there is in your country. What you have to understand is that not everyone who wants an ATM of their own works out of a bar. There are other areas where lonely foreigners can be found. Cash cows lining up in the stalls, eagerly looking for places to be milked and people to milk them, and shopping centers are as good as anywhere else. However, there is nothing to be lost by making contact with your smiling goddess. You can always leave your watch off and sit down beside her and ask her if she has the time. If she says “2.30 p.m.” then she just might be resting each day and nothing else, but I think it more likely that she will say “Short time or long time?” after which you can either run away as fast as your 67 year old legs will carry you, or just open your wallet and say, “Help yourself.” Beware, Carl from Carolina. Hillary has warned you.


Camera Class:  Camera shake and some tips

by Harry Flashman

“Shake and shake the ketchup bottle, none’ll come and then a lot’ll”. Those immortal words from Ogden Nash are probably not relevant to camera shake, but the end results are the same. Not what you wanted!
With today’s Point and Shooters which are so small they can practically fit in one hand, the tendency is to do just that – one handed photography! Let me assure you that one handed picture taking may look sharp, but the end result photograph won’t be as sharp as you wanted.
With the larger cameras, SLR’s and the like, it becomes even more important to avoid camera shake. After all, why spend thousands of baht to buy super sharp lenses and get soft “blurry” photographs. You might as well have stuck with a cheap disposable “camera in a box” and saved your money for alcohol – which will also give you the shakes just as easily and possibly more enjoyably! By the way, do not be fooled by the small viewing screen on the digital cameras. It is too small to really see whether there is camera shake, or otherwise.
The simple fact of the matter is that to get sharp photographs, the camera must be held still while the shutter is held open. Now, in most daylight situations if the camera is set on “auto” it will select a shutter speed of around 1/125th of a second, and while that sounds “fast” it really isn’t. You will still get noticeable “softness” in the final print if the hand holding the camera has allows any movement.
The secret really is in the grip. And it is a two handed one, even for the digitals. You will not see any professional photographer taking shots with one hand, while waving the other in the air and saying, “One, Two, Three” (or even “Neung, Song, Sam!”). Your camera will most likely have two “hand/finger” impressions on either side of the camera body. They are not there for decoration. Use them!
Camera Straps
I was stimulated to write about this after a friend of mine showed me his new Nikon D70. Straight out of the box, and with no camera strap in place. I counseled him to attach one immediately! Dropped cameras do not do well.
Another trap for the unwary amateur photographer is the dreaded camera strap in the photo routine. Ever got prints back with a strange blurry dark shape running across the photo? That was the camera strap hanging down across the lens when you took the shot. With Point and Shoot compact cameras you will not see this when you look through the viewfinder, because you are actually looking through a separate viewing lens system, not through the main camera lens itself.
The answer for this type of problem is to wear the camera strap around your neck at all times when taking the shot. This way it will not fall down across the lens. When you are walking around, and prefer to keep the camera in your hand, then wrap the strap around your wrist. The idea of having the strap is to stop the very expensive, very delicate camera falling on the ground where the concussion kills it or into the sea where it dies a rapid death by drowning.
Camera straps are an important item, not just an advertising space for the camera manufacturer. Use them!
Skylight Filters
A filter on the end of your lens makes good sense. It protects the optical glass elements (the glass goodies you paid the big baht for) and does help your sky colors as well, by removing excess UV light. Use them!
Lens Caps
These are another frequently ignored, but important pieces of camera equipment. The quality of the camera’s optics dictates the ultimate quality of your photographs. The bit of glass at the end of your lens can ruin the end result if it is not clean, or worse still, if it is scratched.
This is the reason that you should keep the lens cap on the lens when the camera is in the bag or not being used. If you tend to lose them you can always attach a piece of string to it and tie it to the camera. Use them!


Money Matters:  Big is Best? Part 1

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

Analysis
We were recently asked to analyse UBS Absolute Return - a range of funds and private banking portfolios offered by UBS to its clients. Its aim is to achieve “Stable returns regardless of the market environment”.
A more detailed point by point analysis of UBS’s Absolute Return portfolios is available upon request. However, the analysis started us thinking in general terms about the value added by private bankers versus intermediaries. The need to qualitatively re-evaluate our business processes from time to time is extremely valuable, not only for us but also our clients as well.
Other than measuring success by investment performance or by our own business performance, which are both by nature historic, this qualitative approach is the best indicator as to whether we’re remaining sufficiently adaptable to client demand.
UBS Absolute Return
Basically UBS Absolute Return replicates in many ways the approach that we suggest taking to investment - since the turn of the millennium we have been using a presentation called ‘Risk Adjusted Investments’ that covers many of these same concepts. It would be hypocritical of us, therefore, to do anything other than endorse these concepts and welcome UBS belatedly aboard!
We have a long record of offering these types of portfolios. In the first 5 years, in its most defensive and most liquid format (this most directly equates to what UBS call their Defensive Absolute Return Portfolio - the value of the portfolio shouldn’t fall, it should be extremely secure) we have achieved returns of 10.32% - 14.77% per annum in a range of currencies including USD, AUD, NZD, CAD, EUR, CHF, GBP, JPY and Baht. Also, we now offer discretionary and fixed hedging into all tradable currencies.
Investment Philosophy
Although the stated investment philosophy of UBS Absolute Return Portfolios is similar to MBMG’s risk-adjusted portfolios, there are some important differences between MBMG’s approach and that of UBS:
- We try to be ‘closer’ to our clients in terms of understanding their requirements and we try to offer more ‘bespoke’ solutions, creating a portfolio individually designed for each investor specifically to suit their requirements. Individual investor needs, invariably, contain as much uncertainty as life itself - successful portfolios need to be constructed around the client in terms of liquidity, consistency, currency choices, flexibility and risk appetite. The biggest difference in emphasis is that we would say that these portfolios, whoever we happen to use to create them, are just a tool, a building block towards a solution.
UBS appears to ask their clients to choose whichever currency suits best from Sterling, US Dollar, Swiss Franc and Euro.
Quite apart from the number of currencies that this excludes and quite apart from the fact that this is inflicting the task of currency management back on the client and quite apart from the fact that relative currency merits will change, UBS is asking clients to make a one off choice and to live with it. This is extremely restrictive. A client has to act as the currency manager of their own portfolio - and with only a very limited set of currency tools.
MBMG, on the other hand, provides portfolios fully hedged into any tradable currency - if Thai baht is the client’s base currency we can provide a portfolio fully hedged into baht. We also offer fully discretionary hedging - we wouldn’t absolutely hedge into baht at ALL times. We’d only use hedging to protect baht value during periods of actual or apparent baht strength. Therefore, when clients have needed to withdraw funds at any stage, whether in their base currency or in any other currency, the results have always been extremely good.
In an age when sufficiently sophisticated tools exist to remove or hugely reduce risk and enhance return, to match liquidity to each client’s requirements and to ensure absolute flexibility, the ‘one size fits all’ solution typified by many Swiss private bankers is an extremely disappointing anachronism (strictly there are 3 portfolios so actually it’s more like 3 sizes fit all. However, choosing between growth, balanced and income is still like only being able to choose shoes that come in Large, Medium or Small).
Private Banking
We are of the view that traditional approaches to private banking are increasingly out of touch with the demands and the opportunities of the world that we live in. Historically, the idea that your local bank manager would recognise that your deposits had become sufficiently sizable that you were sitting on too much liquidity and that it would be more efficient to invest a proportion of this into higher yielding, less liquid investments was extremely valid. The difficulty of accessing alternative resources to do this at local level made this service even more valuable, as did the fact that your bank manager no doubt had a good understanding of your needs and requirements. For expatriates today the good news is that these services are ever more readily available - the bad news is that these needs are becoming ever more complicated.
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: Things I Can’t Say

by Scott Jones

Four days left, four kids left to sponsor. I’ve been in America for two months raising money for the 31 kids at Children’s Garden orphanage near Doi Saket. Once my friends agree to sponsor, it’s been fun to watch them try to choose which kid they want from the photos. Some feel bad immediately because selecting one, and not selecting the rest, reminds them of grade school gym class when two student “captains” were appointed and got to choose their teams from the rest of the class, invariably leaving the overweight, pimply kid with the physical coordination of a garden slug till last, every time for nine straight years, causing them to be in psychiatric therapy for the rest of their life. I can’t imagine coming back to the Garden and saying, “Good new, bad news, kids! You all have sponsors, except no one wanted Suriwan.” My friend Jeff said, “How long do the sponsorships last?” I said, “One year for sure, but I’ve heard stories of continuing relationship for decades.” He said, “Do you have any older kids, like in their late seventies?” (I’ve got to get some new friends.)
Since I’m running out of time and friends, I may have to use desperate tactics with random people in Starbuck’s. “Excuse me, ma’am, but for only a dollar-a-day you can provide food for a needy child in Thailand with the pocket change from the bottom of your purse, or, considering the cost of your daily latte with an extra shot of imported Columbian espresso and skim milk from free-range cows fed only organic grains that would feed twenty children for a year, plus your gigantic, gluten-free, double chocolate, cherry muffin is $7.50 = 300 baht, you could forfeit one day per week of expensive gluttony and give to humanity. Besides, you’re beginning to look like a muffin and you shouldn’t wear those tight sweatpants in public.”

Rocks: a cheap game with unlimited pieces.
I’d really like to go into a posh health club, stand in front of the banks of stationary bikes, treadmills and rowing machines, and yell, before the large uniformed personal trainer with bulging muscles that look like eggplants and squash surgically-implanted under his skin deposits me in the trash compactor: “Would you like to sponsor a needy child in Thailand? You could save thousands of dollars if you actually rowed a boat in the river, walked to the market, or bicycled to work, instead of driving your gas-guzzling Hummers to this over-priced meet-market to sweat profusely while going nowhere, inside, wearing Calvin Klein, color-coordinated outfits, high-tech heart monitors and $300 turbo-charged, air-cushioned, fashion-plate Nike shoes made by children sweating profusely in Asia. Unfortunately no one would notice me since they’ve all got MP3 players with headphones to block out the hum of their shoulder-mounted, personal oxygen systems and ESPN blaring from TVs mounted on the ceiling, or they’re on their cell phones, ordering new outfits.
During my charity tour last year, I brought kid’s handmade bags and clothes to sell for them at my concerts, I almost fell down the first time someone said: “Isn’t that child labor?” I replied, “Well, yes, it is. They are children and these are the fruits of their labor, made while learning a useful trade and keeping their Lahu traditions alive. It’s like farm kids helping the family in the fields, like you helping your parents by mowing the lawn, like me selling lemonade when I was ten so I could help myself to buy fireworks for the Fourth of July.” I couldn’t say, “Well, unlike your lethargic brats who are chauffeured to school, to movies, to football games, ballet and yacht piloting lessons while playing their expensive, hand-held Nintendos and complaining the air-conditioner is too cold, too hot or too loud, who have never helped once around the house, but still whine about not getting McDonald’s burgers, fries and a shake every day for dinner, before their nightly, seven-hour marathons as brain-fried, couch potatoes in front of The Almighty Tube, these are industrious, polite, thankful children, who, once they’ve finished creating their individual works of art, go outside and play with rocks.”
If you have any friends with a spare dollar-a-day, please let me know. I promise to be very polite and keep my mouth shut.



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