HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

Agony Column

Dear Big D USA,
I have to admit my Petal that I was a little unsure of who was sending me the parcel. At first I thought it was “Big DUSA” and spent several nano-seconds thinking about who DUSA could be while I ripped open the wrapping. Inside, two lovely blocks of Hershey’s chocolates! Thank you so much. While munching I looked at the wrapping again and decided it wasn’t DUSA, but was “Big D” (from) USA. It is people like you who give me the strength to carry on, fuelled by chocolate, of course!
Dear Hillary,
Thank you for printing my last letter! I’m sorry I mispelled (sic) “Asia” but were you to actually take the time and look at my novel in Bookazine or on the ‘Net, you’d see that it actually is spelled Missing In Asia. Writers often make mistakes and that’s exactly what I did when I sent you that e-mail. In fact, you did a rather nice job of making a mistake when you informed your readers that A Woman Of Bangkok takes place during the Vietnam War. Seeing as the book was originally published in 1956, that puts you a few years ahead of our war so yes, any writer can make a mistake which obviously you did. Lighten up and stop attacking the US, huh? Everybody spells things oddly to other cultures.
As far as “corruption” goes, my offering of A Woman Of Bangkok to read still holds for either Lang Reid or yourself (just so long as I do get the book back - it’s a true classic!) whether or not he’ll review my books but seeing as I’ve previously e-mailed him to politely request him to review my novels and got zero responses, zero results, I thought I’d try another approach. And please don’t compare me with Toxic; he was listed as the 16th wealthiest man in Southeast Asia by Forbes; I’m a poor man trying to get a career going as a writer since I love to write, would love to stay permanently in Thailand and have readers who enjoy my work, as Jason Schoonover did. Please give me an address where I can bring the novel or mail it once I get home to Chiang Mai in four weeks and both of you can read it (and likely enjoy it). By the way, what kind of champers would you prefer? Regarding my name being spelt correctly, why wouldn’t it be? “Sean” is the only correct way to spell my name and seeing as I’m Irish, neither of my parents wanted it done any other way. As far as all the snakes coming to the States to become policemen, that’s not entirely true, either: one of them went on to become a largely useless politician - Teddy Kennedy.
Please keep your very entertaining columns going but can you lose the ethnic snubs? Otherwise I believe our term for you will have to be “Poison Ivy” not “Petal”. Cheers!

Dear Sean,
Congratulations, my Petal! You actually managed to misspell “misspell”! That takes some doing, but then of course, you are a writer so you believe that excuses you. Not by Ms. Hillary, it doesn’t Petal! And to think that you expected Hillary to totter across the busy roads to go to Bookazine to check the spellings on the cover of your own books! I concur that “Everybody spells things oddly to other cultures,” but I have checked both the US “English” and the UK English and both of them spell “misspell” as “misspell”. Anything else I can do for you while I’m out doing your errands?
However, I am big enough to own up to my own mistakes. I did write that A Woman of Bangkok describes the Vietnam war era. My only excuse was that there wasn’t a copy in the local Bookazine for me to ascertain that fact while I was over there in the shop checking your spelling and grammar, so you’ll forgive me I am sure. But I have to refute your assertion that I am attacking the US. From memory (I’m getting old so I may be imagining this), the US attacked Vietnam, not Vietnam attacking the US. But please correct me on this too.
Now then, correctly spelled Sean, what’s this about “ethnic snubs”? Really? I suppose in your list there’s Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and now Hillary! (I’ll ignore George W Bush.) Dearie me! What have I let myself in for now?
By the way, I spoke to Lang Reid who denies having received any emails from you, but he did say that if writers want books reviewed they should drop them in to the newspaper’s office, clearly marked as for Lang Reid, and the staff will make sure he gets them. The same goes for champagne (or ‘methode champenoise’), clearly marked for Ms. Hillary! (Dry or Brut, just as I like my letter writers!)

Camera Class:  Fruit salad and the best advice I was ever given

by Harry Flashman

Commercial shot taken with Hasselblad camera in studio.

Nobody is born as a photographer. I have yet to hear of an infant taking shots with any camera – be that digital or film. Certainly there are some people who have a better “eye” for detail than others, or a better sense of composition, but we all begin from the same point when we pick up a camera for the first time, no matter what our ages. The point of zero knowledge.
When I first began to show a more than average interest in photography, the thoughts of entry into the “big time” was not planned in any way. At that stage, I had a camera for snapshots, just the same as everyone else, and that was what I took – happy snaps! I was interested enough to begin reading the odd photography magazine, probably because they always had pictures of glamorous girls on the cover, and read that one of the best cameras in the world was something called a Hasselblad.
A friend was going to Europe for a vacation and so I asked him to price one of these Hasselblad things for me while he was over there. A few weeks later he returned and came into the office where I worked and triumphantly placed this camera bag on my desk, saying “There it is! I got a real good deal and even got them to throw in the bag as well.” I gulped and asked how much. The sum was astronomical and I went pale. Fortunately my friend said I could pay him off in small payments and at that point I became a professional photographer. If I was going to pay it off, that Hasselblad had to work to bring in the instalments!
I had another friend who was a keen amateur photographer and he loaned me all his books on the subject. I read voraciously, as just about every bit of information you ever need about anything is written down somewhere. I began to take some photographs, and they were certainly as sharp as a tack. The Hasselblad lenses are famous for their sharpness. But the lighting? Ah, that was not so good.
I experimented with the light behind me, in front of me, coming from the side, the top, underneath, from anywhere. I bought tungsten flood lights from the garden shop and added them in as well. A flash gun was introduced and I began to get something that was, to my eye at least, quite reasonable. I showed some of the results to the assistant in the pro photo supplies shop, who by this time knew the contents of my wallet intimately. “Can’t say I go with the fruit salad lighting,” was his opening remarks. Then he looked at one print and said, “How did you get that effect?” I looked and wasn’t sure, and at that point, the shop assistant gave me the best bit of advice I ever got – and now I am giving it to you. He said, “Get yourself a notebook and write down the details of every shot you take. Read the notes as you look at the pictures and you will soon see how you managed to get any particular effect.” He went on, “That way you can always duplicate the effect for any other shot.”
Do not gloss over that advice, if you actually want to improve. Or if you want to be able to reproduce that great halo effect, or whatever, you need to know how you did it the first time. And the list of variables in photography is so great you will never remember two months later!
You must jot down the aperture, the shutter speed, direction of the light and what the light meter suggested (and that includes the camera’s built in light meter). You will get notes like f8 @ 1/60th , meter f 16 @ 1/60th, sun behind subject. That photograph will turn out with a bright halo effect as the aperture is two stops wider open than the camera thinks it should be. And if you like it, you can do it all again, anytime, anywhere!
Just keep a notebook in your camera bag!

Money Matters:  Is old best? Not necessarily so - Part 1

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

The old chestnut Lloyds of London seems to be rearing its ugly head again, so we thought it may be an idea to unravel some of the mysterious myths that surround this organisation.
An interesting, if not entirely impartial, reading can be found on the website - a somewhat embittered expose on the workings of that fundamental of insurance - Lloyds of London. It certainly pulls no punches opening with the claim, “The most infamous fraudster in the history of the United States was Mr. Ponzi. He was convicted of operating a massive investment scheme in which he offered unusually high interest rates to his depositors. He paid these high returns out of the new capital he attracted from new depositors. Eventually, of course, his scheme collapsed when he could not attract sufficient new deposits to both pay interest to his old depositors and repay those of them who asked for the return of their money. There are interesting parallels between Lloyd’s and Mr. Ponzi’s scheme. A major difference, however, is that Lloyd’s made and executed its plans with the knowledge and connivance of a great Department of Government, the Department of Trade and Industry.”
Some rather startling facts are highlighted - Lloyd’s has recorded losses in 21 of the last 25 policy years in the “US $ Non-Marine, All Other” class of business, with aggregate underwriting losses over those years of $4.6 billion, with additional provisions for these years of around $790 million. In fact, for Syndicate Account from 1979 to 1991, Lloyd’s Annual Global Accounts, which cover all classes of business worldwide, have recorded aggregate underwriting deficits of ฃ5.7 billion and overall pre-tax trading losses of ฃ4.2 billion. On 24th February 1982 the magnitude of the ultimate losses from long standing unlimited US Liability policies was officially admitted by the Lloyd’s Panel of Approved Syndicate Auditors as being so large as to be unquantifiable. As was inevitable, the losses eventually started to impact on Lloyd’s Syndicates in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s. Thus, claims the website, “…only recently have syndicate Accounts and Lloyd’s Global Accounts started to reflect the deficits for which provision should have been made so many years ago.”
What seems to annoy the ‘Names Defence Association’ here is that the allegedly incorrect accounting practices led to excessive amounts of tax being paid when losses should have been quantified and used to offset taxable profits. “Had adequate provisions been made when they properly should have been, Lloyd’s as a whole would have declared substantial losses and UK taxation revenues would have been substantially lower. The over-statement of profits continued throughout most of the 1980’s. It has been estimated that over those years the Treasury collected between ฃ500 million and ฃ1 billion more than was truly justified as a result of those false profits being declared at Lloyd’s.”
What also seems to be a source of annoyance is the belief that, “Lloyd’s insiders had that knowledge in considerable detail over many years and from impeccable sources” - i.e. that Lloyds was very much an insider’s club operating an extremely unlevel playing field. “Some Names have now concluded that the withholding of that material information, essential for any name and his agents to properly assess his underwriting commitments at Lloyd’s, could only have been made deliberately. They believe that the failures to publish that information over so many years could only have resulted from a series of knowing and deliberate decisions.
“It is not credible that a series of simple oversights is the explanation.” Lloyd’s, they say, did not have the option of publishing or not publishing information of such importance; it had a statutory obligation to publish it ... A number of key Lloyd’s insider working Names took advantage of their privileged information to re-insure their own syndicates’ US Liability risks to other less knowledgeable and unsuspecting syndicates. The first examples of such insider trading took place in the mid and late 1970’s. ... Like insider trading on the stock market, which is illegal, insider trading by insureds which involves the concealment of material information from the insurer is cause in law for the resulting policy to be voided.
The possibility now exists for a number of critical re-insurance policies and, indeed, whole re-insurance programs at Lloyd’s to be challenged and voided. Research findings of the Names Defence Association also show that the Department of Trade and Industry and its predecessors were also aware of Lloyd’s long tail US Liability problems. The solution as to how those claims could be paid was worked out and agreed by Lloyd’s and DTI officials in the early 1980’s ... The first part of the solution was to increase the ‘reserves’ at Lloyd’s gradually over the coming years through a policy which they described as “stair-stepping”. This term first came to the knowledge of damaged names at meetings in 1994 between their representatives and DTI officials. In brief, stair-stepping involved the gradual increase in the Minimum Percentage Reserves laid down by Lloyd’s for the setting of RITC “premiums” each year. This policy might have been appropriate to incorporated insurance company with its own permanent fixed capital and on-going separate legal persona. But it was totally inappropriate for Lloyd’s syndicates which are annual business ventures whose members vary from year to year. As is clearly shown by Lloyd’s own Annual Settlement Statistics, “stair-stepping” was implemented progressively and successfully throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990’s.
Some names now seek counsel as to whether that policy of “stair-stepping” might have been a deliberate and criminal fraud on new members joining certain new syndicate years, in view of the fact that those members did not receive proper financial consideration for the risks they were assuming; risks so large that, at least since 1979, they were known to be unquantifiable.
To be continued…

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: Corrections and Reflections

by Scott Jones

We must right a wrong in the Chiangmai Mail newspaper from two weeks ago regarding funds donated to the Northern School of the Blind (NSB). The headline read, “FERC Give and Live Benefit donates 450,000 baht.” In reality, unlike the copy I submitted, it should have read, “FERC Give and Live Benefit donates 150,000 baht.” I’d like to publicly make sure that NSB’s directors and everyone else are clear that the “missing” 300,000 baht isn’t happily reproducing in my personal bank account. We must also correct the errant photo caption under the director, former director and chairman of their board’s photo - very capable, active and sighted folks with about 50 years of combined service to NSB - to assure they are not mistaken for “Visually impaired NSB students navigating their way through the hallways of their new playhouse,” which was the caption for an different photo I submitted. Perhaps the good news here is that Chiangmai Mail is hiring blind people for their proof-reading department. If not, those responsible should be sent to the House of Correction.
Currently I’m suffering mental anguish daily as I try to purge similar errors from my new book “Life in the Laugh Lane” as it approaches final printing on the press, where one mistake suddenly becomes carcinogenic and spreads uncontrollably. Even though edited by at least six authors, teachers, golfers and jewelry designers with excellent vision and degrees from universities, and proofed by me about 4,598 times, give or take a thousand, the typos seem impervious to eradication. I’m already planning my new book: “Life in the Laugh Lane: Corrections and Reflections.”
Here are the grim facts of my most costly typographical error. While with a booking agency in Rockville, Maryland, I misspelled their phone number (my spell checker didn’t catch the error). I printed 3,000 promotional mailers with my agent’s number prominently displayed and mailed them all over the USA. When my agent received his copy, he phoned to tell me the mailer was very professional and funny, but all the calls were going to an angry woman somewhere in Rockville. When my agent dialed the number, a woman ranted about some plot against her, raved about invasion of privacy and, in typical American style, threatened to sue someone, anyone, anywhere. Hundreds of dollars spent on the mailer and thousands of dollars in bookings were at stake. I quickly called her to apologize profusely and ask if she’d give out our number or might just jot down a few names of the callers, please, pretty please, with sugar on it, cross my heart and hope to die. Mainly I remember her screaming at me and wanting me to die right then on the phone and then a lonely dial tone when she hung up on me. There was no reasoning with her. I was just another despicable voice on the phone and probably bovine excrement in person.
I worried and planned and festered and mentally subtracted vast sums of income from my yearly budget and finally mustered up enough self-esteem to ring back the next day, ready to give her a commission, to buy her an answering machine, a new phone line, a new car, the dining room set, the color television, the trip to the Bahamas and a dart board with my photo shellacked to the front - anything to gain access to the calls she received. Her husband answered, and although offered no assistance, at least he listened while I apologized, groveled and pleaded for forgiveness and mercy. He said flatly, “Well, there’s nothing I can do because my wife’s in a rage about this and you’ll have to forget about it. You see, just two weeks ago, Sears Department Store ran a full-page ad about their big sale and listed our phone number.”
These people were being severely punished but so was I! The Terrible Typo God of Inconvenience was toying with all of us! I sympathized with their situation, but when I found out they were generally nasty to anyone who called to book Friendly Scott, I sent their phone number to the Time/Life Book of the Month Club, the We Won’t Take No For An Answer Telemarketing and Phone Survey Company and several religious organizations conducting fund drives. They’ve probably suffered enough but I saved their number, and whenever I’m near Maryland, I can’t resist stopping in a few restrooms and writing on the walls: “For a good time, call…”