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Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

Language Matters

Agony Column

Dear Hillary the Electrician,
US electric motors not only run on 110 volts, or thereabouts, but also 60 cycles, exactly. If in turn they are wound for exactly 60 cycles, they will wind up burning out at 50. It has to do with impedance, as I’m sure you know but simply forgot. Impeded but not yet totally burnt out, I am yours truly,
Paw Yigh Lee in Muang Yote Nakorn
Dear Paw Yigh Lee in Muang Yote Nakorn,

What have I started now? I am so sorry that American cycles get middle-aged burn out at 50, while it seems the Thai versions will go on to 60, unimpeded, or something. Or have I got it wrong again, my Petal? When I was scratching around trying to find the answer for the poor chap with the 110 volt American lekky massager he wanted to switch on in Thailand, where were you then, Paw Yigh Lee in Muang Yote Nakorn? It’s all very fine being critical from the outside, but I need unimpeded and unrestricted access to resource people in this country. I shall put you down for all questions regarding electric chairs. But honestly, Petal, why did you expect a poor old Agony Aunt should know anything about electricity. Or should I now be called an Agony Amp? Or should I just go ‘ohm’ and forget about it?

Dear Hillarity,
Now, as a fully qualified astromer (sic) appointed by Dizzyworld, I’ve been very concerned about the downgrading of Pluto and the effect this will have on those like you who rely on horrorscopes to ease them through the tangled intestines of life. So, in order to calm your worries and show nothing has changed; Because Pluto is waning behind Mickey Mouse, who is waxing on about Goofy eclipsing Minnie, without paying the usual bar fine, in the shadow of Venus when the moon rises over Pattaya’s short-time hotels, my predictions for next week are:
Sunday - Foreign armed forces leave Iraq, U.N. appoints Saddam Hussein as caretaker President until new dictator emerges and shoots him.
Monday - Khun Thaksin applies for Social Security benefits in the U.K. Pattaya Mail’s Hillarity inundated with chocs and fizzy.
Tuesday - Pattaya wins the coveted BIFRA, Best International Family Resort Award. Soi 6 celebrates by having a Family Day, i.e. halving bar fines during Happy Hour for boys under 12 years of age buying a minimum of six large scotches and accompanied by their parents.
Wednesday - ALL religions embrace the 11th commandment, Thou shalt have a sense of humour. Some extremists do not think this is funny.
Thursday - Every Thai motorcyclist seen is wearing a crash helmet, some even fastening the chin straps. Economic disaster when Thailand bans use of the expressions - “Up to you” and “No have” - many bar girls and most shops go out of business.
Friday - Khun Thaksin refused Social Security benefits in the U.K., and after accepting a work permit instead successfully applies for Tony Blair’s job.
Saturday - President Bush, now with idle troops to deploy, declares war on the U.K. for harbouring criminal despots.
Stargazer
Dear Stargazer,

I do thank you for the good news that chocs and champers are on their way, but I have to ask, did you really mean ‘astromer’, or was it supposed to be ‘astronomer’? Perhaps the spelling occurred when you were blinded by the planets aligning so that the Sun was in Uranus momentarily. Thank you for bringing us up to date on the interplanetary movements, and yes, I heard about Minnie was getting a bit goofy recently. But I believe she is taking tablets for it now.

Dear Hillary,
You well informed old Dyke You! With such an alert brain, one well may in fact think, you are a male of the species! I read with interest all these letters from the cry baby farang males, who have lost their true love and the girl as well, due to either stupidity or naivety. There is a simple way to over come this dilemma. I was told by a Thai Lawyer that you buy a receipt book and write out a receipt for any monies given to one of these Little Brown Snappers. Explaining to them you have a company and you have to keep check of your expenses. She is classified as a live in housekeeper. She signs for each payment, in the case of separation, you show she was paid for services rendered. If she hires a lawyer, he would point out to her she didn’t pay tax. The problem I’m told, generally ends right there. I hope my sweet Dame Edna Copy Cat, that this snippet will help these stupid men who see the bar scene from the one eyed, earless part of their anatomy.
Please withhold my name
Dear Please withhold my name,

How wonderful to hear from you, my Petal. I thought male chauvinism had died about 20 years ago, but it is so nice to see there are still pockets of it left. However, I doubt that the lawyer will point out the tax angle, or the case expenses won’t mount up. Dame Edna was a figment of Barry Humphries imagination. I am not, so we can’t be alike. So there!
By the way, a dyke is one of those stone walls around Holland that young lads stick their fingers into. Or perhaps even that part of their anatomy that you are referring to!


Camera Class:  Inspiration from Julia Margaret Cameron

by Harry Flashman

About every couple of years I find it is necessary to forget technology and look at photographs from the point of view of artistry. Look at the photograph, which is of the eminent historian Thomas Carlyle. That photograph was taken in 1867 and is ranked as one of the most powerful portraits in the history of photography. That is correct, almost 140 years ago.
Look again - technically it is imperfect. There is blurring of the image, and when you realize that the shutter was open for probably around three minutes, then you can see why. The sitter could not possibly remain motionless for that period of time. But it still has the power to mesmerize the viewer. Why?
The dynamics of this shot come from the very first principles of photography – painting with light. It is not the subject that matters – it is the way you light the subject, and this is the prime example, taken all those years ago. The light is falling on the sitter almost from the side and slightly above. One eye is partially lit and the other in shadow. The hair and beard show up strongly. The photo is actually totally confrontational.
Analyze further. If the face had been front lit, and both eyes, the nose and the mouth were all clearly visible then there would be no air of mystery. The dark areas of the photograph have made you look further into it. You begin to imagine what the features were like. You also begin to imagine what the person was like. You are experiencing the “perfect” portrait. This is not a ‘record’ shot, but ‘creation’.
The shot was taken by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879) a British lady who had been raised in India, in the days of the British Raj. Surrounded by servants, she had never had to do anything for herself, and yet, in her late forties she took up the new fangled notion of photography. This was not the age of the point and shoot digital simplicity we enjoy today. This was the age of making your own photographic plates by painting a mixture of chemicals all over it - chemicals you mixed yourself - exposing the plate in a wooden box camera and then fixing the negative in more chemicals and finally making a print.
It was the 29th of January 1864 when Mrs. Cameron finally produced her first usable print. She had made the exposure at 1 p.m. and in her diary recorded the fact that by 8 p.m. she had made and framed the final print. (And you think you are doing it tough if you have to wait two hours, instead of one!)
As opposed to the tiny “cartes de visite” that were the norm at that time, Julia Margaret Cameron was making close up portraits 30x40 cm. However, she would not have managed to photograph so many of the notables of the era had it not been for her next door neighbor, the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. After Tennyson saw his portrait he persuaded his eminent friends to sit for her as well. Most of these portraits were different from the Thomas Carlyle photograph in that they were taken in profile. Mrs. Cameron felt that the innate intelligence could be more easily seen in the profile and this may have been the result of the influence of the quasi-science of Phrenology, whereby your cranial bumps showed your true talents, which was all the rage at that time!
Julia Margaret Cameron contributed to photography by showing that it is the eye of the photographer that dictates the photograph, not the “smartness” of the equipment. She also showed a personal determination to succeed which should be an example to the young photographers of today.
So you can stop reading the photographic magazines to see if you should buy the latest offering from Nikopanasononanolta complete with one millionth of a second shutter speed and dedicated flash power for up to three kilometers and just go out and take photographs with what you have got. Look at what is in front of you and “make” your own photographs “work” for you. Thus endeth the inspirational lesson. Thank you Mrs. Cameron. Class dismissed!


Money Matters:  Is old best? Not necessarily so - Part 2

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

The second part of the solution was, as discussed earlier, to encourage the recruitment of ever increasing numbers of new names at Lloyd’s and to increase the total capital provided both by them and by existing names. These objectives were also executed successfully. The number of members of Lloyd’s increased from 7,710 in 1975 to 18,506 in 1980, and then to 32,433 in 1988. Increases of this magnitude were totally unjustified by the growth of the worldwide insurance market and in particular by the business likely to be introduced to Lloyd’s over those years.
During these same years, Lloyd’s also increased the financial deposit requirements of names, while it reduced the total wealth requirement demanded to be shown by members individually. As a result of the substantial increase in the funds and guarantees deposited directly with Lloyd’s by its members, the gross underwriting capacity at Lloyd’s increased from 3.42 billion in 1980 to 11.02 billion in 1988. The substantial increase in capital funds provided by the unsuspecting names during the first six or seven years of the 1980’s had no immediate genuine business to finance.
The growth in insurance business worldwide did not match the growth in Lloyd’s capital, and because the US Liability claims were not due to start reaching Lloyd’s in size until the late years of the decade, a vacuum of legitimate opportunity developed. Some of the more unscrupulous underwriters, members’ agents and brokers found ways to fill it. They introduced unprofessional and improper practices which had little or no valid commercial justification. The most infamous development was the LMX Spiral. This was initiated when a few syndicates re-insured the excess risks of other better run syndicates. Those first spiral syndicates then started to re-insure those same risks with other syndicates. Syndicate A reinsured with Syndicate B. Syndicate B with Syndicate C. C with D, and then the spiral commenced as D reinsured a higher layer of the original risk with Syndicate A. And so it started again.
The spiral developed in ever decreasing circles at ever higher layers of risk and ever decreasing premiums. During the course of the spiral the syndicates writing spiral business reinsured themselves several times over. And at every turn a Lloyd’s broker took 10% of the premium in commission. A financial disaster was inevitable. It would happen with the first major catastrophe. Surprisingly no major catastrophe occurred for several years, but then the Piper Alpha oil rig blew up in late 1988. The death knell of the LMX Spiral was sounded and it collapsed within a year or two. The business making up the spiral was not insurance. It was a series of bets that a major catastrophe would not happen within the next twelve months.
It was guaranteed to end in total and overwhelming loss for the unsuspecting members of the spiral syndicates; the only question was when. The rates charged and its spiral circularity were such that no competent broker would have touched it, far less any competent or ethical underwriter. Yet Lloyd’s regulators condoned it and a number of leading underwriters re-insured their worst risks with the spiral syndicates.
The names who were placed on the LMX spiral syndicates were overwhelmingly the new names who had been lured into Lloyd’s as a result of the recruitment policies described earlier. Those new names were, for the most part, unable to join well-run syndicates as the latter found themselves unable to attract sufficient legitimate new business to justify taking on more names. To all this the regulators at Lloyd’s turned a blind eye... Needless to say, names on the spiral syndicates were never informed of the nature of the time and distance policies nor of the accounting principles applied to them. And neither did Lloyd’s regulators, approved syndicate auditors or accounting practice supervisors interfere... Research studies have shown that members of the Council of Lloyd’s were noticeable by their absence as members of spiral syndicates. The most knowledgeable and professionally competent of Lloyd’s working names did not themselves participate as members either; and most kept their old established clients and friends from joining them.

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: Its knot spelt write

by Scott Jones

Friends have described me by saying, “He writes music and books.” Well, I don’t write books. I write music and book - one book that seems to have taken several lifetimes. If I don’t finish it by the time I die, I’m going to kill myself.
During these final death throws of editing, my mind has devolved into cuckoo feces as I try to separate the correct wheat from the misspelled chaff. I offered to donate my brain to medical science, but they refused after tests revealing it had the mental capacity of a log, and suggested I leave it with the chemistry department as an example of “living inert material.”
Since I’m attempting to write in my native language of American, my British spell checker sometimes just gets in the way. It considers the title of this column A-OK, and even the word “spelt” is acceptable for “spelled” in the English. Using “spelt” would make me look like a cretin in America, where it only means “a primitive species of wheat with grains that do not thresh free of the chaff,” which actually describes my project perfectly.
Luckily David Hardcastle, formerly of Good Morning Chiangmai News and an astute British editor who tolerates American, has come to my rescue and is proofing the book before it is published - oh my Buddha, have mercy - next week. Now I have someone to blame for my short-comings and all errors in the book will be his fault.
The good news? Thanks to calculators, spell checkers, e-mail and phone text messages written completely in random, abbreviations containing no vowels, few people can add, subtract or spell anymore. There are currently only eleven people in America with acceptable spelling skills, millions who think the word “farm” is spelled E-I-E-I-O and countless professional sports stars that have trouble with tricky words like “I,” “a,” or “the.” My third grade teacher is one of the Exceptional Eleven and I’m sure she still spells every word correctly, although she’s probably too old to construct coherent sentences. Her name is Mrs. Quinald, or Cuinauld, or Kwinold or Teacher.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to teach impatient rug rats, especially in a foreign country, who would rather kill alien invaders on Game Boys than learn the subtleties of English, a truly ridiculous language. Consider trying to sound out the spelling of these rhyming words - do, dew, due, doo-doo, through, threw, thru, new, knew, nu, rue, roux, lieu, ooh, shoe, shoo, eschew, coo, cuckoo, cue, queue, rendezvous, yew, ewe, W, screw you, too, to, two, tutu - where “oo” equals o, oe, ooh, ous, oux, ough, ou, u, ue, eue, ieu, ew, we and wo! Woe are we! It is no help whatsoever to have packaged American products like Cheez Whiz, Krispy Kreme or Dan Quayle, former vice-president for four, foreboding, forgettable years, who had a brain the size of a quail egg but not quite as developed, and made enough daily verbal, grammar and spelling errors to set back English for a decade.
I’ve met people who can’t even spell their own names correctly, which must be terribly embarrassing, so when a person wants a personalized autograph on my book, I’ll be very cautious and polite.
Me: “What’s your name?”
Karen: “Karen.”
Me: “Ah, beautiful name! How do you spell it?
Karen: “C-A-R-I-N.”
Me: “Gee, that’s nice. My name’s Scott: S-K-A-U-G-H-T.”
Okay, Sherry, Sherri, Shari, Cheri, you can spell your name any way you want, but if you’re in the duo I saw in Minnesota, the incorrect spelling of your group’s name won’t help your career. They chose the name Sapphire, but spelled it “Saphire.” All I could ever see was SapHire. Hire a Sap. Their credibility was not bolstered by their printed contracts, which said in bold, capital letters on the top: INTERTAINMENT CONTRACT. Would you hire a sap for your “intertainment” needs? Does anyone have intertainment needs? Does Oxford Dictionary publish a special dictionary for Minnesota?
For e-mail and computer documents, spell checkers blatantly demonstrate our ignorance to ourselves while hiding it from the rest of the world, but they don’t work for signs in front of businesses. I question the intelligence of the manager who advertised DINNING at the drive-thru DIN-DOW, but I also wondered about the sign salesman, the secretary who typed the order, the people who actually made the sign and all the customers who stop by for din-din. The employees might as well have run around yelling, “We’re all brain-donors! Come and dine with dimwits! We can’t spell but maybe we can read recipes. Let’s see now, was that molasses or mole asses?”
Two mentally-challenged businesses struggled in the same town in Georgia, where perhaps a terminal spelling disease circulated in the water. One garage displayed a sign that read $3.00 MINUM CHARGE. “Yesseree, Billy Bob, we’all don’ use any more letters ’n we hafta. We’all use the minum amount.” The office supply store painted this sign in their window: FILE CABNITES FOR YOUR SECETARY. Their slogan may have been, “We’ll jes’ sell ’em; we don’ spell ’em.”
As incentives to David, if he successfully separates every flake of chaff from the wheat, I will give him a file cabnite, a gift certificate for dinning at the drive-in din-dow and a trip for two in tutus to Timbuktu, too. Otherwise I’ll throw the book at him.


Language Matters : The Stress-timed Rhythm of English

by Peter McKenzie-Brown

We often talk about the rhythm and melody of language. This is not an abstract idea. It is real, and comes from word stress and intonation. In English, much of it comes from the phenomenon of vowel reduction, which English teachers and learners should understand.
Imagine yourself at public auditions in which four conductors are competing for the top job in an orchestra. Each competitor has to conduct the same piece of music, and each to the same metronome. As he waves his baton, the first conductor begins with the words, “One, two, three, four.” The second says, “One and two and three and four.” The next says, “One and a two and a three and a four.” And the last aspirant says, “One and then a two and then a three and then a four.”
Which of these conductors will miscue the orchestra? The answer is “None.” Each of these four sentences takes exactly the same amount of time to say. This illustrates a key and yet peculiar feature of our language. It is called the stress-timed rhythm of English.
Stress-timing:
We can illustrate with almost any word of two or more syllables - for example, “syllable.” We stress this word using the pattern Ooo, placing primary emphasis on the first segment of the word. In English every long word has its own stress pattern. Think of the words “import” and “record,” for example. Both words can be pronounced using either the pattern Oo or the pattern oO. Which pattern you use fundamentally changes the meaning of the word.
Something else happens after you choose which syllable to stress. The pronunciation of the main vowel in the unstressed syllable changes, often to the sound ‘uh’ which is the single most common sound in the English language. This sound has its own special name, schwa, and about 30 percent of the sounds we make when we speak English are the sound schwa. In English, schwa can be represented by any vowel.
For example, consider the following two-syllable words. The first word uses the stress pattern Oo; the second, the stress pattern oO. You will notice that in each case we pronounce the unstressed vowel as schwa, regardless of its spelling.
A: Atlas; Canoe
E: College; Reveal
I: Cousin; Disease
O: Anchor; Contain
U: Lettuce; Support
This practice of replacing unstressed vowels with schwa also occurs in connected speech - English as we use it in our daily lives. If I ask “Where are you from?” I will stress the word “from,” pronouncing the short ‘o’ sound quite clearly. If you answer “I’m from Sydney,” you will most likely reduce the ‘o’ to schwa. The reason is that you are likely to stress the word “Sydney” instead. Vowel reduction is the key to the stress-timing of English.
Native English speakers frequently use schwa in unstressed syllables. This is why it takes the same amount of time to say “One, two, three, four” as it does to say “One and then a two and then a three and then a four.” Reducing vowels enables us to speed through unstressed syllables. This is how we achieve the particular rhythm of English, in which stressed syllables are roughly equidistant in time, no matter how many syllables come in between.
Most of the world’s other major languages have quite different patterns. They are mostly ‘syllable-timed’ languages. Each syllable receives approximately the same amount of stress as the others in a word or a sentence. These languages thus have quite different rhythm and melody - also beautiful, but different.