HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Looking at health risks by numbers

I can assure you that every practicing doctor in the world has heard about your Uncle Harry who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, drank two bottles of whisky by lunchtime and lived to be 104. The story of Uncle Harry is trotted out to stymie any thoughts of stopping smoking, or that too much alcohol is really too much of a good thing.
Unfortunately, the unstoppable Uncle Harry means absolutely nothing when we look at health risks from an overall point of view. Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one Uncle Harry does not prove that smoking isn’t dangerous, or that too many bottles of whisky won’t cause cirrhosis. That kind of “proof” only comes after looking at large numbers of Uncle Harry’s, and that is done by a special group of people called epidemiologists.
Now the World Health Organization (WHO) has teams of epidemiologists and other health watchers looking at the spread of disease in the world. Not just Uncle Harry. They have a good idea where we’re headed, and much of that depends upon where we are.
The WHO has data to show the major influences and risks to health all over the world, and the global picture is interesting, with the number 1 global health risk being Underweight. Here is the influence of the African continent, with malnutrition and outright starvation influencing millions. Again, it is the African continent that has dominated the second major health risk - Unsafe sex. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in that region influencing the global statistics. After those two comes High Blood Pressure and Tobacco and then Alcohol at number five, and so much for Uncle Harry.
However, if you split the statistics up and examine the situation in developing countries, such as much of Asia, the picture is different. Number 1 health risk is alcohol, followed by High BP, Tobacco and being underweight.
A close look at the risks for the developed societies (that covers the Europeans, Brits, Americans, Australians) gives yet another differing list of “most likelies”. Top spot is Tobacco, followed by High BP, Alcohol, Cholesterol and being Overweight.
So, depending upon the society, the things that are waiting to get you are quite different. A WHO report states, “As a country develops and more people buy processed food rather than growing and buying raw ingredients, an increasing proportion of calories tends to be drawn from sugars added to manufactured food and from relatively cheap oils. Alongside the change in diet, changes in food production and the technology of work and leisure lead to decreases in physical exercise. The consequent epidemic of diet-related non-communicable diseases (obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease) is projected to increase rapidly. For example, in India and China, a shift in diet towards higher fat and lower carbohydrate is resulting in rapid increases in overweight - among all adults in China and mainly among urban residents and high income rural residents in India.”
An interesting fact comes out of some developing nations, however, where countries have taken it upon themselves to promote a healthier way of life, despite the advent of the high living “western” style economy. Again, quoting WHO, “The Republic of Korea is an example of a country that has experienced rapid economic growth and the introduction of Western culture since the 1970s. There were large increases in the consumption of animal food products, and a fall in total cereal intake. Despite this, national efforts to retain elements of the traditional diet - very high in carbohydrates and vegetables - seem to have maintained low fat consumption and a low prevalence of obesity.
“The Republic of Korea has strong mass media campaigns to promote local foods, emphasizing their higher quality and the need to support local farmers. A unique training program is offered by the Rural Development Administration. Since the 1980s, the Rural Living Science Institute has trained thousands of extension workers to provide monthly demonstrations of cooking methods for traditional Korean foods such as rice, kimchi (pickled and fermented Chinese cabbage) and fermented soybean food.”
It’s not too late to look at your diet either! Or put that cigarette out.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I was told many years ago that you shouldn’t let your wife’s family come to stay with you, even just for a few days, as it always ends up for weeks or months. I thought I was lucky because it never happened to me. Relatives might stay one or two nights, but that was it. Recently things have changed a lot now with her brother and her cousin and her mother all staying in the house with us. They all stay in the one room which I think is a bit unhealthy, and they’ve been here for three months and there’s no sign of them leaving. They are quiet and do help around the house and garden, but this wasn’t what I really expected. I asked my wife about it but she just says it’s OK and they’ll be going soon after the brother and cousin have got jobs and mother is just having a holiday. Well I wish I could have three month holidays. What’s the next move, Hillary? Enough’s enough, surely. I have a close family in the UK, but they wouldn’t come and stay forever.
Horace the House Husband
Dear Horace the House Husband,
You are now starting to see a little of what Thai society is all about, my Petal. Family reigns supreme, and it is usual for them all to sleep in the same room. It’s not unhealthy. It is Thai. When you got married, you joined a Thai family, much more than your wife joining your UK family. After all, you married a Thai lady and chose to live in Thailand. You would have to expect that Thai culture will be dominant. You can try voicing your reluctance to have them there, but be prepared for difficulties. This is your wife’s immediate family. You can always try to find them jobs - in a far away city. Lots of luck!
Dear Hillary,
I’m a bit new to Thailand, so I’m probably not the first to ask this, but why do Thai women sit sideways on motorcycles? When did it start? Have they always done this? You would never see anything like this in England, so it really blows me away every time.
Sideways Sam
Dear Sideways Sam,
You seem to have your eyes open here, but you must have had them closed in the UK. Go to any horsey event and you will see the women riding side-saddle. Even the Queen of England rides side-saddle for the trooping of the colour. However, getting back to your question regarding riding side-saddle here, it is for the sake of decency, young man. How can a woman in a long skirt, or even more in a short skirt, look polite and decorous with the hem hitched up above the hips, and legs hanging down each side of motorcycle (or horse or elephant)? Thai women have had wrap skirts for years and rode buffaloes side-saddle, long before the motorcycle arrived in the villages.
Would you prefer it if we gazetted laws like those in Connecticut, with Section 14-289c saying, “Any person who rides sidesaddle on a motorcycle and any operator of a motorcycle who permits such riding or who carries a passenger on any motorcycle not designed for passengers shall have committed an infraction.” It could be worse, in Montana’s State laws, “No passenger shall be carried in a position that will interfere with the operation of the motorcycle or quadricycle or the view of the operator.” And again, “No person operating a motorcycle or quadricycle shall carry any packages, bundles, or articles which would interfere with the operation of said vehicle in a safe and prudent manner.” Those two laws would bring the local motorcycle community to a grinding halt. No small child in front of the rider, and a side-saddle passenger or two on behind and no shopping bags hanging from the rear vision mirrors. The streets would be empty, Petal!

Dear Hillary,
I wanted a haircut so I went to my usual barbers the other day, to find it was closed. This was something new to me, so I drove around to see the next one, and it was closed as well. Asking around with my friends, I was told that all barbers close on Wensdays (sic) and it was a Wensday (sic) that I was looking at. Can you tell me why they all want to shut on that day. I had to spend the rest of the afternoon in the pub instead. Is it a goverment (sic) rule or what? Just sign me
Hairy Harry.
Dear Hairy Harry,
Aren’t you lucky, it was just the Bar-ber that was closed, and not the Bar-beer! Your friends were correct, the barbers close on Wednesday (write out the correct spelling 100 times, Petal). It is not a government (write this one out 100 times as well) rule, but comes from the fact that we consider it to be bad luck to cut your hair on a Wednesday, so the clever barbers may as well close, rather than spread the bad luck. It is something like the old religious edict of “no meat on Fridays” overseas, which gave the butchers a holiday as well.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Buying a second-hand digital

I was asked the other day about the traps or pitfalls in buying a second-hand digital SLR camera, and when I thought about it for a while, it is not quite the same as buying a second-hand film camera.
The word to remember is ‘technology’. Just as a five year old computer is close to becoming suitable for oyster farming, because of all the advances in technology, you have the same situation with digital cameras. With film, it was basically the same technology for 30 years, but with digital technology, it’s a little different! This moves so fast that your new camera is obsolete by the time you have walked out of the shop! This also means that second-hand digitals do not hold their value, so barter hard!
With the internet, it is easy to research your second-hand camera, so do that before going further. If it was highly rated (then) it will still be a good performer, but here are some pointers.
Just about all SLR’s these days have creative control over aperture and shutter speed, so in my book, the manual control over both these variables is totally necessary. Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority do make life easier at times, but you do need a fully metered manual mode as well. Take a “high key” photo for example. Unless you can over-ride the magic electronic eye, you will not get a high key shot, because you have to flood the film with light to get that ‘blown out’ result.
Likewise, to get dark and moody images, you have to again over-ride so that you are relatively underexposing the shot. Auto anything, or shutter or aperture priority will not do this for you. This is the creative control that you must make sure is in the model you are looking at.
That creative control also allows you to shoot against the light, and balance your flash power against the ambient light to produce some wonderful images again. If you don’t get it right first time, you can go back and try again, till you know exactly what you have to do. Digital gives you ‘instant’ results.
So what should you look for when evaluating a second hand camera? Like any second hand equipment, be that cars or cameras, you want to find ones that have not been abused in their lifetime. And with cameras the big problems are being dropped or getting wet. I generally recommend that you look at the swivels where the neck strap attaches to the camera body. If these are well worn, then this is a camera that has done more than its fair share of capturing images. It has been used in its life, not carefully left in a camera bag, waiting for you to come along and give it a good home.
I recommend that you open all battery compartments and look for corrosion in there. The fumes from degenerating batteries can render any camera an invalid, especially the sensitive electronic circuit boards.
A general look at the camera body will show if there are any knocks or flattened areas to indicate that it has been dropped on to something solid, like the floor. Whilst it may be fine, I would not buy a camera that has been dropped. It is too much of a risk.
Only after all the physical inspections should you consider looking at the functioning of the camera. Try the individual shutter speeds, and you will hear the differences in the sounds as the speed increases. Any ‘catching’ and this is not the camera for you.
You should also look through the lens while altering the aperture and you should see the opening close off as you go from fully open to almost fully closed. And look for ‘snail trails’, the sign of fungus growing on the lenses, which can be difficult to eradicate.
If the camera is still looking hopeful, now is the time to try the various functions. Being digital you can instantly see if they are working. If any function is doubtful, walk away from the deal.
Finally stick with name brands - and lots of luck!

Money Matters:  Graham Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.

Portfolio Construction - Part 1

There are still a lot of seemingly respected intelligent commentators out there who think that the US and global economies are in strong shape, that corporate balance sheets are healthy and that share prices are attractive. Readers of this column will know that we believe that there is plenty of evidence to the contrary and that these commentators are simply refusing to contemplate the reality of the situation. Over the coming weeks we’ll try to look at a number of these issues and to explain, in each case, our view of the best investment strategy for those impending events that in turn could, should and undoubtedly will occur.
Let’s start with the fallacy that even if growth in the US slows or a full blown recession occurs, then the global economy will tick along fine because Asia (and, according to some viewpoints, Europe also) are able to ‘take up the slack’.
Morgan Stanley’s Stephen Roach seems to us to be an oasis of reason within an organisation whose house view, while still more realistic than many on Wall Street, is still too aligned to the idea of promoting the upside of long only retail equity funds to the public at large. He is very cynical of any good news stories out there, specifically the one of the moment, that being the Asian de-coupling story - i.e. that US slowdown will be mitigated by strong Asian growth.
Convictions among Panglossian commentators are suddenly deep that both China and India will stay the course of hyper-growth. To us this seems at least part inspired by the need for it to do so for there to be a happy ending. Admittedly, so far, no downshift has materialized. The 10.7% increase in Chinese GDP in 2006 was the fastest since 1995, when the size of the economy was less than one-third what it is today and Chinese industrial output growth has re-accelerated to an 18.5% y-o-y pace over the January-February period - up from the sub-15% comparison in the final period of 2006 and only a shade slower than the 19.5% gains recorded last June.
While India’s industrial production growth is certainly not as brisk as China’s, the 10% y-o-y comparison in early 2007 remains well above the 7.25% pace that was evident in late 2005 and early 2006. Needless to say, if China and India stay their present course, the global economy would barely skip a beat in the face of a US slowdown. Collectively, China and India account for about 21% of world GDP, as measured by the IMF’s purchasing power parity framework - essentially equal to the 20% share the statisticians assign to the United States. Add in the recent acceleration in the Japanese economy - a 5.5% annualized increase in the final quarter of CY2006 for an economy that accounts for another 6% of PPP-based world GDP - and there is good reason to believe that the impact of America’s downshift could well be neutralized by the ongoing vigour of the Asian growth machine. The Asian offset, in conjunction with a modest cyclical uplift in a long sluggish European economy, is the essence of the case for global de-coupling - a world economy that has finally weaned itself from the great American growth engine. A key presumption of that conclusion is that Asia can stay its present course.
Like us, Roach has two problems with this:
1) Strong growth rates for a prolonged period in both countries means that both China and India are now having to rein in their growth to avoid fuelling systemic inflation - internal pressures have already built up within Asia’s fastest-growing economies that could be sowing the seeds for slower growth ahead.
2) China in particular is still dependant on the continued well-being of the US consumer for its growth.
In other words, don’t count on Asia’s growth machine to fill the void as the US economy slows. Policy makers in China and India are shifting toward restraint (thereby tilting growth outlook in the region’s fastest-growing economies to the downside). In particular, both the Chinese and Indian economies are now displaying worrisome signs of overheating. In China, the symptoms have manifested themselves in the form of imbalances in the mix of the real economy, widening disparities in the income distribution, and a large and growing current-account surplus - to say nothing of the negative externalities of environmental degradation and excess resource consumption.
In India, the overheating has surfaced in the form of a cyclical resurgence of inflation, with the CPI running at a 6.8% y-o-y rate in early 2007 - a sharp acceleration from the 3.8% pace of 2002-05. In both cases it would appear that the authorities are already in the process of shifting their policy arsenals toward meaningful restraint.
In China, the direction comes from the top in the form of growing concerns expressed by Premier Wen Jiabao about a Chinese economy that he has explicitly characterized as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable”. Since that speech there has been monetary tightening and the securities industry regulators have issued new rules that prevent companies from purchasing equities with proceeds from share sales. China should be taken seriously in its attempt to regain control over its rapidly growing economy in an effort to shift the focus from the quantity to the quality of growth. This is good news for China but could be disappointing for the decoupling camp that expects rapid Chinese economic growth to remain resistant to any downside pressures. India is similarly positioned. The Reserve Bank of India does not take overheating and cyclical inflationary pressures lightly. Indian authorities are fixated on a mounting cyclical inflation problem and appear more than willing to take a haircut on economic growth to achieve such an objective.
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 Graham Macdonald on [email protected]

Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

I was surprised to learn (via a UNESCO report) that Thailand produces around 194 feature films a year placing it sixth in the world behind India (839), China and Hong Kong (469), The Philippines (456), the USA (385) and Japan (238). But if one examines the figures more closely it shows that Thailand ranks even higher given that its population is around 60 million. The same roughly as the U.K. which makes some 78 features a year.
Compare the populations and movie production and take just two examples. India has over a billion people and the USA around 300 million. In other words, the US has five times the population with just twice the movie output. Only the Philippines with under 100 million people comes out higher, making it the world’s largest movie producer per capita, ahead of Thailand. Another surprise to me at least was the figure of 85 films made in Burma, against a population of some 42 million.
Asia produces 67 percent of the world’s movies but as we know North America still dominates and most Thais I know will head for a Yankee blockbuster with the production values that come from a hundred million dollar budgets rather than an indigenous product.
Sometimes they will be lucky, although the seemingly endless spate of sequels, in fact sequels of sequels, has yielded some real turkeys this season. Worst of the bunch has been the utterly vacuous Oceans 13, the most self –referring, self-reverential, narcissistic piece of nonsense in many a year. What is so appalling is that it comes from an occasionally talented director, Steven Soderbergh and his regular co-producer and star George Clooney, who preens his way through the movie with unabashed contempt for the audience. My advice is to head for the DVD shop and take out their previous movie The Good German rather than their current offering which is an execrable con movie in both senses.
Last week I gave some examples from a competition offering collective nouns for various ‘dodgy’ professions. Here are three final examples, the first for lawyers. How about a wallet, a connivance, a loophole, an extortion or a quibble? And as for those who are even greedier for our money, bankers, how about an overcharge, a grasping, a leech, an inflexibility or a skulduggery? And finally the actors, they were rounded up as a foppery, a flounce, a swagger, a darling, a prompt and my favourite a vanity. Truly apt since it is both a criticism and yet an essential part of the make up of any actor.
By the time you read this Tony Blair will no longer be Prime Minister of the U.K. but whilst there is great speculation as to what he will do after ten years in that post there is no indication that he will bid for a British football team.
He looks likely to go out from the longest farewell since that of Fred Astaire in a blaze of glory if the EU treaty (formerly a Constitution) is finally signed by all 27 members. He has maintained that he will protect Britain’s interests but that of course is never enough for the anti Europeans or Euro sceptics who are still banging on about a referendum, which hopefully they will never get, since any vote will be based on prejudices and half-baked notions rather than the content of the actual Treaty.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Ploy: Thai Drama – Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang. Last chance! I urge you to see this fine example of Thai filmmaking. It is slow going, but be patient and you will be rewarded with some excellent performances: one of them the wife by Lalita Panyopas, a well-known actress in Thailand for her roles in soap operas and films. The husband is first-time actor Pornwut Sarasin, a vice president for the distributor of Coca-Cola in Thailand, with a solid performance.
Giving a unique and marvelously natural performance as the “almost-19” girl Ploy, is newcomer, Apinya Sakulcharoensuk, actually 16 years old at the time of shooting.
Don’t miss Ploy. Thai cinema doesn’t offer something this good very often.
Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer: US Sci-Fi/Fantasy – Based on the Marvel comic – and it’s great if you’re a comic book fan. Please note that during the ending credits there is a scene showing that the Silver Surfer has most definitely survived his battle with Galactus, ready for a sequel.
I’m glad he survived, because he’s a terrific character and he looks great in that silver skin outfit. That image, by the way, is an amazing creation, melding a real live person, the very talented Doug Jones, prosthetics, and CG enhancements. It took Jones 2 1/2 hours to get into costume and makeup every day. A Silver Surfer movie all by himself is now in the works.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: US Action/Fantasy – A sprawling mess of spectacle and imaginative fun. Depp is a pirate treasure all by himself; line of the week: “I think we’ve all arrived at a very special place, spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically.” After the ending credits, there’s a short scene ten years later showing the 9-year-old son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. What fantastic adventures await him, Young Will Turner, will probably be told in Pirates 4. I can hardly wait!
Rakna 24 Hours: Thai Romance/Comedy – With Thai singer Rattapoom “Film” Tokongsub. An interesting premise: our hero had a twin in the womb (which we see); one of them during birth gets tangled up in the cord, as the other one watches him die. Then the mother, sicko that she is, raises the one surviving baby as twins. It’s enough to seriously screw up a guy’s outlook on life! The child is called A one day, and his twin B the next, all up to the present day when he is 22 and working at a 7/11. When one of them falls in love, problems ensue. Mildly amusing.
Teng Nong Khon Ma Ha Hear: Thai Comedy – Starring two very popular Thai comedians doing essentially TV comedy routines. Of little interest to farangs, but it was the top movie in Thailand during the first half of June.
Sick Nurses (Suay Laak Sai): Thai Horror – Sick and sickening. How did this film ever get released? It’s enough to make you believe in film censorship. Oh, wait, we do have censorship! What happened?
Transformers: US Action/Sci-Fi – This week’s episode of earth in danger, via Marvel Comics. When will it ever end? By all reports, a gigantic, spectacular, and funny summer blockbuster movie with exceptional visual effects. Frenetic combat scenes, big loud explosions.
My Wife is a Gangster 3: Korea Action/Comedy – A female crime boss flees into hiding in Korea to escape from triad bosses out for her hide. An amiable, wacky comedy for Korean film fans, third in a series.
Scheduled for Thursday, July 5
Die Hard 4: US Action/Thriller – An attack on the entire computer and technological infrastructure that supports the US economy begins to shut down the nation, amid many explosions and car wrecks. But it’s up to a decidedly un-technological hero, police detective Bruce Willis, to take down the conspiracy.
The first three “Die Hards” were rated R for intense violence and about 200 F-words per film. The studio has opted for a PG-13 here to attract more customers. Fans of the original movies think this is sacrilege and are outraged at having their violence and bad language taken away from them.
Highway Star: South Korea Comedy – 114 mins – A simple Korean comedy, centered around the Korean musical style known as Trot music, a disparaged musical form that an aspiring rocker is forced to sing.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Bubba, Yoga and Toga

Walking into the American Legion baseball game, I knew I was in the Sun Belt, the Bible Belt and the Gun Belt, surrounded by Bubbas, Billy Bobs and Bush Bigots. I attend one baseball game a year, like clockwork, while visiting relatives. It’s great to be a fan of their star son Jay, but wearing ten silver bracelets, bright blue glasses and a multi-colored Thailand shirt, I annually ruin my cousin’s reputation: I’m obviously gay or he’s gay or probably both.

Hey, y’all! Let’s eat, drink ‘n’ kill stuff!
North Carolina has a bevy of big baseball fans—very, very big—200 kilograms plus. It was hard to tell the gender of some folks, like in Thailand, but unlike Thailand where you wonder if the stunning, shapely woman is really a stunning, shapely former man, you just wonder which sex the blobs might be. The tell-tale chest area looks like two saddlebags hanging off an elephant. It takes serious determination to become the shape of a baseball, the size of a Volkswagen—maybe they get paid somewhere just to eat, perhaps as a Tatter Tots Taster, or the one who eats all the holes out of the donuts. Ask a katoey in Thailand if they’re male or female, they may be flattered and flirtatious. Ask a blob in America which they are and you may be dead.
Even though I was born in the US of A, I feel like the quintessential stranger in a strange land when I return. Two years ago in a small speck of a town, I left a ballgame because of a bad headache that I knew I could cure by doing yoga. I found a park-like, grassy area and started into my routine: rolling the head, bouncing it side to side, shoulders up and down, hanging forward and reaching up to the sky as high as possible. After about 20 minutes, as I was leaning to one side, hand down by my ankle with my eyes closed, I felt a presence. I opened my eyes to see two policemen standing very alertly, hands on their holsters, about a meter in front of me. “What y’all doin’ here, boy?” Blithering out of my serene daze, I babbled about headaches and doing yoga, which they heard as “yogurt.” Once I opened my mouth, they’all knew I’all weren’t from ‘round these parts. “Where y’all from?” Luckily it was a uniformed woman and black man instead of two skinhead patrolmen from the Aryan Nation, and they vaguely accepted that I wasn’t a lunatic at large, though I’m sure that’s how I was described in the three complaints they’d received from the neighborhood. “Y’all come quick. We’all gots an escaped retard on our lawn.” They led me to my car as I religiously vowed to drive straight to Thailand.
In between the strikes, outs, RBIs, FBIs, MVPs, MP3s and lots of other things I didn’t understand, my mind wandered back to my performing days when I had done a show in this city of Salisbury at this same college of Catawba, when I broke one of my performing rules: do not play on New Year’s Eve, Halloween or at toga parties—grim nights when the audience is the show. They don’t care what’s on stage and their main priority in life is to get terminally hammered. (I actually witnessed an inebriated frat boy dressed in a white KKK sheet with two slits for eyes and a big hole for his mouth, who held a supply of mashed potatoes in his mouth, and when asked what he was, spewed the potatoes onto the innocent victim and yelled, “I’m a whitehead!”) The Catawba toga party was in full-boisterous-swing when they spun the wheel to determine the price of a draft beer. It landed on five cents. The entire audience staggered to the bar, eventually returning to their tables with twenty beers for a dollar. I became invisible…or triple. “Hey, y’all. There’all was only one guy on stage, but now there’alls three of ‘em.” As the saying goes in the entertainment biz, “I killed ‘em.” (The entire audience died of alcohol poisoning.) The activities director was so embarrassed he gave me an extra $100 not to tell anyone about it.
After the game, Bubbha and the Blobs waited patiently while the masses lumbered to their pick-up trucks. I thought they may be comforted by the teachings of Buddha: “Don’t just do something, sit there!”