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

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

One of the major breakthroughs in immunology occurred recently, following two decades of work by Professor Ian Frazer, director of the Center for Immunology and Cancer Research of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. This was the development of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
For many people, HPV was previously thought of as a ‘minor’ virus, which seemed to be endemic, in that everybody had it at one time or another, but the effects on human health were thought to be mild, if anything at all. This was not correct. HPV was found to the major underlying cause of female cervical cancer and genital warts which can affect either sex. And untreated cervical cancer is one of the major killers of women.
The importance of this viral cause was not lost on the world’s medical research community, who argued that if the cause was viral, it might be possible to develop a vaccine against it. That was Professor Ian Frazer’s stance, and life-long work, to produce such a vaccine.
That vaccine has been heralded as a huge step forward for young women, and vaccination programs have commenced all over the world, including Thailand.
There are four major types of HPV that we know cause 70 percent of the cervical cancers, and the new vaccine is 100 percent effective against infection with them, resulting in a 90 percent drop in the incidence of cervical cancer. This has the potential to save millions of lives through the decrease in cervical cancer in women.
It was also found that the vaccine protects completely against those strains of HPV that produce genital (and anal) warts.
The vaccine is being recommended for females between the age of 9 and 26, and it is expected that a large percentage of this group will not have been sexually active, and therefore not exposed to the various HPV strains. For them, the vaccine offers 100 percent protection against the main four HPV types.
For women who are sexually active, and may have been exposed to some strains of the HPV, the vaccine still offers immunity against the types of HPV not yet experienced, and will still be worthwhile for them.
The reason that the vaccine is made available to women up to 26 is merely that this was the maximum age up to which the vaccine was tested, and to get FDA approval for older women will require further testing on another age group.
HPV vaccine is given as a series of three injections into upper arm muscle. It should be given within a six month period - for example:
first dose - chosen date;
second dose - 1 to 2 months after the first dose; and
third dose - 4 to 6 months after the first dose.
The vaccine is most effective when all three doses have been given. Missed doses should be given as soon as possible.
The vaccine provides protection for more than 90 percent of uninfected women who are vaccinated. The vaccine protects against the types of HPV which cause more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. This means that the vaccine will not prevent all types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
Many women ask, will Pap smears still be necessary after vaccination? The answer is Yes. Regular Pap smears are important as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV. All females whether vaccinated against HPV or not will need to have regular Pap smears from the age of 18 or within two years of first having sex, whichever is later. Regular Pap smears are still essential because the HPV vaccine does not prevent all cervical cancers. Pap smears detect abnormal changes to cells in the cervix so treatment can start before cancer develops.
However, despite some limitations, this vaccine will change the world profile on cervical cancer, and is a huge step forward in preventive health.
Some states in the USA are legislating mandatory immunization, and in the UK it is also licensed for boys between 9 and 15 years.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I’m another of those stupid farangs. There was one girl that I was a regular with in one of the bars in Nana Plaza. I liked her a lot and I thought she liked me too, but I didn’t want her to stay with me. Overnight was fine and I thought we had built up a good relationship. She knew what I wanted, so it went on for a few months. Then about a year ago she asked me for some money as she had some problems with her grandmother, so I gave her 40,000 baht. She promised to repay me within six months. Well it’s now a year and she certainly hasn’t repaid anything, she’s shifted to another bar somewhere and in Bangkok I could spend the next year going from one to another and still not cover them all. I realize that I’ve been stupid, but I just wanted to let everyone else know to not be stupid either. Please do not use my real name, as I am happily married.
Dear Stupid,
I have just called you what you called yourself, so forgive me if it looks insulting. However, you have got yourself into this pickle by being very selfish, Petal. You happily admit “she knew what I wanted”, but you did not find out what she might have wanted, did you? You were happy enough to carry on with a relationship that could have no future, as you are already “happily married”, so what did you expect was going to happen? You wanted casual sex, and you got it. What you did not ascertain was that she wanted money - and she got it! Kiss the 40,000 baht goodbye and be thankful you didn’t have to kiss your marriage goodbye as well.
Dear Hillary,
I know you tell everyone to be wary of the girls from the bars, but they’re not all gold diggers you know. I know quite a few of bar girls who have made excellent wife and mother. So you can’t say they are all bad, or all only want to rip us off. Correct?
George from Manchester
Dear Mancunian George,
Of course you are correct, my Petal. I have never said they “are all bad” as you are inferring. They are girls with all the capacity for love and motherhood that all women have. However, having chosen a ‘profession’ that is not known for attracting those on the lookout for the money of her dreams, rather than the man of her dreams, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). I’ve said it before, and I say it again, you don’t go the hardware shop to buy cheese. Even in Manchester.
Dear Hellary (sic),
I have a new maid from up-country working in my house. She is 15 and quite cute and knows nothing about life in the big city, i.e. unspoiled by the night time scene. Her family are relatively poor. If I wish to ‘adopt’ her, what should I pay her family? Is this legal? A box of chocolates for your answers.
Dear Larry,
If you are going to write to me, wanting my inestimable advice, at least get my name correct, Leery! It’s Hillary, not Hellary. Now, about your ‘adoption’ query - why is it I do not think that your motives are all above board? Why does this “cute” 15 year old girl need adoption? She has parents, she has a home, she has a background she knows of. I think you are looking to score off this young and inexperienced girl. As far as any of your plans might go - they are not legal, nor is she, and most certainly neither are you. Forget the box of chocolates. Send her back to her parents, or pass on to some employer with more morals than you have.
Dear Hillary,
I am an American who was over your way in December last year and had a great time. I went out with a girl from one of your bars. She really seemed to like me and I took her to Samui and everywhere around Thailand for the month I was on holiday. I helped her out with some money to get some surgery done before I come back this year (she wanted to have her nose done, which is a shame because I thought her button nose pretty cute). Since then I have been writing to her care of the bar, but she has never replied. Do you think she has got my letters, or what? Could you see if she did? Her name is Pim.
Dear Shayne,
Sorry, my Petal, but I am afraid you have a problem here. Kinda like you’ve been leading yourself up the garden path by the carrot. I think your Pim will have moved on by now. Sorry, but there’s a lot of Pims out there. Hillary gives advice to the love-lorn, she is not a Missing Persons Bureau or the Chiang Mai branch of the Pinkerton’s. However, you could try putting some money in the letter. You’re bound to get a reply from somebody! Or just send it to me, I will try for at least a couple of hours before it goes into the champers and chocs fund.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Videography - a ‘moving’ experience

I do not claim to be an expert in shooting video, but there are certain aspects that are true for all types of photography. However, I have written and directed a few TV commercials, so I do have some experience of the genre.
The main difference lies in that still photography freezes a moment in time, while video photography tells a moving picture story. Try not to shoot ‘stills’ with a video camera and your videos will start to look professional immediately.
Like all aspects of good camera-work, you have to think about the end product before you begin to shoot. For the still photographer it is a case of looking at the background and then working out the best combination of shutter speed and aperture. For the video photographer it is a case of working out the story line and then how to shoot the various elements in the story.
One of the ways you can pick the first time video user is the fact that the camera operator spends much time taking shots of still subjects. Having not made the mental adjustment from still photography, many minutes are taken up with a video of his wife standing by the front door of the hotel. That, Mr. cameraman, was a ‘still’ shot. With video, you film your wife checking out at the cashier’s desk, picking up her bags and walking towards the exit. Then you rush outside and the next footage is her coming out of the hotel and hailing a taxi. You have just shot a living ‘story’.
So where can you go to ‘learn’ this new art? Just as still photographers have photographs in books and magazines to study, the video photographer has a very ready source of informative examples to scrutinize. This is called TV! Sit down in front of the goggle box and see how the pros do it. Even the dreadful Thai soap operas have good cinematic technique, despite the glaringly obvious story line! So start to look critically at technique. Where was the camera, relative to the subject? Did they “zoom” in or was it one far shot and another close up to follow? How many times did the cameraman actually use the inbuilt zoom? You may be amazed to see how seldom!
Here are a few more “rules” which can help you produce better video. Firstly, no rule is absolute, but you should have a good reason to break it. Having said that, let’s look at a few basics.
You should also shoot people in full or three-quarter profile to let the viewers see both eyes. The one eyed effect does not look good. Again, look at TV. When two people are talking, the camera shoots over the shoulder of person one to shoot the second person face-on to the camera. When the first person replies, the shot is taken the other way, over the shoulder of the second person. You can also take shots of the person who is listening to the other speak. These are called ‘noddies’, because the person will be nodding while listening to the other speaker.
When shooting people, place the subject’s eyes one-third down from the top of the frame no matter the type of shot. It is that old rule of thirds again. Dead central is boring!
Another shot to avoid is one with large distances between people. Again, look at the soaps on TV. The people are really standing much closer than they would in real life (in each other’s personal space in fact), but if you have them a meter or so apart, you lose ‘contact’ in the video.
Focusing. This is a common problem with still cameras with Auto-Focus (AF), and 99 percent of video cameras are AF too. The magic eye in the camera focuses on a spot in the middle of the screen. When you are filming a couple, if the magic dot is not on one of the people, they will end up out of focus and the background perfectly sharp.
Application of these simple aspects of video photography will give you (and those who watch your videos) a much better end product, and a much more satisfying one for yourself to produce.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Portfolio Construction - Part 6

We’ve been generally scathing about Wall Street’s ability to open its eyes and view what Basil Fawlty would have called “the bleedin’ obvious”. We’ve tended to excuse Morgan Stanley from our most trenchant criticisms. They seem to be more aware than most on the street that the equation isn’t as simple as weaker growth = interest rate cuts = economic stimulus = higher growth + lower inflation = smiles, bonuses, new Ferrari (Porsche are so passe) and champagne all round.
The company has recently expressed concern that markets seem to be relying on the Fed to cut rates, but that the markets may be getting ahead of themselves, especially with inflation appearing to be on the high side. The Fed has, for the most part, recently left interest rates unchanged, but made some significant changes to the tone of the accompanying statement explaining why they have acted in such a way. Specifically, the FOMC seem to be taking a more negative view of current economic conditions, changing language from “firmer economic growth” to indicators being “mixed”.
The change that the market is focused on and reacting to is the replacement of the phrase “additional firming” with the new phrase “future policy adjustments”. This is being interpreted as being a more neutral stance, the altered linguistic nuance being taken as a major “come on” by markets. Markets are now asking whether the Fed has issued a Bernanke “put”. This is the notion that the Fed will act to bail investors out by cutting interest rates when there is market turbulence and worries about the financial system. Precedent shows that the average time between any change in bias to the first easing has ranged between two and six weeks, but there are several reasons why a Bernanke “put” has probably not been issued:
* First, the Fed has almost always eased only when it is confident that inflationary pressures have diminished in the economy. Typically for this to occur there has to be softer growth and consequent weakness in the labour market. This has yet to occur in earnest.
* Second, the change in language probably is designed to give the Fed additional room for manoeuvre going forward, rather than being an intention to cut rates per se.
Markets are now caught between a rock and a hard place - whilst there are fears of slowing growth in the US, there have been various disappointing inflation releases from around the world:
* Headline inflation in both Canada and the UK was higher than expected during February. China’s annual inflation ticked up from 2.2% to 2.7% in February and there were upside surprises in the Euro zone and the US, but markets seem to be paying little attention to these moves up in prices. Having hit 4.90% in January, yields on US 10 year Treasury bonds have since retraced close to 4.60%.
* The implied inflation rate has remained remarkably contained whilst real yields have dropped on growth fears. But, given the run of higher than expected inflation numbers are markets missing the point by focusing solely on a growth slowdown? Worst of all, could we be entering a period of both weaker growth and rising inflation: a possible period of mild stagflation?
Anecdotal evidence tends to lead the official data and is now pointing to emerging inflation concerns especially in developing economies and in terms of upside risk to commodity prices. If that were the case, markets (both equities and bonds) could move from only being concerned about growth to also worrying about inflation. This would take away the ability to cut rates and leave the Fed (and other central banks) in a very tight bind.
We echo these concerns and also we would make the point that we’re not sure how effective the rate cuts would immediately be - there tends to be a lead time of around 18 months before monetary policy really bites - but the market wants it both ways; on the way up the economy could shrug of the rate hikes but on the way back as soon as cuts are made they will have an immediate stimulus effect. We’re not so sure about this. Even the eminence grise of the bond markets, Bill Gross of Pimco seems to think that an aggressive series of rate cuts could salvage the US property market. We are very unconvinced about this. Again, five asset classes, adaptive allocation, an open mind and an intelligent sensitivity to the lessons of economic history are the key factors in portfolio management right now. At times like this, thank your lucky stars for MitonOptimal!
Now we will try to focus on the liquidity issue and specifically, the liquidity surfeit that all markets have enjoyed over the last few years, why that will change and what the consequences of that are likely to be.
Let’s look at UK property which has been rampant during the easy monetary conditions - for the past five years interest rates have been exceptionally low and lending extremely easy to arrange. Individual buyers have been easily able to change properties, acquire investment properties and in some cases even acquire second/holiday homes. Developers have found it easy to launch new projects, virtually willy-nilly. Money supply (M4) has seen a consequential rapid growth to reach a 12-year high. It is likely, of course, that increases in the quantity of money are also likely to be contributing to asset price growth. As Milan Khatri, the chief economist at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said last year: “Low interest rates have been the primary fuel for a surge in property demand, though by the end of 2006 these will rise.”
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 Paul Gambles on [email protected]

Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

Don’t you just love them? Long haul flights, I mean. And all that surrounds them. The grim airports, with endless ‘improvements’ that are gloss and no substance. The surly security, the delays compounded by obsequious announcements, the hordes of family members to see off just one passenger, the lounges with selfish people occupying more seats than they need, the plastic cutlery to go with the plastic food, the grand retail outlets (that’s overpriced shops to you and me) lying about discounts and tax ‘reductions’, those irritating HSBC adverts’ and finally the queues at immigration (100 minutes at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi, with several reception desks closed when my flight arrived, par for the course I think). Of course no one expects glamour when flying anymore, sheer volume has put alongside notions of comfort or courtesy but one can understand (if not condone) the super rich or pampered stars taking advantage of having private jets available.
Does the following make sense? Checking in later for a flight to Chiang Mai from Don Muang or Meung, I was told politely by the guy at the desk that my case was three kilos over the prescribed 20. Would I mind taking something out of it? And do what, I wondered? Squeeze items into my regulations sized hand baggage, wear two layers of clothing or carry prohibited items on board and have the large aerosols and so on confiscated? I offered no suggestions except to pay an excess charge, which was a modest 180 baht. Either way I was ‘overweight’.
I look forward to the day (and I believe it will come) when luggage and customers are weighed together and charged accordingly. Put your spare cash into I Speak Your Weight machines.
And so back to Chiang Mai and not much has changed while I was away.
No doubt the zoo is still as unspeakable as ever. The town seems as noisy, dirty and vibrant as usual and there seems to be some good news about work on the Super Highway. The Flora and Fauna are once more on show, but minus enough funding and staff to function properly, so definitely no real changes in a quiet season.
Not just in Chiang Mai. Three days in Pattaya visiting friends had been almost pleasant, thanks to a lack of visitors from Russia and elsewhere. Baht bus drivers were actually glad to see you and the noise level was below danger level.
People blame the high baht for low tourism but it is obviously more complicated than that.
Certainly a contributory fact is a false perception given by the newspapers who quote wrong currency exchange rates and the greed of the banks- certainly in Britain. The day before I left I enquired what the baht rate was against the pound and was quoted 58.50. On the wall was the rate which they would buy back the baht at 73 to the pound, a difference of 14.50 baht. An obscene profit for the traders! No wonder as only last week of one of these City (London) slickers had taken a few cronies to a nightclub and during an evening racked up a bill of around 110,000 pounds or about 4.5 million baht. This included magnums of Champagne and two jeroboams of the same drink at 7,000 pounds each.
I was reminded of this whilst drinking a modestly priced Singh beer at the Amari Hotel on August 4th where we were gathered to help choose the charity (out of six good causes) which will benefit from the Hillside 4 Rooftop Charity Party next January. At the event it was decided that a group who help severely disabled people around Chiang Mai would be the lucky ones. The target is a million baht and it will provide a desperately needed vehicle to reach and transport handicapped people and to give them wheel chairs and other amenities.
But it occurred to me that if that gang of drinkers had packed in a couple of hours later and foregone a few bottles of Champagne they could have sent a check for a million baht and not even noticed it, even though it would transform the lives of amputees, crippled children and the like. Still, where’s the fun in that?
No bread, Marie Antoinette, was alleged to have said. Let them eat cake!

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Ratatouille: US Animation – A superb movie in every way, warm and funny and irresistible, among the classics of animation. Don’t miss it, unless you absolutely hate animation. (Tip: Check the language – Airport Plaza had planned a Thai-dubbed version.) Reviews: Universal acclaim.
Hairspray: US Musical/Comedy – I thoroughly enjoyed Hairspray – three times now. I think it is simply not to be missed by any farang living near Chiang Mai. Incredible amounts of energy, fun and music that will get your pulse and feet going. Some extraordinary performances, chief among them being the absolutely amazing John Travolta. Plus one of the funniest scripts ever. Starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christopher Walken.
This had a most disappointing showing at the box-office in its first few days. Playing at 36 cinemas in Thailand, it brought in less than $72,000 in total during its critical first four days (Thursday through Sunday), while the despised (by me) In Country & Melody brought in over $255,000 and Kung Foo Tootsie $205,000. I fully expected its run to be terminated after the first week, but luckily it survived. Maybe it’s just catching on.
Unless you hate old-fashioned musicals, or simply hate the human race, you must see this! Reviews: Universal acclaim.
The Bourne Ultimatum: US Action/Mystery/Suspense/Thriller – with Matt Damon and Albert Finney. The culminating film of the trilogy begun five years ago with The Bourne Identity reportedly is a 114-minute chase film, dashing through streets and rooftops of any number of international urban sprawls. Reviews: Universal acclaim, many ecstatic.
The Simpsons Movie: US Animation – Apparently this is a must-see for any fan of The Simpsons, or anyone looking for a good laugh. Has received generally favorable reviews. (Tip: there are additional scenes all through the ending credits.)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: US Adventure/Fantasy – A sleek and exciting movie. Each film in the series seems to get darker – this one begins like a horror movie, and proceeds as a tense and twisty political thriller. I think it’s a movie to savor, for its many fascinating details and outstanding performances, and to study – I still can’t figure out what’s really going on.
The Odd Couple/Koo Rad: Thai Low Comedy – Another cross-dressing comedy, which stars Petchtai Wongkamlao (Mum Jokmok) as a transvestite performer working with a Japanese cop to find a serial killer preying on the transvestite community. Jokmok can actually be a very good actor when he reins things in a bit - Midnight My Love proved that - but with material like this you know he’s going to be full on, over the top, and hyperactive.
In Country & Melody/E Som Som Wang: Disgusting Thai Comedy/Romance. The sickening, tasteless, and disgusting preview was an acute embarrassment in the midst of the glitter of the Bangkok International Film Festival last month, and it was shown at nearly every screening. I am so sickened by the preview, including the floating human excrement in the hot tub sequence, that I cannot bring myself to see this movie. I suggest you don’t see it either. This sort of thing shouldn’t be encouraged. I am dismayed to see that it is the Number One box-office draw in Thailand at the moment, up from 2nd place last week, and miles ahead of Hairspray.
Kung Fu Tootsie/Tud Soo Food: Thai Comedy – Another very low class Thai comedy with many popular Thai television stars. Marketed as a parody of the movie Kung Fu Hustle (2004), it actually has nothing to do with that movie at all. It’s about a triad leader who has his arm cut off, and leadership of the triad passes to his next of kin, who happens to be his long-lost son, who was raised by a troupe of transvestite entertainers. I found it yet another disgusting low comedy film – with plenty of drag queens, cross-dressing, and obnoxious gay slurs.
Scheduled for Thursday, August 16
Rush Hour 3: US Action/Comedy/Crime – Reunites Jackie Chan and his police partner Chris Tucker with the director of Rush Hour 1 and 2 – Brett Ratner – for another episode in this crime fighting series, this time set in Paris. Not quite as much breathtaking action as before, because Jackie is getting on in years.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

One Thai vs. 150 Norwegians: Part two

Last week’s column ended with my Thai mate Joom and I trying to survive my 40th high school reunion in Fargo, North Dakota. My previous classmates are very nice people, but aloof, which stands for “a lot of old farts.” When I walked in the room, my first impression was that my friends had sent their grandparents to take their place. Most folks were larger than their former lives and one couple had to travel separately to the third floor because together they’d have exceeded the load limit of the Radisson’s elevator.
We just didn’t look like anyone other couples. Sun-baked Joom had just come from two-months of hanging with her kids on the beach in Florida and most people probably thought she was married to the only other dark person in the general vicinity, the black manager of the hotel. Elliot Stern comforted us by saying, “Being Jewish, I was the darkest person in the class.” Mixed marriages are hardly possible in conservative, homogenous Fargo, which probably disproves of interracial couples composed of one Norwegian and one Swede.
We got the feeling they just didn’t get out much, since the “Traveling the Furthest to the Reunion Award” went to, someone—and I’m not making this up—from Hawaii, which, to be further away than Thailand, would have to be a province in Australia or the South Pole. Perhaps they assumed we’d come from a store at the mall called “Tieland” where they purchase silk ties decorated with flags, tractors and Donald Duck. We didn’t really care since the prize was a basket bouquet of plastic flowers like you see at a Salvation Army store gathering dust next to the rusting toaster ovens, moldy Donald Duck ties and other items that weren’t snapped up during the last hour of a garage sale when everything is free.
I gave Joom a splendid tour of the countryside around Fargo, which is technically flatter than a linoleum floor, but not quite as scenic. After passing several subdivisions of new homes painted in every shade of color imaginable between taupe and slightly off-taupe, designed in a wild myriad of styles from square to very square, she fell asleep immediately and missed the two curves in the road that offered dramatically different views of the surrounding four fields of taupe wheat, wheat, wheat and wheat.
Honoring Joom’s fervent pleas to be rescued from North Dakota and taken anywhere else, even if it involved jail, extended discussions with door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnesses or one-on-one grammar lessons with President Bush—pleas delivered by shouting to passing motorists, calling random phone numbers on the wall in the women’s toilet or even responding to email spam notifying that she had won the lottery in Nigeria—I duct-taped her to the motorcycle and dragged her 50 miles into neighboring Minnesota, which has several miniature hills, vast forests swarming with mosquitoes, and whose state bird is the loon. And was also the location of my family reunion, attended by twenty members of the aforementioned species.
After talking to three of my cousins’ children with autism and other hereditary mental challenges referred to by odd acronyms, she said, “Now I understand,” unfortunately referring to my psychological eccentricities. We heard a fascinating story of one hyperactive son, once discovered on the kitchen counter hurling flour and sugar into the air, then as his Mom started to clean the mess, yanked all the pots and pans onto the floor, then scampered away from Mom’s screams to pull all the books out of the shelves and was finally cornered on the ceiling in the chandelier. The son was 23, or 2 or 3. I don’t remember which, but it sounded like great fun, and reminded me of tales from my high school reunion: a refrigerator was delivered so we took the massive packing box downtown on the top of Dad’s car, with one student body laying in the box so it wouldn’t blow off the roof, and then took turns walking down Main Street concealed under the box, bumping into walls and generally ruining the reputation of our parents. Luckily after high school I escaped Fargo and had an actual job all over the country where people willingly paid me to be mentally challenged on stage.
Supporting the rumor that there may be something strange in the water, we stopped at an outdoor Craft Fair, more appropriately named a Crap Fair, with booths selling fried mystery meat on a stick, personalized golf teas and household items made from deer antlers guaranteed to kill small children. As we left Reunionville we rode passed three people sitting in chairs on the side of the country road, miles from any town, next to a six-foot, sandwich-board-style sign that said, in huge letters on both sides—and I’m not making this up, either—HONK. I considered turning back, for a photo or to ask the burning question: “Did you take your medicine today?” I decided against it because they were probably either: 1) human-like, Norwegian-eating aliens hatched from slimy pods in a nearby cave; or 2) more of my relatives.