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

Varicose veins? Blame the undershorts!

When you research Evidence Based Medicine as I do (EBM for short, as we medico’s love acronyms), you have to deal with many statistics. Now, statistics is that great pseudo-science where you can “prove” so much by use of applied mathematics. For example, did you know that every child is born within six months of its mother’s birthday? Or even more fantastic, the date of your death will be within six months of your own birthday! That has to be another good reason to stop having birthdays after the age of 50!
Now while that sounds interesting, if you look a little harder you will see that this is just a mathematical ‘truism’ and nothing to do with biology or astrology. If you take any reference birth date, let’s use June 30th for example, then any child born between Jan 1 to June 29 is within six months of its mother’s birthday, as are any children born between July 1 to December 31. In one case it is looking forwards, and in the other it is looking backwards.
If you think that is an abuse of mathematical science, then what about the fact that 99 percent of all people who died traumatic deaths in London last year were all wearing shoes. Does this prove that shoes are the greatest killers of mankind? An absurdity - of course not! Again, this is ‘bending’ the parameters of science. Since about 99 percent of all people in London wear shoes, you can safely predict that 99 percent of those who get skittled on the roads will still be wearing their footwear. (If you wish to statistically look at Bangkok, then substitute flip-flops for shoes.)
Getting closer to home, I read just the other day of a study in Thailand on varicose veins, and how tight underpants were dangerous (as opposed to boxer shorts, I presume) because this study showed that something like 30 percent of varicose vein sufferers were wearing jockey underdaks. What was not stated in the report (in the popular press, so it may have been selectively reported) was the choice of underpants of those who did not have varicose veins, nor what percentage of men wearing jockeys did not get varicose veins. Without these other figures, the rest is hocus-pocus.
Pseudo-science also works the other way too. Classic examples of this are when people will pronounce, with great authority, that cigarette smoking does not bring about your early demise. The ‘proof’ of this is their great uncle Edward who lived to be 112 and smoked two packs of cigarettes every day for 85 years. This great case study of one shows nothing, other than the fact that this shows that great uncle Edward had a wonderful constitution. Nothing else, sorry.
If three of the four people in your office get the flu, this does not mean that 75 percent of the city is in the grip of an epidemic. All that can be assumed is that 75 percent of your office has a problem. Nothing else.
There is a branch of medical science called Epidemiology, which is a study of the incidence of diseases in large populations, and epidemiological research requires the researcher to look at thousands of cases before coming to conclusions. Great uncle Edward alone is not enough. The data we get from thousands upon thousands of cases, looking at smokers and non-smokers, is now enough for us to say, quite categorically, that smoking does put you at a very much greater risk of dying from cancer - that is ALL cancers, by the way, not just lung cancer. And you can add heart disease to that as well.
Forget the great uncle, give up now, before you too are a statistic. And I am sorry, I don’t accept the “it’s my choice” theory. If you saw someone choosing to run under a train, you would try and stop them too. That’s like me with cigarette smokers, sorry.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Do I have a girlfriend or just a great friend? I have been coming to Thailand a month at a time up to three times a year since 1998. I met her seven years ago when she was a tour guide and she asked if she could email me to practice her English. She is now quite proficient and speaks a bit of two other languages. There has been no physical contact beyond a brief hug and that was this year. It took two years to get a handshake as she had taken a vow not to touch any man in honor of her recently deceased mother.
She is a university grad, worked for a year in England where my youngest daughter and I visited her, and she is now a manager at a 4-star resort in the south of Thailand. She is religious and stays at temple for a week or more when she can. We always go to the orphanage to visit the children and make a donation. She takes time off work to see me (I reimburse her travel costs), has introduced me to her family and friends, and acts as my guide and interpreter (no charge). I have brought friends, male and female, and my three other grown children to Thailand and they all like her very much as she has a wonderful sense of humor. She has only asked for money once, a small amount when she was refinancing her home five years ago. She knows I am not rich. I tried to get her a visa to visit the U.S. but it was not even considered by the embassy.
She often stays in my hotel room and elects to sleep in my bed, but neither of us crosses that invisible line between us. We both like massage and go regularly. Three years ago she said we should get married. I told her that she was too young (28 at the time) or I was too old (62 at the time). (That comment popped out because I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say.) She never mentioned it again.
She has since introduced me to other women that I might find a mate. They are never nearly as beautiful as she is. We email every week and I tell her about my girlfriends at home in America or in Thailand. She informs me of each man she meets who she hopes will be “the right one”. They never are and usually complain that she is too conservative. She always asks me for advice about men and advancing her career. She rents out her home here but says I can have it rent free if I relocate there. She says she hopes to someday buy me an ocean-view condo for my retirement as “I will never be out of her life.”
Now that she is in her 30s and we get along so well (except when she gets on a Thai pout) I am wondering if I should risk this fine friendship by “getting serious” with marriage in mind. Too late for that now? Can you read her mind? I can’t.
Puzzled in California
Dear Puzzled in California,
I am glad that all males from California are not so reticent! My Petal, this girl has been giving you the green light for almost nine years and you are still wondering if she is your “girlfriend” or just a “good friend”! This poor woman has been going to the temple praying that she can find some way to get her Californian boyfriend to make the next move. You mention your grown up children - did the separation from your previous spouse bring you so much grief that you are unwilling to fully commit to another relationship? If so, you should work this problem out with your analyst (as all people from CA have analysts).
She is giving you all the hints - no man is “right” for her (which means that the correct one is you, in Thai woman-speak). She presents other women to you, carefully hand-picked to be not as beautiful as she is (which means that she is the right one, in Thai woman-speak). She says that other males say she is too conservative. In Thai woman-speak this means that she is telling you she is not a sleep-around Sue. She is even offering you free accommodation if you will only get your Californian ass over here - and commit! How many hints do you need, Petal?
Have you asked your three grown up children what they think? You think this woman is wonderful - do they? I am sure that your children would be looking out for your welfare. After all, you have looked after theirs. Ask them.
Three years ago, she took that huge leap and suggested that the pair of you should get married, and you squibbed out citing the age difference. Look, if you want an older and beautiful woman, Hillary is available, just bring some of the Californian sparkly (methode champenoise) and chocolates. You sound like a nice chap that just needs jump starting.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Improving your portraits – Scalp them!

I sat down and re-read a book by Robert Farber on fashion photography the other night, and as I flipped through the pages, something became more and more apparent. The photographer (Farber) had scalped his models! I looked again and I could see why, and it wasn’t that they had lousy or outdated hair styles. It was for that magical thing I call the ‘Wow’ factor.
I have written many times about moving in close, but this was taking it to extremes. My next thought, was he doing it in the camera, or post-production? A few pages further on and I had the answer. It was careful cropping done later, as there were some shots not cropped as drastically as the scalped versions.
In today’s digital age, post-production cropping is very simple. No digital photographer with his photographic black box stuffed full of pixels can live without his edit suite from Photoshop or similar. But does he (we) use it enough? I would suggest not.
Digital cropping is so simple. Click on the Rectangular Marquee Tool (that’s what my software calls it) and make your crop lines, then go to “Image” and click on “crop”. It is really that easy. When I think how we used to do it with two L shaped pieces of card over the surface of the print, and then crop with a sharp knife! Photographers get it easy these days.
Returning to the fashion photography book, I looked even more closely at his cropped portraits to see that there were a couple of common lighting techniques that he was using. Strongly side-lit or back-lit with petroleum gel smeared across a filter on the front of the lens to give the light rays an apparent direction.
Now suitably impressed and enthused I decided to see just what could be produced by this cropping and lighting technique, using totally amateur models, and not the expensive professionals used by the fashion photographer. I also used a standard 50 mm lens, the same as is found in almost every camera, including point and shooters. Would it be possible to produce photographs with some kind of ‘Wow’ factor, or at least produce a pleasing result?
Since this was going to be a ‘walk-up and shoot’ project, I had to do some research first as to the location where I could get the side-lighting, to then drag my (hopefully willing) amateur models to the site. I deliberately did not want to use off-camera flash, reflectors or other tricks of the trade. I just wanted to see if I could produce good results that you could, in turn, reproduce.
In the end, I just used a window, and asked the model to face it and then for her to turn her head away from the window and towards the camera. This avoided the square on to the camera pose, and having the light coming from the window meant that there was some shadow effect to give the face some shape.
I liked the effect that the cropping produced, and in retrospect, I think I could have been even more ruthless with the electronic guillotine! I particularly liked the hiding behind the hair effect as well. The severe cropping makes people look twice, wondering ‘why’, and that was obviously the reasoning that Robert Farber had used. I looked twice. Did you?

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Portfolio Construction - Part 9

We’ve looked at some of the more obvious headline problems facing the global economy. A great piece by Joanne Baynham recently picked up on research by Gavekal highlighting the global economic dangers of rising food prices because of the need to produce ethanol as an energy source alongside the advent of higher inflation within Asia. This could have wide implications on the global economy if rising inflation leads to Asian central banks curtailing liquidity and leading to higher real interest rates.
Real interest rates all around the world remain very low which Gavekal believes is partly due to the constant manipulation of their exchange rates by Asian central banks. In preventing their currencies from finding a “fair value”, Asian central banks are forced to buy government bonds around the world. Moreover, the undervaluation of Asian currencies encourages the private sector outside of the US to borrow US$ willy-nilly (hereby contributing to the current ample liquidity environment). Milton Friedman once said that, “You can control your exchange rate, you can control your money supply, and you can control your interest rates. But you can’t control all three at the same time.”
In Asia, policymakers have been very happy to control exchange rates and interest rates, and let money supply growth rip. While there has been no inflation, there was no need for any marked change in Asian monetary policies. However, as we have seen recently, Asia’s bigger players are all becoming increasingly concerned about inflation. Asian policymakers are changing their focus and starting to move to control money supply growth. This will most likely mean higher exchange rates - look at the recent moves in the Thai Baht - probably the currency which at this time is subject to the least commercial or government intervention and therefore is a reasonable bellwether for Asian currencies. In Asia, a significant percentage of consumer spending is still based on “surviving” (a fact which, incidentally, might explain the highest differences in savings rates … poor people need to save, while the rich don’t, as they have the option of curtailing their lifestyles).
This means that Asian policymakers simply cannot afford to take the risk of inflation. Inflation would prove too devastating for the median family’s lifestyle and could thus trigger political instability (note that one big factor behind the Tian An Men demonstration was that inflation in China at the time was running in the double digits). Which brings us to the recent rise in food prices; while rising food prices do not have massive importance in OECD countries (where the median family tends to spend less than 10% of its income on food), in countries such as China (where the median urban family spends around 30% of its income on food), rising food prices should have an immediate impact on disposable income.
With its strong support of ethanol, the US administration decided to intervene in the markets. Unfortunately, this intervention could end up suffering from the law of unintended consequences. Indeed, if higher food prices start pushing inflation rates higher around Asia, then it is hard to believe that Asian policymakers will not step in. For the West, a change in monetary policy in Asia could be a triple whammy. It would mean that:
* Asia would export less capital into western (mainly US) bond markets. This would likely push real rates higher around the world.
* Asian exchange rates would move sharply higher, which in turn would likely mean higher import prices in the US and Europe.
* As Asian exchange rates start to move higher, Asian savers start repatriating capital. In turn, this would lead to collapses in monetary aggregates in Europe and the US.
One interesting side note of that is the benefit for low-cost food production areas such as the many states in Brazil where you don’t even have to irrigate the arable land. The topography and the geography and the lie of the land is so good that you actually don’t even need to invest in irrigation. You can’t say that for most of the rest of the world. Water is going to be a scarce commodity going forward, but certain areas, such as parts of Latin America, still have abundant water resources and they haven’t been over-irrigated or had the water diverted into non-productive uses (furthermore most Brazilian beef is from cows that actually graze on pasture. So you could say free-range beef. But that’s quite important because in the environment where grain prices are going up - because corn is going up because the US is using it for ethanol - in the rest of the world the cows are predominantly grain fed).
Again what to do about this? At the risk of sounding like a broken record - avoid long-only equity exposure, be cautious about long only bond exposure, diversify into all asset classes and particularly be aware of the possibilities for a huge run on soft commodities (preferably through structured note products).
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

When acknowledging bravery, people tend to think of it as a spectacular and often as an instinctive behavior. A parent shielding a child from a bomb blast, a firefighter entering a burning building or a soldier rescuing his comrade under fire, there are medals galore for such actions.
But recently, not that far from Chiang Mai, we have seen the true face of bravery as images of completely ordinary people showing extraordinary courage have been shown in our newspapers and on television. These were people who – faced with a crippling and sudden increase in fuel prices – dare to face up to the might of the Burmese junta.
A few hundred people in several areas took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations. Students, monks, activists, young people and elderly ladies dared to defy the hired pro-government volunteers and voiced their opinions in a country where opinions are not allowed.
They were brave because they knew the consequences of their pathetic protest would bring possible death, hideous torture and imprisonment. Or at least a beating, harassment, a name on a list, threats to their safety and that of their friends and families.
For 45 years the vicious regime has made the lives of its people intolerable. Their elected leader remains under house arrest. Forced labor is routine and torture and rape is commonplace. Poverty, the equal of that in North Korea or Zimbabwe where the powerful abuse their own people is widespread, except of course for the generals and their cohorts.
Those ‘little’ people who marched were accorded ill treatment not medals. They had not acted in haste, but through a deep sense of the injustices forced upon them and which the world allows to happen.
On an altogether happier note, a kind reader responded to my remarks about liking donkeys and dogs with a photo of a contented looking donkey, sadly standing alone. He or she is not quite as shaggily handsome as my donkey Dennis- back in Britain. Dennis lives happily in Norfolk with hundreds of other creatures – from horses and cows to turkeys and chickens rescued from all sorts of ill treatment, including battery cages. This huge rescue centre is sponsored by like minded people who believe that animals have rights too.
People often ask why I am a vegetarian, a non meat eater. There is no real answer except to say, why not? If we all consumed less meat, especially beef, there would be less colon cancer in the world, less cattle taking up grazing space and less pollution, less people in the world who are hungry and less cruelty (have you seen how animals are reared, transported and killed?)
I was reminded of these things during the selection of the charity for the January Hillside 4 benefit party. Four charities helped disadvantaged humans and one was for animals (Care of Dogs). There was a distinct feeling abroad that this was ‘less worthy’ cause. I sympathize, since it came down to priorities and personal preference. My own view would be that two charities might be eligible one year, one for humans and one for those creatures for which we are ultimately responsible.
I urge you to see Lonely Hearts. My film colleague will hopefully echo this view with times and dates of this stylish thriller which is based on a true story, depicted twice before on screen but given extra force by the fact that the writer –director (in his feature debut) is the grandson of the detective played by John Travolta.
The two protagonists are reminiscent of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde but these do not rob banks, they use lonely hearts columns to swindle people, leading to misery, suicide and ultimately a string of horrendous killings. It is a study in amour for and of unstoppable passions, both on the part of the duo and their pursuer.
I am eagerly waiting for a new Thai movie which opens on the 13th of the month. I say new but that is not exactly the case since it was completed a while ago and exhibitors have been loathe to screen it, changing the title from Friends to Bangkok Love Story, a supposedly more commercial title. Two friends, one is a hired killer and their complex relationship, a welcome antidote to offensive movies such as The Odd Couple.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Lonely Hearts: US Crime/Thriller – with John Travolta, Salma Hayek. A bloody retelling of the true-life murder spree of “The Lonely Hearts Killers” – a swindler couple who chose their victims in the personal ads of local papers. It was one of the more salacious crime sprees of the late 1940s in the US. Hayek’s powerful portrayal here is one of the more frightening examples of the classic femme fatale: positively psychotic, yet smoldering with sexuality. Travolta, last seen here in a skirt, gives a performance of surprising depth as the detective on their trail. It’s beautifully filmed, and a remarkably detailed recreation of the period.
Fans of classic detective films and film noir will find much to savor here. Be warned, the killings are disturbing and difficult to watch, both because of their graphic depictions, and because of the callousness with which they are committed.
Rated R in the US for strong violence and sexual content, nudity and language. At Vista only.
Bedside Detective (Sai-lub): Thai Romance – With popular Thai star Sunny Suwanmethanon as a private detective who dons different disguises to spy on unfaithful husbands. Director: Komkrist Treewimol (Dear Dakanda).
The House (Baan phii): Thai Horror – Supposedly inspired by the story of three women murdered at different times in the same haunted house. Director: Monthon Arayangkoon (The Victim).
Chaiya: Thai Drama – Gritty and violent telling of the lives of three childhood friends from southern Thailand, trained in the almost extinct Chaiya discipline of boxing, who travel to Bangkok to become part of the Muay Thai scene in 1977, the good and most especially the bad. Film glories in the spurting of blood into graceful plumes that arc slowly into the air, from either fists or bullets. The plotline is often confusing and difficult to follow, but it is relentlessly action-packed, and the three friends do involve one’s interest. Good visual recreation of the period, particularly the evil underbelly of boxing life. Director: Kongkait Komesiri (Art of the Devil 2). Airport Plaza only.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry: US Comedy – Starring Adam Sandler. Two firefighters pretend to be a gay couple to receive domestic partner benefits. It is quite funny, and though it is offensive to just about every human group that exists, including gays, it is most offensively anti-women. Tries to end up on a good note by preaching tolerance. Generally negative reviews. Airport Plaza only.
Khon Hew Hua: Thai Comedy/Romance – This is an all-round, multi-purpose Thai film, with a little bit of low Thai slapstick and bodily-function humor, a little bit of horror and gore, and a lot of sweet and sour family love. Very much a personal film of Ping Lumprapleung, who wrote it, directed it, and stars in it.
The Condemned: US Action/Thriller – Perhaps this film shouldn’t be banned, but you need to consider carefully whether or not it goes beyond the bounds of human decency. I do believe they should be careful to enforce Thailand’s NC 17 rating. (In the US it’s rated R for “pervasive strong brutal violence, and for language.”)
It has a reprehensible story: Condemned men are put on an island and told to kill each other off till only one is left, for the amusement of a worldwide web cast “reality” program. Every little while they remind us we should be ashamed of ourselves for watching it. But it’s selling what it’s condemning.
The film is truly exciting, well directed in its action, and savvy in giving the spectator a roller-coaster ride of emotion and involvement. Generally negative reviews.
The Invasion: US Action/Horror – A watered-down version of the director’s vision, but still creepy and unnerving, however unfocused and lacking in psychological complexity.
Scheduled for Thursday, September 13
Friends: A Bangkok Love Story: The story of a hit man in Bangkok who falls in love with the young man who takes him in and nurses him back to health following a hit gone wrong. After letting this film of gay love gather dust for 18 months, Sahamongkol Films has now overcome its jitters, and decided to release it.
The Brave One: With Jodie Foster, as a victim of a violent attack, seeking revenge. Rated R in the US for strong violence, language and some sexuality.

Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Buying Time

“Sets up in 3 seconds! No stakes! No ropes!” By the time the salesman finished this sentence, his tent was standing, giving a new meaning to the words “pitch the tent” since he had grabbed it from its bag and just pitched it into the air. Hour after hour his audience ooed and ahhed and lined up panting with credit cards in hand to pony up 4,000 baht. The beer-bellied, corn-fed hawker—I could have fashioned a tent for two out of his nylon jacket—was obviously not a backpacker, but more of a couch potato camper that pulls into a park, flings out his tent and immediately collapses for a nap. His marketing campaign was perfect: What could his competitors possibly tout? “Our tents pitch in half the time of the leading brand, giving you an extra 1.5 seconds to view the sunset, swat mosquitoes or duct tape your unruly children to the nearest tree!”
Yes, I bought one. Although it protected me from a deluge in three seconds, the fabric sagged, collected fresh rainwater all night and created my own personal pond inside the tent. It made a better backyard magic trick, left standing through the night as a clandestine, make-out site for the American neighborhood kids who had learned the art of fornication by age nine, just so it didn’t mess up their make-up.
SkyMall catalog, available in every seat pocket on every flight on every major airline in America, caters to folks with lots of money but not enough time to make more…or those who desire to be inanimate, couch mashed potatoes, buying hedonistic products so they can do absolutely nothing and move as few body parts as sub-humanly possible.
For a mere 12,000 baht, “The Advanced Robotic Floor Vacuum…can clean the floor of a 16’ by 20’ room in about 45 minutes without human intervention…and the unit automatically returns to its drive-on charger when its battery runs low after two hours.” You can watch TV indefinitely, sinking further into the couch as you gain weight gorging on nachos, pea-nuts and buffalo wings, dropping shells, scraps and bones on the floor, which are constantly sucked up by this splendid device. With the drive-on charger at your feet, just kick it back into action when it’s ready.
You’ll never have to leave the house to buy ice for your scotch on the rocks with the 9,000 baht, “Platinum Portable Ice Maker” that delivers “ice in less than 10 minutes and makes up to 35 lbs. of ice in 24 hours,” enough cubes for about 500 cocktails, guaranteed to keep you glued to the couch. It’s also invaluable for disposing of your neighbor’s yapping lap dog, though you’ll have to get up to catch it.
The 12,000 baht, “Cherry Quad Winder…is the perfect accessory for keeping your finest automatic timepieces constantly wound. Each handcrafted watch winder case is handcrafted of rich stained oak with eight layers of high-gloss piano lacquer…lined with smooth cream faux calf-hide,” made from plastic faux cows. Why move around just to keep your watch going when you can do it so expensively?
The 2,000 baht, “ACM® Wallets retrieve your credit, membership and ID cards with just a touch of a button!” No need to strain all ten fingers when you can use only one. The meaning for “ACM” is not disclosed, probably because it stands for Activity-Challenged Men.
The marketing is a bit misleading for the automated “Ice Cream Maker—Crank out old-fashioned ice cream without lifting a finger!” and the “No-Hands™ Deluxe Auto Can Opener—Cordless, portable, battery-powered opener works with the push of a button.” I’m guessing you have to load ingredients into the Ice Cream Maker with your feet and employ a maid with stubs at the end of her arms to put the opener on the can.
If the American couch potatoes didn’t purchase all these products, they could buy a plane ticket to Thai-land, where the tourist bureau could present them upon arrival with a complementary, 1,500 baht “Day-Clock—If you’re lucky enough to measure life by the day this is the clock for you. We should all aspire to needing a clock like this.”
I’m going to market plans for the no-baht, do-it-yourself YearClock. Get a piece of paper, a pen and a thumbtack, and then let time standstill for a year.