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
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
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
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
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.
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
Improving your portraits – Scalp them!
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
The Invasion: US Action/Horror – A watered-down version of the director’s
vision, but still creepy and unnerving, however unfocused and lacking in
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
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