Vol. VI No. 39 - Tuesday
November 20, - November 26, 2007



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


Columns
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

At the Movie

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Love your work and live longer

Love your work and live longer? For many people that sounds impossible. Why? Because so many people just do not enjoy their work.
I am sure you have heard the old adage - “when you enjoy your work, you never have to work again”. And while that all sounds just a little trite, it is actually based upon a well established medical fact.
As far as your overall health is concerned, is work important? Well, if you take a look at statistics, then work is very important. Did you know, for example, that more heart attacks and strokes occur on Monday mornings? But that is for the working population only. Those who do not have to go to work on Mondays do not share the same chilling statistics. Likewise, there is a reduced incidence of cardiovascular calamities over the weekend. Interesting!
So what should we do, other than all retire immediately? Well, that’s not really practical, for one, and we need to make the dough to buy the bread, or some other bakery simile. What we have to do is work out why Mondays are so bad for our collective health.
What has been well documented is that following major catastrophes like earthquakes, there is a significant increase in the number of heart attacks for many days afterwards. The pundits say this is because of major stress, and anyone who has lived through such a disaster would agree on the stress side of it.
Now Mondays can hardly be called major stress, but for many people Mondays do represent a chronic, recurrent stressor. So stressors do appear to be the culprit. So what should we do about it?
Like all stressors, they are of two basic types, either “real” or “imagined”. Unfortunately, no matter which type, they have the same effect on us. By “real” stress I mean when the bank heavies are actually knocking on your door and it’s pay up time on the arrears on the house payments or eviction. “Imagined” stress is when you spend many hours worrying about what would happen if you fell behind with the house payments, even though you never have.
So to the dangerous Mondays. What do you stress about? The job itself? Is it too difficult, too boring, too much high pressure? This is where you have to sit down and look critically at yourself in relationship to your own work and workplace. For many people, it is your own attitude that might have to be modified. Change from being an unwilling worker to someone being a willing worker, and work becomes totally different!
Remember the adage again “if you enjoy what are doing, you never have to work again”. So if you really detest the job you are in, and it is just not “you” then perhaps it is time to work out just what you really like doing and start moving in that direction.
Of course, you must be a realist. Rome was not built in a day, and you are not going to get the best paid, most fantastic job in the world tomorrow. You move towards it - after you have worked out the field you want to be in.
The key to handling stress is first to admit that you are under it, then following that, work out what the stressors are and then modify them, or your attitude towards them. Taking charge of your own life, controlling it yourself is the stepping stone towards good health and no unhealthy Mondays.
But then, perhaps all we need to do is get rid of Mondays altogether. In fact, remove Monday from the calendar and you have a six day week - five days on and one day off. This means you will get 52 “extra” days off every year and never have Mondayitis again! That’s the answer!

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
What would you advise the man in this story? One lady kick out her Thai husband because he don’t bring enough money home. They have at least one small child. Then she went to Bangkok and to Pattaya where she worked in a gogo bar. Short time later an entrepreneur form a European country get married with her. She managed everything. They went to Isaan by a taxi. The man want have only a small wedding party but the lady made a huge one. She spend his money in a manner that even King Croesus from old Persia would say, that is to much my darling. When goes home 5 km from a small city to her village she gave to the driver 500 baht (the price was 30 baht). In this manner she spend the money. The she borrowed much money. When the husband came next year back from Europe he was quite shocked. When he went back again to Europe, where he has a small company, he was not sure if he will return again next year. He did not. But that was not a huge problem for the lady, because they married by the monks only. Three months later she got married to a new European man from a rich country on islands not far away from the huge harbor in Europe (where the oil arrive from the OPEC countries). (It was an incredible story for this approximately 60 years old man, wasn’t it? Some ten thousands of Euro he had spend for this love story.) The lady also gets 500,000 baht from a man from a middle east country and 500,000 baht from a man from South Africa. Both wanted to marry her. But she got married with this over 60 years old former teacher. (We can only hope that he taught his students better.)
He build a house and a shop (similar 7-Eleven) for his wife (he get married with her in the amphur too). He already had to go back to his country two times to work somewhere to get more money because his pension is not enough to build the house and the shop (one small house he built already) and as it is known, a Farang can not have a house in Thailand; the house belong the wife only.
The lady is already a little bit nervous because the building of the house and of the shop go very slowly. The old man: what can he do? At the beginning she said it is not important that the man is old. But now she said her husband can not make love very much anymore.
Is this a never-ending love story? The time will decide and the lady will not need to wait for very long time for the decision. What will she do then? She is maybe 32 years ‘young’ only.
The story is sure a story that will never die out.
Helmut
Dear Helmut,
You are correct my Petal, (despite your quaint English, which you will have to forgive me, but I did correct some spelling and grammar), this is a story that will never die. The reasons are very simple - unfortunately, none of us are perfect (not even me – now there’s a first!), and there will always be people who are prepared to take advantage of others. This goes far beyond the go-go bars of Pattaya, Chiang Mai or Phuket. You can also count in there all the other cons, scams and bilks that we have been perpetrating on each other for centuries. Black ink banknotes, Ponzi schemes, Nigerian money emails, Pyramid schemes and “You buy me cola, darling” all have the same basis. “I want your money. And you are silly enough (or greedy enough) to fall for my tricks.”
Gorgeous 32 year old Thai women who work in go-go bars are not caressing chrome poles because they are exhibitionists who like dancing. They are using their bodies as bait, waiting for the suckers to come along and swallow it hook, line and sinker. And they do, and they do, and they do!
Now, undoubtedly some of the chrome pole ladies are happy with their first catch and retire from the nocturnal fishing park, but others are so much in love with the financial rewards that their little scam has returned, that they throw the bait out again, and again, and again. And what’s more, they strike it lucky almost every time. There is an apparently never-ending stream of suckers waiting their turn.
By the way, that goes for suckers for all the other scams I mentioned before. Why do we all keep on getting “offers” from Nigeria where people have $30 million they need to send overseas, and will give you 20 percent if you will get involved and “help” them with this problem? Because no matter how many times this scam is exposed, there are even more suckers waiting in line.
It has been suggested that every unattached male who comes to this country should be forced to read Stephen Leather’s book “Private Dancer” on the plane before being allowed in. Unfortunately there will still be suckers. Some of the bar girls are very skilled. “Buy me cola?” No, no, change that to “Buy me champagne?”


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Photographic Physical abuse

Has your camera become just one of the goods and chattels that make up your inventory? No longer something to be cherished? No longer loved and cared for? If so, you can start to expect poorer pictures any time now.
A camera is a highly sophisticated instrument, encompassing both physics and electronic technology. It does not like disuse and it certainly does not take kindly to physical abuse.
The first, and often the most common, is dropping the camera. Cameras are very complex devices. The shutter on even the cheapest camera can open and close in 1/500th of a second. You can imagine that it doesn’t take much to knock the delicate shutter around.
The camera is also a lightproof box, dropping it and distorting the case will soon let light in. And that goes for both film and digital cameras.
So what should be done beforehand? First is to have a decent padded camera bag. It has to keep the camera safe in the situation of it falling out of the car or slipping from the shoulder. Throw the silly leather case, that many cameras come with, as far as you can, or feed it to a goat.
OK, so you have the camera hanging on the strap around your neck, ready for action. What can go wrong here? Well the strap can slip or the eyelet rings can break, and the whole lot hits the floor unless you have lightning reflexes. Answer? Check and make sure that everything is correctly attached and not worn, especially the eyelet rings. When did you check last? Replace regularly.
So it did hit the floor, what now? Turn it on. Is it still electrically OK? If no power, take the batteries out and then put them back in - they may just be jolted out of position. Unscrew the lens and put it back on. Look through the viewfinder - if it looks normal, then try to take several shots at different shutter speeds and apertures and rush to the closest 1 hour processor or to the computer if it was a digital. Pray a lot. You may be lucky.
After dropping, the next disaster is water. Cameras are not like children, you cannot “drown proof” them. They stay drowned. If you are going out to photograph in wet (or Songkran) weather, then you must take precautions. A plastic bag wrapped around the camera with just the end of the lens poking through, and held on with rubber bands is one way to “safe photography”. Even then, as soon as possible you should take the camera inside and dry the outside of the case thoroughly. Take the lens off and dry carefully around the lens mount too, making sure you do not touch the mirror. Take the batteries out and thoroughly dry the battery compartment and the contacts. Batteries and moisture do not go well together.
Now we should think about the great shots you can get on board the speedboat and similar situations. Resist the temptation to take your good camera - you can buy a waterproof Kodak or Fuji for very little money and you can relax with peace of mind. Do not take your good one!
So what do you do when you have ignored the above advice and drop the whole camera in the drink? If it is a modern electronic camera you have probably just lost your investment - especially if it is salt water you drop it into. One camera technician’s advice under that circumstance was, “Leave it there!” However, you can try flushing the camera in running tap water for at least an hour, then drying it and taking it to the repair shop. An audience with the Pope would be a good move as well.
Drowning the camera in fresh water is not quite so bad, but you have to pull it apart as much as you can and then dry it out as thoroughly as you can - a hair dryer set on “No Heat” can help, but again your chances are slim. This time it’s three Hail Mary’s and hope a lot.
First Aid is possible, but preventive maintenance is much better!


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Will the rally in commodities eventually weigh on the market? Part 1

Chart 1

Chart 2

Chart 3

Chart 4

Chart 5

Chart 6

Oil prices are on the march again! Crude oil was up by 5.8% in one week in June. Seven days tend to be more of a blip than a trend but 1800% annualised inflation ought to grab everyone’s attention and should prompt the question, “Will the rally in commodities such as crude oil eventually weigh on the market?”
Cobus Kellerman from MitonOptimal asks, “Is that what bonds are telling us (as well)…?”
Bill Gross stated last week that he had turned bearish on bond prices for the first time in more than twenty years. Given that he runs the world’s biggest bond fund at PIMCO, I thought I’d show you why he may be right. The 1st chart plots the price of the 30-year T-Bond since it bottomed in 1981. Bond prices have been on a major bull market for the twenty-six years since then. But that may be about to end. Bond prices are now threatening their long-term trendline. In addition, bond prices are dangerously close to breaking support levels (previous lows) for the first time in more than two decades. That danger can be seen more closely in the 2nd chart. Bond prices peaked in 2003 and have been trading sideways since then. A drop below the 2006 low near 105 would not only break an important support level, it would also break the twenty-six year support line.
When bond prices fall, yields rise. Chart 3 shows the 10-Year Treasury Note Yield which is close to being a mirror image of bond prices in Chart 2. The key level to watch in Chart 4 is the peak formed in the spring of 2006 near 5.25%. A decisive close above that level would continue the pattern of rising peaks and troughs that started in 2003 and would put bond yields at the highest level in five years. The major significance of an upside breakout in bond yields is seen in Chart 4. A close over 5.25% would break a down trendline in bond yields connecting the highs of 1994 and 2000. That trendline spans thirteen years. An upside penetration of that trendline would leave little doubt that the period of low rates has ended.
One of the principles of inter-market analysis is that bond prices act as leading indicators for stocks. In other words, bond prices peak and trough ahead of the stock market. Take a look at Chart 5 the comparison of bond prices (price bars) and the S&P 500 (solid line) during the 1980s. Bond prices bottomed in 1981. Stocks bottomed one year later in 1982. Two stock bear markets occurred in the ten years following that bottom - in 1987 and 1990. In both cases, bond prices peaked several months earlier.
Chart 6 compares bond and stock prices over the last ten years. The chart shows that bond prices peaked in 1998, which was more than a year before stocks peaked in 2000. The jump in rates during 1999 was one of the factors leading to the stock market drop in 2000. Bond prices rose throughout the three-year bear market in stocks lasting from 2000 to the end of 2002. That was largely due to aggressive Fed easing due to fears of deflation. During deflation, bond prices rise while stocks fall. Which brings us to the present. Bond prices peaked in 2003 as stocks bottomed. That was the result of asset switching out of bonds and back into stocks. Since then, bond prices have just treaded water as stocks have continued to rise. Two things on the chart worry me at the moment. One is a potential breakdown in bond prices. The other is the fact that the S&P 500 (red line) is testing potential resistance at its 2000 high. Falling bond prices (rising bond yields) may not be an immediate threat to the stock market. However, a significant breakdown in bond prices (upside breakout in yields) would suggest that the bull market in stocks has entered a more dangerous stage.
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

By the time this appears, the EU Film Festival in Chiang Mai will be over for another year. If the opening night gala and the early films are any indication it will be the best yet and a happy memory and the most important cultural event in the City’s calendar. The publicity, organization and quality of the prints seem better this year and attendance has surely reflected this. There was even a near full house for a dullish German documentary on Sunday afternoon. My only complaint is that several films were only screened once, causing a couple of casualties. Also a couple of films did not make the journey from Bangkok and these were certainly major omissions.
The opening reception at Kad Suan Kaew was packed, with some guests even observing the request for lounge suits to be worn. I’m not sure how many were accompanied by spouses as was also asked for! Not many, I suspect, since the mixture of Thai and farangs was in party mood and attractively dressed. The speeches from the dignitaries were sensibly short, the wine, beer and soft drinks seemed to flow unendingly and the tables groaned with food. The staff was attentive and polite and interestingly this was reflected during the following days as those working in cinema number five seemed pleased to be working in a busy environment bustling with chatty customers. A quartet found to be found in the Belgian film Steve and Sky, which they found ‘very sexy’. The magic of cinema!
Inadvertently, I caused a mini panic on (mis)hearing an announcement about the start time for the premiere. Around 7:20pm we were told that there would be a show of Thai dancing and music to entertain us until the performance began at 9:15pm.
It was scheduled for 8:00pm. Two hours of Thai dancing by children? It took a little while to check the facts. Quite correctly the person making the announcement had given the time by the 24-hour clock. This was an EU occasion after all. Being Thai, the final consonants had not been sounded and 19.50 came out as 9.15. We poor Brits have never got the hang of this 100 per cent I’m sorry to admit. Mea Culpa.
It reminded me that we also get flummoxed by the American way of giving dates. Month first, then day, then year. Thus 20 November 2007 is given as 11/20/2007. We (and I believe most other countries, including Thailand) would more logically say or write 20/11/2007. Never did Oscar Wilde write anything more accurate than his observation about Britain and America being divided by a common language.
You may recall the recent blockbuster The Bourne Ultimatum, where the plot hinged upon a date given which reveals the ‘baddies’ secret address. If the agent had been James Bond instead of Jason Bourne he’d have gone to the wrong place. End of story.
Naturally, the opening film of the Festival was from Portugal, as they are presently ‘in charge’ at the EU. It proved a decent if slightly lugubrious choice, reflecting the Festival’s concern with the recent past of the member countries, especially the aftermath of the Colonial era. Set in 1960s Mozambique, it told the story of a woman (a wonderful, subdued performance by Beatriz Batarda) and her growing disenchantment with her new soldier-husband and the brutality surrounding him.
The second day opened with the badly named Demented which made this film about a wildly dysfunctional family sound more like a horror flick rather than the highly intelligent and restrained work it turned out to be. The novel was called Le Dernier de Fous so I guess The Final Madness, which summed up the inevitable if somewhat predictable ending, might have been more appropriate.
The setting was rural France and the story, centered on a lonely and fearful 10 year old, concerns the appalling consequences brought about by irrationality and the hypocrisy of a bourgeois society. The sympathetic older brother is driven to drink and suicide by his sexuality, the father is weak and the mother is agro phobic, manipulative and possibly manic depressive. And the true villain of the piece is a selfish matriarch. All in all it’s no wonder that the little boy turns to violence. The film won a deserved award for best direction at the Locarno Festival and showed that not a note of music is needed to achieve great emotional impact.
The director of the moving Swedish film Mother of Mine might take a tip from that, since his work was awash with a sentimental underlay of lush strings and tinkling pianos. He did not need them since the story; again featuring a young boy, about the 70,000 Finnish children who were uprooted and sent to Sweden to escape the Russo-Finnish conflict was a strong one. This and the Dutch Antonia’s Line (which won an Oscar as best foreign language film) were definite crowd pleasers and might well have pleased the grumpy Australian and his wife I met in the cinema foyer who complained that there were no films to see. He was, he said, looking for an ‘uplifting film’. I was about to extol the virtues of a couple of the films but thought better of it. There seemed no point. After all what does uplifting mean? For all I know he might have been a disciple of the unlamented Rev. Billy Graham. For me all films about the human condition are exhilarating, whether optimistic or not. A few people found Demented too somber, even morbid. Me, I gave up rose tinted spectacles many years ago.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Beowulf: US Animation/Adventure (motion-capture animation) – With Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Angelina Jolie. Outstanding semi-animated retelling of ancient English tale. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Polar Express, Back to the Future). Generally favorable reviews.
Michael Clayton: US Drama/Thriller – Just simply terrific! Complex and challenging, this film is a thinking man’s thriller, with a sharp script and faultless cast. George Clooney plays what is known in the legal world as a “fixer,” one who cleans up legal messes for VIPs and corporations for a prestigious law firm. See it! Rated R in the US for language. Reviews: Universal acclaim.
Lions for Lambs: US Drama/War – With Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep. At the end, I was actually brought to tears of anguish by the story of the soldiers, and to tears of anger and frustration by the story of the politicians and the press. A thoughtful, deeply committed film by Redford dealing with the heaviest issues of our time, with no punches pulled. It’s a plea for Americans to get engaged, and should be required viewing for all. Mixed or average reviews.
Seraphim Falls: US Western – A spare, seemingly old-fashioned Western, with a different feel, starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson. Strangely mesmerizing and engrossing. Recommended for Western fans. Generally favorable reviews.
Secret: Taiwan Drama – Directorial debut of famed Taiwan pop star, 28-year-old composer-performer, Jay Chou, and starring him, in a teenage romance film whose story is also by Chou. I found it quite a surprise, and delightful, in spite of the Thai dubbing. An interesting story (apparently somewhat autobiographical, reflecting Chou’s early music school experiences), complete with Chopin and piano duels, and a bit of a puzzle and mystery. Also, it has some top Asian behind-the-lens talent. The film has created quite a buzz, as no one had the slightest idea Chou could create such a well-crafted and interesting movie on his first try. Unfortunately shown here in a Thai-dubbed version only, at least for now; a shame. It’s really worth a wide audience, and the original voices, and good English subtitles. Only at Airport Plaza.
The Kingdom: US Drama/Thriller – Jamie Foxx. Terrorism against the US inside Saudi Arabia. Good, quite exciting, muddy politics. Rated R in the US for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence, and for language. Mixed or average reviews.
Game Plan: US Family/Comedy – Critics say it’s another run-of-the-mill Disney comedy despite “The Rock’s” charisma. Nevertheless, it’s good-hearted, mindless entertainment. Mixed or average reviews.
Captivity: US/Russia Crime/Thriller – A fashion model is kidnapped and held prisoner by a serial killer, who methodically terrorizes her. For me, this female degradation torture-porn fantasy is a thoroughly nasty piece of work. I saw all of it – now you don’t have to. Rated R in the US for strong violence, torture, pervasive terror, grisly images, language, and some sexual material. Now Vista has joined the bad taste maelstrom, and actually had the effrontery to show a preview of this disgusting film before the EU Film Festival audiences. Generally negative reviews. Enough to give torture porn a bad name.
Spiritual World (Winyan Lok): Thai Horror – A girl is able to see ghosts and contact the dead, and tries to escape from a mysterious ghost that’s following her.
Opapatika: Thai Action/Fantasy – A murky, muddled supernatural action film revolving around the Opapatika, born fully formed as spirits, demons, or angels – and some as humans.
The Reef (Shark Bait): US Animation – “Absolute carp.” Now it’s the Thai-dubbed version again, only at Vista.
Scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 22
Love of Siam (Rak Haeng Siam): Thai Romance – Directed by Chukiat Sakweerakul, who made the thriller 13 Beloved – one of my favorite all-time Thai movies. Love of Siam refers to Siam Square, a popular teenage hangout in Bangkok. It’s there that Tong, a popular and handsome boy, meets his childhood friend Music again. Tong’s affections wander from his girlfriend, to his boyfriend Music.
Rise: Blood Hunter: US/New Zealand Horror/Thriller – 94 mins – Supernatural zombie movie: a female reporter wakes up in a morgue to find herself a member of the undead. She vows revenge against the sect that put her there. Rated R in the US for strong horror, violence, and gore; sexuality, nudity, language, and brief drug use. Mixed or average reviews.


Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Funny Money

The cave of 10,000 frowning tourists.

At the Luang Prabang airport, I exchanged one 1,000 Thai baht bill for 280,000 Lao kip. The next day 104 dollars made me a kip millionaire. The tuk-tuk from the airport was 50,000. The guesthouse charged a quarter of a million. We blew 100,000 on dinner. Kip bills look similar: reddish 500, 5,000 and 50,000 notes; blueish 1,000 and 10,000; all have buildings and the same face, but their value changes with the tides, sunspots or location. Walking down one block, I discovered the exchange rate for 1,000 baht went from 250,000 kip, to 260,000, to 270,000, to 275,000, but never reached the 280,000 offered at the airport, where in other countries, it’s generally lower.
Coupled with the fact that Laos is a “three-tier money” country, money is very confusing. Any vendor seems to accept baht, dollars or kip and have wads of each in their pockets. Since everyone accepts anything, you get lax about having the “correct” bills, or understand what rate whoever is giving you for which, so you just fling random cash and they give you random cash back. I gave up trying to keep track after a couple days of shopping with my mate and constantly hearing: “Honey, I need another 10,000.” (Fine, that’s one dollar.) “Wow, this cool bag is only 50,000!” (Oh yeah, only five dollars.) “I know you just gave me 100,000 but I need another 200,000.” (Whatever.) At least my bucks are going to sweet people who are still living with landmines littering the countryside and bomb craters where plants refuse to grow.
“The best preserved city in Southeast Asia,” Luang Prabang made UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1995 and a raft of architects with major funding are restoring some 700 locations, which makes it charming and very French, but kind of like a diorama of colonialism. Gazing into fancy, candlelit restaurants with white table cloths and fine furniture, packed with well-heeled, khaki-panted, button-downed tourists, you get the feeling you’re actually in Europe, just being served by Asians. The good news? The wooden doors and shutters haven’t been replaced with grating, sliding steel doors and the city is lovely even when it’s closed. Wealth is flowing in, hopefully trickling down to thousands of Lao folks besides a few hotel owners. Due to its upscale marketing and strict laws against a farang having sex with a Lao woman before marriages carefully registered with the government, you don’t have the roving bands of horny Neanderthals chanting their media-stimulated, self-chosen slogan throbbing in their reptile brains: Screw Thailand.
I hope Luang Prabang survives its current explosion of visitors while struggling with the same-same mentality and cash madness that has destroyed too many other places. The two main tour choices? The Cave of 10,000 Buddhas in the morning and the Whatever Waterfall in the afternoon. Every travel agency books them. A boat driver’s sole greeting is “Boat ride to cave?” and tuk-tuk drivers’ vocabulary is limited to “tuk-tuk to waterfall.” We were unsuccessful in finding a boat tour that would avoid the cave crush in the morning. Everyone: “Boat trip only in morning.” Me: “But why?” Everyone: “Boat trip only in morning.” Since it was a birthday celebration, we sprung for a 300,000 kip private boat in the afternoon, unfortunately arriving at the attraction that should be renamed “The Cave of 10,000 Frowning Tourists.” On the way back few farang lurked in the “Lao whiskey making and weaving villages,” but sleepy hawkers leapt to life with warm, caring greetings of “Discount!” “You buy here!” “Looking, looking!” We decided against visiting “The Waterfall of 10,000 More Tourists, One Exploited Elephant and Tiger in a Cage.”
The pace is relaxed, most folks are delightful, and far from the farang throngs, Lao must be enchanting. One warning: When you book a room in Luang Prabang, make sure no half-finished buildings sit next door, if that’s possible, since they may start at noon and be half-finished by quitting time, which may be never. The natives are obsessed with a boat/guesthouse/restaurant construction mania that assaults your serenity with ear-splitting saws, pounding hammers and screeching sanders. Final good news: As we left, a bevy of men towed a massive, thirty-meter, metal boat hull toward the river. No trailer in town was large enough to carry it. Lashed to a tuk-tuk by ropes, the hull crawled along the road on five, separate, semi-round logs. Once it slowly rolled a meter off the last log, several men carried said log to the front and shoved it back under the boat. They may get the boat to the river by late 2009.


At the Movie: Mark Hershey

“Lions for Lambs” tries to engage

“At least it’s doing something.” That’s a key line in “Lions for Lambs,” the new film directed and starring Robert Redford showing at Chiang Mai’s Airport Plaza. Redford counters with that line - as political science professor Stephen Malley - in answer to an apathetic, college sophomore who wonders what the point of political participation is in today’s world of opportunism run amok. Malley’s verbal sparring with sophomore Todd Haynes – played by Andrew Garfield – is a central section of the film. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly illuminating or involving in this point/counterpoint confrontation. Equally unfortunate is that the other debate in the movie – that between characters played by Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep - is similarly tepid. The film is meant to be an antidote to the Hollywood popcorn flicks offered up in the summer. It’s meant to be thoughtful, stimulating, and “engaging” (a word frequently batted around by the characters). Instead, it’s just doormat dull while miraculously managing to be equivocating and preachy. If there’s a point to the story it’s that apathy is bad, and involvement, no matter how misguided, is good.
The tete-a-tete between Cruise’s Jasper Irving, a brash, young Senator, touted as a future leader of the Republican Party, and Streep’s Janine Roth, a leading journalist, is more demagoguery than debate. Irving invites Roth to his office to sell her on the new military strategy in Afghanistan that he’s directing. He hopes she’ll play troubadour to his Arthur. Roth looks skeptical, and eventually balks, but doesn’t offer much of a coherent challenge. The only interesting question that gets raised is what will happen in the region if the U.S. just walks out. Roth parries but Irving knocks the sword out of her hand, delivering a short soliloquy on the perils of disengagement. The debate is over before it even starts.
The movie is framed by these two debates, essentially one-act plays. Indeed, the film has a stagy feel to it, as though the writer, Michael, “The Kingdom”, Carnahan originally wrote it for the theater. If it weren’t for a few action scenes, there would have been no reason to put it on celluloid. These action scenes involve the two other important characters in the movie – idealistic soldiers who previously were idealistic students of Malley’s. The characters Ernest and Arian, played by Michael Pena and Derek Luke respectively, are soldiers who are simultaneously enacting Irving’s new military policy just as the big chins in the movie are condescendingly wagging.
The tiresome chin wags are not the only problem. The other problem is who is doing the wagging. You can’t help but notice that it’s Cruise starring down Streep, and this is distracting. Great actors can disappear into a part, but sadly there’s not much for Cruise and Streep to envelop themselves in. A good part is especially needed for Cruise, whose trademark cocky grin shrouds his cavernous interior. He’s confidence personified. If the god Shiva had another face which symbolized “cocksureness” that face would be Cruise’s. Streep suffers even more in a thankless role. Her Roth dithers and fidgets, never getting much of a rise out of Irving. For a journalist, her blood pressure seems surprisingly low, at least for 90 percent of the movie. This is not her fault. It’s just that she has so little worthy dialogue to work with.
Redford’s character is angry, yet worn. A Vietnam Vet turned professor who can’t get him no satisfaction. Not with today’s generation of students. Then he meets students and future soldiers, Arian and Ernest. When they tell him they plan to enlist, he’s disturbed, though moved by the intentions behind the act. They want to engage, to get involved and try to make some kind of a difference. Regrettably, “Lions for Lambs” leaves nothing much to sink one’s teeth into. The ideas it serves up are empty calories that leave you wondering if your order was missed. To be fair, at least the makers are trying to offer something other than the standard, Hollywood fair. Redford and Carnahan’s attempt to engage the public in foreign policy ideas comes up short on substance but they deserve some credit for the effort. In Malley’s words, “At least it’s doing something.” Perhaps that’s not enough to entice the average moviegoer, but it holds promise for weightier projects from Redford and Carnahan in the future.



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