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

Doc English The Language Doctor

Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Mammograms and BSE. Is it worthwhile?

Screening for breast cancer is still a subject that seems to be controversial, though honestly, I do not know why. The sensationalist press feeds on fear, and by instilling fear into women about detection of breast cancer will always sell a few more papers. Despite mammograms and suchlike, there were cases that escaped detection until it was too late and other such negative predictions. Was it all then a waste of resources and money?
No it is not, says the American Cancer Society’s director of cancer screening, Robert Smith, PhD, who says there is plenty of evidence that mammograms save lives, even for younger women.
“The American Cancer Society and other organizations have endorsed mammography screening for women in their 40s because direct and inferential evidence supports its value in reducing morbidity (injuries) and mortality (deaths) from breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in women,” he says.
Other groups that recommend mammograms every one or two years for women in their 40’s include the US Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The American College of Physicians guideline says mammograms can reduce breast cancer deaths by about 15 percent among women in their 40’s, but Dr. Smith says newer studies indicate the benefit is much greater - 40 percent or more.
Unfortunately, the cancer detection story is one that suffers from a problem which can be associated with an inexact science. Since we can put men on the moon, clone sheep (and even rabbits in Chonburi, apparently) and other incredible facts, we should then be able to diagnose human conditions with pin-point accuracy. Unfortunately wrong!
Diagnosis and detection are “real time” arts, not sciences, even though we would like them to be. Sure, we use “science” as a tool, but that is all it is. A tool to help us see the problem. Just like we can use a telescope to see things at a distance - even if we can’t see the object, that doesn’t mean to say it wasn’t there. The telescope was facing the wrong way, the object was behind not in front.
There has been a bit of that thinking with mammograms of late. A lady has three annual clear mammograms and then finds she has breast cancer during year number four. Was the testing useless?
Again I ask you to look at the “real time” situation. So today cancer was found. When did it “start” to grow? This week, this month, this year? The answer depends upon the type of the cancer. Some fast growing cancers would be impossible to pick up, even if the person had monthly mammograms. The slow growing variety can be picked up years ahead. Unfortunately mammography cannot be a 100 percent indicator - we are not that good - yet. But it is still one of the best diagnostic procedures we have. And it is better than nothing.
Likewise, Breast Self Examination (BSE) has its detractors as well as its proponents. Sure, a lot depends upon how well the woman carries out this self testing, but again, surely it is better to look than to carry on in blissful innocence?
I do not believe the doomsayers who would tell you that the outcome is just the same. Breast cancer is like all cancers - the sooner you find it, the sooner you can deal with it and the earlier treatment is administered, the better the outcome. In fact, studies from the American National Cancer Institute show that 96 percent of women whose breast cancer is detected early live five or more years after treatment. This is called a 96 percent five year survival rate, one of the ways we measure the severity of life threatening cancers. If it were a 10 percent figure - in other words, after five years only 10 percent of the people were still alive, then I would probably also feel that predictive testing was not all that worthwhile. But it is not that bleak an outcome - 96 percent are still alive and many go on for many, many years.
Ladies, talk with your doctor regarding breast screening, and ignore sensationalism in the popular press!

 

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I do love it when Rambling Syd Rumpo pulls out some anecdotes from his ganderbag. My favorite at the moment is when you leapt into the ring at a livestock auction and exclaimed, “Never mind the bullocks, here’s Hillary!”
Mistersingha
Dear Mistersingha,
I do love it when there’s a week when you don’t write in, even with unbelievable anecdotes from your uncle Rambling Syd. However I think you have become confused (perhaps it is the alcohol content) and I am sure the “bullocks” quote was something to do with the Euro 2008 losing German team captain Herr Ballack, or perhaps it was the Sex Pistols and “Never mind the bollocks” with Ronnie Biggs on vocals. Or it may even be you’re confusing Buttocks and Botox; with your mind streams anything is possible. However, Petal, it’s probably time you tried Chang Light, it is less heady and less likely to give you pillocks.

Dear Hillary,
My friends reckon I’m bonkers, but I have met the sweetest girl in a local bar in Jomtien. She makes me feels special every time I go in, which is daily these days, she will drop what she’s doing and come and sit by me, even if she’s been chatting to other customers. She’s hard working and I’m thinking very strongly about buying her out of the bar and letting her move in. I’ve never been like this before, she is something special. The friends all say that she’s just like all the others I’ve had and a gold digger as well. Surely some of the bar girls are different?
Unsure from USA
Dear Unsure from USA,
Are some of the bar girls different? I can help you here, no problem, Petal. What you have to do in these situations is to apply the British Standard (BS) Duck Test and you will get your immediate answer. The test implies that a person can figure out the true nature of an unknown subject by observing this subject’s readily identifiable traits. It is sometimes used to counter abstruse arguments that something is not what it appears to be. It is a form of inductive reasoning, and has a 99.9 percent accuracy. The Duck Test goes like this: “If a bird looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” Happy Duck hunting!

Dear Hillary,
I am a young chap, single and considered to be not bad looking, so I’ve got a few girlfriends, if you know what I mean. My problem comes from one of the girls I have met recently. She rang me at work the other day and asked if I could come over and see her at the new bar she was working in. I did remember her from the previous bar where she used to work, but I was embarrassed as I could be overheard by my workmates when I was talking to her, and they were all laughing at me, so I just kind of fobbed her off. How can I tell her it isn’t a good idea to ring me at work in a crowded office? Any suggestions?
Wilson
Dear Wilson,
This is no problem at all, Petal, other than the fact that you have engineered your own problem here. It’s quite simple, if you don’t want a girl to ring you at work, then don’t give her your business card, silly! If you feel the need to chat her up on the phone just give her your mobile and tell her what hours to ring you between. The girl isn’t silly, she’ll comply. But will you? That’s the question.

Dear Hillary,
You are often telling people that they should learn Thai if they are living here for some time. I agree with you, but it’s not that easy. I have retired here, but at my age (76), I find it very difficult to learn a new language at my time in life. Is there any quick way of doing this, or do you have any special tips for people trying to learn this Thai language? I tried going to a language school, but I failed there as they were going to fast for me at my age.
Jim
Dear Jim,
Jim, it is a problem I know, but if you are retired and not working, then there is one way which is a quicker (but none of them are easy) way to learn. It’s called Total Immersion and Hillary’s language teacher friends all tell me it is the quickest. This method is used in Europe by the top language schools and you have to be billeted with a family that does not speak your language, only the language you are wanting to learn. What you have to do is go and stay in a village up country in a little local hotel and put yourself into the situation that you have to speak Thai or starve! I am told that in six weeks you will have picked up reasonable Thai and you are on your way to complete mastery of the tongue. You will also probably have picked up a small language teacher. Lots of luck and “Chok dii, Kha”.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

White balance and grey cats

Read an interesting article on ‘white balance’, making out that this was something new and magical with digital photography. Let me assure you, it isn’t new, it isn’t magical and it isn’t the sole situation vis--vis film and digital photography.

Two real grey cats!

Have you ever tried to photograph a polar bear? Or a black cat? Or even a white car, or a plain black one? If you use an automatic camera (film or digital) set on A (for “amnesia”) then the chances are very high that you ended up with a grey polar bear and a grey cat. Very highly likely. The reason for this is poor white balance, expressed as the magic photographic number known as 18 percent grey!
All photographers should become acquainted with the color known as 18 percent grey. Why? Because after you understand 18 percent grey, you have complete control over blacks and whites in your photographs - and by that, I mean in color photography, not just the B&W kind.
The really dedicated photo buffs will recognize 18 percent grey as being the cornerstone of the “Zone System” and Ansel Adams superb prints are trotted out with sage mutterings that if you understood the zone system, then your photos would look like his too. This is, of course, frog spawn. Ansel Adams spent many hours painstakingly printing his B&W work, specifically burning in some areas, holding back others and if you think he didn’t then think again.
However, here is the “short course” on the Zone System. What you have to remember at all times is just the simple fact that the meter in your camera knows intimately what is 18 percent grey, and is programmed to produce as much 18 percent grey as possible. In other words, point the camera at your subject and the meter will work out a combination of shutter speed and aperture to give an exposure to get the whole shot as close to 18 percent grey as possible.
Back to digital photography. All digital cameras, straight from the box, are set to automatically correct white balance, but it doesn’t always work well. What part of the shot is actually white? One camera correspondent did not give up, he then used white balance lens caps and set the white balance manually. His manual results were a bit better, but still not good enough in tricky lighting situations (like tungsten illumination, for example.) Then he used an 18 percent grey card to preset white balance and got the best results. The image using the grey card needed no post-camera color correction, and the colors were the most true to life. The grey cat really was a black cat!
So what to do? You can go into your digital camera’s menu and find the ‘white balance’ and then set it on pre-set or manual and focus the camera on an 18 percent grey card (very cheap at large Bangkok photo shops) and snap away from there. The results should be better than those from the auto white balance.
The next step I recommend is to bracket your shots, giving different exposure settings, depending upon whether you are trying to photograph a white cat or a black cat. . Remember that when you are photographing the white cat the exposure indicated by the camera is the one that will make the white color 18 percent grey. To get the color back to white it will need more light on the film.
Let us imagine that your camera tells you that the exposure should be f 16 @ 1/60th of a second. You need more light in the camera, so make your exposure f 11 @ 1/60th and another at f 8 @ 1/60th. That gives you both one and two full stops of light more. One of those two will give you a white cat, irrespective of such fancy terms as automated multi-phasic metering, center weighted metering or whatever.
Now when photographing the black cat, do the reverse. Put the camera in metered manual mode and then when photographing something black, set the camera for one and two stops less light than indicated. It works!


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Which currency?

In these days of global media and sound-bites, words tend to be one of the most powerful policy tools available to central bankers. Alan Greenspan perhaps has been the greatest proponent of this policy tool so far. For all his shortcomings as an economist and central banker, he should perhaps consider giving a master class in this particular aspect of policy to his somewhat frustrated European counterpart, Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg premier and chair of euro zone financiers. The G7 powers came out and hailed “sharp fluctuations in major currencies” as being a major threat to economic and financial stability (we sometimes wonder whether the biggest threat to economic and financial stability is the combined actions of the G7 powers themselves).
The euro has surged to new record highs, causing an increasingly frustrated and threatening sounding Herr Juncker to say, “I don’t have the impression that financial markets and other actors have correctly and entirely understood the message of the G7 meeting.” Those teeth sound pretty gritted to me, Herr J.
This is all becoming a political issue now - US retreats into its shell while devaluing its currency. Euro zone responds with trade “protectionism” and then, surprise surprise, devaluations and embargoes become the order of the day! This is already happening with Herr Juncker threatening the US that it will get out of hand unless the dollar’s slide is halted and with President George W. Bush making soothing noises while presiding over further slides in the greenback.
It’s all coming to a head. On top of Herr Juncker’s warnings, “The moment will come where the exchange rate level will start to cause serious harm to the European economy,” we also have Louis Gallois, head of Airbus, chipping in, “The euro at its current level is asphyxiating a large part of European industry by shaving export margins,” and the European Central Bank revealing that foreign direct investment (FDI) into the euro zone has fallen by €269bn over the last two years as foreigners wind down operations and move manufacturing, in particular, to dollar zone regions.
Structurally we’ve warned of changes in global reserve holdings pretty much since the launch of the euro and it’s now obvious that one factor in the rise of the euro against the US dollar has been the move by Asian central banks and by sovereign wealth funds away from holding dollars to greater currency management. Research from BNP Paribas shows that $1,160,000,000 in reserves has been accumulated over the last year alone and that only 19% of this was invested in dollar assets (in the past you might have expected the vast majority to be). We highlighted Australia and New Zealand’s central bank activity in this area a few years back and expected Asia to follow suit. Well it’s happened and we seem to be the only ones not shocked by this. How much further can Greater China, Middle Eastern oil producers and the likes go? A lot depends on the perceived outlook for the euro.
In his recent book, ‘The Euro’, Otmar Issing warns of a “disastrous outcome” if the euro zone fails to embrace greater market flexibility and in a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that this is already happening with a North/South divide appearing in the euro zone. Germany and Holland continue to relatively prosper while most of southern Europe and Ireland is in economic trouble - “Current account deficits have reached 9.2% of GDP in Spain and may touch 15% in Greece. The European Commission’s economists fear that the loss of competitiveness against Germany over the last decade may have passed the point of no return. At best, these countries face years of belt-tightening as their property booms deflate.” We actually think that Mediterranean belt-tightening is the only way to blow off these excesses but we don’t find ourselves in the position that we have to sell that one to the electorates.
The relative outlook for euro remains much more attractive than USD or sterling. That said, we think that the dollar has gotten ahead of itself and although we have long been dollar bears we think that it is 5-10% weaker than it should be at this point in the cycle and that unless a total USD collapse is on the cards (which we don’t rule out, but on balance we would say is slightly more unlikely than likely) then you wonder how much further there is to go until we reach the bottom. Economically quite a way but how will this translate into FX rates?
Maybe the real answer lies in something that George Soros said, “Currencies are always in a state of flux. They move from where they are now to where they should be but they never quite get exactly there! They overshoot and then they have to correct and they change direction and overshoot again on the way back and constantly seek their true value and are constantly at variance from this.” For the record, George is currently aligned with our theme about the volatility in fiat currencies when people suddenly lose the faith - and like us has advocated for some time a flight from the most vulnerable paper currencies into gold (both yellow and black varieties) and silver.
However, when it comes to the euro, not even George Soros has been as prescient as he could have been. Or indeed as MBMG and MitonOptimal were. We called it right at that time. When the euro was launched in a marketing hullabaloo our house view was very negative because of the fudging process that had preceded this in order to get non-compliant nations to qualify. It was obvious to us that euro was overpriced at launch and we predicted a fall to below parity with US$. When the euro hit 0.86, we issued an interim price target of 1.30 and an ultimate price target of 1.50. That may sound obvious now but it was a very contrarian stance at the time. We’ve now exceeded the long term target at an earlier stage than we had envisaged but fundamentals still favour the euro even though we believe that the single currency is overpriced relative to where it should be at this stage in the cycle - George Soros’ golden rule of currency fluctuations yet again.
The question for investors right now isn’t whether euro will fall apart - Otmar Issing’s book is fascinating for economists and academics but just a distracting noise for anyone wanting to manage portfolios today. The question is whether fundamentals will worsen for the US$ greater than the extent of current undervaluation. This is possible and in fact probable but by no means certain. US$ can go 2 ways from here - it can continue to drift and can even implode from current levels - there is no bottom as to how low the US dollar can go if the economic news out of America worsens. However, it could also stabilise on the basis that bad news is priced in and, barring US economic calamity, it could build a base from which to rebound in the future. There are times when currency directions are very clear to us. This is not one of them. US$ is at a fork right now - waiting behind it is the euro - the fate of the euro is largely an inverse relationship with the dollar as well as a reflection of its own intrinsic merit.
We’re happy to sit on fences right now and hold a combination of client base currencies and Asian currencies with some euro exposure as opposed to the last couple of years when we’ve been gung-ho on the euro. We’re now constantly monitoring this situation for short-term developments in the absence of the clear long-term picture that we’ve seen in the markets the last 10 years. The bottom line is that currencies tend to be more driven in the short term by real factors, trade balances, capital flows, relative interest rates. Governments can say and do what they like but research from Appleton Capital Management suggests that government financial intervention has an impact of, at most, 2 weeks.
So words are not only cheaper but sometimes more effective too!

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

Rooms, Preah Vihear, Movies, Obama, Racism and Football…

A redundant national paper headline recently proclaimed: Chiang Mai Experiencing Room Glut. No need to say, I could have warned you of that. Sometime, somewhere, someone in authority (was it a football team owner in another life?) must have decided that what this city needed was a huge expansion of hotels, mainly in the four and five star bracket. Wrong!
With three more places opened or opening next month and occupancy rates reported to be less than 20%, this was surely misplaced optimism even before the present economic downturn. It seems that people traditionally stay here for only a few days and those in expensive hotels - often on business - like to be surrounded by secure luxury and only venture out to a one of the grander eateries and call it a day.
The marginally good news for the economy here is the progress of the dollar and pound and the already buoyant Euro against the baht. If interest rates go up to help counter inflation in Thailand that trend may be reversed and the present ‘advantage’ could disappear. One of the staff made redundant on June 30 at a large hotel near me said that they had not seen a farang customer in months.
All rather depressing (not unusual in low season) especially for small businesses with no back-up. And even the Sofitel has moved on, leaving new owners to see what can be done. Which one next? One elegantly gloomy place with vastly inflated prices would be my guess.
Would someone kindly explain in unsensational words of no more than three syllables what the real take is on Preah Vihear? It seems that Thailand has more pressing problems. Certainly I’ll admit to not understanding what is referred to as national pride and all the baggage which goes with winning, having, controlling, owning and so on. The U.K.’s one-time leader and bastion of the looney right, Margaret Thatcher, took us to war and committed carnage on the high seas over the ‘right’ to chunks of land nobody really cared about. Thus the Falklands War mars recent British history. Not the same, I guess as the rift between Cambodia and Thailand, but still smacking of national pride and so-called sovereignty and likely to cause ill-feeling if not worse.
With the dearth of recent movies in Chiang Mai - indeed anywhere in Thailand except occasionally in Bangkok - one is driven to see works that would otherwise be rejected. And so it came to pass that I saw Wanted. About 30 minutes in to this aberration I began to wonder what had happened to American movies and who they were aimed at. It is a very long while since I’ve endured such a mind-sullying experience (I would have left but my Thai companion was sitting placidly and only when it ended did he reveal how tedious he had found it) since I’ve avoided the recent spate of torture movies of which this is probably a distant cousin. The lack of a single moment of humour in this unpleasant and vacuous movie only added to the boredom which no clever special effects could counter.
But should you be searching for something to view on DVD (or, fingers crossed, in the forthcoming EU Film Festival) look no further than Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, which I managed to see in the cinema on my trip back to England. All of the rave reviews and the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or were justified and this bitingly satiric, thought provoking, shocking and superbly made movie restores my faith in cinema and stays in the mind months after seeing it. Along with about a dozen other movies it reminds us that all is not lost to the screen since we entered the 21st century.
I have an American friend over here at present. He’s convinced that Barack Obama will win the forthcoming election ‘hands down’. We can only hope he is right and that the U.S.A. does not reject the chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the world. He maintains that even most of the ‘rednecks’ as he endearingly calls some of his fellow workers have said they will no longer support the Republicans and will instead vote for a new face of America rather than a tired retread. I had to remind him that in Britain when the Conservatives were regarded as the ‘nasty’ party and widely reviled most people said they would not support them. Once in the privacy of the ballot booth many people changed their minds.
It seems likely to me that the same may happen in the U.S.A. where people who do not wish to be thought racist or simply ‘unfashionable’ will say one thing and do another rather than vote in a black President. After all it’s a very short lifetime ago that this charismatic man would not have been allowed in the same part of the bus by the very people on whom his success depends.
And to bring things up to date it’s worth noting that it was only very recently that Nelson Mandela was taken of the terrorist ‘list’ by the land of the free. Although he is now 90, long out of active politics (and even longer out of jail) and arguably the most revered figure in the world he had to get special clearance to enter the U.S.A. as a potential threat. Now he only has to go through the same visa hassle as normally suspect foreigners. My friend did admit that Obama could lose - if there was another attack either internally or externally involving his country. Possibly an attack on Iran by the Israelis with the tacit support of America or something reminiscent of 9/11. That would send the average Joe running into the arms of ‘war hero’ Mc Cain in search of re-assurance.
Mentioning racism and, in passing, football, reminds me how those two are sleeping partners. Oddly called the beautiful game it is in fact anything but with black players subjected to vile abuse both on and off the pitch, often in European capitals. It is also the most homophobic (among many) of sports. In Britain the ‘only’ gay player hanged himself, through fear of the shame that ‘outing’ would bring him. Since one in ten men - according to Kinsey (and general observation) - are either gay or bi-sexual it seems quite reasonable to assume that in any team, especially counting reserves and so on, there will be one member of this minority. Announce that to an assembled group of players and see who they look at first. More fun than the sport itself, perhaps.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Hellboy II:
The Golden Army: US Action/Fantasy - Again directed by Guillermo del Toro and again starring Ron Perlman as Hellboy, this presents again a dense, dark, and difficult fantasy world full of fantastical creatures determined to prove the Lovecraftian premise that he who destroys humankind does the universe a favor. For lovers of extreme action fantasy comics. I admire this director, but for me, this one has too much action, too many fights; I got action fatigue. Generally favorable reviews.
Red Cliff: China Action/Adventure - This $80-million film, directed by John Woo - the most expensive film ever produced in Asia - has been plagued by difficulties from the outset, including the walk-out by two stars, a storm that wrecked an outdoor set, and a stunt that went wrong killing a stuntman and injuring six others. And now there’s another huge hurdle for the film: except for the Apex Scala cinema in Bangkok, throughout Thailand the film is only being shown in a Thai dubbed version, at least at present. What a shame! I suppose you could go see it just for the spectacle.
Red Cliff is being released in two parts in Asia, with the second part scheduled for December 15th; in the US and Europe the two parts will be combined and shortened, and presumably will have English subtitles. Depicts events in third century China, as the Han Dynasty is facing its death, and the emperor raises a million-man army against two kingdoms that are hopelessly outmatched. Starring Tony Leung.
Hancock: US Action/Comedy - Will Smith has a lot of charisma for most moviegoers, including me. Here he plays an unsympathetic character, much against type, and has to work to gain our good will. Reviewers have widely diverse views on this one. I was only minimally amused. Smith plays a different kind of superhero: edgy, conflicted, sarcastic, and misunderstood. He gets the job done and saves countless lives, but he also seems to leave an awful lot of collateral damage as well. The people of Los Angeles have had enough. So did studio executives according to reports, who after seeing the original cut immediately ordered big changes and several scenes reshot, because the hero was such a drunk - and downbeat, disreputable, and even disgusting. His costume seems to be stolen off the back of a homeless person, and we’re introduced to Hancock as he wakes up on the sidewalk, reeking of alcohol, and then leaps into the sky to save someone, destroying everything in sight in the process. The result of all the frantic last-minute editing and newly shot scenes is a mess, frankly, but a mess with much to enjoy for fans of Will Smith. Also starring Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Not kid-friendly: There’s a lot of bad language, some graphic violence, and more. Mixed or average reviews.
Friendship: Thai Comedy/Romance - With Mario Maurer (of Love of Siam fame) and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk (of Ploy fame), in a high-school romance directed by Chatchai Naksuriya. I was less than enchanted - it seemed to me unrelated to the real life of people, either young or mature, and somewhat amateurish in writing, acting, and directing. But fans of Thai romances may well take to the unrealistic happenings between the two likeable leads.
Wanted: US Action/Thriller - If you think you’ve seen it all in violent and bloody action films, you haven’t yet seen this one: it raises the bar to a whole new level! Visually I think it’s fascinating - there are scenes which I could not believe I was seeing - and I would say it’s about as exciting as a movie can get. This is a fast-paced thrill ride, with a dazzling mix of state-of-the-art visual effects, adrenaline-fuelled action sequences, and nail-biting terror. The first American film by the Russian director Timur Bekmambetov. James McAvoy discovers his father is an assassin, who is brutally murdered. The son is then recruited into his father’s organization and trained by Morgan Freemen to follow in his dad’s footsteps, and in the process transformed from a drone into a dark avenger. With Angelina Jolie and Terence Stamp. Rated R in the US (and richly deserved) for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexuality. Generally favorable reviews.
Scheduled for Jul 17
The Dark Knight:
US Action/ Crime/ Drama/ Thriller - The first Batman movie without “Batman” in the title. I’m looking forward to this; the previews and photos I have seen of Heath Ledger in the role of the Joker show clearly the amazingly intense insanity he brought to this role. I’m convinced it caused his death. The role, as he played it, was so disturbing to him that he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t relax - so started taking pills, the overuse of which, most people think, led to his death by drug overdose. There’s much talk of his being nominated for best actor Oscar.


Doc English The Language Doctor:

How to encourage your children to become good listeners

Welcome back to the regular column for parents teaching their kids English at home. This week we discuss how to encourage your children to become good listeners.
Your kids probably spend more time using their listening skills than any other kind of skill and just like any other skill, listening takes a lot of practice. When we want our children to learn English, we want them to be ‘active listeners’. We want them to listen for specific information and to make judgments, to anticipate what we are going to say next and how to react. When children are learning, listening becomes an active process that has three basic steps.
1. The first step is hearing. In this context, hearing means ‘listening enough to catch what the speaker is saying’. It’s important to get your children to sit still and face you, whilst maintaining eye contact while you are talking. This is so that they will be better able to hear and understand what you are saying. If you use gesture and facial expressions, these will aid understanding. Remove distractions such as TV, siblings, etc., when you are teaching active listening.
2. The next step is understanding. After hearing, children need time to interpret what they have heard in order to understand it. They may interpret what you have said in many different ways. If your child looks puzzled, you can try repeating the information a couple of times. Don’t raise your tone of voice or get frustrated if they don’t get it the first time around. It won’t aid understanding and may increase anxiety. Instead, you could emphasise key words in the sentence (by changing the tone of your voice), or stress the syllables in the word that is not understood. Keep a smile on your face while you are talking, all the time encouraging your child to listen and comprehend.
3. After understanding, your child needs to make sense of what they have heard. OK, so they understand what you have said, but in what context? What can they do with this information? After you are sure your child has understood what you have said, give them time to think about whether it makes sense. Your child will need to draw on background knowledge to put this information into a wider context. You could ask questions to ensure they know what to do with the information.
Tips for Teaching Active Listening
* Encourage your child to write down key words whilst they listen. These will help them make sense of what they have heard later.
* Encourage your child to ask questions if they don’t understand, or to repeat what you have said in their own words to ensure they have understood.
* Make sure you give your full attention to your child when conducting a conversation in English. Don’t use too much ‘meta language’ and use natural speech as much as possible.
* Extend the length (time limit) of listening exercises each time in order to extend your child’s limit of concentration. You can also speed up your speech each time to encourage your child to listen harder.
You can find listening tasks designed to improve listening skills online at:
http://www.esl-lab.com/ (all ages)
http://englishenglish.com/listening_skills.htm (teens to adult)
http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/ (listen and respond to news in simplified English)
http://www.edict.com.hk/Diagnostic/listening.htm (carry out a listening test - teens to adult)
That’s all for this week mums and dads. If you want more information on teaching your children at home you can email me at: docenglish [email protected] Enjoy spending time with your kids.


Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Hello and welcome to the new bridge column. Each week I plan to present a hand which is both interesting and, I hope, informative. I would love to hear from readers about their favourite hands - please do contact me at: [email protected]
For most players, me included, squeezes are difficult to even think of, let alone play for. However, sometimes you are lucky enough to fall into them. When they work, the results seem almost miraculous, resurrecting apparently dead contracts and making certain tricks disappear! This hand was dealt at a table where I was playing:

Dealer N, all vulnerable

 

S: AK95  

 

H: K9765  

 

D: J6  

 

C: 42  

S: 84

  S: QJ1063

H: 43

  H: AQJ108

D: 97

  D: 52

C: J1087653

  C: 9

 

S: 72  

 

H: 2  

 

D: AKQ10843  

 

C: AKQ  

What do you think the contract should be? 6N played by North or 6D by South both work. Both contracts score seven diamond tricks, three clubs and two spades, losing only the heart ace. But this was the bidding:

N

E S W

1H

1S 2D P

2N

P 4N P

5D 

P 6N P

P

Dbl 7D P

P

Dbl  All pass  

In response to Blackwood, North showed one ace. South therefore placed the contract in 6N, to protect North’s spade stopper from a lead coming through it. East doubled, expecting that North would have to try and make at least one trick from his bid suit, and relying on his heart stack. The double sounded confident to South (even though this confidence was actually misplaced), and he feared that East had running top tricks, possibly in hearts. Consequently, he pulled to 7D, to limit possible losses and to put West on lead, in the hope that he might lead the wrong suit (whatever that might be!)
West now had to choose a lead. East’s double was not Lightner (asking for an unusual lead) because the grand slam was not freely bid. Also, the double of 6N certainly was not Lightner, because the doubler would have been on lead. Consequently, he led his partner’s suit, spades. After that lead, would you prefer to be declarer or defence?
It looks like the contract is dead - the heart ace must score for the defence. In fact however, the contract is now cold, with likely defence. Watch the heart ace go away! Declarer won the lead in dummy, pulled trumps and ran all the minor suit cards in his hand. The key is that he knew, from the bidding, that East held the high cards in both majors. West kept his only cards of apparent value, the clubs (would you be clever enough to keep the lowly four of hearts - I don’t think I would!). Dummy discarded one spade and all his low hearts. This is the situation as the club queen was led:

 

S: A9  

 

H: K  

 

D: -  

 

C: -  

S: -

  S: QJ

H: -

  H: A

D: -

  D: -

C: J108

  C: -

 

S: 7  

 

H: 2  

 

D: -  

 

C: Q (led)  

West followed suit and dummy threw the heart king, but what is East to do? He has a choice of ways to commit suicide. At the table, he threw the spade jack. Declarer then led to the spade king and took the last trick with the nine. It would have been more spectacular if he had thrown the heart ace. Declarer then leads his singleton heart, and takes the critical trick with a two, on the very first round of the suit!