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The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies


Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Living with cancer

So you find you have terminal cancer. What can you do? The first thing is to sit down and take stock of your circumstances. All of us know that that piece of string called “life” eventually comes to an end, but we don’t know when. The only difference with you is that your doctor has actually told you when your piece of “life” string is due to run out.
Now whilst the immediate thought is “How do I beat this?” there are many factors you have to consider in the time ahead, and one of the main ones is called ‘The Quality of Life’.
Now is the time to talk with family, friends and health care team. It is natural for a person with advanced cancer to feel many emotions including anger, fear, and sadness. Just as you may need time to adjust to this new phase of your illness, your family and friends may also need time. If you are having trouble talking with family and friends, ask your nurse, doctor, or counselor to gather everyone together to talk.
This talking phase should also include your getting to understand your cancer. This you do by talking with your treating doctors, and from information from reliable internet sites. Note I say “reliable” sites. There are always plenty of sites ready to sell you snake oil.
Now is the time to manage your symptoms. Your quality of life is better if your symptoms are under control. Talk to your health care team about the best way for you and your caregivers to manage your symptoms.
Do not be afraid to ask your doctors about any proposed modalities of treatment. Getting an extra two months of life, but at the cost of the quality of life, may not be worth having. Always keep that in mind. Quality of (the remaining) life is everything.
Be as active as you can. When an illness progresses, it may be harder to do the things you have always done. Talk to your health care team about what, if any, limitations you may have. If your physical health allows, continue to exercise in some enjoyable way. Or, if you find it is too much for you, take up a new hobby or find things that you can still do and enjoy, such as reading, writing, creating a photo album, or making a video for family and friends.
Let friends and family know what they can do to help. What can you do for yourself? What is important to you? What can friends and family do for you? What can all of you do together? Where do you turn if you need extra help or care? If you are not up to being social, let people know this as well.
Make your wishes known. Making the decision to stop active cancer treatments can be a hard choice for a person with cancer and their family. These are personal choices. If you are faced with making these decisions, talk with your family and health care team about your wishes and explore all of your options. You are still able to make decisions about your life to the extent that you desire.
Maybe you want to give someone else some of the responsibilities or share decisions about what to do. You may want to create a health care proxy and/or power of attorney. This allows someone who you choose to make health care or other decisions for you. Whatever you choose, you are in control of your life and you know what will work best for you.
You may also consider creating a ‘Living Will’ or giving specific instructions on what your wishes are if your cancer progresses. This process helps make your end-of-life wishes and desires known to family, friends, and your health care team and can help ensure that your wishes are honored. These wishes may include funeral arrangements or decisions about hospice care. Discuss with your family, friends, and health care team your wishes regarding resuscitation.
Sorry if the column this week sounds a little deep and dark, but it can give assistance to those who feel as if all their options have gone.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I don’t know why you “bovvered” replying to that obnoxious guy with his IQ of whatever! But then you are always so polite.
My letter is really about how to refuse food? I am certainly not anorexic and not obese either, but when I visit any Thai friends or acquaintances I am immediately faced with huge amounts of food.
I love the Thai people very much, and know they can ill afford to feed their families let alone me. When I enter their homes I tell them I have already eaten and am full, but it makes no difference, the food still appears. I force myself to eat something then when I get home I have to reach for the “Imodium” capsules! What would your solution be Hillary?
Fat Delboy! (Well getting that way)
Dear (Fat) Delboy,
How nice to hear from you again. Did you ever find the helmet from your motorcycle? And have you started to padlock it securely these days?
How do you refuse food? With difficulty, my Petal. Offering food is part of the ingrained hospitality in Thai culture. If you clean your plate it means that the host did not give you enough, so you must always save your host from embarrassment by leaving some food on the plate.
Tuck in with enthusiasm, but then leave a sizable amount on the plate, and that’s when you say “Aroy, aroy, im lao” (very delicious, and I am full). Your host will be happy that he has fed you and even happier that he has filled you.
I don’t really understand the Imodium. The food can’t be that bad, surely?

Dear Hillary,
This one is a bit different from the usual ones you get here. What is your advice on beggars? Should you, or shouldn’t you? I find them at all the overbridges and the ones with obvious physical disabilities or young babies are difficult to walk past. But I am told that my concern is misplaced as they aren’t real beggars at all. What do you suggest, as I do not want to appear stingy, as I am reasonably well off, but I certainly do not want to be ripped off either.
Dear Bob,
Always a difficult question, and one that foreigners here have a problem with all the time. You are generous by nature, and understand that there can be great differences in wealth. However, your pockets are probably nowhere near as deep as the pockets of some of the members of the Thai community, and you will not often see them donating to waifs at the roadside. There are much better ways of distributing largesse and this is through the service clubs and organizations. This way, your donation goes directly to where it is needed, and nothing is skimmed off the top for ‘middle men’. So my suggestion is to certainly put something into charity, but do it through people like the Rotary, Lions and other charitable groups like the Charity Rooftop.

Dear Hillary,
Most of the letters you get are from men who are whining about what has happened to them with girls from in the bar scene. Has the simple fact escaped them that there is another side to living in Thailand? Surely they must see that there is a big difference between that side and the other side? If they stopped to look past the end of their noses they would see that there are some truly wonderful girls out there. I have been married to my Thai wife for ten years now and we have a partnership and mutual trust. This works very well and I have never felt at any time that I am being ripped off. Adjustments have to be made (by both the people) but that is normal in any marriage. My wife came from a respectable family and had a good job before she settled down to be a wife and mother to our two lovely girls. Why don’t some of these men who write in with complaints spend more time to look for the “good” girls?
Happily Married to a Thai lady
Dear Happily Married to a Thai lady,
I thank you for your letter, as it is easy for the casual reader to think that there is nothing but disaster in any relationship with a Thai lady. You are correct, people with problems do tend to write in to a problems column, rather than those who do not. It is always good to show that there is another side to the coin. Unfortunately, the ‘professional’ ladies are the ones that the newcomers meet, who are then swept off their feet in the rush to the gold shop, the motorcycle dealers and the real estate agents. These men would not go looking for their life’s partner in a bar in their own country, so why do they do so here? Laziness and easy availability is the answer. Congratulations again on writing in and 10 years of marital (not ‘martial’) bliss.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Lartigue - the man who shot what pleased him

Jacques-Henri Lartigue was the first photographer to show that equipment comes second to imagination. He was a great individualist taking photographs of “…everything which pleases me, everything I am keen on, which delights or amazes me. The rest I let pass.” Famous lensman Richard Avedon called Lartigue “The most deceptively simple and penetrating photographer in the history of that art.” I can only agree.
Lartigue was born into an upper middle class family in Courbevoie, near Paris. He was a child prodigy, who began to photograph at age seven when he received his first camera from his father, who was also an amateur photographer. This camera was no auto everything point and shoot, but a large 13 x 18 cm box on a wooden tripod. He is reported as having said, “Now I will be able to make portraits of everything, everything. I know very well that many, many things are going to ask me to have their pictures taken, and I will take them all!” And he did, keeping a diary illustrated with sketches, in which he recorded the details of each shot. Just the same as I encourage you all to do today.
The amazing aspect of J-H’s photography was that he was able to show movement in his images. Remember that no one was there to teach this young boy, and the cameras, lenses and films were not fast enough to allow him the luxury of fast shutter speeds, yet he could find that split instant in time to stop the action. He would capture the subject, mid-frame, as if posed in mid air waiting for the shutter to click. Truly remarkable stuff for a young boy. And he was young. J-H was born in 1894 and has been resident in the Great Darkroom in the Sky since 1986.
Fortunately for us, he took plenty of photographs, but the enormity of his collection was not discovered till 1963, by which stage he had over 200,000 photographs catalogued in albums! On his 90th birthday he was still snapping away and had a major exhibition in London. His photograph collection he also donated to the French nation. In addition to his black and white photography, Lartigue made several short films in 1913 and 1914.
What J-H Lartigue gave us, however, in addition to all those photographs was two fold. The first is called ‘Anticipation’. As a photographer wanting to record action subjects, you have to anticipate where the action is, and get yourself ready to record the height of the action. Be that tennis, soccer or golf, the great action shots are at the zenith. It is a lot easier now, because these days even compact cameras have shutter speeds faster than poor old J-H’s first camera, and the top of the line SLR’s have shutter speeds as fast as 1/4000th of a second combined with motor drives exposing multiple frames per second. This makes action photography today much easier than at the turn of the century. However, there is still the need for “anticipation”, Lartigue’s great gift.
The second gift from Lartigue is his diary. He recorded all the pertinent details, so that he could reproduce the same concepts later. Photography is always a learning process, and the quickest way to learn is to have records so that you can see what went wrong, or how you got it right!
So let’s have a crack at some “action pix” this week. Take a motorcycle - it leans into the corner and you can see that it was in motion. Or even better, riding through a puddle, with the spray coming up from the wheels. People jumping convey movement too, or skipping rope, water skiing, running, swimming or diving, like Lartigue’s shot of his brother, or other physical activities. Anticipate the action and get that action shot.
I am not saying it is easy, but it is well worth the practice. You can set the camera on Auto - but anticipate for a great shot.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Beware false profits, part 1

Niche funds can be, to steal a turn of phrase from “1066 & All That”, a ‘good thing’. When our portfolio managers at MidasMitonOptimal recognise an arcane, highly specialised opportunity they don’t immediately try to become experts in that field themselves. What they do try to do is use recognised, existing expertise in this particular class or, where that doesn’t clearly exist, they might simply take exposure to a sector using Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) or Contracts for Difference (CFDs) - derivatives that capture the movement of a sector.
When Joanne Baynham wrote one of the first articles advocating the upside of the water sector a couple of years ago, she also identified Pictet’s water fund as being the specialist in that area that the MidasMitonOptimal portfolios had bought into. Since January 2000, the team of water industry analysts and fund managers that Pictet had assembled has outperformed the MSCI world index by 6.79% per year. Yes, on a yearly basis they had added almost 7% annualised return. Even over the last 5 years the fund made 13.1% a year versus 8.6% by the index and over the last 3 years, Joanne has seen 11.8% from the fund versus 6.04% index growth.
In addition to building a team to manage the fund, Pictet also use an external advisory board comprising wide-ranging water industry expertise.
As with all things, success fosters imitation. In the last 6 months we’ve seen a raft of articles extolling the investment virtues of water. None of these has added much to Joanne’s original article - remember, it was written in early 2006. In fact, some seem to have borrowed extensively from it and others would have been better advised to have done so! Commodities have become an even hotter investment topic today than they were back in the summer of 2006.
Oil has gone over USD115 per barrel and gas, gold, a variety of other precious and non-precious metals, wheat and other ‘softs’ and even coal have all captured the attention of investors and consumers alike as their values and prices seem to have inexorably risen over the last few years - albeit via a rollercoaster ride. As equity markets have now peaked and fallen (as predicted in 2006 by Joanne and the team), investing in defensive, high dividend stocks such as utilities has also become an area of increasing focus for the markets. Yet now, as then, there is a shortage of intelligent research on one of the areas of cross-over between these two - i.e. water. A full copy of Joanne’s 2006 article is available but below we’ve detailed the main points as so many are relevant today:
“There’s a huge debate raging about when the world will run out of fossil fuels and the consequences of this - but very little on how long the global water supply can last. Scientists don’t claim we are running out of water per se – just clean water. The United Nations Population Fund Projects that in 2025, if present rates of water consumption are maintained, 5 billion of the world’s 7.9 billion people will live in areas where safe water is scarce. Eighty percent of all diseases and one third of all deaths in developing nations are caused by contaminated water.
Between 1970 and 2003, the world’s population growth rate declined from 2% to 1.2% per annum, yet in contrast, the increase in water withdrawals has steadily outpaced population growth. Water withdrawals are growing at 2.5% per annum, and there is no sign of a reversal in this trend. Put another way, since 1950 world population growth has doubled, but water use has tripled.”
Hence one can see that the increase in water usage is not merely a function of having more mouths to feed, but is in fact a result of growing global urbanization. As developing countries mature and move away from an agrarian society, the net result is that one sees the migration of the rural poor to the cities. Government’s encouragement of industry growth, for which water returns are higher, is helping to drive this phenomenon.
Rural poor in developing countries are now migrating to urban slums at such a rate that by 2007, for the first time in history, half of the world’s population will live in towns and cities. In China, for example, where this migration from rural to urban living has been pronounced for the last 15 years, 400 of the largest 670 cities are operating in serious water deficit and over-taxing sewage treatment facilities if available at all. Only one quarter of the 21 billion tons of China’s annual output of household sewage is treated. Treatment plants are being built, but will still handle only half of all city sewage, leaving rural waste water untreated. The government has forecast an annual water shortfall of 53 trillion gallons by 2030 - more than China now consumes in a year.
A clear indicator of the growing trend of urbanization is the ever increasing number of mega-cities with a population of more than 8 million. In 1950 there were only two - New York and London, but now there are already 22. Of the top ten of these mega-cities, seven are in developing countries, and all are outpacing their industrial counterparts in terms of the rate of expansion. With the possible exception of Sao Paulo, every one is experiencing a high level water stress. This figure will have risen to around 36 by 2015, and many of these cities will have a population way in excess of 8 million. Of these 36 mega-cities, 23 will be in Asia.
In one extreme example, Dhaka’s (Bangladesh) population has grown from 250,000 just over thirty years ago to more than 13 million today. This means there is now an environment where more than 9 million people have no sewerage at all, resulting in human waste collecting and overflowing into rivers and lagoons - sources of fresh water for the poor.
The lessons of a letter written by the US President nearly forty years ago are even more pertinent today than they were then, “A nation that fails to plan intelligently for the development and protection of its precious waters will be condemned to wither because of its short-sightedness. The hard lessons of history are clear, written on the deserted sands and ruins of once proud civilizations,” - Lyndon B. Johnson.
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

Two successful (and very different) charity events…

…and dealing with racism and the Burmese junta...or not

Introducing a charity dinner and concert at the Amari Rincome Hotel, the general manager Wim Fagel said – with a modicum of understatement I thought – that Chiang Mai held a great many such fund raising events. Adding that the people of the City were generous in such cases. I’d certainly agree with that. From the increasingly frenetic run up to next January’s Hillside 4 party to smaller one off happenings such as that held at Tusker’s Bar recently in aid of the Croston House Children’s’ Home there always seems to be some worthwhile cause or other to support.
On Sunday I went along to the Care for Dogs Adoption Fair at Carrefour. This had the dual function of raising funds by selling their attractive cards, t- shirts, toys etc. ( and letting people see the many puppies and dogs they have for adoption. They seemed to be attracting great interest but there will never be an end to the needs of badly treated and neglected animals in Chiang Mai (or anywhere else in Thailand) so let’s hope some of their beautiful dogs and two kittens found good homes.
I enjoyed two other ‘shows’ during that week. The first, on Wednesday 27, was a truly memorable event at Payap University – held in one of their undercover sports stadiums. Billed as a Live Aid Concert, it was in aid of the Chin State of Burma – a western area which is suffering terribly from the failure of a particular type of bamboo found there and the devouring of other crops by rats. Out of half a million people, it is estimated that a fifth of them are existing on a single meal a day – and that is of poor quality gruel or a rice dish. The organizers hoped to raise 150,000 baht and with many hundreds of people there (it was a modest 150 baht for most seats and 500 for the so-called VIP chairs) I think they will have exceeded their aim. It was the best ‘charity event’ that I have been to this year and I doubt any future one will provide comparable fun.
Sadly, I cannot tell you much about the event since it was not translated into Thai or English. No matter-my Thai friend and I were caught up in the enthusiasm and excitement of the performances. The bands were great and two youngish singers (one male and one female) were obviously ‘super stars’ to the young audience and were mobbed and photographed and applauded with genuine affection. They were amiable and immensely talented as were the other performers.
The same could be said for the very different performers at the Amari function held on the 30th. These were all Thai (The Impossible, Silver Sand, Dang Fantastic and The Pink Panther) and the rather older audience obviously had a great time too. They had paid a sturdier 950 baht for the privilege, including plenty of food and wine. Over 200,000 baht was raised for the Amari’s Baht for a Life charity which funds a programme of schools and educational projects throughout Thailand. Great, then, to be able to contribute to something worthwhile and know that all of the proceeds are heading in the right direction. Like Hillside, there are no overheads and the performers all gave their services. All we have to do is enjoy ourselves.
There was a letter in last week’s Mail about ‘racism’ in relation to a condo building (it applies to others too though not, I am happy to say, to Hillside 4). The word might have appeared rather strong since it was really referring to a pathetic notion of discrimination or ignorant prejudice that still exists in some areas of Thai society and which finds it broadest outlet in the obsession with ‘whitening’. In the case referred to it was the absurd suggestion that a Thai (or I guess other nationalities who do not conform to the management’s antiquated notions) should wear some identification whereas an accompanying farang was absolved from such humiliation.
It reminded me of a case of more blatant racism which I wrote about a few months ago when the restaurant Tawan Daeng refused entry to one of our party of around 20. The matter was simply solved. We immediately left the place and went to nearby Ney Ney for our birthday celebration. The same idea would be difficult to put into practice on a first visit to a condo if one was – say – expected for dinner. On a second occasion it could be easily solved. One puts the onus on the resident and says please make sure that this objectionable attitude is stopped, by saying, “When (if ) I come back here I expect you to tell the receptionist or security guard that we are guests and such discrimination is both offensive and also unenforceable”. In Britain, I know it is illegal. No doubt in your country too. So why not in Thailand?
A week ago, I optimistically wrote that the UN Envoy to Burma could expect a batter reception when he visited Thailand and Indonesia after making no progress whatsoever with the junta. My optimism was unfounded. The Thai Prime Minister seems to have given no hint that he will not sign the ASEAN charter and even sided with the junta’s plans for the 2010 elections, which are a continuation of the political farce that is going on there. At present only three countries have not signed and it seems that Thailand will cave in. Let’s hope the Philippines and Indonesia refuse. Let’s hope too that the present envoy – Mr Gambari – is replaced soon. There have been eight envoys in the past 20 or so years and nobody has achieved a breakthrough. But he seems to have had no success at all. Perhaps, though, it is like talking to a brick wall. It needs explosives in place to create a hole big enough to allow a dialogue. Anybody got a match?

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Bangkok Dangerous:
US Action/Drama – Directors Danny and Oxide Pang return in a remake of their popular 1999 thriller about a ruthless hitman (this time Nicolas Cage) who travels to Bangkok in order to carry out four murders. During the course of his jobs, the triggerman falls in love with a pretty local girl while also forming a friendly bond with his young errand boy. Makers of the movie are saying that they were shooting the film in Bangkok during the 19th of September coup d’état two years ago. Filming stopped, but only for six hours. They are fond of claiming that they fired the only shots in the coup. Rated R in the US for violence, language, and some sexuality.
Tevada Tokmun: Thai Comedy – Some Academy Fantasia 4 winners from the hit TV reality show in a comedy about the misadventures of an angel and a monk.
Mamma Mia!: US/UK/Germany Comedy/ Musical/ Romance – Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth. Donna, an independent, single mother who owns a small hotel on an idyllic Greek island, is about to let go of Sophie, the spirited daughter she’s raised alone. On a quest to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle, Sophie invites to the wedding three men from Donna’s past, all possibly her father. Immense quantities of popular ABBA music that I find horrifyingly infectious and which I can’t get rid of. It’s an extraordinarily vivacious and energetic musical that is bound and determined to make you sing and dance and feel good about marriage and things like that. Mixed or average reviews.
Boonchu 9 / Boon-Choo: Thai Comedy – A continuation of the popular Thai comedy series. The son of the original Boonchu is a happy monk who is defrocked by his mother and sent to university in Bangkok.
Boys Over Flowers: Final: Japan Romance/Comedy – Wildly popular film in Japan, based on a top selling manga, featuring five popular Japanese idols, following the travails of a working-class girl at an elite prep school who must contend with a four-man clique of “rich, gorgeous guys.” Thai dubbed with no English subtitles.
The Coffin / Longtorai / Lhong Tor Tai: Thai Horror – Ananda Everingham as a claustrophobic architect who participates in coffin rituals to gain a new lease on life. It has much going for it, with a stellar cast and a fine director, but I was mightily confused. It didn’t seem to be the movie that director Ekachai Uekrongtham set out to make. The script won a prestigious prize from the Rotterdam Festival, but the movie hadn’t been made yet, and to get the necessary funding he had to change it into a horror flick, making compromises along the way. The beautifully shot opening sequence of the burial ritual at the temple gives an idea of what the film could have been. And although this is the director’s first English language film, it is shown in Thailand only in a Thai-dubbed version, with English subtitles which don’t jibe with the movement of the lips. The result for me is simply awkward.
Made of Honor: US Comedy – A piece of fluff about, what else, love problems, with the appealing stars Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan. Generally negative reviews.
WALL•E: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Romance/ Sci-Fi – A work of genius from the first frame to the last. Robot love in a dead world, and the cutest love story in years. There’s virtually no dialogue for the first 40 minutes; you’ll be enthralled. And the brilliant animation continues throughout the closing credits, as we’re treated to a continuation of the story in a series of historical art styles. Reviews: Universal acclaim.
As a bonus, there’s a terrific Pixar cartoon before the feature.
Death Race: US Action/Thriller – The most twisted spectator sport on earth as violent criminals vie for freedom by winning a race driving monster cars outfitted with machine guns, flamethrowers, and grenade launchers. The previews are repulsive, and have convinced not to see it. The consensus: Little more than an empty action romp – mindless, violent, and lightning-paced. Rated R in the US for strong violence (mauling, maiming, bruising, beating, impalement, immolation, detonation, decapitation) and language. Mixed or average reviews.
Scheduled for Sep 11
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan:
US Action/Comedy – Starring Adam Sandler. Zohan is an Israeli commando who fakes his own death in order to pursue his dream: becoming a hairstylist in New York. Mixed or average reviews.
Burn: Thai Thriller – All you ever wanted to know about “SHC” – Spontaneous Human Combustion. As you certainly know, that’s the familiar medical condition wherein a living human being suddenly bursts into flames. Director Peter Manus examines this serious human malady, and perhaps will show how you can inoculate yourself against this happening to you. Maybe diet has something to do with it.

REFLECTIONS: by William Parham

Soso: Renaissance Man

First, he was a priest in training and a choirboy with an angelic voice. Later as a young man, he was a poet, good-looker, prolific lover of women. Then, he evolved into a focused revolutionary and gangster for the Bolshevik cause. Always, at all times, an avid reader. The perfect student. This would be Stalin, known to his intimates as Soso.

The young Stalin.

We know all these details of Stalin’s early life thanks to a magnificent biography published last year, Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore. As early-life biographies go, we know quite a bit about the young Hitler, for example, but Stalin’s youth has always remained a mystery. ‘All young people are the same,’ said Stalin, ‘so why write... about the young Stalin?’
Formerly sealed, an arsenal of critical archives in Russia, Georgia, and Europe have now been opened, along with formerly unpublished memoirs, and Montefiore has taken splendid advantage of this opportunity to create a brilliant winner of the 2007 Costa Biography Award.
Ten years of research has produced not only an intimate biography of both an auto-didact intellectual and a killer, but also a hitherto unknown history of pre-revolutionary Bolshevism that reads like a fast-paced novel. And for the reader who ponders such things: how does one go from writing poetry to planning the mass murders of the Great Terror, to industrializing the USSR, and finally to defeating Hitler at Stalingrad?
Let’s say it starts here, in the Caucasus, in the former kingdom of Georgia, where Stalin was born in 1875. Georgia was a recent conquest of Tsarist Russia, and far from the literary and intellectual Russian capitol of St. Petersburg. In fact, so far, that Stalin’s birth city of Gori still practiced the picturesque and savage custom of free-for-all brawls with no-holds-barred violence in which everyone, adults, priests, and children took part. In other words, a backwater of violence and crime with a chip on its shoulder dreaming of independence from Russia.
Within such a milieu of acceptable mayhem, one memoir says, ‘there was hardly a day when someone had not beaten him up…or when he hadn’t beaten up someone else.’ The little Stalin spent his days on these mean streets honing his fighting skills and building up an indomitable will. ‘We avoided him out of fear but we were interested in him because there was something excessively passionate about him.’
So perhaps here is the first glimmer of a cult of personality combined at the same time with fear. Testing the limits of intimidation, the young hoodlum found that, for most of his cohorts, it was limitless. Like a moth to a flame, this symbiotic relationship of dictator and sycophant would play itself out chillingly in the decades to come.
A nerve was touched in the young Stalin when the Tsar decreed all tuition to be in the Russian language, forbidding Georgians to speak their own language in school. Not too long after, he soon crossed the line from being a rebellious street-brawler to incipient revolutionary, asking such questions as ‘Why are we poor? How can our life be changed?’
His answer was found in a pamphlet that came into his hands in 1903, A Letter to a Comrade on Organizational Tasks. This dryly titled tract was authored by a person called Lenin, propagating his vision of a Marxist party led by a tiny militant elite, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ That pamphlet, enthused Stalin, ‘…reinforced my belief that, in Lenin, the Party had a mountain eagle.’
When he actually met Lenin in 1905, Stalin’s reputation as a tough revolutionary, commanding passionate loyalty among his followers, had preceded him. The Mountain Eagle saw in Stalin, this ‘wonderful Georgian,’ a splendid way to fund the struggling Bolsheviks. How? Bank robberies, heists, shake-downs euphemistically called ‘expropriations,’ with all money religiously sent to Lenin. Stalin, the shake-down artist - who would have known?
Montefiore’s Young Stalin ends with the success of the October Revolution, finally ending the Tsar’s regime in Russia. Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin were on top going into this new era. And with what ideology does the new Bolshevik regime begin? Let’s allow them to speak for themselves. Lenin: ‘We’re engaged in annihilation…How can you make a revolution without firing squads?’ Now, Trotsky, the intellectual: ‘We must put an end once and for all to the…babble about the sanctity of human life.’ Stalin has his opinions too: ‘The idea of a concentration camp is excellent.’
Before Montefiore’s research, it was widely thought that Stalinism was a distortion of a more disciplined, philosophical Leninism. This was not so. The newly-opened archives have revealed that Lenin’s orders single-handedly pushed the Bolsheviks to frenzied bloodletting. And for the next five years, Lenin loyally promoted Stalin as his henchman, knowing ‘that chef will cook up some spicy dishes.’
The story of how that chef cooked up his dishes after he came into his own power is the subject of Montefiore’s award-winning History Book of the Year, The Court of the Red Tsar. Actually written in 2003, before the Young Stalin, The Court takes up where Young Stalin ends.
It was a quirk of fate that allowed Stalin to eventually dominate the party’s leadership at all. In a short time, Lenin had come to be disgusted with a number of Stalin’s actions, and he alone could see that Stalin was emerging as his most likely successor. In 1923, Lenin secretly dictated a damning testament demanding Stalin’s dismissal as the party’s powerful General Secretary.
But this was not to be. Lenin was felled by a fatal stroke in January 1924, and Lenin’s two trusted colleagues decided to allow Stalin to remain as a hedge against the flamboyant Trotsky in spite of Lenin’s last directive. They picked the wrong man. ‘Now Stalin could become Stalin.’
The Court of the Red Tsar is not a history per se of the repressive Stalinist regime, but rather a fascinating biography of the man who dominated that time. In many ways, this comes to the same thing. But the focus, throughout almost 700 pages, is clearly on the life of Stalin and his ruling clique, those gifted yet damaged people. Personal stories abound, revealing heartbreak, ruthlessness, the comic, and an absence of empathy. But above all, power and fear - that daunting duo.
Towards the end, the aging Stalin nearing his death in 1953, sits on the veranda of one of his favorite dachas surrounded by old friends, singing sentimental Georgian songs and telling amusing stories about yet other friends from the past. Some of these died peacefully in their beds, others in Stalin’s dungeons by a bullet to the back of the head by his own order. All related with equanimity.
How to explain the psychology of a person who allegedly was responsible for the deaths of 20-25 million people? And yet, one who could collapse in despair at his first wife’s funeral and bemoan the suicide of his second wife all his life. Perhaps only this: Stalin once wrote, history is full of ‘abnormal people.’ Too short and sweet, scant consolation.
These books are virtually impossible to locate in Chiang Mai. But thanks to a selfless donor, they have come to a venue near you, the AUA library. Check it out.

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

You are West and pick up this nice hand:
S: AQ7
H: 76
D: AK9652
C: 86
This is the bidding (South deals, EW vulnerable):
South    West    North    East
1H         2D       2H        3D
3H         4D       4H        All pass
You lead a top diamond and see this dummy:
S: KJ542
H: 1085
D: -
C: Q10743
Declarer ruffs your top diamond in dummy, leads a low club to the ace of clubs in hand, and then leads the ten of spades from hand. Before you look at the full deal below, decide which of your three spades (AQ7) you would play on this lead.
The full deal is:

  S: KJ542  
  H: 1085  
  D: -  
  C: Q10743  
S: AQ7   S: 83
H: 76   H: J92
D: AK9652   D: J1083
C: 86   C: KJ52
  S: 1096  
  H: AKQ43  
  D: Q74  
  C: A9  

Did you opt to play the ace? Most players would. Your best move after winning the ace is to lead a club, hoping that your partner can win and then give you a club ruff. Success – partner wins with the jack, and leads back the king. Declarer ruffs and you over ruff. Unfortunately, it is now all over for the defence. Declarer wins any return, pulls trumps, leads spades to finesse you and ends up winning four heart tricks, four spade tricks, the ace of clubs and a diamond ruff. Ten tricks and contract made.
Maybe you chose to play a low spade, hoping that declarer would guess wrong and go up with the king, leaving your ace and queen as masters. In this case, declarer’s ten would hold the trick. Now declarer knows the spade situation, he switches tack and ruffs another diamond on board. He then leads dummy’s last trump, pulls trumps, and finesses again in spades. The defence can take a diamond, a spade and a club, but that is all. Declarer takes the other ten tricks and makes the contract.
I played this hand as declarer. If the queen of spades is onside, then the hand should make. But what if the queen is offside and I guess wrong and lose two spade tricks, in addition to a club trick? In that case, I cannot afford to lose a diamond. That is why I chose to test one round of spades before pulling trumps. As described above, against most defenders (ie all those who play the ace or low on the second trick), this line of play makes the contract. Unfortunately for me, sitting West was Sharen Sherman, usually of the US but who spends part of her time in Thailand. She found the fiendish play of the queen. On the face of it, this seems like a give up play, sacrificing the queen for nothing. But look what happens next.
Since the ace of spades was out, I still could not afford to pull trumps, because I was wide open in diamonds. Since I was on board, I could not ruff a diamond. I knew I was at risk of a defensive cross-ruff, but I had no choice but to knock out the spade ace and hope for favourable distribution or a passive defence to save me. Consequently, I led back to the nine of spades in hand, taken by the ace. Sharen then led a club to the jack. The king of clubs came back, which I ruffed and she over-ruffed. She then led a spade for East to ruff, and another club came back. This time I ruffed high, and managed to scrape the rest of the tricks for one down.
I still don’t know quite what hit me – if I were holding Sharen’s hand, I would probably still go up with the ace, and thus let declarer make the contract! I would like to hear from readers about their favourite hands – please do contact me at: [email protected]