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The Doctor's Consultation

Your Health & Happiness

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

See your heart in 64 slices

Following on from World Heart Day, I thought it would be of interest to look at the diagnostic procedure known as the 64-Slice CT. This is one of the ways of seeing what is the condition of your coronary arteries.
What is often not realized is that the heart muscle does not get its oxygenation from the blood inside its chambers, but through separate arteries that run around the heart and supply the heart muscle directly. These are the coronary arteries.
When the coronary arteries begin to be blocked, this is known as Coronary Heart Disease and refers to the gradual build up of ‘plaque’ (and it is not the dental kind) in the inside of the coronary arteries, the arteries that ‘feed’ the heart muscle.
If the inside diameter of the coronary arteries is reduced by 50 percent, it means that the oxygen required cannot be supplied in enough quantities to keep the heart muscle alive when it is called to perform extra work, such as running to (or out of the way of) a baht bus, for example. Constriction greater than 50 percent means that the heart muscle ‘starves’ of oxygen even more quickly.
We know these days that the ‘plaque’ build-up is made of cholesterol and calcium, and that the likelihood of deposits depends on many factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, stress and cigarette smoking. This is why we advocate regular testing for those physical factors, and strongly advise you to give up smoking! We actually do want you to live a little longer, with a good quality of life.
To diagnose coronary artery disease, we will evaluate a patient’s risk factors and perform some tests and then divide the patients suspected to be at risk into the two groups; high and low risk. After that, there are two main diagnostic procedures that will usually be performed, conventional coronary angiography or the 64-Slice CT.
Conventional Coronary AngioGraphy (CAG because we medico’s love acronyms, as you know) is probably the ‘gold standard’ to accurately assess the coronary arteries, and gives an immediate clinical evaluation of known or suspected coronary artery disease. At this time, if blockages are found, the patients are already prepped and balloon and stent can be inserted. An immediate treatment which gets the patient quickly out of danger in the short term.
However, whilst it may be the gold standard, it is also expensive (like gold) and time consuming, as it requires a stay in hospital of four to six hours. Being a direct intervention, with cardiac catheters, there can also be a risk of hemorrhage, though this is not usually the case. But it can happen.
The alternative is the 64-Slice-CT. This is the latest variation of CT scanning, with the original known as 16-slice CT. This was fine for assessing organs which did not move, but was not as accurate in demonstrating coronary artery problems, because the heart is moving and beating inside the chest (unless, of course, if you have died already). However today, with the advent of the most advanced form of this imaging, the multi-slice detectors and high powered computer programs called the 64-Slice CT, we can efficiently get information on the coronary arteries in as few beats as possible, in around 4 seconds. And this comes with 90 percent accuracy.
The 64-Slice CT has many advantages. First off, nobody is actually slicing you open to insert cardiac catheters into your arteries. The 64 ‘virtual’ slices are done of your cardiac image and the coronary arteries by the computer program, not physically. Each slice is 0.625 mm, so will be able to pinpoint calcium deposits. It is a quick and painless procedure. You do not have to wait around in hospital afterwards, other than perhaps wait for the radiologist’s report. A boon for the busy businessman (the group most at risk). And finally, it is much cheaper than having a coronary angiogram.
If you have no risk factors, other than being over 50, I would seriously consider the 64-Slice CT. Forewarned is forearmed!


Your Health & Happiness: Health, Exercise and Fitness

Do it yourself!

John Bailey
Of course, any form of exercise is a “do-it-yourself” experience, but in this instance, I’m referring to working out at home with either minimal equipment or none. Let’s see what can be done if this is your situation. Firstly, cardio. The simple answer is, of course, walking, but if you live in a two storey house or have steps down from your terrace as I do, then you don’t need to buy a stepper! Just go for it on your own steps – up, down, up, down, etc. Pretty boring, I admit, and the neighbours will probably think you’ve finally lost it, but: Who cares? You’re getting healthy! By doing just that simple exercise you will be raising your heart rate to a beneficial level. Another way to exercise would be to put on your favourite music (Oops! Neighbours again. Your favourite may not be theirs.) dance around, any style you like; except, perhaps, break-dancing! By doing this in an energetic fashion, you will be exercising many muscle groups, especially the all-important core strength ones.
If you’re suffering from a torn leg muscle or a sore knee (I told you not to try break-dancing…) try this: Lie on your bed, put your hands under your hips for support, raise your knees and start a pedalling motion. Stretching, of course, needs no special equipment. Just refer to one of my earlier articles on stretching techniques, provided you haven’t wrapped your fish and chips in it! If you did, try this: Take a hand towel and hold it stretched out when you do your normal exercises, e.g., when you are raising your arms above your head or in front and twisting gently (I said gently) at the waist.
Hold each extension for 8-10 seconds. For your DIY abdominals, refer again to my previous article, but remember to keep the small of your back against the floor and breathe normally. As for strength exercises when you don’t have weights, try a tin of beans, easily available just about anywhere! If you do have weights but have “grown out” of them, the only option is to make a small investment in a heavier set, although unglazed terracotta large sized garden bricks can be helpful as a stop-gap! Whatever the weight you’re using, though, lots of reps are the answer to building good muscle tone. Remember, though, good posture and correct breathing (out on the effort) is essential.
Next, legs. Try this: Sit on an ordinary chair with your feet placed naturally on the ground. Keeping good posture, extend your legs straight out in front, until your quadriceps (the muscles above your knees) are clenched. Hold for 5 seconds, relax, then repeat. Next, stand behind the chair with your hands on either side of its back. Squat down as far as you can comfortably, then, keeping your back straight, stand up, bringing the chair with you as far as you can.
These are just a few ideas on how to use common items in your home as an aid to exercise. There are many other things you can do, it’s actually fun to experiment. So, use your ingenuity, get to know your own body and how it reacts to exercise. One you know the basic techniques, it really is a matter of “do it yourself!”

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
First of all thank you for the helpful reply to my last letter regarding food, as usual you were spot on with your reply. The Imodium by the way is to compensate for the excessive amount of chillies in the food offered (gentle stomach and all that)!
Now, not only is it “Amazing Thailand” it’s also “Amazing Hillary” - fancy you remembering my lost helmet, that was years ago. But as long as it’s now protecting someone’s head I don’t mind losing it. In fact I wouldn’t mind losing one a month at B. 190 per helmet, if I thought it would save someone’s life.
The other thing about locking my bike, well I think I am getting what’s known as “Old Timers Disease”, as I must admit I still forget and leave it in my bike now and again. I was told to attach the key to a long string which would go around my neck. But knowing me if I ever fell off the bike I would probably strangle myself.
Can I tell you something funny? I was at an intersection on the bike at night. I had put my right foot on the road, not noticing a rope on the road which had formed a loop over my right foot. As I took off the rope tightened and I ended up sitting on the road as my bike carried on! My pride was hurt more than my backside Hillary.
Thanks again for all your help, I have some photos to send you of the Petro Diesel Plant the young Abbot of Wat Doi Noi has got going, he produces one litre of fuel from one kilo of plastic. He is an amazing young monk.
All the every best to you all at “The Mail”,
Dear Delboy,
How could I possibly forget you, my Petal? It’s not every week that I get someone looking for their lost helmet in an Agony Aunt’s column. By the way, you definitely seem to be a little accident prone, Delboy. Have you seen anybody about this? Is it perhaps a subconscious attempt to get Hillary to your bedside to cool the fevered brow? If so, forget it! I did the fevered brow scene years ago and it wasn’t worth it. What is your abbot going to call his fuel? Whatever, it must be “the best fuel for your karma” (or is that ‘car’ma?) I would imagine. Please ride a little more carefully, you’re not a young man any more, no matter how good you were before!

Dear Hillary,
My name is Sureporn, and I am a Thai woman, working in an office here who have been reading Chiang Mai Mail and your column for years. I wrote to you once long time ago, could not remember what it was, in hand writing. Anyway, I am writing you today again to tell you how I enjoy your column.
I enjoy learning foreigner’s point of view in life - I mean your’s and your readers’, the style of putting out their opinions, their home countries and everything. Personally, I always admire their punctuality and being discipline which we Thais are so weak at this. Your column is very helpful to me to learn the differences of people in this world.
As I am studying Humanities at Ramkhamhaeng University major in English, I would like to say here that I have learned a great deal of knowledge from your column, and this has helped my studying to become a very interesting one. I thank you. You are like my religion here. I hope you keep doing this useful job for a very long time.
Lastly, to have my letter for a change in your column would not be so bad, yes? Readers need vacation, too.
Thai woman
Dear Thai woman,
How kind of you to write again, even if you can’t remember what it was about (and neither can I, but the advice would have been perfect). Yes, there are many differences between farangs and Thais, and more than just big noses and round eyes. Some of the differences are good, some bad. Foreigners have learned how to use a wrist watch, whilst the Thais are still inventing excuses for being late. One day they will fix the traffic in Bangkok and hundreds of people will be without the ‘rot dit’ excuse, and then all we will have left is to blame the six hour clock system.
You are correct where you have noted that foreigners are not afraid to voice their opinions and most remain very proud of their roots, even though they have come to settle down in Thailand. This comes through a different style of education where the child is encouraged to put forward ideas.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Digital photography problems

Despite calling this item “digital” photography problems, most of these refer to all photography, digital or film, though there are some specific areas which refer to digital cameras and their capabilities.
The first is a general complaint, and refers to the placement of the image in the frame. This is where the ability to instantly review images in digital photography is so good. Look at the image in the viewer on the back of the camera and see if it can be improved by different placement of the subject within the frame. Remember the ‘Rule of Thirds’ (place the main subject one third of the way in from either side and one third of the way up or down from the top or bottom of the picture). This is a tried and true rule of thumb and you can try it out so easily with digital photography. It may feel ‘wrong’ initially not having the subject slap bang in the middle of the frame, but try it and you will find you are getting better, more pleasing pictures.
While still on the subject of the overall image, don’t forget to take each shot two ways - in the landscape (horizontal) format and the second in the portrait (vertical) format. Again it sounds strange to shoot a landscape in the vertical format, but it gives the viewer a different emphasis, which can improve an otherwise ‘ordinary’ shot.
With most digitals having reasonably good zoom lenses these days, experiment with different zoom settings and distance from the subject. A ‘tele’ setting can give you a very different photograph from the ‘wide’ setting taken closer to the subject. This ability to experiment, at the time of shooting, is one of the biggest plusses for digital photography.
One of my standard tips is “Walk several meters closer”, and by doing this you will find that you can make the subject fill the frame (to even overflowing) and get rid of horrible distracting backgrounds.
You can also see the difference in the backgrounds between shooting at f2.8 as opposed to f16. The larger aperture (f2.8) gives a blurred background, which is exactly what the ‘portrait’ mode does. Many of the tricky settings are just automatic combining of different apertures/shutter speeds, and a general knowledge of first photographic principles will always help your photography too.
Photography is in reality ‘painting’ with light and you should never forget this. The position of the subject, relative to the sun (the celestial lighting technician) can make or break your photos. The amount of contrast in any scene can also baffle the digital sensors so they will try to balance out the contrasts which can spoil the effect you were trying to create. If your camera shows you those dinky little histograms, you can soon see if the light is biased in any particular direction.
What you have to do is try and balance bright or dim light. In low light conditions, try using your camera’s night shooting mode, or lower the ISO to 50 or 100 to get some detail in low light. Also look at trying to use a tripod, or steady yourself against a wall or pillar to avoid moving the camera.
In bright light, try your camera’s Beach or Sunshine mode, or go to manual mode and choose a fast shutter speed to control the amount of light that comes in.
Be careful if you place your subject in front of a bright window or they will become a silhouette. Try placing them off to the side of the window instead, or facing a natural light source.
For better photographs indoors, turn your flash off. Try to maximize the light by pulling back the curtains, opening doors and turning on the incandescent lights in the room. Sure, you will have slower shutter speeds and you may have to look at using the tripod, or even just holding the camera firmly on a table, but you will get more natural photographs.
Finally, practice getting the ‘decisive moment’ by partially depressing the shutter button when taking candid shots. This means you are not waiting for the camera to focus, before the shutter fires. Or simply set the focus manually.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Alas, poor Lehman, I knew him well... part 1

Investment guru Jim Rogers was in Bangkok recently. Yes, the Jim Rogers who was the former sidekick of George Soros, the Jim Rogers who turned his back on Soros to motorbike around the world, the Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings, the Jim Rogers who believes “Until there is either a lot of supply come on stream or the economy collapses, the bull market will continue, the commodity Bull market that is.”
Even closer to home (our home) than Singapore-based Rogers is Dr. Doom - Marc Faber, 62, who told investors to bail out of U.S. stocks before 1987’s so-called Black Monday crash and who said on Aug. 15 that commodities may have peaked. “Whether that is a final peak or an intermediate peak followed by higher prices, we don’t know yet. It could go lower.”
Long term structural demand would seem to require higher prices and all the fundamentals point to this. However, in the short term, the ride will be bumpy but if you don’t pick a buy-in point, you could miss out altogether.
On another subject, time to doff our caps again to Dr. Faber. You may remember a recent report of his highlighting the fragility of American banks and financial companies, culminating in a top 10 vulnerable institutions. We have added status updates alongside Dr. Faber’s original list:
1. Bear Stearns: 313.97% - Bought out
2. Morgan Stanley: 234.88% - Stand-alone investment bank (like Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers), has already taken write offs of $11.7 billion
3. Merrill Lynch: 225.4% - Bought out
4. Goldman Sachs: 191.56% - looking for a suitor at any price?
5. Lehman: 171.18% - Filed Chapter 11, 15th September 2008, at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York
6. Fannie Mae: 161.48% - Bailed out in largest government bailout in US history
7. Northwest Air: 142.02% - Exited Chapter 11, May 2007
8. Citigroup: 125.06% - the big one! Would make Fannie & Freddie look like a drop in the ocean
9. Prudential: 119.36% - should be able to work through unless there’s a major widespread panic, which there will be!
10. Hartford: 108.52%. - Reeling from heavy exposure to Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac Preferred stock
Five down, five to go, not forgetting that many troubled financials are not on this list (which only ranked institutions on one problem measure - % of potentially worthless tier 3 assets to market cap). For example, there is no Washington Mutual which has an estimated $28 billion of losses to carry on its balance sheet and not forgetting the dramatic increase in the failure rate of regional banks along with the failure of IndyMac Bancorp Inc. (the 3rd largest banking failure in US history).
Peter Kenny, of Knight Equity Markets, said the financial world is on the verge of a complete re-organisation. “The US financial system is finding the tectonic plates underneath its foundation are shifting like they have never shifted before,” he told Reuters, while Bill Gross of PIMCO warned of an “imminent tsunami” as dealers are forced to unwind complicated derivative and swap-related positions. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Fed, warned last week that other big institutions could yet be vulnerable; a shocking situation for Wall Street where the big investment banks have, for so long, enjoyed an air of invincibility. Greenspan described the credit crisis as a “once-in-a-century” type of event and went on to say, “There’s no question that this is in the process of outstripping anything I’ve seen and it still is not resolved and it still has a way to go.”
The real problem is that the US has become arguably the world’s most sophisticated financial market but still has caveman regulations. We have written so many times bemoaning the fact that the main body of what the SEC does was written by a very effective poacher-turned-gamekeeper. However, an ex-bootlegger may well have been the ideal guy to write the rules in the late 1920s to stop the frequent stock scams that were run at the regional bourses that then operated alongside Wall St but the lack of reform and modernisation to this system is ridiculous.
The vast majority of American investors are denied access to risk-reduction techniques that could protect their portfolios while banks charged with custody over investors’ assets go around developing business strategies that seem to owe more to a weekend jaunt to Vegas. Add to this the pressure on all CEOs to sacrifice the long term benefit of the company for short term gain and it becomes an explosive mix.
There must be many reasons why Bill Gates has been so successful BUT one of these is that MSFT seems to have a focus on the medium term future that is very different to that of most companies. Trying to pretend that Enron somehow skirted the system was nonsense - these may have been weak guys but they were basically products of a system that encouraged people to exploit the law.
The bottom line is that:
1) It made long term economic sense to create Fannie Mae back in the 1930s - this helped the recovery from the Great Depression.
2) It was bogus accounting when LBJ nationalised FNM in the 1960s to make the national balance sheet look better. Since that time there’s always been a loaded gun. Now it’s smoking.
The collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the hasty sale of Merrill Lynch is actually the result of a whole series of small steps dating back 40 years and not just something that happened in 2007.
I have read quite a lot of stuff lately about specific abuses of the system by the two entities and their management and I’m sure that some or most of this is true and that it is pretty awful, but like Enron it’s more a symptom of the malaise - a global society that has become all about getting richer quicker through some nifty accounting moves rather than creating a business that does something.
I don’t blame Raines; I blame the likes of Raines who, in different colours, flavours, etc., dominate so much global corporate life these days - people are focusing on how bad it is in the US where the stakes are highest but this isn’t a local problem - it ain’t pretty in Russia, Ireland, Thailand etc.
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

Too much talk…Saturday night fever…

And what’s going to happen to Aung San Suu Kyi?

I went to the big concert at the Kad given by the Chiang Mai Philharmonic Band a few weeks ago and enjoyed the playing. Regrettably, as was reported, the lively and talented orchestra were not allowed to be the ‘stars’ of the evening in this concert of movie music. They were hi-jacked by a group of would-commentators and actors whose tedious antics on the side of the stage (Thais found it tiresome too) turned a two hour show into a three hour marathon, including a very late start. Their next event at the Kad Theatre is already scheduled for December and I am looking forward to it – the band deserve our support – but let’s hope the players are allowed to get on with it and that the audience does not leave in the interval or before the end, because of too much chat and would-be comedy.
These thoughts were prompted by another event I attended recently, devoted to more esoteric, earlier music. This, it must be said, was billed as a lecture-concert and was given by a very knowledgeable and talented leader and his group. But here again there was too much emphasis on the words – given the informal nature of the setting – and the excellent group of singers were sadly underused. This is written before the next concert billed as having a lecture format at the Shangri La Hotel and it is devoted to the period of the Great American Song Book. Geniuses such as Ellington, Porter and Gershwin are familiar to us all and need comparatively little introduction.
Bennett Lerner, whose Fauré cycle is well under way at Payap, knows exactly how to strike a balance when introducing his own concerts or those by other musicians. The comments are informative introductions and brief opinions, which simply set the piece in context leading us towards the music instead of usurping it. I suppose being a teacher helps. But I think it is also something to do with professionalism and the notion of leaving us wanting more. The organizers at the Kad Theatre should take note. Or they might lose the audiences they need – and deserve.
Can anyone explain the obsession with Friday and Saturday nights, when so much goes on in the City? It’s a rather old fashioned notion that these are the only ‘free’ evenings given the great changes in work patterns and the fact that many events – special movies, concerts, charity events, restaurant and ‘hotel specials’ are geared to people for whom every day is a holiday. The other puzzle to me is the lack of liaison between organizers. This is puzzling when the marketing is aimed at the same audience in the ‘up-scale’ section of catering. During the weekend of September 26/27/28 September, one could – if one were so minded – have chosen between promotion buffets at the Holiday Inn, D2 (on consecutive nights), Le Crystal, the Chedi and Shangri La. And no doubt others which I have not listed. One the same evenings there are wonderful movies at Alliance Francaise and at CMU. The best of the Jazz evenings tend to be on Saturdays, and certainly the large scale concerts held recently at the Kad (one referred to above and another recently in celebration of the King) are invariably on Friday or Saturday. These are often geared to young people of school or college age so this is more explicable.
Has anyone thought of those boring Sunday afternoons? Surely 5 p.m. on that day is the nadir of the week. A pall seems to settle over the City through most of Sunday. Or is that another old fashioned concept clung to by those who remember when people used to go to church? If for no other reason than a commercial one it might be sensible for people arranging ‘special’ events to see what they are clashing with. September was certainly the worst for such clashes that I can recall. A few phone calls would surely help.
The news that Aung San Suu Kyi had agreed to take in food to her house after what appeared to be a prolonged (over three weeks) hunger strike was greeted with relief world wide. Possibly even by the generals in Burma who want her silenced – but not as a martyr. They have kept her in isolation for years and recently stopped her mail, (including that from her sons) and the delivery of such ‘treats’ as magazines.
Her actions got her a few concessions – such luxuries as censored mail, Newsweek and the chance for her helpers to leave her home during the day, although she remains imprisoned. Big deal!! Still they are so afraid of this rather frail looking woman that they dare not let her be seen by anyone except a doctor once a month and her house helpers. What will happen to her if she resumes such an action? An action which amounts to starving oneself to death.
The feeble efforts of special envoy Mr Gambari have yielded nothing, similarly the recent U.N. directives. One of the problems is that both China and Russia block any possible changes since they refuse to support intervention in ‘internal’ affairs, however appalling the human rights record of the country concerned. It is a shameful situation and the thought of a person (indeed, a legitimately elected leader of a country, whose methods are peaceful) being kept incarcerated and left to take such drastic action in order to receive a few magazines and letters from her children is heartbreaking.

Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Eagle Eye:
US Action/Mystery/Thriller – Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan play two strangers thrown together by mysterious phone calls from a woman they have never met. Threatening their lives and their family, the phone calls push the two into a series of increasingly dangerous situations. These two ordinary people become the country’s most wanted fugitives, who must now work together to fight a faceless enemy who seems to have limitless power to manipulate everything they do.

Dive!: Japan Drama – Three young men try to turn their dreams of Olympic gold into a reality in this sports drama from Japan. They are members of the Mizuki Diving Club, which has a reputation for transforming talented young divers into world-class champions, but in recent years the club has had a run of bad luck, and with few winning divers emerging from their ranks, sponsorship is dwindling and unless things change the MDC could go out of business. Faced with this grim possibility, the head coach brings in a new female coach. Lovely but determined, she intends to restore the MDC to its former glory, puts her focus on three young divers she’s convinced have the greatest potential, and pushes them to the limit in preparation  for the all-important qualifying meets.

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. It’s an Adam Sandler comedy, and if you like his kind of low crass comedy, you should like this one. Here he plays the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for laughs. I laughed. A lot. And cringed. A lot. Mixed or average reviews.Baan Phee (Phop/Pob) 2008: Thai Horror/Comedy – At least the 11th installment of this popular ghost/ horror/ comedy series. In Thai with no English subtitles.

Burn / Kon Fai Look: 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 comes up with a far-fetched explanation for this far-fetched human malady. Slow and not really too scary; the film is more a drama, and you will be surprised at who the villain turns out to be. Some interesting effects and moods.

Bangkok Dangerous: US Action/Drama – Directing twins Danny and Oxide Pang remake their popular 1999 thriller about a ruthless hitman (this time Nicolas Cage) who travels to Bangkok to carry out four murders. A fairly decent, if cliché ridden and predictable, action flick. You should be happy with it if you like a somewhat low-powered action picture. Or are a fan of Nicolas Cage. Rated R in the US for violence, language, and some sexuality.

Mamma Mia!: US/UK/Germany Musical/ Romance – Starring Meryl Streep. Immense quantities of popular ABBA music that I find horrifyingly infectious. An extraordinarily vivacious and energetic musical that is bound and determined to make you sing and dance and feel good about marriage. Mixed or average reviews.

Boonchu 9: Thai Comedy – A feel-good movie for Thais from start to finish. It’s the gentlest of comedies and family drama, with the sweetest of characters and the pleasantest of situations. Has some appealing young stars and well-established older comedians.

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 – A work of genius from the first frame to the last. Robot love in a dead world, and the cutest love story in years. Reviews: Universal acclaim.

Death Race: US Action/Thriller – Little more than an empty action romp – mindless, violent, and lightning-paced. Rated R in the US for strong violence and language. Mixed or average reviews.

Scheduled for Oct 2

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: US Animation/Sci-Fi – A new adventure in the “Star Wars” series, and here the usual excellent storytelling is done with animation. We see our favorite characters, such as Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, along some brand-new heroes like Anakin’s learner, Ahsoka. And there are of course sinister villains who are poised to rule the galaxy. Stakes are high, and the fate of the “Star Wars” universe rests in the hands of the daring Jedi Knights. Some voices provided by Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee.

Disaster Movie: US Comedy – Follows the comic misadventures of a group of ridiculously attractive twenty-somethings during one fateful night as they try to make their way to safety while every known natural disaster and catastrophic event – asteroids, twisters, earthquakes, the works – hits the city and their path as they try to solve a series of mysteries to end the rampant destruction. Most reviewers do not hold out much hope for this movie.

Luang Pee Teng II: Thai Comedy – Monks meet misadventures, make merit.

REFLECTIONS: by Elena Edwards

Discovering – or rediscovering – the truth about “near-death experiences”

Whatever we believe, or think we know, about the “near-death” or “out of body” experience, it has to be one of the most controversial topics amongst those of us who have some awareness of the spiritual side of life. Every few years or so, media attention again focuses on one person’s experience, another report of research, denials or acceptances by “thinkers,” the religious and various scientists – it’s such a fascinating and esoteric subject, linking in as it does with countless religious and animistic beliefs over the centuries, that the human race can’t leave it alone for long!
Another attempt to determine the reality or otherwise of the experiences reported by so many people is about to get under way, conducted this time by scientists and doctors in 25 UK hospitals. The research will focus on out-of-body states in medical extremis, commonly referred to as “near-death experiences” and will take three years, involving 1,500 heart-attack patients. It hopes to finally “uncover the truth” about this much-discussed issue. Have we, maybe, heard that one before? The study will be set up in resuscitation areas, and involves placing objects such as pictures high up so that they cannot be seen except from ceiling level and will involve patients whose heart attacks have resulted in no measurable heartbeat or brain activity.
Research at present indicates that between 10 and 20% of patients who satisfy the above criteria have some kind of near-death experience, some of which include almost total recall of attempts to revive them during the time, up to an hour or more, when a failed heart can be restarted. During the study, specific technology will be used to monitor both brain and consciousness during cardiac arrest. The teams are hoping that at least some patients will be able to identify the objects, proving that their consciousnesses do not cease after the moments of clinical death. The specialist leading the study at Southampton University has commented that “If we can demonstrate that consciousness continues after the brain is switched off, it allows for the possibility that consciousness is a separate entity.” This statement is, of course, crucial – and few of us will be able to state, categorically, that we are certain such proof will not be provided at least once during the study. If it is – what then?
For as many centuries as man has been on this earth, and right up until the present day, reports of this and similar inexplicable experiences have sustained a degree of belief in some kind of afterlife – even amongst the non-religious. The religious amongst us, whatever the religion they support, don’t need proof, as they have faith in an afterlife and separate consciousness, calling it the soul.
The non-religious may regard the supernatural experiences recounted in the holy books as “myth;” however, in archaeology, for example, “myth” has been proven to have been based on fact. Mycenae and Troy would never have been discovered by Schliemann if he had not based his areas of excavation on descriptions of topography found in Homer’s writings, which were based on folk tales handed down verbally for a thousand years. Other myths, therefore, may also be based on fact; even more so if one cannot believe that all the myths of all human tribes over all the years originated in storytellers’ imaginations and are similar by coincidence.
Modern (at least to the Western world) “myths” have come to us as a result of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950’s, which led to the foretold dissemination across the world of a pure form of Buddhism now famous and practiced by many, particularly in the USA and the UK. Reports from prominent Western Buddhist scholars originally trained by high-level Tibetan teachers, many of whom have been considered to have become enlightened, tell of the witnessing of the “conscious deaths” of their teachers. This way of dying whilst meditating, when practiced by a highly spiritually advanced human being, has been described as resulting in the body remaining sitting up in a meditative position, with normal skin colour and no decay, for as long as one week after clinical death has been declared by a medical professional, until finally falling over, thus allowing funeral rites to commence. There are now too many of these reports from highly respected spiritual masters to be able to ignore their significance or dismiss them as “myths” or lies. Chiang Mai residents known to this writer, who have come here from an extended stay in an ashram in India would perhaps be able to tell similar stories.
“Out of body” experiences themselves – how many readers have knowledge of this personally? Perhaps more than would admit to it. This writer certainly has, at the age of 13, remembered vividly to this day, and not considered very strange at the time! Of such were family “myths” made, which, added to other experiences, grew into tribal “myths” and passed into verbal storytelling if the skill of writing was not yet available amongst the general population. Hundreds of years later, the tales were written down and became part of a nation’s culture.
It seems to this writer that the scientists and doctors who are right now embarking on their three year study may be, rather than discovering a truth, rediscovering an ancient one which may change our perceptions of how we should live. At least, I hope so!


The understated subtlety of GREEN!

There is something restful and calm about an all-green garden which serves as a retreat and refuge from the hustle and bustle of colourful city life. This is seldom done; it must take considerable self-control not to be tempted by all that is gloriously coloured in order to restrict ones’ self to the subtleties of form and texture.
A very special climber beloved by Thai people is their native Artabotrys siamensis (in Thai: gamwaik), a vigorous plant which has glossy dark green leaves and is very handsome clothing the top of a wall or rambling over an arch or pergola.
At the same time, every evening you will notice a beautiful scent pervading the air, but may be hard put to locate the source. One clue will be found on the ground – if you look very carefully, you will notice some strange-shaped green flowers about 1 inch long and typical of the family Annonaceae. These are yesterday’s blossoms – the ones scenting the air are up under the leaves, hanging like small green tassels and very difficult to see. With scent as beautiful and strong as this, a plant doesn’t have to be showy to attract pollinating moths that fly at night and locate by scent-detecting antennae.
Compensation comes at fruiting time when clusters of green, shiny, hard round berries look very eye-catching nestling amongst the glossy leaves. These are very decorative in a tasteful manner, as are green grapes in the Mediterranean.
This climber is related to the more often noticed cananga tree, or ylang-ylang, which has similar but more showy green scented flowers.

Tip of the Week
When clothing a pergola, always choose plants with flowers which will hang down underneath the arches, otherwise there will be nothing to see when you walk underneath!

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

This is another hand to plan the play on. You are sitting South. Your partner deals and opens one club. East passes and you bid one spade. West bids two hearts. North encourages with three spades and you end up as declarer in four spades. West takes three rounds of high hearts. East follows to the first two rounds and discards a low diamond on the third round. On the fourth round, West leads the nine of spades. At this point, the North and South hands are as below. Before looking at the full deal, what is your plan for making the rest of the tricks?

                   S: KQ104
                     H: -
                     D: -
                     C: AK10542          
S: ?                                              S: ?
H: J10                                           H: -
D: ?                                              D: ?
C: ?                                              C: ?
                     S: AJ72
                     H: -
                     D: KQ543
                     C: 6                        

I watched this being played. Without much pause for thought, declarer took the first trick in hand with the jack. Then he ruffed a low diamond on board and cashed the ace and king of clubs, with both East and West following. Now he led a low club to get back to hand. He ruffed with the seven and East over ruffed. Contract down.

At the next table, the play followed the same line through the fourth trick. At trick five, declarer led the king of diamonds and let it ride without trumping when West did not cover with the ace. However, it was East who had the ace and won the trick. Contract down. Both declarers complained of their bad luck, but they were wrong – it was bad planning.

At the third table, declarer paused to count tricks. He saw that, if he tried to set up his own hand, he would probably take only nine tricks. He could take the ace and king of clubs, three diamond ruffs on board, and four trump tricks in hand, if all went well. That is still one trick short of the ten he needed.

Then, he saw a plan which had a good probability of making the contract. This was to use his own trumps to ruff clubs and try to set up dummy. He won the fourth trick in hand with the jack of spades and led a club to the ace. Then he led a low club back to ruff in hand with the seven. West followed, to declarer’s relief. Now he led a low trump to board’s queen. Both East and West followed and declarer knew he had made the contract. He ruffed another low club in hand, with the ace of trumps this time, to make sure there was no over ruff. Now he ruffed a diamond on board to get back there, and pulled the last trump with dummy’s king. The king of clubs pulled East’s last club and dummy’s two remaining low clubs then took the last two tricks. Contract made.

This was the full hand, with North dealer and EW vulnerable. Would your plan have made the contract?

                           S: KQ104
                             H: 983
                             D: -
                             C: AK10542         
S: 986                                                S: 53
H: AKQJ10                                         H: 76
D: 1086                                              D: AJ972
C: 73                                                  C: QJ98
                             S: AJ72
                             H: 542
                             D: KQ543
                             C: 6                       

What the successful declarer did is called a dummy reversal, setting up dummy, not hand. What is surprising is that dummy reversal plays can be difficult to see. If you were sitting North and playing this contract the correct play would be obvious. But, sitting South, players tend to focus on trying to deal with the losers in their own hand. Time and time again I have seen players (including myself) fail in contracts by becoming fixated on their own hand, when dummy should be the master. Particularly when dummy is strong, or has good trumps, it is well worth thinking about a dummy reversal. I would like to hear from readers about their favourite hands – please do contact me at: [email protected]