HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

BSE and Mad Cow Disease

We live in a world of acronyms, and medicos as a group are very much at fault. Take BSE for an example. For one branch of medicine, BSE is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), whilst for another section of the medical community BSE stands for Breast Self Examination. One you don’t want, and the other is something all women should do. Could be confusing.
The BSE I want to explore today is related to breast cancer, one of the common killers, but one that can be overcome if detected early enough. The process of looking is called breast screening, but 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 breast cancer will always sell a few more papers. It is not so long ago that one of the international news magazines had a front cover story on breast cancer screening, with the inference being that it was probably all a waste of time. 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?
Ladies, let me assure you that it is none of those. 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! We’re getting better at it, but we’re not there yet.
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.
There has been a bit of that thinking with mammograms of late. A lady has three clear annual mammograms and then finds she has advanced 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 ignorance?
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, did you know that Studies from the American National Cancer Institute show that 96 percent of women whose breast cancer is detected early are still alive 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 like your column each week and your advice, but many times these guys don’t need advice, they need kicking in the butt. How silly can they get? There seems to be an endless supply of them as well.
However, let’s get down to my problem, or really it’s my mate’s problem. He’s trying to hook up with this really nice girl, offers her an invitation to dinner and she accepts, saying that she and her two friends would love to come to dinner with him. Blow that, he doesn’t want the two friends, he wants the one girl. So how does he get around this problem?

Dear Jim,
Your mate (if it really is your mate, and not just you, Petal) has come unstuck on the “really nice girl” situation. The reason she is still a really nice girl, is that she doesn’t go out with single men, on her own, at the first date. Really nice girls don’t do that sort of thing. Look around you at gatherings and you will find that the really nice girls are part of a couple or trio of really nice girls, each keeping each other “really nice”. The way around this problem as you see it, is to play along with the ground rules. If he proves himself to be a nice chap at reasonably close quarters, then eventually the need for the chaperones will no longer be there. But be prepared, that can take many months and many dinners. I hope his appetite is sufficient.

Dear Hillary,
These gals round here are sure difficult to fathom, well way beyond me anyhow. There’s this little one in the bar I go to, and I go there at least three or four times a week, and I’ve been seeing her a bit lately, in fact I was thinking of making her sorta permanent. Anyway, I goes in last week, like normal, in fact I was feeling pretty good and thinking about telling the little gal the good news, and you could have blown me over with a feather as she’s sitting there with this other feller, all lovey-dovey like and gives me the big ignore. I was in half minds to have it out with both of them, right there and then, but thought better about causing a ruckus and I haven’t been back there since. They’re welcome to each other, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve found another bar. What I want to know Mrs. Hillary, is they all like that over here?

Dear Walt,
Ah sez to mahself, I just doan know whether to laugh or cry at your predickerment. Are you for real? What shower you all come down in? You frequent the alleyways staffed by rental girls and then complain when the one you rented last week wasn’t there just for you, but had been rented by someone else. Not only are they welcome to each other, but you’re welcome to your other bar too. I’m sure that the girls will all be waiting in line, just for you, for those three or four times each week. Give me a break, Petal. And by the way, it is Ms. Hillary, not Mrs. Hillary.

Dear Hillary,
My girlfriend is a great girl, we have been together for three months now, is quite happy with the 20 thousand I give her every month and she looks after me very well, but she is always going off to visit her mother in Korat for a couple of days. I believe this is normal with Thai families, so I don’t complain. Now although I say this is fine, it happens at least once every month, and I notice she takes up kid’s clothes to give to her mother which she buys in the market. I asked her about it and she just said that her mother looks after her sister’s baby, so the kids clothes are for him, but I am starting to get suspicious. I asked her sister, who I have met already, if she had any kids and she said she didn’t have any. This looks pretty suspicious to me. Who do I believe, and what do I do if my girlfriend does have a child up there?

Dear Anxious Andy,
You do nothing, my Petal, you do nothing. If your girlfriend has a child up in Korat which is being looked after by her mother, is this any business of yours? Do you contribute towards the child’s upkeep? Do you think you are in a long term relationship with this girl? You’ve been together for three months - that’s ninety days, Andy. Hardly a lifetime commitment from either of you. What she did before she met you is immaterial, what is important is what the pair of you are going to do right now and in the future, if you’ve got a future together, which I somehow doubt, there being a lack of “full disclosure” as they say in the business world. If you are planning on a long term relationship, then you have to see just what you are getting into, but give it a little longer. Right now it’s still a business, isn’t it?

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Improving your photos - cheaply

While researching this topic, I came across a website offering a training course in improving pictures. It was a one day course, suitable for pictures from digital and conventional sources, and for those who want to enhance their photographs. It was offered at GBP 405 plus VAT. I offer you my 20 minutes course for 25 baht, the price you paid for this Chiang Mai Mail newspaper! What a bargain!
You will actually find there are many sources which will supply 10 tips, but these are often aimed to high, or too low for the ‘average’ photographer, who would like to improve the end results. If you are ‘average’, this is for you.

Evan by Graham and Foo.

My first tip is to return to composition. This you do in the viewfinder, not ‘post production’ in your PCs edit suite. It is the very simple, and very easy Rule of Thirds. Place the main subject one third in from either side and one third down from the top edge. I used to draw a grid on the viewfinder, splitting the vertical into three sections and likewise with the horizontal. This way you can easily see where the intersection of thirds is in the picture.
Draw the grid with straight lines and you will also see if you are holding the camera level, as you can line up buildings with the verticals. My current camera, the Lumix FZR 50 has a setting to do this, so I don’t have to get out the texta pen. Check your camera’s manual, it may have that facility too.
The Rule of Thirds does work. Just try it.
Of course, that brings me to another tip. Read the manual. Now read the manual again. In the case of digital cameras, which tend to have manuals as thick as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, read the manual again. You cannot do it too often. With digitals, you can see the effect immediately. Now read the manual again.
Most average photographers take many pictures of friends and family, and you can improve these quite easily too. First of all, when taking photographs of children, get the camera at the same level as the child’s face. This will give an immediacy and a direct eye contact relationship to the shot.
The other tip with children is to get down to their level. Generally this means sitting on the floor. This retains the correct perspective, because when you are standing and take a shot of a child, the resulting perspective makes the child look like a dwarf with a big head. If your child is not a dwarf with a big head, get down on the floor with them.
With children, the other tip is to wait for the shot to appear in your viewfinder, don’t try and arrange the definitive shot, the way you can with adults. Children have attention spans measured in nano-seconds. Be prepared to wait.
Now adults. As a subject, they can be asked to turn sideways, smile, brush their hand over their hair and other simple directions, but don’t make it too much, or the subject will become very wooden, with no natural relaxed look to it. As a general rule, get the person to turn slightly sideways to the camera, and then turn the head to look directly at the camera lens. At all costs, try to avoid the ‘standing to attention, arms by the sides’ shots, which the subject will automatically take up, if you are not careful. Getting the person to relax in a chair and then look over to the camera always works well, but, like child shots, make sure the camera is at the same height as the subject.
Another tip, when photographing anything, is to always make the subject the ‘hero’. You do this by making the subject large in the viewfinder, and this is done simply by walking closer. Sometimes you can do it with the camera’s zoom capability, but otherwise just walk in closer while looking through the viewfinder.
Finally, look not just at the subject in the foreground but also the background. A cluttered background always spoils an otherwise nice photo.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

5 Reasons to review your UK pensions now - before it is too late

Whether you plan to retire tomorrow or in 30 years time, there has never been a more critical time for UK pension scheme members to take important decisions about their retirement planning.
1. Fund Performance -
The graph on this page illustrates dramatically how pension funds have performed during the recent downturn. As highlighted in The Brief last year1, market volatility and asset risk should be one of the main calls to action but all too often the opposite effect occurs. However, it is very clear that for most pension holders, procrastination is invariably the worst possible course of action.  If you take an average personal pension fund value of £200,000 and compare average pension fund performance to one of our recommended pension funds, Osmium, the decision to do nothing last year cost you £34,000 and we expect the cost of delay to only continue to increase, not get better.
Review now to ensure that your pension is appropriately invested!
2. The Demise of Final Salary Schemes -
Partly as a result of this turmoil in investment markets, 91% of final salary schemes are now in deficit, with the administrators stating that these schemes cannot carry on in their present format.  The current shortfall in funding for UK final salary schemes, excluding civil service pensions, recently rose to £390,000 billion, equivalent to £150,000 for every member of every scheme.  This was exacerbated when the Bank of England added an extra £150 billion of liquidity into the UK financial system in March.  Gilt yields fell and, as these produce much of the income for UK final salary pension schemes, the shortfall increased by £100 billion virtually overnight, leading The Daily Telegraph to comment “It will hammer the final nail into the coffin of final salary schemes”.2
How QROPS can work for you
After 5 years as an expatriate, the pension income is no longer subject to UK income tax, effectively saving up to 50%.  You will, however, be subject to the tax regime of the country you have retired to.
The residual fund can be passed to your spouse on death, giving the surviving spouse 100% of the pension income, unlike the 50% a company scheme will provide.
Furthermore, when the surviving spouse passes away, the residual funds may be inherited by the children or grand children, free of inheritance tax.  In a company scheme or with a purchased annuity the fund will die with you.
With a QROPS, there is no obligation to purchase an Annuity before age 75.  An Annuity is a guaranteed fixed income investment that has no residual value when you die.  With a UK pension you must purchase an annuity by age 75 or suffer heavy taxation.
The fund can purchase income generating domestic property, unlike UK pensions.
25% of the fund can be taken tax free at retirement, the same as most UK pensions.
If there are any doubts about the ongoing financial viability of your pension scheme request a pension transfer analysis immediately!
The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) - Sadly the government’s ‘backstop’ to protect pensioners and workers who contribute to group pension schemes was £517 million in the red in March 2008.
The most detailed study3 to date concluded that, “The PPF will live under the permanent risk of insolvency as a consequence of the moral hazard, adverse selection, and especially systemic risks that it faces.”  This was in 2006, before the problems caused by the current global credit crisis and the threatened downgrading of the UK’s sovereign credit rating.
The “systemic risks” are that the PPF is funded solely by levies from other group pension funds.  With more schemes failing as more companies close, this leaves fewer solvent schemes bailing out more and more struggling ones - an unsustainable position that is currently under review by the National Audit Office. There used to be references to the PPF guaranteeing benefits. This has changed.  David Robins of Watson Wyatt told MoneyWeek that “Rhetoric about guarantees has conspicuously disappeared with more ministerial speeches saying only that the PPF ‘provides a safety net’.”4
Even if the PPF survives, payments are capped and last year the average annual payout per person was £4,700.  Act now, don’t pay later!
4. Historically High Transfer Values -
If you move your pension the value is transferred from your old scheme to your new one. For the final salary schemes discussed in the previous point, this value is largely calculated by reference to gilt yields (in simple terms the lower that interest rates are, the higher amount of capital is needed to produce a specified income). The flip side of the fall in Gilt yields to historically low levels is that the transfer values that members receive if they move their pensions have increased by up to 30%.  Pension experts in the UK are recommending that scheme members whose analyses recommended not transferring a year ago should, in light of these revised values, re-examine the situation.
It’s unlikely that interest rates will remain at such historic lows forever, so this opportunity must be taken up now or lost for the foreseeable future.
5. Qualifying Recognised Offshore Pension Schemes (QROPS) -
By moving your pension fund to a QROPS you legitimately avoid UK tax on the income drawn from the fund, provided you have been an expatriate for over five years.  Your pension fund will, however, be subject to taxation in the country where you reside. Currently in Thailand, there is no income tax or capital gains tax levied on offshore investment income. You can, therefore, under current legislation, draw your pension income “tax free” if you choose to retire in Thailand.  Guernsey is one of a number of reputable jurisdictions on the “white list” with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for implementing internationally agreed tax standards and transparency.  Furthermore, the Guernsey tax office now has a full and open dialogue with HMRC, ensuring peace of mind for everyone who moves their pension funds to a QROPS registered there.
QROPS are now enshrined in HMRC legislation and while we expect QROPS legislation to be around for many years to come, it is true that by acting now you clearly crystallise the current, highly favourable transfer values!
So what do you do now?
1. Do nothing, and lose more money as the recession deepens?
2. Attempt to review your pensions yourself, looking at all options, including SIPPS and QROPS?
3. Seek professional advice? Absolutely! This will alleviate the concerns of many expatriates about their pension schemes.
 “Tax free Thai retirement, the facts” Billy Popham, “The Brief”
 “Retirement plans of millions of Britons at risk after Bank of England ‘prints money’” - Edmund Conway, Daily telegraph 6th Mar 2009
 “Financial Risks and the Pension Protection Fund: Can it Survive Them?” by John Cotter, University College Dublin; Anderson School of Management, David P. Blake, City University London - Cass Business School - The Pensions Institute and Kevin Dowd, Nottingham University Business School (NUBS)
 “Why your company pension might not be so safe” - David Stevenson MoneyWeek Apr 20

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

A walk on the wild side

Last week I wrote about the problems of Chiang Mai traffic and mentioned in passing how difficult - indeed dangerous - it was to be a pedestrian in this city. Not simply because no drivers or riders respect crossings, even those with 10 second green lights, but in general.
O.K. so there are plenty of green areas for taking walks outside Chiang Mai and the further out one goes the more spectacular it becomes. But for those of us who live in the town or the many who visit it the very act of walking is problematic. Chiang Mai is not large and it cannot boast the wonderful parks and commons and open areas of a city like London but surely it could be more pedestrian aware.
When walking people are made to feel like second class citizens, an alien species as though we were in the hell of Los Angeles or other urban centres in the U.S.A. where people have forsaken legs for wheels and walking, is tantamount to a crime. Last week’s article by the Mail’s doctor urged older people to take moderate (not strenuous) exercise, especially walking, and to keep active. Sound, common sense advice.
So - if I had a vote - I would willingly give it to the Mayoral candidate here who promised, among other more serious things, to make an effort at improving the pavements or sidewalks as they are often called. The areas around the Moat were greatly improved but it seems to have stopped there. What about the busy Huay Kaew Road area?
I and many other people regularly walk down or up that road. To take one section in particular: the route to and from, say Rincome Junction down to Buddy’s, Central Kad Suan Kaew or Chiang Mai Ram. Or back from Central to anywhere up the road, to other condos, restaurants and so on.
To make this trek is - put simply - a mini travail, exacerbated by the fact that this month every upright post or concrete pillar is adorned with a portrait of a would-be Mayor. These have been placed at ridiculously low positions with wooden slats and nails exposed at eye level. They also obscure one’s view. .I urge any official from the Highways office to exit from Central Kad Suan Kaew and head up the road. At the first entrance to the large and very busy Lotus Hotel it is impossible to see whether there is any traffic turning into the car park because an exceptionally large poster obscures the road. Very dangerous.
The more ‘normal’ problems include cyclists and -worse - motorcyclists who use the pavements as a ‘road’ and seem to resent the presence of pedestrians. They then park their vehicles on and even directly across the pavement, forcing walkers to step into the road (the other side of the pavements often being blocked by rubbish).Pot holes, untrimmed long grass, unflattened areas which once boasted trees, loose wires, uneven steps and debris are the norm.
Quite why people who choose not to use a car in Chiang Mai should be so badly treated puzzles me. And as mentioned, any attempt to actually cross a main road is almost an act of folly. It is actively resented by drivers, whether the ‘victim’ is young or old, male or female, farang or Thai. And as an after thought I’d mention that pessimism is the only solution in making that crossing. Look both ways even on a ‘dual carriageway’, since motor cyclists often disregard such ‘rules’.
So Mayor-to -be, along with many other pressing problems please set a few of your minions out in the town, not in fancy vehicles but on foot. Let them see the junk and rubbish piled high, enjoy the trips and hazards and chaotic parking and then do something about it.
It will be a start. Of course, turning Chiang Mai into a welcoming tourist orientated City will take more then that. But if this city and the rest of Thailand does not accept that it is slipping behind its neighbours then it will continue its slide down the list of countries which travellers wish to visit.

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

This hand from the Brighton Pairs in England was reported by Andrew Robson. It illustrates his Bols Bridge Tip: “Play a preemptor who leads his suit for a singleton trump”. The rationale behind the tip is that a preemptor probably has a singleton somewhere. This singleton will be the likely choice of lead, unless it is a trump. Bernard Telscher was sitting South and made full use of this knowledge. Neither side were vulnerable and West dealt.            

                           S: AQJ10

                           H: A6

                           D: 10

                           C: KJ10854  

S: 3                                           S: K64

H: Q109743                              H: KJ5

D: K532                                    D: J976

C: 96                                         C: Q72

                           S: 98752

                           H: 82

                           D: AQ84

                           C: A3             

West    North     East        South

3H        4C           P              4S

P           6S            All pass  

The (very aggressive) bidding is shown above. West led the ten of hearts to the six spade contract. Declarer won the ace on board and cashed the ace of trumps, thereby pulling West’s trump. Since he was bound to lose a trick to the trump king, he had to avoid a heart loser. Consequently he played clubs, crossing to the ace, back to the king and then ruffing a third club, in the process bringing down East’s queen. He cashed the ace of diamonds and ruffed a diamond on board. Now, a good club from board put East in a dilemma. Ruff with the king and declarer throws his losing heart. Consequently, he ruffed low. Declarer over ruffed and trumped another diamond on board, then led another club. East ruffed with the king, but now declarer threw his losing heart. East led the king of hearts, which declarer trumped and then crossruffed the hand to make the contract. He won five trump tricks, the ace of hearts, the ace of diamonds, three diamond ruffs on board and two clubs. The only loser was the king of trumps—and all because he played for that singleton trump in West’s hand.
Bridge Club of Chiang Mai welcomes new players. For information on the Club go to the web site at www.bridgeclubchiangmai .com or contact Chris Hedges at:  oga. [email protected] If you have bridge questions, or to send me your interesting hands, please contact me at: [email protected]