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The Doctor's Consultation

Care for Dogs

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snap shots

Money Matters

Let's Go To The Movies

How does your garden grow?

Staying happy in Paradise - theCounseling Corner

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Can your computer kill you?

Can your computer kill you? Well, it can. Especially if it lands on your head from a great height. However, sorry about the attention grabbing headline, it’s an old journalist’s trick. Your computer really won’t kill you (other than the situation mentioned above), but sitting at your computer, for hours on end, can! And backing up this contentious claim is one of the world’s respected medical publications, the New Zealand Medical Journal, with the results tabled at an annual conference of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

Now everyone in the world, other than a few farmers in outer Mongolia who still use horses like Genghis Kahn, has heard of the “Economy Class Syndrome”, in which you end up getting blood clots in the legs from being squeezed into seat 176A at the rear of the Economy section of Fright or Flight airlines. The rationale is that after sitting in 176A for the 12 hour flight to bring the bad news to Outer Mongolia about Genghis’ passing, the blood flow in the legs slows so much that clotting forms and you end up with yet another medical acronym, this time called DVT, or more correctly Deep Vein Thrombosis, or even Deep Venous Thrombosis. This knowledge has produced a group of nervous airline passengers, cowering in fear, waiting for hijacking or DVTs.

However, Professor Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute in New Zealand has studied the folk admitted to hospital with DVTs and found that only 21 percent had traveled on long distance flights, whilst 34 percent were sedentary office workers who would sit in front of their computer screen for three to four hours at a stretch without getting up, and do this for up to 14 hours a day. This showed two factors. Firstly their work habit was dangerous, allowing the blood to pool up in their legs, and secondly, they had magnificent bladder control, much better than mine.

Whilst I was joking about the bladder control, I would postulate that to be able to sit for four hours at a time, these office workers were not drinking enough fluid, leading to hemoconcentration or thickening of the blood, and even more likelihood of blood clots. Look around your office, how many of the staff have a water jug, or even a glass of water on their work station? In my office, only two of us have water on the desk.

That’s enough on the factors leading to DVT, what can a DVT do? What happens is very understandable. The clot breaks off from the deep vein and then travels upwards towards the heart. In doing so, it will go from major, large diameter blood vessels into smaller and smaller again. Eventually, depending upon the size, the clot will become wedged in a very small vessel and shut off the blood supply to that area.

If the blockage occurs in the lung, the condition is called a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). This is potentially fatal. It is estimated that each year more than 600,000 patients suffer a pulmonary embolism. PE causes or contributes to up to 200,000 deaths annually in the United States. One in every 100 patients who develop DVT die due to pulmonary embolism. So you don’t want one, do you.
There is some good news in all this, if pulmonary embolism can be diagnosed early and appropriate therapy started early, the mortality can be reduced from approximately 30 percent to less than 10 percent.

Still, 10 percent is a little too high for my liking. So what can you do to prevent getting a DVT in the first place? Apart from the obvious maintenance of good health with sensible eating and drinking and regular check-ups, the important preventive factors include getting up and walking around at least every hour (both in the office and from seat 176A), drinking plenty of water and taking 100 mg of aspirin every day. By making it less likely that a clot can form, you remove the dangers of DVT.
Go and get a glass of water now! And use it to swallow your aspirin.


The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Why is PACS significant in modern medicine?

Wouldn’t it be nice, if after you have been X-Rayed, you could get your “own” doctor back home to look at the X-Ray itself and not just the results? Think of the time this would save, as well as the postage stamps!

Requests such as I have written above are common, but unfortunately, the digital technology to allow this to happen is often lacking - but not at this end, I hasten to tell you.

But first, some history lessons. What has to be understood is that the X-Ray film cassette, as an instrument to record images, is basically the same, film or digital. It is a silver, light-tight box which allows a measured amount of light (as radiation) to fall on a sensitized plate inside it. Initially we exposed the image on to glass plates covered with silver chemicals, then we developed the film canister, and now we have CCD’s, (Charge Coupled Devices) which accept the different degrees of light and can record this to allow down-loading later. In other words, there is not much difference at all, other than one is “instant”, while the other requires messy developing and printing.

Where digital has also moved in, is in medical image technology. We are all conversant with the X-Ray film, where a sensitized plate (in a metal cassette) is placed under the patient, and is exposed to radiation which goes through the body and strikes the film in the cassette. From there, the X-Ray film was developed (just like a negative), dried and sent to the radiologist to be read. This takes a few minutes, and eventually the bulky X-Ray films are attached to the patient’s file, and eventually stored in a warehouse, along with millions of other X-Ray films.

That too is dead! Enter the PACS, otherwise known as the Picture Archiving and Communication System, part of the digital revolution in medical radiology technology. Like the old camera film, X-Ray films have been superseded by a digital way of recording the primary X-Ray image. The radiation remains the same, with the rays passing through the body, it is just the image capture in the cassette that is different.

Now, inside the cassette is a plate which is similar to the memory stick in your digital camera. To read the memory stick, it goes in a reader, which converts the information into a usable digital form. This is the same basic principle with the X-Ray cassette which contains a large ‘memory stick’ which goes into a reader and the image is then stored in digital form, rather than a sheet of film. There is also another method which exposes a digitized plate cassette which can be read directly into the image storage system, without the need for a reader as an intermediate stage.

This technology has been refined to cover images from various modalities, such as ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), computerized tomography (CT), mammography and radiography (plain X-rays).

This digital revolution has much to offer both doctors and patients as advantages over film. PACS replaces hard-copy based means of managing medical images, such as film archives. It expands on the possibilities of such conventional systems by providing capabilities of off-site viewing and reporting (distance education, tele-diagnosis). Additionally, it enables practitioners at various physical locations to peruse the same information simultaneously (teleradiology). With the decreasing price of digital storage, PACS systems provide a growing cost and space advantage over film archival. “The dusty old film library is dead,” said a radiologist in Australia whom I consulted when writing this article.

Nobody is mourning the death of film in the photographic world, and I believe that we should be the same in the medical world. By all means keep the memory of film alive, but let us as modern doctors move into today with an eye on tomorrow.

With digital technology, it is now possible for an X-Ray to be sent as an email to “your own” doctor - provided he or she is digitally equipped!

(With thanks to the radiologists at the Bangkok Hospital Pattaya who were kind enough to demonstrate the PACS system for me.)

Introducing Erin!

This sweet young lady is 2 years old and is very friendly and calm. She gets along well with everyone – people and dogs. She has a lovely silky black coat and is medium-sized. Just look at that beautiful face! This sweetheart is looking for a forever home, if you would like to meet her please contact Care for Dogs.

Contact the shelter English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) to make an appointment. Care for Dogs is also holding an adoption fair at Central Airport Plaza on Sunday, May 29 from 11 AM to 6 PM. Drop on by to meet more lovely dogs and puppies.

Adoption Fair at Central Airport Plaza

Care for Dogs is hosting an Adoption Fair at the Airport Plaza on Sunday, May 29th, 2011 (from 11am to 6pm at the entrance near KFC). We’ll have playful bundles of puppy joy up for adoption as well as some gorgeous adult dogs and even kittens!

We are seeking people ready to make a life-long commitment to a doggy who is eager to find a family to belong to. If you’re not able to adopt at this time but wish to make a difference in a doggy’s life, we will also be selling t-shirts, bags, soft toys, magnets, and postcards at our booth, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to participate in the fun and help us raise funds for our rescue work.

The volunteer team of Care for Dogs will be at the stand to talk about adoptions, volunteering, or answer any questions on how you can support homeless dogs in need. Hope to see you there!

Noi has a cute personality

This sweet little girl is very friendly and likes to play with other dogs and people too! She is a 1 and a half year old and has very easy short hair and such a cute personality.

Contact the shelter English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) or Email: [email protected] to make an appointment to meet me.

Care for Dogs was contacted by an animal lover, who was alerted by her dog barking at something hiding on the top of the trellis beside her house. She saw two cute, small kittens hiding there hanging on to the safety of the heights. She lives in a busy moobaan with a lot of resident dogs, and although they were up in safety, their hiding place was very insecure. They managed to get the kittens down and safe, and found 2 more kittens there - 4 in total! they could not keep the kittens in their house and contacted us.

All the kittens are extremely cute - 1 white, 1 ginger and 2 tortoiseshell, and they are now 4-5 wks old. They were very scared of humans, but are getting friendlier and more trusting and starting to really enjoy cuddling and being handled. They are cared for by a fosterer, where they are being litter trained and building up their strength & social skills. They will be ready in about 2-3 weeks. We vaccinate them as soon as they are old enough. If you are able to adopt one or more of the cute siblings, please call us 0847 5252 55 (English) or 086 913 8701 (Thai)! We are more than happy to arrange a visit for you to meet the kittens!

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
T.G.I.F. Finally the hysteria of so called royal wedding is over as well as the annoying hammering of newspaper, magazines and television not least our local True Vision.
In a living world struck by hundreds maybe thousands of ordinary people dying in war, political turbulence, rebellions and let me say famine, malaria, AIDS and so on, I am totally against and find inappropriate the huge publicity in progress since at least two months on the event that is not suitable to the current times.
The total cost of the show? Huge and significant, enough to save thousands of children’s lives. But who cares?
Have a nice weekend.
Concerned Farang

Dear Concerned Farang,
Unfortunately, the inequality of life as you have described it is part of the human society. Certainly the Royal wedding will have cost billions, and further billions lost through absenteeism in the workforce, but what about the billions of baht to be spent on secondhand submarines in Thailand. Farmers in the NE need assistance more than Thailand needs U-Boats, I would suggest. We are all imperfect, living in an imperfect world. I’ll stop there, or otherwise I’ll get depressed. You have a nice weekend too.

Dear Hillary,
As I am thinking about retiring here, I was hoping you could advise me on a couple of points. It has always been one of my ambitions to have my own little pub (I’ve spent a fair deal of time in little pubs and bars after work). There seems to be a few very successful bars for sale and they only want about 600,000 baht for most of them. Since I will be getting a nice tidy sum for my retirement, I thought I might invest in one by buying a half share or something. It would be nice to make money at a bar, rather than spending money at a bar, don’t you reckon, Hillary! My only worry is that I have heard that foreigners have been ripped off and I am hoping you can advise me on what to watch for.

Dear Jeffrey,
With apologies to the Charge of the Light Brigade - “Into the valley of death rode the six hundred” (thousand baht). Jeffrey! Jeffrey! For a start, there are very few successful bar owners who learned the trade from propping up the outside of the bar. Even with half shares for sale, have you stopped to think why the owner of such a successful establishment would want to give half of it away? Things to watch for? There is always the third or fourth 50 percent share that gets sold. Unfortunately, with the economic downturn, tourist cancellations, etc., etc., etc., the bar will pay no dividend this year and the regretful owner will buy your 50 percent share back for 100,000 baht. Yes, there are quick profits to be made in the bar bizz - for the seller, not the purchaser. Mind you, if you can get a half share in Jameson’s Irish Pub for 600,000 baht, I’ll buy the other half!

Dear Hillary,
Can you help me? I have been dating a wonderful young Thai girl, a proper young “lady” not a bar girl, and we have become quite serious as to looking into the future. Everything seemed to be going along very well, although we did have some hiccups in the early part, just caused through not fully understanding each other. The other evening over a very nice dinner in our favorite restaurant, she dropped the bombshell. “My mother tell me I must marry Thai man.” Just like that! I was too flabbergasted to follow that line further. Hillary, is this a common thing in Thai families? Does her mother have that much power that she can dictate what her daughter does, and even the choice of husband for her? Surely in this 21st century Thai girls are not stuck with arranged marriages, and if they are, what can a farang do in this situation?
Devastated Dave

Dear DD,
Does her mother have that sort of authority? In a traditional Thai family she certainly does. It may be the 21st century for you, Don, but in Thailand it is the 26th century and despite the extra 500 years, the traditional ways are still very strong. Thai people believe in the need for family members to look after each other and her mother is merely looking after her daughter in the traditional way. You are from an alien culture, Don, and even if your young Thai lady is well versed in the ways of the modern international world, the traditional values will still be held in the family sphere. Have you stopped to consider that the Thai man may have already paid a dowry to the family? In the case of a well educated girl this could go as high as two million baht. What can you do? You can either keep in there and hope, or call it quits now before you get in too deep. However, you should sit down with your girl and discuss it first.

Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
This is a money problem, but you might not think it important, but I do. I am coming over to Thailand for my holidays, and I don’t have a lot of cash to spend, but how should I bring it over? You can’t get baht over here, travelers checks are a real pain, I don’t want to carry cash and credit cards are too dangerous as I believe there’s lots of scams and I don’t want to lose what little money I’ve got. What is your suggestion?

Dear Mona,
Firstly, there’s no more scams here than in your own country, but you are wise to be careful. I agree that travelers checks are a cumbersome way to carry money around, and they can be stolen and so are not really a safeguard for you. Sure, don’t walk around with wads of cash in your handbag, and putting cash in hotel safes is fine, as long as you are at a top hotel. Little B&B ones are not really secure. The best way is for you to open a debit card account with your bank at home. You only put as much into it as you want to spend on the holiday, so you can’t overspend. Even if the card was somehow copied, the thieves cannot run up a large debt. You withdraw at an ATM and never have to give the card up in a shop, where the numbers can be copied. If this still worries you, then send everything you have to me, and I’ll look after it until you come over. Honest, Petal. I will.

Dear Hillary,
I know I am lucky to have a maid, as I could never afford one in America. And I know I am joining the band of women who are complaining about their maids. At all the functions I go to, the discussions are all the same, what the maid has done this week! I will admit that I do not speak very much Thai and my maid speaks even less English, but surely if she wants to be a maid for English speaking people, should I not get someone who can communicate? I did not choose the maid as she was supplied by my husband’s company and this is my first experience with domestic staff.
I could go on for hours about the way she refuses to use hot water for the dishes, will wash everything in the same sink, will use the dish cloth to wipe the floor. I am sure you have heard it all before. She also does weird things like leaving clothes out in the lounge room for a day, rather than putting them away. Why? Is this some special Thai ‘sign’ to tell me something? Routine cleaning and dusting seems to be beyond her and I have to tell her to do these simple tasks every time. She also tries to leave before 6 p.m. and always comes in late in the mornings, after 8 a.m. What can I do, Hillary?
At my wits end

Dear At my wits end,
You know the problem, right from the start when you say that you do not speak Thai and your maid does not speak English. No communication! Could your husband get what he wants done if his secretary only speaks Hindi and he speaks Swahili? Speak to your husband, if his company has supplied the poor woman. She probably goes home and talks to her friends, all of whom are complaining about their mistresses. However, how much does your maid get paid, my Petal? If you are only paying a low salary, you cannot expect a household whiz who is also multilingual. If she were that good she would be working as your husband’s secretary, not as your 10 hours a day slave. If it all becomes too much, you can always do the work yourself, as you did back home. Finally, as I have to remind many foreigners, this is Thai-land and the inhabitants speak Thai. How many maids in the English speaking world are multi-lingual?

Dear Hillary,
I have no complaints about my life and lovers in this country. I could never be so lucky where I came from in the UK. These girls over here are just so much fun to be with. I know you’re supposed to pay them if you bring them from the bar, but you don’t have to - well at least I don’t have to, but I’m not one of these old geezers you see round the place. I don’t have to wait to go to heaven because I’m there already.
Satisfied of Salisbury

Dear Satisfied of Salisbury,
I think that should have been Dear Self-Satisfied of Salisbury. You certainly have got tickets on yourself, haven’t you. You think you are just the cat’s whiskers, but you will find out that you are not the cat’s whiskers one day, and you will also find out that your ‘heaven’ can be ‘hell’ on earth! It won’t be today or tomorrow, but one day when you too are an “old geezer”. Just wait and see! If you live long enough.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Some ‘rules’ for better shots

Underexposed and tilted!

There is absolutely nothing metaphysical about photography. Taking photos invokes only physical laws, and there is no camera yet invented that can get inside your mind and then work out what you want to get as a final result and then go and get it for you. God never even owned a Box Brownie.

I was reminded of this after lending my camera to a young lad at a social function. It was a high range bridge camera with a fish eye to the other side of the moon zoom lens and the usual on-camera flash of one candlepower on a good day with a following tailwind.

The function was not even half way through when the likely lad appeared at my elbow and with a conspiratorial whisper asked for another memory stick as the one in the camera was now full. Full? Impossible I thought, as the memory stick I had given him was good for about two hundred shots at least. Had he moved the controls to ‘continuous’?

As I did not have another memory stick at that time (which I should have had, I agree) I suggested I delete a few images to free up enough space, and began looking at what he had taken and what could be safely deleted. The first trap for young players was evident. He would take one shot and find it was not good - lighting, posing, backgrounds or whatever - and then promptly take another exactly the same. No change in position, focus or subject. And guess what? He got another shot exactly the same, and just as bad as the first. If his trigger finger was itchy, he would even take another two!
Running further through the images he had numerous shots that were taken from too far away. Tiny people making up less than 10 percent of the total frame. Another group of eminently useless pictures. Another batch of deletions.

But it did not end there either! At some stage he must have turned off the flash and did not turn it on again when he took the next group of shots. Being an indoors event at night there was enough ambient light to make it possible to get an image, but only at a shutter speed that would need the camera bolted to a very sturdy tripod. These next shots were classic camera shake, combined with fuzzy people subjects as they would move during the exposure, which was probably at least several seconds. I have found that most people do move during even two second exposures, unless they are dead, of course.

Starting to despair, I moved on through the recorded images, and the best was yet to come! Our photographer had realized that perhaps he should use a flash, so turned it on again and began clicking. This time he also made the subjects fill the frame, an improvement on the 10 percent from before…but! The “but” was that instead of his walking in close, he just made use of the camera’s zoom lens. Now, if the lighting had been adequate, this can work, but when the subject is actually 20 meters away, and the flash can only reach seven meters, it is not going to work, is it! It might look all hunky-dory in the viewfinder, but the brightness in a digital camera viewfinder is not necessarily what the final result will be.

The upshot of all this was two usable images out of half a 2GB memory stick. Yes, two usable images.

Now I should not be too harsh on the lad, he is after all, just an enthusiastic amateur, but enthusiasm alone will not give satisfactory results.

Here are the ‘rules’ to make sure you get a better percentage of winners in such circumstances. The first rule of photography is to walk several meters closer and make the subject fill the frame.

The second rule is to ascertain the coverage of the flash and make sure the subject is within range.
The third rule is to use a tripod if you are taking shots under adverse lighting situations without flash.
And finally, don’t repeat bad shots, correct the problem before you shoot again.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

What Compact is the best?

Camera technology is accelerating at an enormous pace. It only seems like a couple of years ago when we were looking at mini film cassettes to make compact cameras even more compact. Size was everything. Small size that is.

Now we have digital everything. Panasonic have launched a camera that can brush up, clean up and even put make-up on the subject’s face. The Panasonic Lumix FX77 has a “beauty re-touch” function that will whiten teeth, increase the translucency of the subject’s skin, remove dark eye circles, make the face look smaller and even magnify the size of the eyes. If that is not enough to make the subject look beautiful, then the camera has an application that will apply rouge, lipstick and even eye shadow. With functions these days, the larger the better.

So, you are in the market for a digital compact, which one of the hundreds will you buy? That question is about the same as “What car should I buy?” All cameras today will produce reasonable photographs. However, like all cars which will get you from A to B, some are capable of doing it better than others.

Firstly, how much do you want to spend? It is a total waste of time looking at a new BMW if all you can afford is a second hand Corolla. Set a ceiling on your budget and work from there.

The next item in the search for a camera is what you want to do with it. Sure you want to take photographs, but do you want to be a creative photographer, or just take snaps of family outings at the beach? If you do not want to “get involved” with photography, then a simple, cheap compact “Point and Shoot” is all you need. However, if you want to try and master the art of photography then you must look at some top end compacts that will allow you to fiddle with shutter speeds, etc. The top of the range compacts have lots of features previously only seen in SLRs.

Let’s get megapixels out of the way. More megapixels in a compact camera does not mean that you will necessarily get a better final picture. It is all very complicated, but I just suggest you look at something between 5 and 10 megapixels as having more than enough for what you want a compact camera to do.

Now the lens. Get a camera with an optical zoom, rather than a ‘digital’ zoom. Most compact digital cameras feature a 3x zoom lens, which offers a reasonably wide-angle setting at one end and a short telephoto at the other. Some of the larger compact cameras offer a more generous optical zoom, like the Canon PowerShot, which combines a 12x zoom lens with an image stabilization system.

I suggest that you look at any one that has a range in the focal length of the lens. Generally these are called something like 28-70 or 38-105. This sort of range gives you the advantage of a wide angle lens and a small telephoto all built in. What to look for here, is just how easy is it to look through the viewfinder and see what you are going to get in the different lens positions. With most compacts you can also use the LCD screen to compose your pictures, but remember that the more you use the LCD, the sooner the camera runs out of batteries.

The majority of compact cameras no longer have optical viewfinders, so a clear and bright LCD is essential for composing shots. A 2.5 to 3.0 inch LCD is preferable. Bigger is better again.
Now the ASA. A good range, typically from 50 to 800 ISO, gives you the best chance of getting the shots you want without resorting to built-in flash. However, try as much as possible to run around 100-200 ASA. You will get better snaps, without “noise”.

If you are a very disciplined type of photographer, who always keeps the rechargeable batteries fully charged, then get a camera which takes rechargeable ones. If this just isn’t you, then get a compact using standard off-the-shelf batteries.
Finally - try before you buy!

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

In the past few years we have seen record rice prices, historic spikes in the global oil markets and surging costs for food and other essential products, such as palm oil.

Any subsidies or incentives, like Thailand's THB2,000 cheques, or the US's millions of dollars of tax refunds, are of course totally overshadowed by the greatest subsidy of all - the trillions of dollars pumped into failing developed economies to bail out banks or shore up debt-ravaged nations such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. However, the side effects of the continuous printing of money and increases in indebtedness by the US Federal Reserve, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and European Central Bank are both far-reaching and potentially devastating.
Economists firmly believe any form of subsidy is inefficient.

Subsidies paid to suppliers or producers, in reality, encourages overproduction of goods at artificially high prices - anyone from Europe will remember how EU incentives for farmers resulted in vast mountains of beef and butter that towered over wine and milk lakes which had to be stored every year at great expense and then destroyed at yet more cost.

On the other hand, subsidies paid to the consumer spurs over-consumption which, in turn, creates artificial, excessive demand, unnecessary shortages and lower profits. These forms of wastage are often dubbed "dead weight losses" and "misallocations of capital".

Since 2009, the global demand trend has been massively distorted by the excessive liquidity created by the responses to the global financial crisis and subsequent sovereign debt crisis in the EU. The support given to struggling Western economies has created a mountain of artificial demand. This, in turn, has also driven up the prices of marginally priced assets like commodities, where a small difference in supply and/or demand results in a big difference in price.

In this environment, asset pricing is far from normal. This abnormality is why the current situation is the exception to the rule about subsidy inefficiency; partly because I believe that this price manipulation/distortion is temporary and partly because I think the consequences of not trying to fight fire with fire are worse than the inefficiency of subsidies. Subsidies used in this exigent way are generally referred to by economists as Pigovian subsidies (named after pioneering work in the topic of managing externalities by English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou, and not because they are particularly used for lowering the price of pork and lamb!).

Either way, liquidity has driven up the prices of most assets everywhere (inflation is running at over 13 percent a year in places like Egypt right now) and it has a greater impact in emerging markets, where consumers spend a larger proportion of their salaries on food and where there is greater demand for commodities. The inflation also reflects the weakening of the US dollar's purchasing power in commodity markets.

Taking a local perspective, these trends have led the Thai government to renew many of its subsidies on diesel and more than 20 foodstuffs this year, to ease the burden on a large proportion of the Kingdom's 65 million inhabitants. But the price rises in these various commodities were not driven by normal economic activity - they can be directly traced to the liquidity that flooded the global economy as a result of Western government policies of quantitative easing, aka printing money. This liquidity has driven up the prices of commodities everywhere, including eggs, palm oil and sugar. To make matters worse the hike in fuel prices has been exacerbated by political tensions in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa).

That means the current high prices are mainly due to externalities, either artificial economic conditions or, hopefully, short-term political factors. However, the fact that Thailand is about to hold a general election means that we can expect subsidies to be a major domestic political football in the coming months. In such situations normal economic reasoning goes out of the window. If the subsidies are not maintained until a time when Western governments start behaving (or more likely are forced to start to behave) more rationally and slow down the printing presses, then local inflation rates could shoot up at a much more dramatic rate than the 3 percent year-on-year increase reported in Thailand last month.

In Thailand's current situation of rebounding economic growth, this increase in the cost of living could spark a round of demands for pay increases that could lead to the more serious problem of long-lasting inflation. Once wages start to increase it is almost impossible to prevent a structural inflation spiral, something of which there is next to no risk in the anaemic developed markets now.

If this was to take place, the situation could very easily spiral out of control and prove disastrous for Thailand's economy. Inflation would result in higher interest rates at a time when a supportive policy is needed. The weakness in the global economy resulting from deep-seated over-indebtedness in the Euro zone, UK and US, could easily see resurgent emerging markets pushed into recession with disastrous impact for any investors who have not seen the potential train wreck coming.

So, to fight fire with fire, Thai policymakers should focus on temporarily controlling prices and on placing more cash into the pockets of lower-income earners. Interest rates should be lowered, not raised, as Thailand needs to support growth but control inflation.

Structural inflation remains subdued on a global level. The temporary flood of liquidity will almost certainly dissipate. Therefore, this is one of those very rare occasions when subsidies and spending checks combined with price controls are justified. When you are being manipulated, it is permissible to push back and do some manipulating of your own. However, a fine balance must be maintained to prevent the creation of long-term economic inefficiencies. This is a big ask from the authorities. So far Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and his team appear to have risen to the task. Maybe with a combination of good fortune and some inspiration from the writings of Arthur Pigou, global events will not derail these efforts as the light end of the tunnel will, hopefully, show it is the other end as opposed to a train going full steam ahead.

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]

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

North, Miss Teschmacher. Due North!

Lex Luthor spoke these words in Superman II. However, he was aiming for somewhere more northern that I am. Nonetheless, he did want to find somewhere he could secure his future and make him rich. Whilst I can promise neither of these, it may be worth having a quick look at the country north of America that many people seem to forget - Canada.

Many Americans are either too loyal to Uncle Sam, too mistrusting of anything non-US or just too myopic to realize there is actually a world outside of its own boundaries - I still find it amazing that only 37% of Americans have passports ( However, even these people may not realize they are actually investing overseas as they may own international shares via a global mutual fund or may be putting money into an American company which has access to foreign markets. A perfect example is someone like Ford or General Motors.

However, now may be a time to tip the toes somewhere else and if Americans do not want to risk anything over the water or in a country which does not speak the same language then Canada may be the option - yes, I know an unfortunate few speak French but it is not their fault! Let’s face it, even Warren Buffet is looking abroad these days and if it is good enough for the Sage of Omaha then it should be okay for the rest of us mere mortals.

Let’s face it, the S&P500 has only returned just over 11% in the last decade and this is, in reality, only due to the incredible growth between April 2009 and April 2010 (see graph).

More importantly, diversification away from anything to do with the US Dollar is vital. As many people know, I am a great believer in not being greedy but always trying to beat the bank. Never before has this been so true. By looking at the multi-manager, multi-asset strategy you should be able to achieve this goal. Personally, I would advocate placing money all over the place - both sectorally and geo-politically. The more fingers you have in as many pies as possible the better.

Despite this, I do understand people’s reticence at investing in places they do not understand and have the potential to be a lot more volatile than areas closer to home. Canada would seem to be a good solution as it has a different currency, favours wealth preservation and has an economy that is not shot to pieces. I know it is about to have an election but at least they do not have generals appearing in the national media denying the possibility of a military coup - not yet anyway.

As David Rosenberg, the Chief Economist and Strategist at Canada's Gluskin Sheff & Associates states, "In my three decades in the forecasting business, I don't remember a time when the upside potential and downside risk to investing in Canada vis--vis the USA - from an economic, financial and political standpoint - was as compelling as it is today."

There are many reasons for this statement but Rosenberg points to a few salient facts to support his argument:

* Canada is a net oil exporter; the US is the world's largest oil importer.
* Canadian employment growth is booming; US employment growth is moribund.
* Canadian government finances are fairly solid; US government finances are spiraling out of control.
* Canadian inflation is tame; US inflation is resurgent.

Americans are not the only people looking to invest in Canada, foreign investment is as well. Last year, almost CAD120 billion came in from abroad and, in January alone, over CAD13 billion was invested from overseas.

Rosenberg continues, "The Canadian economy remained very strong in the opening months of 2011. It looks like the Canadian economy could outperform the US economy for the second quarter in a row... Canadian manufacturing shipments jumped 4.5% month-over-month in January, the best monthly showing in over a year and a half... Wholesale sales were also very strong, jumping 1.6% month-over-month on an inflation- adjusted basis... On top of this, the economy has created 84,000 jobs in total in January and February (adjusted for population, this would be equivalent to about 800,000 US jobs!)."

Rosenberg goes on, “The latest (American) Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data for January showed that US job openings dropped 161,000 ... and now stand at their lowest level since July 2009 when the economy was barely emerging from the worst recession since the 1930s. New hires also fell 193,000 and are now down in six of the past seven months - the lowest they have been since October 2009.”

So, big plusses for the economy and employment. What about the currency? Rosenberg again, “Canada stands out as being one of the few countries that is not only rated AAA by the major credit agencies but actually does have a AAA balance sheet. [Accordingly], the Canadian dollar ... has emerged as a safe-haven currency - like the Swiss franc but with a decent positive yield and exposure to raw materials... The Canadian dollar experienced no fewer than five intermittent pullbacks last year and yet still finished 2010 with a 5 1/2% gain, not just against the USD, but versus a basket of non-dollar currencies too... The added fact that the Loonie has so vastly outperformed its commodity counterparts such as the Aussie and the Kiwi attests to the view that the Canadian dollar story transcends the prices of crude, corn and copper."

Not everything is peachy though. There is a potential problem with the property sector. Whilst other Developed Markets (DM) have had massive corrections in the real estate world Canada has not yet been affected.

If there has to be an adjustment to the present situation then it could have severe consequences for the national economy. Consumers will cut back and there will be no further property investment.

There is an argument against this though and that is the present state of things should allow for a ‘soft’ landing at worst. The banks are in a much better situation than elsewhere in the DM, interest rates are low, there are so many natural resources they do not know what to do with them and the mortgage market is much more attuned to the real world than their counterparts south of the border were in the ‘Naughties’. Also, the housing boom is due to demand and not greedy speculation.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that house prices are excessive when taken into account against actual earned income and family debt is on the rise. Economic historians point to other disturbing evidence. In 2009, residential housing investment - as a percentage of GDP - was at 6.48%. This is down from its peak of over seven percent in 2007. The previous peaks were in 1976 and 1989. Soon after these dates the housing market in Canada dived. Without doubt the ration of housing investment to GDP has been a good pointer to the real estate market corrections before and it may be again.

However, what these historians may not be taking into account is that any government and business community worth its salt should be following the wise words of President Harry Truman, “The only thing new in this world is the history that you don't know.” By learning from the recent mistakes south of the border and elsewhere there is no reason why Canada should descend into the chaos that has happened in other parts of the globe.

There is a lot to be said for Canada. Investing there may not produce the best potential returns but the volatility will be a lot better, things are much more transparent and you will have begun to diversify. However, above all, remain liquid.

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]

Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai through May 18

The Lincoln Lawyer: US, Crime/ Drama/ Thriller – Matthew McConaughey as a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln sedan. He has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career: defending a Beverly Hills playboy accused of rape and attempted murder. The seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly and twisting game of survival. A rock-solid entertainment, made with much care and given much personality. Rated R in the US for some violence, sexual content, and language. 13+ in Thailand. Generally favorable reviews. At Airport Plaza only.

Rabbit Hole: US, Drama – The synopsis offered by the studio, Lionsgate, expresses it well enough: Becca and Howie Corbett are returning to their everyday existence in the wake of a shocking, sudden loss. Just eight months ago, they were a happy suburban family with everything they wanted. Now, they are caught in a maze of memory, longing, guilt, recrimination, sarcasm, and tightly controlled rage from which they cannot escape. While Becca finds pain in the familiar, Howie finds comfort. The shifts come in abrupt, unforeseen moments. Becca hesitantly opens up to her opinionated, loving mother and secretly reaches out to the teenager involved in the accident that changed everything; while Howie lashes out and imagines solace with another woman. Yet, as off track as they are, the couple keeps trying to find their way back to a life that still holds the potential for beauty, laughter and happiness. The resulting journey is an intimate glimpse into two people learning to re-engage with each other and a world that has been tilted off its axis. Generally favorable reviews. At Vista only.

I would add that this is one of those films brought into being with passion and loving care by one person, in this case Nicole Kidman. It’s based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. She had her production company begin negotiations when they play was still on Broadway. She became wrapped up in the project, decided she would produce it, and she picked Aaron Eckhart to be her leading man and the playwright to do the screen adaptation. And they spent only 28 days shooting. The result is simply superb drama, and a revived and refocused Kidman in her best performance in years.

Blue Valentine: US, Drama/ Romance – I have to admit it’s an emotionally gripping examination of a marriage on the rocks, but it is not easy to watch. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling give performances of unusual depth and power. It’s about back country rednecks I find distasteful. Nominated for a 2010 Oscar – best performance by an actress in a leading role (Michelle Williams). Rated R in the US (on appeal) for strong graphic sexual content, language, and a beating; originally rated NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexual content. 15+ in Thailand. Reviews: Universal acclaim. At Vista only.

Priest: US, Action/ Horror/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – Much as I like its star, Paul Bettany, the word on this film is decidedly not kind – in summary, visually interesting but dramatically inert. It sort of continues the feel and style of the previous collaboration of star Bettany and director Scott Stewart, Legion. This story takes place is an alternate universe where vicious vampires have been a war with mankind for centuries, and the Church has become all-powerful due to its ability to keep the vampires at bay by their crack teams of tattooed vampire-hunting warrior priests. The 3D is “conversion” 3D, which in this case has been called “shoddy” by one reviewer, and that seems to be the consensus. Generally negative reviews. In 3D at Airport Plaza, 2D at Vista.

Thor: US, Action/ Fantasy – Directed by the top Shakespearian director of our time, Kenneth Branagh – slumming, as it were. Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior-god as imagined by Marvel comics, is sent down to Earth as punishment for reigniting a reckless war. Shown now only at Vista and in 2D. Many viewers hold that the 2D version is sharper and brighter, and thus superior to the 3D version. Mixed or average reviews.

E Nang / I Love Farang / White Buffalo: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – Set in the northeast of Thailand or “E San” (as this film would have it) where, they say, some girls are fond of dating western guys, and for some families having a Western son-in-law is now the trendy thing to do. At Vista it’s in Thai only, English subtitles at Airport Plaza.

Fast & Furious 5: US, Action/ Crime/ Drama – Dominic (Vin Diesel) and his crew find themselves on the wrong side of the law once again as they try to switch lanes between a ruthless drug lord and a relentless federal agent. It’s a movie that’s proud of its brainless action thrills – sleek, loud, and over the top, and the most exciting of the series. Vista also has a Thai-dubbed version. Generally favorable reviews.

Ladda Land: Thai, Horror/ Mystery – A family moves into a new house in a Chiang Mai housing development where the newcomers gradually begin to encounter paranormal and horrifying events. It’s the creation of the Thai filmmaker I think is the top of the list for horror and spookiness at this time, 30-year-old Sophon Sakdaphisit. He’s the man responsible for some of the most enjoyable parts of recent anthology films (like 4Bia and Phobia 2) and as writer and/or director for some of my favorite Thai films: Alone (the identical twin caper), Coming Soon (people sucked into a movie), and the iconic Shutter. That last was picked up by Hollywood and remade, into a film that didn’t hold a candle to the original. This time, in addition to the spookiness, he seems to have added a level of social commentary, as this family is beguiled into accepting the lures of the middle-class lifestyle to which they are not accustomed. It is said, but I can’t prove it, that the tale behind this film is based on fact – a housing development in Chiang Mai was eventually abandoned after a series of unexplained deaths. Rated 18+. English subtitles only at Major.

Jakkalan: Thai, Action/ Comedy – 'Jeeja' (Chocolate and Raging Phoenix) is back in a new action comedy directed by an acclaimed director Petchtai Wongkamlao, aka Mum Jokmok. The lives of an uncle and his niece Jakkalan turn into chaos after she is hired to transport smuggled goods to ruthless gangsters. Only at Vista, only in Thai.

Kob Khun Tee Rak Kan / Love First: Thai, Drama/ Romance – Love in three different Thai families by three different directors. At Airport Plaza only.

Drive Angry: US, Action/ Thriller – Nicolas Cage as a hardened felon who has broken out of Hell for one last chance at redemption. That’s literally Hell – underscored by his character’s name: John Milton. Has been described as an exercise in deliberate vulgarity, gross excess, potty-mouth monologues, and the pornography of violence. Rated R in the US for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity, and pervasive language; 18+ here. Mixed or average reviews. At Vista only, and Thai-dubbed.

How does your garden grow?: By Eric Danell,Dokmai Garden

The durian season has begun

The durian tree is native to Malaysia and Indonesia, and therefore prefers a hot and moist climate, and will not thrive in Chiang Mai due to the long dry season. At Dokmai Garden we keep a small specimen in a moist section to show its beautiful leaves. However, the Chiang Mai markets are now full of durian fruits from the east of Thailand. The Thai season will last until June, and durian found afterwards are usually imported.

Right now is the fruit season of eastern Thailand (the fruit provinces Rayong, Chantaburi and Trad) and they supply the rest of Thailand with rambutan, mangosteen and durian, the king of fruits!

Many tourists mix up durian (Durio zibethinus) with jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). Both fruits are large, but they have totally different flavours and belong to totally different plant families. The durian is a relative of the mallows (Malvaceae/Bombacaceae). The jackfruit is a relative of the figs (Moraceae), which is easily seen by the milky sap, absent in durian. The durian rind is painfully prickly, while the jackfruit rind is warty. Durian has showy flowers, the jackfruit flowers do not look like ordinary flowers, just like a hairy small fruit. Durian fruit tastes like pineapple with garlic butter, while jackfruit tastes like….jackfruit. Durian pulp is like butter, while jackfruit pulp is firm.

Now, if you wish to taste durian, you should be aware of at least four different commercial cultivars in Thailand:

1. Mon tong (the golden cushion). The seeds are ‘small’ (the size of a thumb), the flesh is pale yellow, the flavour is pronounced. This is Ketsanee’s favourite durian. The main season is May-June.

2. Gang yao (long stalked durian). Seeds and flesh colours are similar to ‘mon tong’, but the flavour is less pronounced. The fruit stalk is much longer than in ‘mon tong’. The main season is May-June.

3. Cha nee (chimpanzee). This durian has big seeds, more intense yellow colour and a different flavour, not so pronounced, but some love this fruit. This is the cheapest durian. It is produced early in the season (March-April).

4. Kaa dum (button). The spines are shorter and more densely packed than in previous cultivars. The stalk is short like in ‘gang yao’. The seeds are large. This is also an early cultivar (March-April).
Immature durian is firm, greenish and terribly disappointing if eaten raw, but delicious if sliced and deep fried. Remember, do not drink alcohol when eating durian, or you will be poisoned. [email protected]

Tough orchids!

The Eria pannea is a tough orchid capable of withstanding heat, cold, wet and drought.

Although many of the wild orchids in Thailand, Laos and Burma are endangered and decrease in numbers each year, some orchids are survivors. Eria pannea (Orchidaceae) is one example. This is the rat of the orchid world, capable of enduring heat, cold, dampness and roasting drought. It may grow into a large cluster of erect wooly leaves, and now in early May it is decorated with bright orange flowers.

At Dokmai Garden we keep one small specimen as a back-up in the nursery, while three pieces have been transplanted onto teak (Tectona grandis, Lamiaceae), makhaa (Afzelia xylocarpa) and tabek (Lagerstroemia sp.) in the garden.

The early rains have triggered early termite swarms (two nights ago) and this year we have more fireflies and more ung-ang frogs (Kaloula pulchra) than previous years, a result, we think, of organic gardening and banned fires and hunting.We have frogs in Mika’s toy box, in shoes, in drawers and I even had one in my pocket! [email protected]

How does your garden grow?: By Eric Danell,Dokmai Garden

Today I write about one of those anonymous trees that inhabit the Thai landscape, and which are dismissed as ‘shrubs’ when a land developer moves in. To create a love and respect for these anonymous greens, I act as their envoy.

Do you remember the article about a funny leafhopper with long waxy threads? It is connected with a certain tree which grows in abundance near Dokmai Garden, and in fact also within the boundaries of the garden. That tree has a wrinkled grey bark like elephant skin, not too different from hog plum (Spondias pinnata, Anacardiaceae). Near the base of the trunk the bark becomes more squarish. Unlike the hog plum, the leaves are single, not compound, and they are glabrous, almost leathery. One characteristic is the short red leaf stalk (petiole). Another conspicuous feature during Easter are the long (12 cm) woody fruits, distinctly angled and resembling those of the banana peel tree (Pterospermum acerifolium, Malvaceae/Sterculiaceae) although glabrous and straw coloured. Inside you will find flat seeds surrounded by a wing like a member of the Bignoniaceae family (they have compound leaves). This seed looks like a lady’s long fingernail. Since the seeds mature during Easter, and since settlers and tourists often say they need English names, we hereby launch the English name ‘Magdalene’s fingernail’. Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene after resurrection (Easter day) so we believe the conspicuous seeds will help you remember the name.

The scientific name is Lophopetalum wallichii in the family Celastraceae. Other members of this family are Khat (Catha edulis), Spindle tree (Eunomyus europaeus) and Parnassia palustris. The scientific name ‘wallichii’ is in honour of Dr Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854) who was a Danish surgeon and botanist. Since the Danish were allied with the French during the Napoleon wars, Wallich was imprisoned when the British seized the Danish colony Frederiksnagore in India. He was released in 1809 because he was a learned man. He became an assistant of William Roxburgh who worked as a botanist for the East India Company in Calcutta. As a friend of Sir Stamford Raffles he participated in the design of the Singapore botanic garden. Benefactors of botany such as yourself can be immortalized by lending their names to a plant’s scientific name.

Magdalene’s fingernail grows in the dry lowlands of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and can survive fires and cutting. Its lustrous wood (trade name katbo) has been used for furniture making. The tree is known from India, Burma, Laos Cambodia and Thailand. If you know anything more about this tree, please let me know. [email protected]

Staying happy in Paradise - theCounseling Corner

Richard L. Fellner

The unknown sides of depression

When people hear the word ‘depression’, many think of sad, hopeless individuals unable to cope with a life event, living withdrawn, and crying their existence.

In fact, this is rarely the case. In a U.S. study published in 1996, for example, only a third of the patients suffering from depression could name a stressful or dramatic experience that took place before the disease kicked in. And it is by no means only negative events that can trigger depression. In some people, events such as the birth of a child or winning a business contract can bring on depression. The fact that not all people who experience dramatic events develop depression also suggests that other factors such as stress or genetics might be involved. Patients are often unable to identify anything in themselves or their environment as a probable cause of depression - which usually leads to long delays in search for the correct diagnosis for the malaise they feel in.

Physical symptoms are another, often misinterpreted facet of depressive disorders. Typical physical symptoms of depression include: headaches, insomnia, reduced memory and concentration, digestive problems and a general lack of energy.

The lack of perspective that is typical for depression quite often leads to self-harm. Most people who commit suicide previously suffered from an unrecognized or untreated depression. Other self-defeating forms of behavior, such as alcohol and drug abuse, self-destructive eating habits or risky driving are, as studies illustrate, linked to depression in about 60% of the cases.

In older men, depression often manifests itself in the form of aggression, particularly of the verbal kind, like ranting, looking down or lashing out on others or constant cynicism. Again, these persons are only rarely aware that they actually suffer from depression, but explain their inner discontent and anger with external circumstances over which they usually can’t complain too loudly and often enough.

About 20-25% of women and 7-12% of men suffer with depression at least once in their lifetime. The real figures are probably higher, however, due to frequent misdiagnoses and years of suffering without a proper diagnosis and adequate treatment.

Live the happy life you planned! Richard L. Fellner is head of the Counseling Center Pattaya in Soi Kopai and offers consultations in English and German languages after making an appointment at 0854 370 470.