Vol. XIII No. 12
Friday March 25 - March 31, 2005

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Fun City By The Sea

Updated every Friday
by Saichon Paewsoongnern

 



 

COLUMNS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Money matters

Snap Shots

Modern Medicine

Learn to Live to Learn

Heart to Heart with Hillary

Psychological Perspectives

Sound and Vision

Money matters:Wall Street’s Crystal Ball Reveals Overcast in 2005 (Part four)

Graham Macdonald
MBMG International Ltd.

Smith Barney
Tobias Levkovich, chief investment strategist
New York
S&P 500: 1300;
DJIA: 11700

“We started getting more positive on the market in September,” as a number of conditions continued to improve, says Mr. Levkovich. Principally, he says, companies’ huge wads of cash give them power to “take things into their own hands.” The question is whether companies will use that cash to hire. “We’re seeing all the right signals,” says Mr. Levkovich. “But there’s no guarantee. It won’t be phenomenal. Companies have learned to be more productive with fewer workers.” Mr. Levkovich recommends investors put 60% of their funds in equities, 35% in bonds and 5% in cash. He likes farm-related stocks, consumer staples and biotechnology stocks. Technology stocks may turn around some time in 2005, he says, but he’s not sure when. The biggest risk to the economy? Protectionism, he says, which “would cause unhealthy inflation.”

MBMG is glad that corporate America is run by individuals a lot more savvy than Mr. Levkovich – the CEOs aren’t hiring and won’t be. The biggest risk to the economy in our view is if anybody takes Mr. Levkovich’s Fantasy Island musings seriously and the corporates spend all their cash making the bubble bigger for another year. This would have the effect of proving Abbey Joseph Cohen right about 2005 by deferring all the problems until next year.

Briefing.com
Dick Green, Chief Executive
Chicago
S&P 500: 1275;
DJIA: 11400
Fed-funds: 3.5%
10-year yield: 5%
Gold: $425
Real GDP: 3.5%

“The stock market outlook for 2005 is good,” writes Mr. Green. But not great. His S&P forecast is among the lower end of the 10 market watchers we surveyed. Still, 2005 should be a solid year for profits, he says. Economic growth should “continue at a fast pace” in 2005, enough to produce 10% earnings growth for the year. The biggest obstacle to a strong 2005 is a sharp rise in interest rates, he cautions, so keep your eye on the 10-year note, which remained quiet throughout 2004 even as the fed-funds rate increased by 1.25%.

A Sharp rise in the 10-year note yield could cause the P/E (price-to-earnings ratio) to contract more than expected if investors see that as likely to curtail the economy and earnings growth into 2006,” writes Mr. Green. And that might cause a spike in – you guessed it – inflation.

10% earnings growth? 10% earnings growth? 10% earnings growth? – MBMG is speechless. HSBC expects that GDP growth currently running at 4% will average 2% for the year. 4 now, 2 for the year average, what does that imply by the year end, and what, in turn does that imply for earnings growth? 10% apparently if you use the special briefing.com calculator.

Bank of America Securities
Thomas McManus, chief investment strategist
New York
S&P 500: 1200

Mr. McManus, one of the few 2005 bears surveyed should get a more sympathetic ride from MBMG. He thinks stocks have gotten too pricey relative to earnings. That makes them a risky bet heading into a year that will likely see rising interest rates, he says. Today’s stock valuations “overlook the significant rise in inflation expectations,” writes Mr. McManus. However he adds, “Inflation isn’t going to creep – it’s going to jump right in our faces,” he says, since “we’re going to see a plethora of rising prices” in the first quarter of the year.

Investors have become overconfident, says Mr. McManus, and are ignoring a number of risks. Part of that overconfidence stems from the fact that P/E ratios, while high by some accounts, are still well off their historic highs. The operating P/E ratio of the S&P 500 companies currently is at 21.02, compared with 46.05 in December 2001. But as inflation ramps up, companies will have trouble maintaining their profit margin, he says, and that could hurt P/Es.

MBMG thinks that overconfident doesn’t even begin to cover the kind of thinking already described by some analysts. Mr. McManus fails to spot, however, that inflation and higher interest rates will both simply be a spike – the real question being whether or not they peak before or after the end of 2005.

Miller Tabak
Phil Roth, chief technical market analyst
New York
S&P 500: “If you put a gun to my head, I’d say it’s down.”

Long-term Treasuries have failed to price in the real rate of inflation, says Mr. Roth, due to a prevailing view (among the bond markets BUT not the analysts here) that the U.S. economy has been soft. “People have constantly distrusted the economic expansion and believed that there was no inflation,” he says. “But there are strong signs that inflation is picking up.”

He says that “we’ve almost had a miracle in the bond market this year” and that “bonds are much more mis-priced than stocks.” That will be the story for 2005. “Rising long-term interest rates,” he says, could “choke off the market.”

Want one more reason to be careful this year? It’s the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese calendar. And Mr. Roth – a technical strategist on Wall Street – says Years of the Rooster are usually Years of the Bear as well. If Mr. Roth is right, a number of the strategists we spoke with may have to eat some crow by the end of 2005.

MBMG’s head is shaking in disbelief – even the bears are growling utter nonsense. Inflation is a short term threat. Recessionary disinflation/deflation now seem utterly unavoidable – the question being whether they will occur in 2005 or the following year. Still I guess it’s better to draw the right conclusions from looking at the data wrongly like Mr. Roth than to draw the wrong conclusions despite having the facts staring you in the face like the other commentators did.

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 Graham Macdonald on [email protected]


Snap Shots: Wat to photograph?

by Harry Flashman

Sometimes you can become so used to what is around us, that you don’t see it any more. Our Wats (temples) are a classic example. We have seen so many, we don’t see them any more, yet the first time tourists to Thailand go mad when they see the temples. Hundreds of rolls of film are shot, because Thailand is actually a photographer’s paradise. The ambient light levels are strong, shadows are strong and images are also strong if you use light and shadow to your advantage. The ideal venue to use all these aspects is in your local Wat.

We all forget that we are living in a country that other people save up for 11 months just to get here for two or three weeks!

So here is how to take that great Wat shot - only it isn’t one shot. It is impossible to show a Wat with one snap. It requires a series. One of the reasons for this is the fact that a Wat is a microcosm of Thai society. People eat there, live there, learn there and go there after they die. So really you are trying to show not only the grandeur of the architecture, but the fact that the Wat has its own life going on within its boundaries. It is the centre of all village life.

Here is how I would approach the subject, and remember we are looking for production quality shots here. The preparation is to go there the day before your shooting day to see how the sun shines on the buildings. To get the textures and colours you need the sun striking the walls at an angle. Full shade or full sun is not the way. It’s back to using light and shadow to show form. You will have to note what are the best times of day to record the various architectural details. Also be prepared to use a close up shot or two to highlight some of the small details. By the way, always remember that a Wat is a place of religious worship and significance, so do take your shoes off and be respectful.

Wats are inhabited by much more than the saffron robed monks. There are teachers, nuns, novitiates, school children, street vendors and even tourists. A very mixed bag. Try to take shots to show just why these people are there in the Wat and its compound. This is where a “long lens” (135 mm upwards) can be a help. You can get the image you want without having to intrude into the person’s personal space. However, remember that if there is any doubt as to whether your subject would really want that photo taken - then ask permission first. It is my experience that the vast majority of people will happily respond positively to your request. Even when there is no common language, a smile and a wave of the camera in their direction and an “OK?” is generally all that is necessary.

Taking pictures inside a Wat is not as easy as the exterior shots. The light levels are very low and there is often the feeling that you are intruding in someone else’s religious practices. Taking a flash photograph really is an intrusion in my view. This is where the tripod is great. Set the camera up on the tripod, compose the shot, set it on Time Exposure and quietly get that shot of a lifetime. You will probably need around 5-10 seconds at f5.6, but that is just a guide and you should experiment. If you set the camera on Auto mode and turn off the flash you will get better results.

By now you should have taken almost one complete roll of film on your local Wat. Verticals, horizontals, close-ups and wide angle shots. Do not be afraid to shoot film. It is the only way to improve and the only way to get great shots. Film is the cheapest thing in photography, always remember that. Just avoid taking the ‘same’ shot four times - one vertical and one horizontal for each subject, but that is all.


Modern Medicine: Is cancer a ‘relative’ risk?

by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant

We have known for many years that certain diseases run in families. This includes diabetes and asthma for example. We have also known that certain types of cancer seem to run in families, with breast cancer in women being the one that has probably been best documented, with the gene responsible having been identified.

In an attempt to get further towards the truth, a study was carried out based in Iceland, where scientists have access to unique family tree data covering the whole population, and from the 27 types of cancers studied, 16 appeared to show the inheritance factor, with seven of these showing a very strong connection.

The research was set up to establish how often cancers occurred in first to fifth degree relatives of about 32,000 cancer patients over the past 50 years. The 27 cancers studied included many of the most common, such as lung, breast, prostate, colon and skin.

In addition, the incidence and types of cancers suffered by the partners of cancer patients were also noted. These cancers included stomach, lung and colon cancers and were seen more frequently in the partners of patients, suggesting the involvement of shared lifestyle and environmental factors, as inheritance was not a factor in this group.

Study leader Kari Stefansson, chief executive of the drug company deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, said, “Our findings indicate that genetic factors contribute to the risk of specific cancers, but also that certain types of cancer can be looked upon collectively as broad, complex phenotypes (diseases with distinct characteristics).

“The next step in this work is to isolate the key genes contributing to the common forms of the disease and to use this information to develop better medicine. At the same time it is crucial to emphasize that lifestyle and environmental factors play a very significant role in the development of cancer and are things we may all be able to do something about today.”

The seven cancers with the highest increased familial occurrence both in close and distant relatives were breast, prostate, stomach, lung, colon, kidney and bladder cancers, the researchers reported in the on-line journal PloS Medicine.

Cancers at certain sites of the body also showed a familial association with other cancers. For example, relatives of people with stomach, colon, rectal or womb cancer were more likely to develop any one of these diseases.

So that’s the bad news, what’s the good news? Well the good news is that just because a close relative had cancer does not mean to say that you will definitely get it too. Remember that what was looked at here, in the study of 32,000 cancer patients, were relative numbers. The association with environmental factors also means that there are more factors at work than just heredity. And environmental factors are usually under your control. These are factors such as smoking, for example. Yes, another dig at smoking, the most easily corrected environmental cancer producing factor in the world.

So let’s imagine that a close relative does come up with one of the seven most reported in families, those of breast, prostate, stomach, lung, colon, kidney and bladder, what do you do now? Throw in the towel? Write your will? Spend all your money this evening? Hopefully none of those! There are screening tests and examinations that can be done to see if you have any of those conditions. Screening tests, X-Rays, blood tests, stool examinations, endoscopies and suchlike.

Having cancer is not the end of the world these days, and just having a relative with cancer is definitely not a death sentence!


Learn to Live to Learn: What George had to say…

with Andrew Watson

Professor George Walker is to the International Baccalaureate Organisation what Albus Dumbledore is to Hogwarts. He is the father of the modern IBO, a leader, pioneer and visionary who oozes wisdom and never fails to inspire. George is tall, angular, silver haired, with a kindly face, sculpted with care by nature and no doubt benefiting, at least in part, from the result of healthy living in Geneva. He read Chemistry at Oxford, Music in Cape Town and has thus lived what might be termed an ‘IB’ life. His book, ‘To Educate the Nations’ (John Catt International, 2002) lays out his philosophy in gripping fashion. In Perth, at the IB Asia Pacific Regional conference, he was worth the entrance money on his own.

He spoke on the conference theme, “Leadership and Learning: the Role of the IB Coordinator”. Having marked the moveable border between Leadership and Management, he talked about the role of the IB Coordinator as a progenitor for change, pioneers in their own right, whose work can often bring with it considerable personal risk, which arrives in sometimes surprising and at other times, predictable, forms: “Those of us whose professional job brings daily confrontation with change are quickly unhinged when it affects other aspects of our lives that we thought were predictable and stable.”

George is great at placing theory in reality. He truly understands the daily work of those who work in the name of the IBO. Having worked at the sharp end in schools of national and international character, he appears acutely aware of the fault lines and politics of schools and the soporiphic, claustrophobic conservatism which can lead to stagnation and regression if the fresh air of new ideas, imagination and creativity are not allowed to clear the atmosphere.

He has written of the inevitable tension that exists between Boards and Principals, insisting that this should be seen as a positive dynamic for change: creative tension, where win-win situations happen. But George is also aware of the reality of what change means to most people. After all, many of us, you might agree, spend much of our lives devoted to the pursuit of a situation in which change does not happen anymore.

Change is unsettling, new ideas can be a threat and the purveyors of change, even if they have the moral, ethical and even legal high ground, can be dangerous to all that we have built for ourselves. We don’t want our feathered nest ruffled. There is, as George rightly said, a “powerful sense of bereavement about change”.

George contextualizes brilliantly, improvises as any great orator can, and always provides a literary companion to illustrate his points. In Singapore, he introduced me to “The Dignity of Difference” by Jonathan Sacks and in Perth, he reminded us all of the poetry of Matthew Arnold, who wrote in 1853 (The Scholar Gypsy),

…this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o’ertaxed, its palsied hearts…

Then, as if to prove he’s still top of the teaching trade, George adds that it was just six years after this poem that Charles Darwin was telling the world that the only way to survive is to change. How true that is. Change or become a fossil.

When I asked George what kind of action the IBO felt able to take to augment, enhance and support supplement programmes, it was pretty clear that this had been the subject of previous rumination (nothing seems to come as a surprise to George).

One of the unwritten rules of the IBO is “think global, act local” and in aspiring, as the IBO does, to produce individuals who understand, “that other people, with their differences, can also be right,” whilst maintaining a possibly contradictory position of being unable or unwilling to involve themselves in issues ‘on the ground’ in schools, I suggested that there was a danger of promoting benevolent polyvalence?

The answer to this question is where the ideas of Howard Gardner’s Good Work project, the IBO and Professor Allan Luke, Dean of the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice at the National Institute of Education in Singapore (of whom I will speak later), converge. In short, they advocate action.

The tragedy of the tsunami precipitated the already planned development of ‘IBO Projects’, a new branch of the organisation, which aims to extend education philosophy into real work, ‘on the ground’. In charge is Mr Peter Kenny, formerly regional manager for the IBO Primary Years Programme and as compassionate, generous and marvellous a man as I have ever met.

George explained that reaching out around the local, regional and global community was very much part of the planned and logical progression of the IBO and in many ways is a natural extension of the CAS Programme.

In recognising that the responsibility is great indeed, to remain inclusive and compassionate on the one hand, yet resolute, critical and firm on the other, CAS provides subtle but critical clues as to what we might expect from the IBO projects. Many schools make cursory gestures to working in their local communities but miss the central point entirely, which is that we should be asking not only, “what is it that we have that we can offer them” but, “what is it they have that they can offer us?” Asking the first part of the question only smacks of colonialism, and is only half the picture.

Tim Knight, IB coordinator at the International School, Manila and a brilliant and brave advocate for all the IBO stands for, summed up what George Walker’s words meant to the assembled, “When you talk about positive change and you listen to George, you feel affirmed, invigorated. Je pense, ainsi, il faut que je fais quelque chose”.

Next week: KIS – A tsunami relief concert reviewed


Heart to Heart with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I’ve often had the urge to write in. But after reading yet another sad reader’s submission I really couldn’t resist this time. I’m referring to “Tired Tim” who wrote for advice about his sulky girlfriend.
Why was she sulky, you ask? Because Tim fancies a drink with the boys a couple of nights week. He then relates that he gives her 30,000 baht a month. Well as they say, “every village has one”.
Unless your girlfriend has a masters degree and looks like Miss World I’d suggest you’re overpaying her. This, not your nights out is to blame. It has turned her into a spoiled brat who believes you are “stoopid”. My suggestion to you and all the other poor misguided fools is to send her back to the bar where she was found. Earning 30,000 baht a month under numerous sweaty customers is a lot harder. Sorry to say but I am constantly amazed at the amount of money given to girlfriends. Read the local press and see what the going rate for monthly employment is. A hard working craftsman would be over the moon with 8,000. A well educated office worker would be happy with 10,000 so why does an ignorant, sulky, provincial bumpkin need three times that amount. Get yourself out and about you can find pleasant friendly local girls who don’t work in bars only too happy to have a Farang boyfriend, and what’s more, they’ll have a job and wages too. Farang men stop selling yourselves short and wasting your money. No wonder they think we’re mad!! Start thinking.
Somchai

Dear Somchai,
Are you a bean counter by profession? Whilst your argument is very well reasoned and makes sound financial sense, it ignores one very human factor - emotion. Farang men will always form an attachment somewhere, but not necessarily in the most honest environments. However, being a ‘girlfriend’ is not a profession, nor should time spent with a partner be considered a commodity to be traded for a monthly ‘salary’. Love for sale is never ‘love’ and hence the high divorce rates in certain sections of the community. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the pleasant, friendly local girls, but the ease of getting to know these paragons of virtue, compared to the ladies of the night, means that they tend to be overlooked. I still believe it is up to Tired Tim to work out finances with his lady, rather than you or I suggesting what the monthly stipend should be. Never-the-less, you do sound like an honest, thinking man, my Petal. Just up the ante a little bit more and Hillary could be persuaded to give up tapping away on the keyboard.
Dear Hillary,
My girlfriend speaks quite good English, but I can find it difficult to understand her true meaning and we end up having an argument. The other day she seemed worried and said “I want stay by myself” and I thought she wanted to leave. I asked her why, as everything seemed to be OK before, but she just started to get mad at me for continuing to ask her what was wrong. The next day, when she hadn’t left I worked out that what she wanted to say was that because she was trying to work out a personal problem, she wanted to be “alone” for a while. I try to understand, but it is a problem. Have you any advice for this communication problem we are having?
Communications Conrad

Dear Communications Conrad,
In any relationship, clear and open communication is most important. When the two people come from different cultures and have different native languages, then it becomes even more likely that confusion will occur. Your girlfriend is trying her best to communicate with you in a foreign language, but I note you do not say whether you can communicate in Thai, her language. If there are times of confusion, you should just say “mai kowjai” and ask her to put it another way. Finally, try not to hang on the literal meaning of every word - try and get the overall meaning or emotion. And get some Thai lessons too!
Dear Hillary,
With all the horrible tales you hear about the foreigners being ripped off by the girls in Thailand, have you any suggestions about how you tell a “good” Thai girl from a “bad” Thai girl? There must be some way. Before any more of us get taken to the cleaners, let us into the secret Hillary. I’m from London and I thought I was street smart. The motorcycle shops must just love us, and the gold shops too. Please, before it’s too late!
Jason

Dear Jason,
Take your time. Hasten Jason will only get you in trouble in double quick time. Have you been hurt already, my Petal? All you have to do is follow the “rules” that you would in your own country. When looking for a soul mate would you go to the local bar? Finding “good” girls as you call them is difficult, but you generally do not find them in bars. They work in offices, hospitals, shops, optometrists, architects rooms, tourist hotels - are you listening to me, Jason! Finally, if all else fails, here is Hillary’s tip for the selection of “good” girls. Check the legs first - good girls wear pantyhose. There you are, Jason, it’s easy! Happy hunting.


Psychological Perspectives: One more reason to go for that diploma

by Michael Catalanello, Ph.D.

What benefits result from a higher education? While some seem obvious, there may be a few you never thought of.

Students often seem attracted by the prospects of a higher income, more rewarding work, and higher employment associated with earning a university degree. Educators might emphasize the value of critical thinking skills gained by graduates, their introduction to the world of ideas and the merits of preparation for a life of learning. Societal benefits might include such things as a decreased dependence upon public assistance, greater civic involvement, increased volunteerism and better health associated with higher levels of education.

A number of recent studies have demonstrated that a higher level of education may provide benefits we never anticipated, namely, protection from a decline in memory and other cognitive abilities that comes as we grow older. This month researchers at the University of Toronto published findings that shed light on how higher education helps protect older people from certain declines in mental abilities.

Melanie Springer and a team of psychologists examined patterns of brain activity in subjects performing memory tasks. The procedure involved scanning the brains of participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The scans produced pictures that reveal specific brain areas which become active in response to subjects performing memory tasks. They then examined the relationship between those brain regions used, the age of subjects, and their levels of education.

Previous studies had shown that older adults exhibit greater activity in the frontal regions of the brain as compared to younger adults. The main finding of this study was that the frontal lobes, the area of the brain directly behind the forehead, and the medial temporal lobes, the areas on each side of the brain, exhibited differing patterns of activity, depending on the age and education of the subjects.

Young adults, ages 18 to 30 with higher education, seemed inclined to rely more on the temporal lobes and less on the frontal lobes while performing memory tasks. Older adults, aged 65 and up, used more frontal lobes and less of their temporal lobes while performing the same tasks. This increase in frontal lobe activity among older adults was most pronounced among those that were more highly educated.

The authors suggested that the frontal lobes represent an available resource that can be called upon to compensate for reduced functioning of the temporal regions associated with aging. The more education a person has, the greater this effect.

Neuropsychologists have contributed dramatically to our understanding of the brain in recent years. They have demonstrated that the brain is a dynamic system of neurons capable of growing new connections in response to more complex and stimulating environments. It is speculated that education, particularly while the brain is maturing before age 30, may stimulate the formation of more connections between various brain regions. These additional connections might provide a kind of redundancy which acts to buffer the decline that comes when connections are inevitably lost due to aging.

If you are among those thinking about going back for that university diploma, there’s one more reason to take the plunge. Better do it soon though, before you forget!

Dr. Catalanello is a licensed psychologist in his home State of Louisiana, USA, and a member of the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Asian University, Chonburi. You may address questions and comments to him at [email protected], or post on his weblog at http://asianupsych.blogspot.com

Sound and Vision

By Justin Trousers

I was accosted on Beach Road last week. This is not an unusual occurrence and depending upon which side of the street you are on, you might be invited to indulge in anatomically challenging activities by a person of an uncertain gender, or encouraged to purchase a small plastic dog with flashing eyes which goes round and round in circles making annoying yapping noises until the batteries run out or you hit it with a hammer (the latter is quicker and more gratifying). However, in this instance it was a reader of this column who came up to me and asked: “Justin, you are an internationally recognised figure, constantly in demand at high society social events and film festivals and you dedicate so many of your waking hours to informing your adoring public of the latest audio-visual offerings. What do you do with your limited free time?” And I had to admit “I play computer games.”

Games

Rome Total War

Rome Total War is a strategy game set in the early days of the Roman Empire. Controlling one of the Roman factions of the time, your challenge is to capture the majority of the provinces in the empire; eventually invading Rome itself and taking over the senate. The main game takes place on a map of the empire. The cities you control have to be taxed, managed and developed, armies have to be created and moved to where they are needed. The map is crawling with diplomats, armies, assassins, spies, outbreaks of the plague and a variety of other events that need to taken into account and used to your advantage. The game succeeds in creating a world that is living, believable and historically consistent.

But the really cool part of the game comes into play when you go into battle against some foolish enemy who stands in your way (or who decides to attack you). Then the action switches to an immensely detailed 3D battlefield where literally thousands of troops (and war dogs, elephants and even flaming pigs) meet in massive battles. You command your troops and can skim across the battlefield to watch the resulting action, either in close up, or zooming out for an overview of the battlefield. It’s stirring stuff with fantastic graphics and sound effects, with troops responding realistically to their situation including running away when their morale dips too low; cowards! Attacking a city requires battering rams and siege towers and you can also develop a variety of catapults and other ballistic weapons.

There is considerable depth to the game; but you do not need to know everything to play successfully. The 80 page manual is useful, but if you have the Thai version and cannot read Thai; then there is on-line help that pops up as you play, plus a huge and helpful net community.

As a good game should, Rome Total War pulls you into its world and you will find yourself totally absorbed in the development of your faction; often until the early hours of the morning. Be prepared to give up your free time for the many hours (days/weeks/months) it will take to complete the campaign. However, if you feel the urge to strut around your living room in a toga, then you have probably gone too far and should seek medical assistance!

Movie

The Ring 2

Japan has developed an international reputation for quality horror movies and Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata in 1998, is a fine example of the genre. The film was picked up by Hollywood and re-made in an American setting as “The Ring” with an international cast and directed by Gore Verbinski..

Having made Ringu 2 in Japan, Nakata was invited to direct The Ring 2 for Hollywood. Again set in America and again with Naomi Watts in the lead role, The Ring 2 takes the story in a different direction from the Japanese sequel, but the underlying theme is the same; watch a certain videotape and you will die in seven days. The deadly video is not, as you might expect, “The Princess Diaries”; but a bizarre set of images featuring an undead young girl called Samara with too much hair, who crawls out of TV sets, makes a mess on the carpet and kills people.

Watching a horror movie with Miss Julie is a tiring experience. As the music implies that something unpleasant is about to happen, she takes refuge behind her jacket. Then with one eye keeping watch, she heralds the scary moment with a loud squeak and disappears completely inside her clothing until the music has returned to “there is nothing bad happening now” status. With her performance taking place on one side of me; and a gentleman snoring loudly on the other (we went to the late show), it was hard to take a view on the actual movie. However, ignoring the plot which I will kindly describe as weak, there are plenty of menacing set pieces, with Nakata using music, sound and camera angles to create a sense of dread and some good scary moments. If you enjoyed “The Ring” then you will enjoy this sequel.

Hideo Nakata has now been signed up to direct a remake of “The Eye”, the Thailand produced movie by the Pang brothers from Hong Kong. Miss Julie has ordered a larger jacket in anticipation.

DVD

Full Frontal

After mainstream success with movies such as Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh assembled some of his famous friends (including Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt), borrowed a home movie camera, and returned to his indie roots with Full Frontal. The plot involves a movie within a movie within the movie and a cast of character that are linked to the movies and to each other; although it is not initially obvious how. I was initially confused, confusion gave way to boredom; followed by disgust that I’d wasted 79 baht on this self-indulgent piece of junk.

One positive point, the movie lasts a less than average ninety minutes. Miss Julie lasted for thirty minutes before wandering off to forage for food, muttering something that I can best translate as “pretentious bollocks.” A perfect summary!

Music

Bjorn, the fruit of my overactive loins, has a fine taste in music and a random sense of timing. So the arrival of his Xmas present (for 2004) last week was right on schedule; and included a musical gem.

The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike

Mix together what sounds like 70s TV theme tunes, crazy Japanese schoolgirls, harmonicas, more percussion than is strictly necessary and any other instruments that come to hand, and you have the Thunder, Lightning, Strike. It’s a unique, fun sound that just makes you feel good. Play it loud and smile.

Bjorn advised me that it sounds like it was recorded through a sock, but in a good way! By this I think he meant that the lo-fi sound (the recording venue is stated as being “in Jan and Ed’s basement”) is more than compensated for by the energy and enthusiasm that jumps out of every track. Bjorn has heard them playing live which he reports as being like listening to the album; but without the sock

The Go! Team has a growing cult following, but probably not yet big enough to find the album for sale locally. If you want a taster, some of their songs can be downloaded from their web site at http://www.thegoteam.co.uk and the album can be bought from the usual web outlets.

Thank you Bjorn for the gift; more than compensates for the battery operated, flashing eyed plastic dog I sent you for Xmas, and I will get you that hammer you requested for your birthday.




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