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

Money matters: Property

Graham Macdonald
MBMG International Ltd.

Could 2005 be the year that Anglo Saxon economies finally see their property markets come under strain and actually realise negative returns for the year?

Well, if ABN AMRO and many others are to be believed this could be very well be the year. In the UK house prices fell continuously in the last six months of 2004. The excess supply of properties on the market has yet again increased. In November 2004 every county except Cheshire reported falls in the price of housing. The following makes for bleak forecasting:

* Mortgage approvals in the UK have fallen 40% from their peak and survey data suggests house price are falling rapidly (the UK mortgage approvals graph illustrates this all to well).

* First time homeowners have all but disappeared from the UK property market. Their share of new purchases has fallen from long run average of 50% to 30%.

* The long-run house-price to earnings ratio in the UK is 4. It was bad enough getting a 5ฝ-times earnings mortgage in the late 1980s when average earnings growth was running in double digits. After 8 years, incomes would double, making it easier to pay back debt.

* But it is disastrous to get a current 6ฝ-times earnings mortgage now when earnings growth is around 4ฝ% pa (so it takes 16 years for incomes to double). How are today’s first-time buyers ever going to repay their debts?

* On top of all of this, interest rates have moved up in the UK, so servicing the debt has become more difficult.

* It has also discouraged the buy-to-let investors, as their rental yields have fallen at the same time that mortgage rates have increased. According to ABN AMRO, there is now a negative carry of around 2.5% for buy-to-let investors.

* In the US, the property market does not look much better.

* But they are of the view that until the Fed gets more aggressive on rate hikes, the property bubble will only get bigger.

* Factors that worry them about the US market are the very high vacancy rates and the relative rating of house prices to average disposable income. (See US bubble trouble graph)

US house prices were up by an average of 9% in 2004. Sales of existing homes have set an all time high over the last 12 months. Some people on Wall Street remain bullish on property. In truth though, the only ones insisting that there is no ‘bubble’ is those who are involved in the construction industry and those who want to sell their houses at vastly inflated prices. The real question is not if but when the bubble will burst.

As regular readers of this column will know, we believe that everything is cyclical - nothing keeps going up or down forever. The property market has had its run and now it is time for something else. An interesting article appeared recently in the Daily Business Review which is a local paper in Miami. It cites the case of the Chief Operating Office of a local company selling nearly 100,000 shares in Lennar commom. He made about USD5 million. Now, insiders may have all kinds of good reasons of reselling but, as we have said before, anticipation that the stock is going to go up is not one of them.

The Gold Rush mentality has many economists concerned. Some are even liking it to the frenzy of a few years ago - especially as people are paying for property that has not even been built yet and they are just buying from floor plans and maps on a website. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Realtors (real estate agents) forget to mention what has happened before - sorry it is time for another cyclical history lesson here. In New York median sales prices peaked at USD375,000 in 1987 before plunging 45% to a low of USD205,000 in 1995. Median prices did not climb back up to their 1980’s prices again until 2000. In the North-east, the National Association of Realtors said that median sales prices fell by 11% from 1988 to 1989 and did not return to 1988 levels until 2001.

The biggest threat to the housing boom will be a sharp increase in mortgage rates. “That will quickly knock the wind out of these housing markets and the psychology will reverse as quickly as it appeared,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist at

Interestingly enough, these brokers are not as concerned about property in Euroland, largely because they do not see the ECB raising rates any time soon.

Yes, property has appreciated aggressively in some parts of Europe, but as they point out, valuation per se is not enough of a trigger to lead to a collapse in prices.

The other point to note about property in Euroland is that even if prices were to come off the boil, the impact on consumer spending would not be too disastrous. This is as a result of the fact that it is far harder for consumers to release proceeds from their mortgages, relative to those in the US and the UK.

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: Become a composer for maximum effect

by Harry Flashman

What is it that makes some photographs stand out from others? Why are some portraits so powerful visually, and others merely snaps of people? Even photographs of the same seashore or mountain range landscape can be eye-catching or dull. What is the secret? What is the difference?

An excellent composition by Ernie Kuehnelt

It certainly is not a technical reason relating to exposure values. With the increasing sophistication of today’s automatic cameras the vast majority of photographs are properly exposed. The new film stock materials are also such that the colour renditions are very satisfactory these days. Auto-focus will keep the subject sharp, so it is not the fuzzy photo problem either. So what then differentiates a “good” photo from a “bad” or “ordinary” one?

The simple answer is our old friend “composition”. Put another way, understanding photographic composition is the key to getting great photographs. Now the so-called ‘photographers eye’ is something that you may or may not be blessed with, but there are some easy hints which will improve the composition of your shots and the final effect of any of your photographs.

The first rule of composition is to “Look for a Different viewpoint”. While the standard, “Put the Subject in the Middle of the Viewfinder” idea will at least ensure that you do get a picture of the subject, it will also ensure that your photographs will most likely be dull and boring!

In attempting to get that different viewpoint also try to take some shots not from the standard eye-level position. Squat down, lie down, stand in the back of a pick-up, climb a ladder - anything! Just don’t get stuck with standard eye-level views. If nothing else, take two shots, one in the “usual” horizontal format and the second one in a vertical (portrait) format. That’s at least a start!

The next way to add interest to your photographs is to take the subject out of the geometric centre of the frame. Be brave and place the subject one third in from either edge of the viewfinder. Just by placing your subject off-centre immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats call this the “Rule of Thirds”, but you don’t need to know the name for it - just try putting the subjects off-centre. Some of the latest cameras, such as the Nikon D2X reviewed a couple of weeks back, even electronically monitors for placement one third in.

While still on the Rule of Thirds, don’t have the horizon slap bang in the centre of the picture either. Put it one third from the top or one third from the bottom. As a very rough rule of thumb, if the sky is interesting put more of it in the picture, but if it is featureless blue or Bangkok grey include less of it. Simple!

Now what else can you do to improve those shots of yours? One good little trick is to include some details in the foreground of a shot to lead your eye towards the main subject. Look for lines, roads, telephone wires, fences etc with strong lines to include in the shot. Arrange the picture so that the lines “point” towards your main subject. Even without lines, a few foreground details also help add interest to any photograph.

One foreground detail to always look for is the possibility of producing a “frame” around the main subject. We call this the “Frame within a Frame” technique. It is a very successful way to convert an ordinary shot into one with a lot of visual appeal. And this is indeed a successful ploy in photo competitions. You will see the technique used over and over, and yet it does not lose its appeal.

Perhaps the last tip in making your shots more interesting is to include people in them where possible. That shot of sweeping rolling hills always looks better if you can put some human interest into it as well. A girl on a horse, a couple on a seat or a jogger all help to elevate a landscape above the hum-drum. Always look to add the human element as it gives relative size, if nothing else.

Modern Medicine: Can check-ups save your life?

by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant

Can check-ups save your life? This is actually far more complicated than it seems on an initial glance. The answer being that yes indeed, check-ups can save your life, but on the other hand, regular check-ups do not guarantee that you are going to live forever! Regardless of all the advances in modern medicine, the death rate will always be the same - one per person!

What prompted me to write about this subject was the situation one of my acquaintances found himself in last month. This chap has been having regular annual check-ups for some years, and everything was going along fine. Till this year! This examination turned up an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, which we medico’s abbreviate as an AAA, but it is nothing to do with your credit rating!

Now an AAA is a swelling of the main artery running from the heart down into the abdomen. They can be slow growing, the dilation taking many years - or they can be fast and catastrophic. Catastrophic, because if one bursts, you have no chance. You will be dead before you get to ER, as your heart happily pumps the life-sustaining red fluid into your abdominal cavity.

AAA is a relatively common finding in people over the age of 50, and when we find one the immediate concern is whether this is something that has been there for years, or is this something that has just happened and is a veritable hand-grenade in your belly, waiting for the pin to be pulled!

So now you can see one advantage of the annual check-up. With my friend, it was not evident 12 months before, but was now fairly large. Answer to the question was not to hang around and watch and see how quickly it grows - we knew that already! The answer was to open him up, remove the dilated aortic section, replacing it with high quality medical-grade garden hose, and he was fine. And should be fine for the rest of his days, but he will continue to have annual check-ups, having been given a ‘reprieve’ this time. Money well spent, too, I might add.

There are many other life threatening conditions that can be turned up in an annual check-up, and many factors measured that can influence the course of life threatening diseases. Blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels being obvious markers that can herald diseases that can be just around the corner, both diabetes and coronary artery disease. Again, the rate of progression can be measured and it is the annual comparison that makes these regular check-ups such a good idea, from the point of view of preventive medicine. Taken today, the blood sugar may be “normal”, but if it has been steadily going up within that “normal” range for the past few years, you can almost pin-point the time when the level will be outside of the normal range. The same goes for cholesterol and other factors such as PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) for the men over 40 years. While PSA is not the be all and end all of the prostatic cancer story, the rate of progression of PSA levels is a very useful indicator. So again you need more than one estimation - you need a series.

Even simple tests such as blood pressure and weight become more significant and predictive when you can compare today’s results with ones taken 12, 24 and 36 months ago.

Yes, I do believe in regular check-ups, and before you ask, yes, I do have an annual check-up myself! (Occasionally I practice what I preach!)

Learn to Live to Learn: The Prophet

with Andrew Watson

In one of my lives, I worked in the fields of Northern Israel, from before dawn to dusk, in picturesque orchards fit to bursting with succulent, aromatic apples. We rose before first light, when dew was thick on the grass and the air was clean, cool and crisp. It was demanding work, as the unforgiving summer sun beat down and burnt our brows, yet it was uplifting.

“Each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge.”

In working the land, by hand, with a group of volunteers in camaraderie and without enmity, we sensed, individually and collectively, that we were close to God. By which I mean, that instead of withering us, our exertions only fuelled our sense of purpose and we felt our physical and spiritual worlds converge. It was a glorious sensation, which has lasted from the moment of my arrival in that magical place to the present moment.

The Kibbutz where I discovered such nirvana (as well as my wife) ran along the Lebanese border. The difference between the Israeli side, where verdant, irrigated, variegated fields lay easily between hills populated by cypresses, and the barren, arid, dusty ochre-brown baldness of Lebanon, could not have been more pronounced.

Sometimes we would watch the Lebanese farmers tilling the land, or planting or harvesting. The callousness of the border, with its razor wire, electrified fences and trenches on either side, could not prevent us feeling a sense of brotherhood with those who worked as we did, under the same sun, with the same wind in our faces. I’ll grant you that their lot was a great deal tougher than ours, but I doubt whether their spiritual sustenance was less profound.

The border, in the big picture, wasn’t really there. And that’s as close as I’m going to get to Middle East politics, other than to say, as a historical footnote, that even as we picked the apples, we were soon to witness Ariel Sharon’s almost universally condemned invasion of Lebanon and that wasn’t a pretty sight.

It was about this time (1982) that I was first introduced (by an Israeli Kibbutznik) to the work of a Lebanese mystical poet and artist called Gibran Khalil Gibran. According to John Walbridge, in his own mind he was primarily a painter, but it was his writing that made his reputation. His simple colloquial style and vivid short stories and “prose poems” were immensely influential in Arabic literature.

A philosophical essayist and novelist, he spoke a language of love and hope and compassion, which mirrored my own feelings. Looking at the landscape of Lebanon, I felt I knew him. Maybe I felt kinship with him - they say he wrote like he painted. “The Prophet” is a book of 26 poetic essays.

The “Prophet”, who has lived in a foreign city for 12 years, is about to board a ship that will take him home. He is stopped by a group of people, and yields to their demands to know more of the mysteries of life. The Prophet speaks of Love, Marriage, and on Giving. He speaks of Joy and Sorrow, Crime and Punishment and Pain, Friendship, Good and Evil and on Prayer, Pleasure and Beauty (and more). He also writes of teaching and I must credit him with being the inspiration behind my love of this particular art:

On Teaching:
Then said a teacher, Speak to us of Teaching.
And he said:
No man can reveal to you aught but that which
already lies half asleep in the dawning of your
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple,
among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but
rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the
house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the
threshold of your own mind.
The astronomer may speak to you of his
understanding of space, but he cannot give you his
The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which
is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which
arrests the rhythm, nor the voice that echoes it.
And he who is versed in the science of numbers can
tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he
cannot conduct you thither.
For the vision of one man lends not its wings to
another man.
And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s
knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his

knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.

I wrote some time ago of the interconnectedness of the world, more recently of the indomitable nature of the human spirit and often of what I regard as the imperative to ‘do the right thing’, especially in teaching. In the line, “If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind,” Khalil Gibran illustrates how precarious the life of a student can be.

It takes a brave teacher indeed to encourage that which Gibran espouses and a brave student to recognise their rights as an individual. My greatest fear is, what if neither are brave? A cowardly teacher entreats, nay, demands obedience. A “cowardly” student is invariably an oppressed student. So I say unto the oppressed student, in the name of Khalil Gibran, Be Brave! For “Each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge”.

[email protected]
Next week: The Road Not Taken

Heart to Heart with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
I regularly take an early morning stroll along Beach Road and have become fascinated by a female street cleaner. She has the most sparkling eyes I have ever seen. They are dark brown and reflect the first rays of morning light. When she looks at me, she flutters her long, curly lashes in a provocative manner. Unfortunately her eyes are all I can see, as her face is completely covered by a veil protecting her from the dust and the elements. I’ve tried talking with her but she apparently doesn’t speak English. In stead she hums the old Beatles song, ‘Love Me Do,’ as she swishes her broom around me. Are her mannerisms indicative of a female trying to sweep me off my feet and how can I entice her to reveal herself?
Mighty Mouse

Dear Mighty Mouse,
How the ‘mighty’ hath fallen - now we’re infatuated with street cleaners! When will this ever end? Or where? My poor little Mouse, since when have you been combing the lovelorn streets at first light? That’s around six in the morning, my Petal. Mornings don’t have a six o’clock unless you’re coming home late. No wonder you’ve fallen for the lady with the birch broom after fruitlessly traipsing the streets all night. However, on second thoughts, are you a masochist, looking for a right proper birching? (Always keep in mind the difference between sadists and masochists. The easy way to remember is that a sadist is someone who is nice to a masochist.) As far as revealing herself to you, have you tried 500 baht? The old ‘purple persuaders’ never fail. But, I say again, little Mouse, you should be happily tucked up in your mouse hole when the first rays of morning light strike the accumulated rubbish in the gutters.
Dear Hillary,
I was shocked to see that that Michael Jackson person was let off in America. How could this be? Our group were quite sure that justice would be served. Anybody who has been following the case from the beginning could see that he should have gone down for a long stretch. What do you feel about this, Hillary?

Dear Janet,
Your last name certainly wasn’t Jackson, was it, Petal. Honestly, Hillary does not want to get into this case, or any others, about which I know nothing other than what comes out of pulp media and that dreadfully biased American TV “news” reporting. Quite frankly, I know of nobody who has been following the case from the beginning. None of my friends were that interested - they had their own lives to lead. The case was tried under the American judicial system and the 12 tried and true jurors found him innocent. End of story, and let’s get on with our lives. Your group interests me, though. Do you all wear funny pointed hats and bed sheets?
Dear Hillary,
My husband and I are both getting on and are forced to use reading glasses. This would be fine if we both used the same strength - we could share, but this cannot happen because of two reasons. The first is that my husband needs weaker ones than me, so he can use mine, but I cannot use his. Second is the fact that he is a most forgetful man and loses his all the time. I carefully look after mine, to find that he has lost his, taken mine and lost them as well! This is driving me quietly batty. What do you suggest Hillary?
Myopic Minnie

Dear Minnie,
The answer is easy. Wear your glasses around your neck at all times and refuse to let him borrow them. If you are in a restaurant then still don’t pass over your spectacles either, but order for him - of course it will be something he doesn’t particularly like, won’t it! Eventually he must get the hint. Anyone who keeps on losing things is either doing it deliberately to annoy or is truly dopey. You work out which one it is.
Dear Hillary,
On Thai beaches there appears to be some sort of discrimination or secret code. The beach concessionaires arrange the chairs in long rows at the front closest to the sea which are taken up by foreigners, while they arrange the chairs in squares, with the seats facing each other for the Thai’s. Is this a deliberate thing or what? I know you will know the answer, Hillary, you seem to know the answer to everything else.

Dear Ellen,
Thank you for the vote of confidence, though I must say, my little friend Mighty Mouse is worrying me these days! We’ve had this query before, but it is simple to answer. The farang holidaymakers go to the beach to lie in the sun and try to get brown, so that when they go back to their home countries their friends all say, “Haven’t you got a lovely tan!” You will therefore find them lying, covered in oil and slowly broiling on all sides. The Thais, by comparison, go to the beach to have fun and chat with their friends and stay out of the sun as much as possible, so they don’t get a tan! You will have noticed that the deck chairs in square formation are grouped around a table and underneath beach umbrellas. So it’s different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Psychological Perspectives:  Psychological aspects of human sexual adjustment

by Michael Catalanello, Ph.D.

Last week in this space I reported on some very interesting findings published earlier this month by a team of British researchers suggesting a strong biological basis for the female orgasm. They discovered that the extreme variability found among women to experience orgasm during sex seems to be determined, in large part, by genetic factors. This investigation of 683 pairs of female identical twins, and 714 pairs of fraternal twins, found genetic factors to account for 45% of subjects’ ability to experience orgasm.

A major implication of this work is that the difficulty some women experience in achieving orgasm is not necessarily indicative of psychological disturbance, as some had previously suggested. Since this is a column dealing with “psychological perspectives,” however, I can’t leave this topic without mentioning the other side of the proverbial coin: For us humans, males, as well as for females, psychological factors can make or break the excitement we experience during sexual encounters.

The senses, of course, are major contributors to human sexual excitement, particularly those of sight and touch. Pattaya’s go-go bars and sex shows, for example, make effective use of sights and sounds to entertain and arouse their customers. “Honeymoon suites” in hotels often feature large mirrors in strategic positions around the nuptial bed to take advantage of patrons’ susceptibility to sensual visual stimuli. Erotic pictures and films appeal primarily to the visual sense, but also have the effect of sparking viewers’ imaginations, another avenue of sexual arousal.

Thoughts and feelings are particularly potent sources of sexual stimulation for humans. Remembering past sexual experiences, thinking about the object of one’s lust or affection, or imagining fantasy sexual encounters can be arousing for most people. Erotic literature is often evaluated on its ability to elicit sexual excitement through capturing the imagination of the reader.

The sound of the human voice has also been identified as a source of arousal for many. Certain singers, both male and female, develop reputations for their ability to arouse romantic and sexual feelings among members of the opposite sex. The pioneer blues vocalist Billie Holliday, and “make-out music” king Barry White are examples of singers with a seemingly magical ability to use the human voice in a distinctly sensual way.

The quality of life experiences can also have an impact upon human sexual adjustment. A person who is fortunate enough to be raised in an environment where warmth and affection are mainstays of the home experience is well on the road to developing a rich and satisfying sex life. Moreover, if that person is lucky enough to have his or her first sexual experiences with a loving and caring partner who is attentive to his or her wants and needs, positive attitudes that can enhance the person’s capacity for sexual enjoyment later in life are likely to develop.

While attitudes, thoughts and feelings can have a positive influence upon sexual development in humans, they can have a detrimental effect as well. Certain thoughts and attitudes, such as anger, guilt and anxiety, are usually incompatible with sexual arousal. Unfortunately, social groups such as families and religious organizations often promote attitudes and feelings toward sex that serve to inhibit or otherwise interfere with healthy human sexual adjustment. Some parents, for example, who observe their children masturbating or otherwise engaging in pre-sexual play, may communicate that this activity is considered dirty or shameful. Religionists often promote feelings of guilt in those who engage in sexual acts not meeting with their approval. Attitudes like these, once instilled, may linger into adulthood, becoming associated with mature sexual activity, and consequently interfering with sexual enjoyment.

Likewise, those who are traumatized through childhood sexual abuse or rape are prone to associate disturbing thoughts and feelings such as anger, anxiety, and guilt, with sexual activity and arousal. Although they may find themselves in a mature relationship with a kind and loving partner, such people often experience difficulty establishing a healthy and fulfilling sexual life because of these negative associations.

Fortunately, attitudes that interfere with sexual enjoyment are learned, rather than innate. As such, they can, with some effort, be unlearned and replaced by more sensible and sexually compatible ones. Sexual problems, usually addressed by specialists in the treatment of psychosexual disorders, are considered among the problems most successfully treated by psychologists. This is probably due, in part, to the fact that people with sexual difficulties are often highly motivated for change, and the rewards of successful work on sexual difficulties are particularly gratifying to the client.

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