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Vol. XIV No. 24
Friday June 16 - June 22, 2006

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Updated every Friday
by Saichon Paewsoongnern

 

 

COLUMNS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Money matters

Snap Shots

Modern Medicine

Heart to Heart with Hillary

Beyond the Beach

A Female Perspective


Money matters: Gold - Onwards and Upwards - Part 2

Graham Macdonald
MBMG International Ltd.

The most important thing that affects gold in terms of interest rates is real interest rates, or rates adjusted for inflation. Even though interest rates have risen, real interest rates remain close to zero, or are negative.
John Williams, an economist, has an interesting Website called Shadowstats.com. He looks at the CPI and what level it would be at were it not for all the adjustments in the past 30 years. If the CPI were still calculated today as it was in the 1970s, the inflation rate would be about 8%.
Depending on how you measure inflation, real interest rates are no better than zero and probably are negative. That is very inflationary. What will be negative for gold is when real interest rates go to 4% or 5%. It took Paul Volcker bringing real interest rates up to 6%, 7%, 8% in a short period of time before the market was convinced he was going to save the dollar and it was time to move out of tangible assets into financial assets.
The main problem lies in the fact that the US Government is trying to produce a rabbit out of a hat by trying to fund the federal budget deficits without destroying the dollar, and trying to raise interest rates to save the dollar without destroying the economy. This is basically impossible. The dollar will continue to lose purchasing power.
Gold stocks are still relatively cheap. In the past several months, even as the gold price has gone up, the stocks have been reluctantly following rather than leading, which is contrary to what normally happens. If the price of gold eventually goes to four digits, the earnings of gold companies will be significantly higher. As a consequence, gold stocks are still cheap.
Another problem for the markets is the new chairman of the Fed. Bernanke is very different. Greenspan clearly understood gold, and in his Fed testimony he used to talk about the “automaticity” of the gold standard. If you go back to Greenspan’s testimonies, you will see him using that word from time to time. Bernanke doesn’t have the deep understanding that Greenspan had about gold and perhaps about markets in general.
Greenspan came up from the business world, Bernanke came up through academics. That makes a difference in terms of one’s outlook and levels of experiences. Bernanke just does not appreciate the value - in every sense of the word - of gold. This can be seen from what he has written in the past and what he said prior to his appointment as Fed chairman. He has been pretty cautious. He has only been chairman for a short while but he seems to be focused on the deflation in the 1930s, and this is quite alarming.
What we don’t need today is a greater supply of dollars. What we need is a greater demand for dollars. The way you improve demand for dollars is to take those steps that will give people confidence in the dollar and its purchasing power for a long period of time. This can be done by raising interest rates, just as Volcker did, at a pace that is not measured, but rapid. This will be painful, but it is a cure, almost everything else will be terminal.
America has to recognise that it has far exceeded its ability to live at the level at which the country has been living for the past couple of decades. There is going to be some pain and adjustment. But if the dollar’s purchasing power is destroyed, as a consequence of not taking strong action, the pain is going to be much greater.
When Volcker raised interest rates, the US had a severe recession, but eventually the adjustments led to a period of economic growth, and the country continued to create new wealth from economic activity. When you create too many dollars in an environment where the demand for the dollar is declining, it could lead to a situation similar to Argentina a few years ago or to one that resembles Weimar Germany - one deflationary and one inflationary.
In Argentina, the supply of pesos declined by one-third from peak to trough, but the purchasing power of the peso lost 50%. In Germany, demand for the Reichsmark was falling and the central bank tried to offset that by putting more Reichsmarks into circulation. Both situations ended badly, and the net result was severe economic dislocations.
The problem is the dollar is the world’s reserve currency. What happens when you have a flight from the world’s reserve currency? This is the point of Turk’s book, The Coming Collapse of the Dollar. The flight from the dollar is going to accelerate. The dollar has only 5% of the purchasing power it did maybe 50 years ago.
Oil is interesting because there are two dynamics. The oil producers seemingly are less and less willing to take dollars, because dollars are being depreciated. The Russians are questioning the dollar’s role as the reserve currency. And in Venezuela, when President Hugo Chavez takes a swipe at the U.S., he is taking a swipe at America’s ability to create dollars out of thin air.
The second dynamic is Matt Simmon’s argument that we are running out of easy-to-produce light, sweet crude. If the supply of easily refinable crude oil is diminishing, all the more reason for the price of crude oil to rise. So, we have a weakening dollar and a declining supply of the best-quality crude which could translate into USD100-a-barrel crude oil before too long.
There is a close historical relationship between crude oil and gold. Throughout the last sixty years, the price of crude in grams has, basically, remained unchanged. The USD price of crude has broken out of a 30 year range. Normally it takes about 2.2 grams of gold to buy one barrel of crude oil. Now it takes about 3.4 grams to purchase one barrel of crude oil. Either oil is relatively overvalued at the moment or gold is very undervalued. Most believe that gold is undervalued and that oil is properly valued. So as oil goes higher in dollar terms, gold is going to continue to go higher as well.
One other question on people’s lips at the moment is what value Exchange-Traded Funds are for gold. They are positive in the sense that people are looking at gold and coming up with new products. But I do not recommend people buy the ETF. If you want to speculate on the gold price, the ETF is one way to do that. Futures contracts are another way. But owning the physical metal in your own name is something entirely different. There are too many parties between you and the gold in the ETF. And they don’t audit the gold to prove it really exists. This is the only type of fund the SEC has ever approved for the retail level that isn’t required to audit the assets supposedly backing the fund. It is a great way to speculate on gold’s spot price, just as futures contracts are a great way to speculate on gold’s future price. But neither should be viewed as an alternative to owning the physical metal. If your garage is a bit small for this then you can always look at bullion funds.

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: Photo project can be communal fun

by Harry Flashman

I have written before about personal photo projects as a way to improve your photographic techniques. Once you start to look at how you can present a subject photographically, you are on your way to thinking like a photo pro, and not someone who is just snapping pictures.

One of my Miss Piggy “bus art” shots
I was reminded of this the other day when a chap I only know (Mac) through an email connection sent me a photo of a bus he had taken in Thailand. He also said how difficult it was to take the shot while the bus was moving, and getting this large object to fit in the viewing screen.
Now, I have always loved Thai busses. Wonderfully painted, gaudy bucolic beasts that roar along the highways almost blowing small vehicles from their paths as they thunder through. I had even started a small photo project of my own, to record some of the incredible paintings on the sides and tails of these busses. 100,000 baht busses with million baht paintwork.

So I replied by sending him one of my Miss Piggy “bus art” shots, never imagining what might happen next. Mac had in turn sent my photograph to his email circle, and this started a deluge, and we all started to be bombarded by shots taken all over the world, of weird and wonderful busses and cars. (So it is with thanks that I have included some of their shots here, as well as my own this week.)
In addition, the various respondents began to enumerate their difficulties in getting their shots, but the common thread was that there were plenty of photo opportunities; however, you had to have a camera with you and ready. This has also been one of the subjects I have covered before, calling it “Be Prepared” (with apologies to the Boy Scouts Association).
Mac even writing in his email, “I’m going to start carrying my camera a little bit more handily so I can catch some of these. I can tell from the 1/5th (bus) I’ve got to do better driving one handed with camera and view finder in the other hand while milling along with the traffic going my way, and the odds and ends of drivers going the opposite way on my side of the road!”
The results of this emailed photo project exercise was something I had not thought of before. Photo projects, as I have said previously, are a good idea to stimulate your creative self, but by then expanding this project to include friends, relatives and acquaintances, you can pool thoughts and techniques to improve your own results. Thanks Mac!

1/5th of a bus


Modern Medicine: I think I’ll have a blood test

by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant

Very often, when discussing blood tests with a patient, I will be asked, “What were my AIDS results?” or “What is my blood group?” or similar. In most instances I have to disappoint them, because unless the specific test for HIV antibodies, or blood group, was requested, there will be no record of it, even though the initial test was called a “complete blood count”.
The reason for this is simple. There are so many tests that can be done, that testing would go on for weeks if you wanted “everything” checked. For example, the Australian Royal College of Pathologist’s Manual of Use and Interpretation of Pathology Tests that sits on my desk lists 150 pages of tests that can be carried out. These include such items as a Reptilase Time, something I have never requested in 40 years of practice, or a red cell Galactokinase, ditto.
No, when we send you off for a blood test, we have to try and be reasonably specific, and often give the pathologists a clue as to where we are heading, and be guided by them as to some specific testing.
However, many times we are just casting a ‘wide net’ to see what abnormalities we can turn up to use to find the definitive diagnosis. One of the commonest is the “Complete Blood Count”, usually called a CBC, since we medico’s love acronyms, but remember this testing is in reality very far from “complete”.
The CBC does provide important information about the kinds and numbers of cells in the blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. A CBC can help us evaluate symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, or bruising and even directly diagnose conditions such as anemia, infection, and many other disorders.
The CBC test usually includes the white blood cell (WBC) count as these cells protect the body against infection. If an infection develops, white blood cells attack and destroy the bacteria, virus, or other organism causing it. White blood cells are bigger than red blood cells and normally fewer in number. When a person has a bacterial infection, the number of white cells can increase dramatically. There are five major kinds of white blood cells: neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils. The numbers of each one of these types of white blood cells give important information about the immune system. An increase or decrease in the numbers of the different types of white blood cells can help identify infection, an allergic or toxic reaction to certain medications or chemicals, and many conditions (such as leukemia).
The red blood cell (RBC) count is also part of the CBC. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. They also help carry carbon dioxide back to the lungs. If the RBC count is low, the body may not be getting the oxygen it needs. If the count is too high (a condition called polycythemia), there is a risk that the red blood cells will clump together and block blood vessels (thrombosis).
Another test is Hematocrit. This test measures the amount of space (volume) the red blood cells occupy in the blood. The value is given as a percentage of red blood cells in a volume of blood. For example, a hematocrit of 38 means that 38 percent of the blood’s volume is composed of red cells.
Hemoglobin (Hb) is the substance in a red blood cell that carries the oxygen. The hemoglobin level is a good indication of the blood’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.
There is also the platelet (thrombocyte) count, which is an important part of the CBC. Platelets are the smallest type of blood cell and play a major role in blood clotting. If there are too few platelets, uncontrolled bleeding may be a problem, such as occurs in Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever.
So even though the CBC does test for many factors, there are still another 149 pages of tests that can be done! If you want to know your blood group, or your HIV status, you have to ask!


Heart to Heart with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
You get so many letters from foreigners complaining about being cheated here in Thailand, that even you cannot ignore them surely. There is a saying there’s no smoke without fire, and I believe that is what the situation is here. The letters you get are the smoke and the fire is behind it. Not everyone is a dummy, so these people who cheat are real, just like the people who get cheated. You should remember this.
The Fireman
Dear Fireman,
I think that the smoke got in your eyes, my Petal. When have I ever ignored the claims of foreigners who say they have been cheated here in Thailand? I faithfully print their letters, just like I have printed yours, but by publishing the letters does not mean that I necessarily agree with them, or fully accept a one-sided story. Undoubtedly there are confidence tricksters out there, masquerading as innocent young ladies who just happen to be resting on a bar stool while somebody else shouted “Hello sexy man, come in please!” However, the number of innocent young ladies resting momentarily on bar stools is very small, compared to those not-so-innocents who use bar stools as their workplace. There is an old Chinese proverb which says, “If you want to find apples, you don’t look in an orange orchard.” What I have said for many years is that if you are seeking a fresh young lady, you don’t look for them in beer bars, but in places of more regular employment. It is not impossible to find an apple in an orange orchard, but they are very rare. Make that very, very rare. There are books and books and books written on this subject, all warning the visitors to this country of the dangers of falling in love with the first lady they meet. It is this group of people who end up writing angry letters, but the anger they express they should turn on themselves. They were the ones who went to the orange orchard, didn’t they?
Dear Hillary,
One of the women in my office has a problem with body odor. She does not seem to realize this, but it is now getting to the stage that nobody wants to sit downwind from her, and she always turns the fan on which is at the top of the office. Have you any suggestions Hillary that can help us through this difficult problem. The woman in question is also higher in the company than we are, so there is another problem, as you can imagine.
Odoriferous
Dear Odoriferous,
Tread very softly my Petal. This is a very difficult situation. Whichever course of action you take, you could end up in a confrontation situation very easily, and you would be the one to lose. If everyone agrees that there is a problem, get everyone in the office to have a small incense burner going on their desk. When she is the only person without one, she might ask you why, which is the time when you have to wriggle around a little and tell her that someone in the office has bad body odor, but nobody is sure who it is, so you are masking the smell. Then retire gracefully stage left. By the way, you began your letter by saying, “One of the women in my office has a problem with body odor”, but that is not strictly correct. One of the women in your office has body odor, which you find a problem. Subtle difference. Hope you still have a job on Monday!
Dear Hillary,
My wife tells me every night that she is going to divorce me. There are too many, and very numerous reasons stretching back over a long time (five years or more), none of which can’t be gotten over, but my problem is not the thought of impending divorce, it is the fact that she never gets any further than saying it is going to happen. How can I get her to either stop the threats, or just go ahead and do it? There must be other things that husbands and wives talk about, not just threatening divorce. Or is this “martial” bliss after all? What is your advice, wise Hillary?
Tired of it all
Dear Tired of it all,
A few weeks ago, one writer was asking about communication and I wrote that for some people they think that the art of good communication is to shout louder. I think one of you needs to shout louder as there is something awry here with your relationship (if you haven’t guessed by now). Have you thought that it really is time to talk? Not only really time, but long overdue at five years. Perhaps you could try talking to her next time when she threatens divorce, and say, “Right then, let’s see what the reasons for the divorce will be when we go to the courts.” If she won’t rise to that bait and opportunity to begin dialogue, then as per the art of good communication, shout louder and tell her to either get on with it or give up talking about it. If that doesn’t work, you can always get divorce papers drawn up and the next time when she threatens divorce, whip out the papers and say, “Sign here!” Lots of luck my Petal, I think you’re going to need it.


Beyond the Beach: Anthony Moncrieff, the “Man from the Beeb”

Caspian Pike
I must say I laughed a lot during the first show of the Andrew Watson’s new series, ‘Beyond the Beach,’ an interview with Gerry Rasmus, a one-man ‘pollution solution’. It was an easy going, pithy ride, laced with humour both in dialogue and post production, yet there was a strong moral message which kept the show on high ground. There were at least a couple of outstanding moments, one an unexpected visual effect that turned the host’s head into the size of a beach ball and then a subtle little piece of audio chicanery, almost an after-thought, which comes right after the final credits. Watch and listen out for it! All in all a great start, perhaps predictably, consistent with all the talk of a fertile and creative team down at Pattaya Mail TV.

“Beyond the Beach” this week features Anthony Moncrieff, the “Man from the Beeb” sharing the secrets of Suez, fifty years on.
Next week, Andrew’s travelling back in time half a century. Fifty years ago, the British Empire came to an unceremonious end. Caught up the Nile without a felucca, the campaign to ‘liberate’ the Suez canal from the Egyptians, led by their hero, General Abdul Nasser, came an ignominious cropper. Andrew’s guest on ‘Beyond the Beach’ is in a position to shed new light on the Suez fiasco. Working as a senior reporter for the BBC at the time, Anthony Moncrieff had access to all the main players and an in-depth understanding of the overt and covert and sometimes sinister diplomatic and military machinations involving British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, American President Eisenhower and General Nasser. Anthony, like Andrew an alumnus of Cambridge University, lives in splendid and well-earned retirement in Pattaya, with his wife Lumporn and their child Kate and grandchild Pim. He’s as bright as a beacon and like the quality journalist he is, he knows how to tell a story.
Over perhaps the one undisputed contribution of the English to world cuisine - afternoon tea - in the unassailable luxury of the Marriot in Pattaya, Anthony talks eloquently about the Suez crisis marking the end of the British Empire. He reminisces about spending time with the great world leaders of the time, revealing via some captivating anecdotes, something of the qualities which shaped their personalities and relationships, and the global political ramifications of their interaction.
Fifty years on, Anthony retains a journalist’s sense for detail. As a former member of the Panorama team, I wasn’t surprised to learn that he smelled a rat then. Now, it appears that he has every reason to be pretty convinced of some extraordinary events surrounding Suez, hitherto hidden from public consciousness. Whisper the word, “collusion” with care.
Later in the programme, in the company of an oversized sandwich (not Andrew Watson), Anthony smiles as he reflects on life at the BBC during the fifties, through twenty five years of almost constant change.
Catch it if you can: ‘Beyond the Beach’, an interview with Anthony Moncrieff, the “Man from the Beeb” at the following times:
Sophon at 8:00am - Midday- 4:00pm- 8:pm and Midnight.
Chonburi 9:40am- 2:00pm - 8:40pm and 40 minutes after midnight.
Jomtien 9:00am- 12:30pm - and 9:00pm
Sattahip 8:00am - 1:30pm - 5:00pm- 8:00pm and 11:00pm


A Female Perspective: Why would you want to go to Bangkok?

with Sharona Watson

Oh no! It’s happened! It’s here! The next month or so is going to be purgatory for me. ‘World cup this’ and ‘world cup that’. Even in the sleepy fishing village where I live I expect the locals will be glued to the box. Fish will be rotting where they lay. I’d go to Bangkok on one of my days off to get away from it all, but it will most likely be worse up there. The only team I enjoyed watching a little bit was Brazil. They seem to play with rhythm and style. For what it’s worth, I hope they win again.
It’s been interesting thinking about the psyche of men, in light of some of their revelations about relationships. For instance, it took me quite a while to convince Andy of my need to take some ‘time off’ and I’ve noticed that his initial reluctance has been reflected in more than one other respondee. The typical clichéd answer that men give is; “A day off from what?” I’m kind of tempted to ignore that rather derogatory reply but it can be more fun to add, “From being with you”. That more or less shuts them up, at least for a while.

Bangkok – for the peace and quiet…

But then, their brains start whirring (you can here it if you listen carefully) and their little warning sign starts flashing with a word in big red lights, “Suspicious!” They clumsily try and camouflage their increasing sense of mistrust; “What are you going up there for?” they ask. You see that’s it! For men, there has to be a reason. For women, there doesn’t! My answer to the last question is simple and direct, leaving no room for misinterpretation; “To be on my own.” Then what happens? The man manages to manufacture some kind of misinterpretation.
When I put this particular point to one guy, he said, “Why would she want to go to Bangkok? She can be on her own here! I’ll just live on a different floor. I don’t see the point in a woman going to Bangkok to be on her own. For no reason. I just think it’s strange. There’s a hotel right here. Why would she have to go to Bangkok?”
Brilliant. How is it possible to be so obtuse? Another man continued in this one’s place; “It’s like me. I want to go fishing on my own and I don’t want people to pester me when I’m fishing. Nice and peaceful. If she told me that she wanted to go all the way to Bangkok because she wants to be nice and peaceful I’d think she was weird. I mean, I have no restriction on where she goes… “ And his words trailed off into the night sky.
I have ruminated on these various replies a lot and I think I may have rediscovered something that so many other women have found out the hard way before; men are basically insecure. Otherwise, why would they concern themselves that their partner in life taking a couple of days off to be alone is anything other than something to be celebrated and enjoyed? I mean, if it worries them, then they must have a very unhealthy kind of paranoia, mustn’t they?
Maybe that’s why men tend to bring up possible barriers to stop women going; like logic (“there’s no reason to go”), cost (“what a waste of money”), emotional blackmail (“I wanted to be with you”), and a few more besides. Basically, they’re cowards because they don’t just come out and say what they feel, which if they did, I hope might sound something like this; “Darling. I love you. I want you to go and spend a couple of days on your own because you need it and you deserve it. Yet I feel strange saying that because somewhere in my darkest nightmares you are going to find someone else and run away with them and leave me.” Andy once said to me, “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings,” (Shakespeare apparently) which seems like it means the same kind of thing.
It’s only fair that it can happen the other way around. A lot depends on the culture of the couple. I come from an independent background and found it hard to adapt to the reality of being a wife and a mother. I give Andy as much freedom as I expect for myself, although he continually disagrees with that, claiming a continuing imbalance in my favour. I’ve seen some women who are really clingy but I’m definitely not like that. I don’t think men like clingy women on the whole. They suffocate and nag. I think they demean themselves.
Mind you, I think that wherever there’s inequality there’s also often a strong element of humiliation. I saw a pair of cross cultural couples the other day shopping and it was quite funny, although I felt sorry for the men, strangely. There were an English guy and his Australian wife and an Australian guy and his English wife. Both the guys were cowering under a barrage of abuse from their wives about the smallest things. The wrong choice of stationery, apparently. Good gracious, I thought, I hope Andy leaves me if I ever become like that.
I was speaking to a psychologist the other day, who was describing to me ‘clingy’ personality traits. Apparently, some claim to be ‘perfectionists’ but don’t really understand what this means in reality. Their lives become a pursuit of self-interest; things like ethics and morals go out of the window and instead of achieving ‘perfection’, they become absolutely average. Self-satisfaction is a veil which hides self-delusion. When their men don’t measure up to their ideas and refuse to go beyond a certain point, that’s it, they’re off! Suddenly they become incredibly busy at work and they refuse to be dragged into an argument and will just say, “Yes, dear.” Well, when this happens, I’m told, you better start looking out for the other woman and maybe you’ll have cause for concern when your man says, “I’m off to Bangkok to be on my own”.
Next week: Stability and security
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