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Heart to Heart with Hillary
Graham Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.
“Hard-a-starboard! Full speed astern ... hard to port!” Part 1
There are a number of theories as to the cause of one of the
most earth-shattering disasters of the last century - the sinking of the Titanic
(does everyone remember the plans to bring the movie version of the ship to
Many people subscribe to the easy view that it was Captain Edward J. Smith’s
fault. Having proclaimed less than 5 years earlier that “I cannot imagine any
condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone
beyond that,” it’s believed that complacency caused Captain Smith to ignore
seven iceberg warnings from his crew and other ships choosing not to slow down
and potentially avoid the ultimate disaster.
A more recent theory is that the standard of steel used in shipbuilding at that
time was so inferior to what would be acceptable at the present time for any
construction purposes and particularly not for ship construction. However, that
doesn’t alter the fact that if the Titanic had not collided with the iceberg, it
could have had a career of more than 20 years just like its sister ship, the
Olympic, which was built of similar steel, in the same shipyard, and from the
same design, but which never encountered a giant iceberg.
Another popular theory points the finger of blame at Bruce Ismay, the managing
director of the White Star Line who, it is believed, may have put pressure on
Captain Smith to maintain the speed of the ship.
Others prefer to blame the fact that the ship’s architect, Thomas Andrews, the
managing director of Harland and Wolff had designed a ship with sixteen
watertight compartments but hadn’t made these as high as, in hindsight, they
should have been (the White Star Line only wanted these to go as far as E Deck
in order to maximise living space in first class).
The commissions of enquiry into the disaster in both America and Britain placed
most blame for the deaths at the hands of Walter Lord who captained the
Californian, which had stopped for the night about 19 miles north of Titanic. At
around 11.15, Californian’s radio operator turned off the radio and went to bed.
Sometime after midnight the crew on watch reported seeing rockets being fired
into the sky from a big liner. Captain Lord was informed but it was concluded
that the ship was having a party. No action was taken by the Californian. If the
Californian had turned on the radio she would have heard the distress messages
from Titanic and would have been able to reach the ship in time to save all
passengers. However, that relates more to the rescue operation than the sinking.
Far less people point the finger at First Officer William McMaster Murdoch.
First Officer Murdoch was at the bridge at the time of the collision and
immediately prior to the collision issued the order “Hard-a-starboard! Full
speed astern ... hard to port!” Had Murdoch reversed the port engine, and
reduced speed while maintaining the forward motion of the other two propellers
(as recommended in the training procedures for this type of ship), some experts
believe that the Titanic might have been able to navigate around the iceberg
without a collision. Other experts believe that if the Titanic hadn’t altered
its course at all and had run head-on into the iceberg, the damage would only
have affected the first or, at most, the first two compartments and the ship
would have survived.
All very interesting, but not what you’d normally find in an article from MBMG.
Why are we devoting so much space to a maritime tragedy from almost a century
ago? In many ways this is the best parallel for the recent events in Thailand. A
minor economic disaster happened last month but who’s to blame. Like with the
Titanic, everyone has a theory about who’s to blame and like with the Titanic,
the easy view might not actually be the most perceptive.
Initially, Tarisa Watanagase, governor of the Bank of Thailand, announced that
foreign investors bringing in cash worth US$20,000 or more (approximately
Bt700,000) would need to park 30 percent of the amount in financial institutions
(who, in turn, would remit the funds to the BoT on the 7th of every month -
analogous to withholding tax - allowing the BoT to generate returns on the
withheld amount) with the withholding being fully returned if the cash wasn’t
taken out of the country within 12 months. Tarisa is the first female governor
of the Bank of Thailand, who was appointed as the BoT’s 21st governor by the
interim government to replace MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, who became deputy prime
minister and finance minister of the new government. Tarisa, 57, is a civil
servant who has worked as an economist for the central bank since 1975 and has
been deputy governor since 1992.
Tarisa said, “We think this measure will help slow down the short-term inflows
as it would increase costs for speculators.” The measure was introduced to
counter offshore baht speculators and followed inflows of billions of dollars in
recent months which had pushed the baht to a level disadvantageous to Thailand’s
exports. In November, inflows amounted to US$300 million per week, increasing to
$950 million per week in the first few weeks of December, according to Tarisa.
As a result the baht shot up to a nine-year high - Bt35.06 - a 16 percent
increase year to date.
The measure, as initially introduced, did not apply to foreign direct investment
(FDI) or to exporters or to Thai individuals or corporations repatriating
foreign earnings. Governor Tarisa believed that the new measure would
effectively discourage speculative inflows and reduce baht volatility, but, in
recognition of what a step into the dark this was, she advised that the central
bank would closely monitor baht performance adding that the BoT might cancel the
measure, change the reserve amount, or change the time limit depending on the
situation and that it was unclear how long the measure would last. The reserve
measure was the preferred solution to the problem because taxation legislation
would be too cumbersome, taking too much time to introduce and being inherently
less flexible than the BoT’s solution. At the time of implementation, Tarisa
recognised that the move could also adversely affect the debt market but the BoT
were also keen to prevent speculative inflows into the debt markets.
Tarisa was at pains to point out that several countries had previously
successfully implemented similar measures to curb currency speculation - Chile
had used the 30% reserve arrangement for less than six months before being able
to cancel the measure.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula supported
the BoT’s arrangements as being positive news for investors and exporters (whose
price competitiveness in US$-aligned economies had declined as the baht had
strengthened - currently, the export sector accounts for 62 percent of the
country’s GDP - up from 38% in 1997 - and any damage to this sector and to
tourism which also suffers from a strong baht could be cataclysmic for the
country’s economic prosperity as a whole) and he welcomed a weakening of the
The immediate reaction of the markets was panic - foreign investors interpreted
this as backdoor “capital control” and prior to a meeting scheduled to explain
the new programme to securities dealers drove the SET down alarmingly causing
the Stock Exchange of Thailand to order a stock trading halt for 30 minutes at
11.30am. In a single trading day, the Thai stock market lost Bt800 billion as
the SET index plunged by a record 14.84 percent - the worst since Black Monday
The news caused a ripple around the regions with Jakarta down 2.85 percent;
Kuala Lumpur, down 2 percent and Singapore, down 2.23 percent. However, the
effect on the baht was as intended with the currency depreciating by almost two
percentage points to about Bt36 per dollar.
Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula said the Bank of
Thailand had acted in the interests of the private sector, especially exporters
who were suffering from the strong baht. Some commentators interpreted this as
the interim government acting in the interests of the Thai economy over the
interests of foreign speculators (which is surely their job and to us it’s
indicative of the mindset of many of the programme’s most vocal critics that
they should see this as being a negative). To us the criticism of the measures
fell into 2 camps:
1) The hysterical self-interests damaged by these measures (those who in many
cases were meant to be the intended victims)
2) Constructive criticism such as Teerana Bhongmakapat, an economist at
Chulalongkorn University, who accepted the rationale behind the policy but
queried the details saying that the reserve requirement on Thailand’s capital
inflows should be cut to five percent from the current 30 percent so that
negative impacts are lessened (this would effectively cut the capital inflow tax
to 2.53 percent instead of the 10 percent that has been introduced).
Fund managers (and ex-fund managers) invariably squealed the loudest - Nasu
Chansom, head equity fund manager of Ayuddhya Fund Management, complained, “Our
good performance so far this year collapsed in one day. Our portfolio value was
depreciated by billions of baht.”
At least Chatri Sophonpanich, chairman of Bangkok Bank Ltd (BBL), admitted that
the BoT has no better alternative to protect against baht speculation and that
failure to do so could lead to a situation reminiscent of the financial
dislocation and crisis in 1997 - “The BoT’s measure is necessary. If they don’t
do it, it will lead to a problem. Though the measure will intercept foreign
capital inflow, we need inflow of money for long-term investment not for
Jeremy Warner in The Independent viewed the programme as being farce. However,
we tend to think that any commentators who feel the need to point out that
Thailand is run by a military government and that a “popular democratically
elected prime minister was overthrown by force” are journalists with little or
no understanding of Thailand but who feel compelled to file a story on the
Warner felt compelled to write, “The size of the capital inflows, strongly
suggestive of another bubble in the making, seem to indicate that investors have
yet to learn their lesson. Perhaps so, yet many of these economies today give
cause for genuine confidence in the future, even if the actions of their
governments do not.”
Alongside Warner we dismissed many similar commentaries with equal contempt (the
idea that regional commentators based in KL who’d been silent about the ringgit
policy in 1997 but now felt able to vent spleen that was almost a decade old
raised our eyebrows).
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: by Harry Flashman
It’s as easy as One-Two-Three
we go through the festive season, everyone seems to have a small
digital camera in a purse, pocket or handbag, which is
brandished triumphantly as everyone attempts to record the “good
This is an admirable use of the digital camera, but
unfortunately the “good times” are often spoiled by “bad
pictures”. And unfortunately, one of the reasons is the
One-Two-Three. That is the “One-Two-Three” that every social
photographer seems to think has to be said before popping the
shutter, which is accompanied by the photographer holding up
One-Two-Three fingers, leaving the camera held in one hand only.
Now I am aware of the fact that the new mini, compact digitals
will easily fit in one hand, but just as in conventional (old)
film photography, to get a sharp picture, you have to make sure
the camera is still while the shutter is tripped. One handed
picture taking just doesn’t keep the camera still enough.
Especially when as the happy festive photographer is waving the
free hand in the air, the camera is also waving around!
Coincidentally, I had just written the introduction to this
week’s column, when in came my photographic friend Ernie
Kuehnelt with an article written by Don Sambandaraksa about
image stabilization with digital cameras. Now I have been in
touch with Don previously, and this chap knows more about pixels
than certain politicians know about tax evasion. In the article
he mentions the various ways the different manufacturers do this
stabilization, but basically it is either the lens or the sensor
that is programmed to move to counteract unsteadiness in the
camera, caused by the photographer not holding the camera firmly
- or perhaps suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
However, it is not the be all and end all. You only need a
slight movement in the camera to produce ‘soft’ photographs. You
will not realize this when you look at the postage stamp sized
LCD screen on the back of your camera, but when you go for
larger prints it all becomes too obvious.
With the larger cameras, SLR’s and the like, it becomes even
more important to avoid camera shake. After all, why spend
thousands of baht to buy super sharp lenses and get soft
“blurry” photographs. You might as well have stuck with a cheap
disposable “camera in a film box” and saved your money for booze
- which will also give you the shakes just as easily but
possibly more enjoyably!
The simple fact of the matter is that to get sharp photographs,
the camera must be held still while the shutter is held open,
despite all the electronic froofrah. Now, in most daylight
situations if the camera is set on “auto” it will select a
shutter speed of around 1/125th of a second, and while that
sounds “fast” it really isn’t. You will still get noticeable
“softness” in the final print if the hand holding the camera has
allowed any movement.
The secret really is in the grip. And it is a two handed one.
You will not see any professional photographer taking shots with
one hand free. I also recommend that you take a short breath in
and then hold it while gently squeezing off the shutter. Another
good practice is to keep the elbows in by your sides, and even
lean against a solid object, like a telephone pole! In overcast
weather when the camera will select slower shutter speeds, this
is even more important. Your camera will also most likely have
two “hand/finger” impressions on either side of the camera body.
They are not there for decoration. Use them!
No, if you really must let your subjects know that they are
about to be recorded for posterity, a simple verbal
One-Two-Three (while hanging on to the camera with two hands) is
all that is necessary. I guarantee you will get pictures more
sharp than you used to get before.
by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant
Copy drugs and the internet
I am sure that you are like me. Every day I receive at least
four internet email offers of cut-price drugs that will keep me in a state
of perpetual priapism. For those unsure of this condition, it is a state of
continuing (and painful) male erection and the term was coined after the
Greek god Priapus who is shown in paintings to have a central member that
puts the (in)famous John Holmes of porn movies to shame.
However, this is actually a serious situation. If most drugs are only
available through pharmacies world-wide, on the prescription of a doctor, is
it safe to just buy over the internet, without any doctor’s advice?
I believe it is not safe. As the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
reports in its website, “Patients who buy prescription drugs from websites
operating outside the law are at increased risk of suffering
life-threatening adverse events, such as side effects from inappropriately
prescribed medications, dangerous drug interactions, contaminated drugs, and
impure or unknown ingredients found in unapproved drugs.”
The FDA goes on to warn “… certain drugs be dispensed only with a valid
prescription because they are not safe for use without the supervision of a
licensed health care practitioner. Generally, before the practitioner issues
a prescription for a drug the patient has never taken before, he or she must
first examine the patient to determine the appropriate treatment.
Subsequently, the patient receives the drug from a registered pharmacist
working in a licensed pharmacy that meets state practice standards.” That
situation is certainly not the case when you look at buying blue diamonds
over the ‘net, is it?
The incidence of internet pseudo-pharmacies is also very high. In the US,
according to the American Medical Association, there are at least 400 web
sites that both dispense and offer a prescribing service - half of these
sites are located in foreign countries. Some have estimated that the number
of websites selling prescription drugs may now be closer to 1,000.
As far as I can see it, one of the big problems is the lack of regulation
that these “net pharmacies” work under. Are the blue diamonds ‘real’ Viagra?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been fighting drug
counterfeiting since it became a major threat in the 1980s. The problem was
first noticed by the pharmaceutical industry. They saw that their own
products were being copied, and it went on from there.
In fact, the WHO estimates that 25 percent of medications bought in street
markets in developing countries are fake. My own experience in some of the
poorer SE Asian countries has been that another 50 percent are real but out
of date, leaving around 25 percent genuine manufacturer’s stock.
Some authors say that the figures are even worse than that. An international
study published in Tropical Medicine and International Health in 2004 found
that 53 percent of Artesunate tablet packs sold in the region did not
contain Artesunate. And Artesunate is a vital antimalarial drug. You can see
The reports come in from all over the world. The WHO cited the case of a
counterfeit iron preparation that has killed pregnant women in Argentina in
the last two years. Hundreds of children in Bangladesh suffered kidney
failure and many died due to a fake paracetamol syrup diluted with
diethylene glycol, according to a study published in the BMJ in 1995.
The FDA in the US estimates that worldwide sales of fake drugs exceed USD
3.5 billion per year, according to a paper published in April 2005. The
Center for Medicines in the Public Interest in the US predicts that
counterfeit drug sales could reach USD 75 billion globally in 2010 if action
is not taken to curb the trade.
According to WHO, drugs commonly counterfeited include antibiotics,
antimalarials, hormones and steroids. Increasingly, anticancer and antiviral
drugs are also faked. And you can add to that the ‘blue diamonds’. Never
forget the phrase “Caveat emptor” (Let the buyer beware).
You have been warned. Get your medications on prescription from a pharmacy
you can trust.
Heart to Heart with Hillary
This is an authentic letter sent to Dear Deirdre of the Sun Newspaper. “I am
a sailor in the merchant navy. My parents live in Torry, Aberdeen and one of
my sisters is married to a guy from England. My Father and Mother have
recently been arrested for dealing crack cocaine and are currently dependent
on my two sisters, who are prostitutes. I have two brothers, one is
currently serving a non-parole life sentence in Peterhead Prison for the
rape and murder of a teenage boy in 1994, the other currently being held in
Craig inches remand centre on charges of incest with his three children. I
have recently become engaged to marry a former Thai prostitute who indeed is
still a part time working girl in a brothel; however, her time there is
limited as she has recently been infected with an STD. We intend to marry as
soon as possible and are currently looking into the possibility of opening
our own brothel with my fiancée utilizing her knowledge of the industry
working as the manager. I am hoping my two sisters would be interested in
joining our team. Although I would prefer them not to prostitute it would at
least get them off the streets and hopefully the heroin.
My problem is this: I love my fiancée and look forward to bringing her into
the family and of course I want to be totally honest with her. Should I tell
her about my brother-in-law being English?”
I find it impossible to comprehend that anyone would have such a low
mentality to write the following, yet it’s supposed to be a true story! How
would Hillary respond?
Hillary must be more astute than her fellow comrade in pens, Deirdre of the
Sun. This is obviously not a genuine letter as it claims he is going to
marry a former Thai prostitute, who is actually still working. This is
obviously not correct, as prostitution as we all know is against the law in
Thailand, so it must have been made up!
Actually, Tim my Petal, this is an old one (it’s even older than Hillary)
and you fill in your favorite country to ridicule for the brother-in-law.
Thank you for thinking of Hillary, and bowing to my superior wisdom in these
How did you spend the festive season? Are you several kilos heavier from all
the chocolates and champagne? Or did you have to spend the time in rehab?
With the constant cries for champers and chocolates, you must be about 20
stones by now!
You have obviously been reading the letters I have received over the years
from that awful Mistersingha wretched person. I certainly wouldn’t be going
over the limit with his offerings, which never materialize, despite all his
protestations that it is on its way. So is Xmas 2007. Nor, for that matter,
did I get anything from you, so I don’t really know why you are asking such
things. However, for those of my readers who did send me the goodies, I
thank you very much. All the champagne went to a good cause (loosening
tongues) and the chockies sweetened me up for 2007. You also gave away your
nationality when you wrote “20 stones” as avoirdupois measure is only still
used in the UK. In the US it would be 280 pounds (14 pounds to the stone at
last count), or in Thailand which is metric, that would be around 126 kg.
At the end of last year, someone called “Hughie” suggested you were like
Oprah in the States and should get more money. How stupid was that?
Everybody knows that Oprah is a big star and sindicated (sic) all over the
place, while you are just an old aunty writing for the idiots in Pattaya.
Why anyone even bothers to read your advice I don’t know either. If you get
payed (sic) anything you should think yourself lucky.
What an interesting name you have, my Petal. Did your parents give that to
you or was it a nickname that you earned? I note with interest that you
wonder why anyone would read my advice in the column, but what amazes me is
that you do. Don’t you, Spewie! Mind you, it is obvious that spelling
lessons were also something that you did not bother to do either. The words
you were striving (unsuccessfully) for were ‘syndicated’ and ‘paid’. After
you have passed third grade, please do write again.
Can you assist me about dowries. I am close to marrying my Thai girlfriend
and I am curious, how much should be paid? I have never seen a concrete
amount assigned. Is it something like America where the engagement ring is
two months salary? I have been led to understand that the amount should
reflect how much I love the girl; however, I can not give her family the
You will usually be advised by an “Uncle” of the amount deemed satisfactory.
There is no two months salary equation here, my Petal. It’s an “Open your
wallet and say after me - Help Yourself” equation I’m afraid. Generally it
is in the range of 30,000 to 100,000 baht for the farang suitors. Make sure
she’s worth it. The dowry is non-returnable!
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