Graham Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.
The Mirage of Money
This came from the Civil Servants’ Year Book, “The
Organiser”, January 1934.
“Capital must protect itself in every way.. Debts must be collected and loans
and mortgages foreclosed as soon as possible. When through a process of law the
common people have lost their homes, they will be more tractable and more easily
governed by the strong arm of the law applied by the central power of leading
financiers. People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders...”
As regular readers of this column know, over the last couple of years we have
been somewhat critical of the US credit bubble and how credit cards are given
out with what seems to be no financial background checks at all. This is backed
up with what happened a few months ago when this occurred: “As the membership
criteria at American Express remain stringent, the Rewards Plus Gold Card is
difficult to acquire for all but the most financially disciplined.” Thus went a
letter from the US credit company. This did not go directly to the house
resident, a Mrs. Hecox but to her four-year-old pet cat. (Ms. Hecox had
apparently already received credit invitations for her children and late
Those people who love to exploit this situation and other sorts of ‘bubbles’
will now be loving the fact that there are some pretty visible property bubbles
now exploding in America and Europe. This is not making bank investors very
Bloomberg News has said that figures from Pimco suggest that bond investors who
financed the US housing farce could lose up to $75 billion on mortgage-related
securities which are linked to impaired borrowers. Merrill Lynch has shown that
some of the $450 billion in subprime debt sold in 2006 has lost 37% of its
On the Eastern side of the pond, Spanish property developer Grupo Inmocaral CEO,
Mariano Miguel, said that he expects an end to the slump in property stocks that
was ignited by a 43% drop in shares of Astroc Mediterraneo. However, most people
realize he is being a tad optimistic as there is still further to go down before
there is a reversal of fortune.
In reality, given that the full economic impact of the subprime debacle still
has to work its way through the system and looking at the US equity indices
marching constantly upward, things do seem to be rather surreal.
There were a lot of non-fixed rate mortgages that were written during a time of
unusually low interest rates. Moody’s Economy.com reckons that $2 trillion of
mortgages will have to be re-set before the end of this year. Those people who
were lured by these tempting low repayments will now really suffer and many will
not be able to cope. The same can be said for those who took out Option ARMs
where you get the extra flexibility to miss interest payments at the risk of
incurring negative equity.
However, the main thing is that the problems will not just be confined to banks
and borrowers. The domino effect will also apply to businesses such as: railways
(trains carrying building materials); boat builders (entry-level buyers forced
out of the market by rising mortgage costs); Latin America (construction
workers’ remittances back home are evaporating) etc, etc, etc.
Whilst there is an argument for suggesting that certain retailers are benefiting
from the resourcefulness of the US consumer, this is not what most foreign
investors think. Since the start of the year, given the losses incurred by the
Dollar Index, most of them will be wondering why they bothered.
The legendary Dr. Marc Faber also talks about those people who heedlessly lump
together rising asset prices with an increase in real wealth, ““Since October
2002, the Dow Jones has rallied in US dollar terms, but against gold (arguably a
more legitimate hard currency) it has depreciated.. In case we should experience
continuous monetary inflation, which could lift, over time, all asset prices
such as stocks, real estate and commodities, some asset classes will increase
more in value than others. This means that some asset classes while rising in
value could deflate against other asset classes, such as happened with the Dow
against gold since 2000. I have pointed out... that since 2002, all asset prices
rose in value. But recently, some diverging performances emerged. Bonds started
to decline and seem to be on the verge of a significant long term breakdown...
in times of monetary and credit inflation, such as we have now in the US, bonds
are the worst possible long term investment.”
If you look at things from a fundamental perspective, US Treasuries – and other
benchmark government bond markets – may actually benefit in the short term from
a safe haven bid as subprime contagion in slowly but surely erodes consumer
confidence. However, from a technical perspective, the smart investors have
already left this asset class and have put their money elsewhere. Indeed,
Bloomberg News says that technical analysts are predicting a sustained bear
market for bonds. Whether in US, UK or German government debt, a two-decade bull
market may be headed into reverse.
Again, as Faber sates, property is another asset class that has recently begun
to depreciate against gold. While US home prices have been slowly going downhill
over the last twelve months in dollar terms, when compared to gold the decline
has been quite substantial.
Whatever the economic outlook, people should continue to have exposure to gold –
and other expensive metals. This is the very least you can do to ensure your
portfolio is not suddenly damaged in any fatal way.
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
Snap Shots: by Harry Flashman
More on the Lumix FZ50
I received an email the other day from Alan Puzey, a photographer, after
my article on the Panasonic Lumix FZ50, which I felt would be
interesting enough to share with everyone.
“As a photographer of over 50 years, I’m a regular reader of your column
when I pick up a copy of Chiang Mai Mail - and previously the Pattya
Mail when I used to live there. It’s certainly one of the best and I can
see you’re a genuine photographer.
“I was most interested to read in your last column (up here) that you’re
considering a Lumix FZ50 - which I did about six months ago. GET IT! I
did, after reading very favourable comments on the internet, and now
after lots of testing, I am well pleased - though I offer you a couple
“I no longer wanted to carry around a case of equipment with additional
lenses, flashes, etc and so SLRs were out. Of this sort of alternative
the Lumix looked just what I needed - and has proved to be so.
“I love the lens quality and the positioning of controls around the
camera. Very logical and easy to use. When I have to revert to the
‘on-screen’ menus, they are pretty good. I didn’t at first like the feel
of holding this camera, but now I have got used to it, it’s no problem
at all and now feels ‘normal’.
“I like wide angle lenses and was sorry that the lens offered very long
focal length but no shorter than 35mm (equivalent). I bought a wide
angle adaptor when I bought the camera and now wished I hadn’t - the
quality of shots with it are not good enough. All shots with the
standard lens alone are great.
“I only use the ISO 100 setting; the sensor is not the best available
and all speeds higher than this bring quality down. ISO 800 and 1600 I
wouldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole!
“There are far more detailed reviews on the internet, but these are my
main feelings, and I hope they’re of use in your decision. A little in
return for your good columns.
Cheers, Alan Puzey.”
Well, thank you Alan for the kind words, but even more for the
information on the camera. Like you, I have become tired of lugging a
large camera bag with three lenses and my Metz 45 CT1 flashgun. I have
also become tired of the wait to see if I really have managed to capture
the shot I wanted, or the final result I wanted to produce. It used to
be exciting to see if I had really pulled it off. Now it is a time
wasting drag. (This must be what getting older is all about!)
Also like you, I enjoy using a wide angle lens, with the 24 mm Nikon
almost permanently screwed on the front of the FM2n, so I was a little
perturbed to read your comments on their wide angle adaptor. Just what
was the problem with it? Distortion? Vignetting? Please let me (us)
know.(((pic caption Reclining Buddha taken with Lumix FZ50)))
You also did not mention the capabilities (or otherwise) of the
in-camera flash. Since you are leaving the ISO setting at 100, you will
need extra illumination in low-light situations. How adequate is the
inbuilt flash unit?
I have also been having problems finding the distributor for the
Panasonic range of cameras in Thailand. Did you buy your one here? And
if so, how much? Or did you buy overseas in duty free or whatever?
Finally, thanks again for your input, and I welcome any other comments
from our readers.
by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant
Dealing with pain
A friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with a medical
condition that will produce pain. He also has another physical skeletal
problem that will produce pain, so he’s been really been getting the rough
end of the pineapple as they say on Australia.
In the past week I have had two other people come to see me to ask about
their pains. At the weekend, I had another couple of folks with pains.
However, this is not surprising, as pain is often the presenting symptom for
many illnesses and physical conditions. For example, the symptom of a
fractured rib is pain on deep breathing, coughing or sudden movement.
In fact, our skeletons are responsible for many of our pains. Fractures and
degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis are certainly high in the
list of likely suspects. Gout, which produces an arthritis in the joint in
the big toe gives exquisite pain – just ask anyone who has had it!
But surely it must be possible for us to lead a pain-free existence in this
modern world of space travel and palm computers? In actual fact, it is
possible to be pain-free, but at too great a cost. The chemicals that are
strong enough to mask the pain are also strong enough to render your brain
inoperative when taken over a long period. Turning one’s patients into
“zombies” is not a good idea.
I do also realize that there are times when you want “temporary” respite
from pain. The footballer with a fractured finger can have local anesthetic
injected into the fracture so that he can do the two 45 minutes halves plus
injury time and penalty shootout. That’s it. Not tablets for the next three
So why do we have “pain”? Pain is actually inbuilt into our systems for an
important purpose. Damage control! Pain is what stops us damaging our bodies
even further than they are damaged already. Let’s go back to the broken rib
scenario. Most fractured ribs are “cracks” along the long axis of the bone,
not a complete break right through, so that the ends are flapping around in
the breeze. The pain stops the unfortunate person from doing too much and
breaking it totally right through. Pain has a protective influence. With the
person who has joint pains or gout, the purpose of the pain is to stop
further damage to an already “crumbling” joint or one filled with sharp
crystals. Pain makes you rest it, so that it can heal. When you stop to
think about it, pain is good for us.
However, there are also chronic pain situations, and these are harder to
deal with. Particularly when the pain is coming from a permanently damaged
skeleton, or from a condition we cannot “cure”. This is where pain
management comes in, and it is a fairly skilful region of medicine, let me
assure you. Practitioners in this have to really understand what the patient
is going through. What happens is that we (or you) have to maximize an
ability of the body’s nervous system known as “attenuation”. This is where
the nervous system receives so much pain stimuli that eventually the pain
receptors “give up” through the overuse. However, getting to that stage is a
long and painful road itself.
Chemical assistance is needed, but it is not just a case of taking big dose
analgesics. In actual fact, much of the work in this area is with taking
agents to slow down nerve transmission and other agents such as
anti-inflammatories, which work with pain killers to make them more potent
at a lower dose (so the brain doesn’t get mussed up)! It’s not easy.
Heart to Heart with Hillary
Many years ago I visited Chiang Mai. Yes, as an American tourist I was very
fond of my Thai girlfriend. Yes, she worked in a Bangkok massage parlor. But
my experience was different. During my visit I insisted that I was to go to
her village 15 kilometers east of Phayo, so as I could meet her father and
mother. Then I was to learn that I would have to pay her “debt” to free her
of a contract that they owed to her employer in Bangkok. While all of this
was occurring, I became to realize that I could not separate her from her
family and bring her to America. It would be wrong. And so after paying her
debt and setting her free, many tears fell that day as I said farewell to
her at the airport in Chiang Mai to catch my flight to Bangkok. She was too
young to understand the pain of being so far away from her father and mother
and the pain of being homesick. All of this occurred in 1986. I still think
of her and hope she met a nice “Thai” man and she has her own family. It
cost me a lot of money. Being that I am an “average American” which is to
say that I am not wealthy, I spent money I did not have and it took me five
years to pay off my debt. If I were to live in Thailand I would live in
Chiang Mai. But probably I will never return. Today I am 65 years old and
live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have no regrets. Many good memories.
Wherever I traveled in Thailand I was treated with kindness. Yes, I was a
tourist and spent money, but I could tell that the Thai people seemed to
like Americans. I think that maybe that our American soldiers behaved well
enough during the Vietnam war, that they earned admiration of the people of
Thailand. I hope this is true. OK, this is my story.
Howard from Pittsburgh, PA.
Dear Howard from Pittsburgh, PA.,
What can I say, my Petal who has been keeping your wonderful memories of 21
years ago alive in your heart? It was an experience that you have not
regretted, and before anyone points a finger in your direction, even though
it took you five years to pay off the debt, it was money that she would
never have been able to raise otherwise. Whether that money was used
correctly or otherwise, does not matter. You gave it unstintingly and from
the Buddhist point of view will have gained much merit from your generosity.
You are correct that this girl would probably not have been able to adjust
to life in America, so you were also correct in not trying to force the
issue. There will be those who will feel that you were perhaps taken in by
the situation, but you dealt with it honorably, as you saw it in 1986. I
hope you continue to enjoy your life, and would even suggest that you visit
Chiang Mai again. It is different from the 1986 Chiang Mai you knew, but
there are plenty of nice people there, both Thai and foreigners, and many
Americans of your age. Consider a holiday. Thank you for sharing your life’s
experience with our readers.
I hope you enjoy the small gift. (Attached to a bag filled with chocolates,
delivered to the editorial office.)
Big D USA
Dear Big D USA,
Yes, they arrived in good condition, and I certainly did enjoy those
Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares very much. And thank you. For those new
readers, Big D USA has been sending over the odd tidbits for Hillary.
However, no real clue as to who he (or even she) is. However, this time, the
note was scrawled on the back of a Sky-Top Laundry invoice. It was an unused
one too, # 0212. So how does Big D USA get hold of an unused laundry ticket?
Am I getting close? And can anybody tell me where Sky-Top Laundry is? I like
a good mystery yarn!
Following on in the vein of that naughty man: ‘unbeliever’, may I ask the
thorny question, ‘Are you actually a lady of the female gender?’ Your
approach in your column seems very masculine to me; why don’t you publish a
visual image inside your ‘heart’ at the top of your column, unless you look
like Claire Raynor or Marge Proops?
Are you going to give me a literary lashing for my cheek, wearing only
thigh-length boots, a thong and nipple tassles (sic), like Madame Whiplash?
Ooh, I hope so.
Submissively yours, John Thomas.
Dear Submissive John Thomas,
May I ask the thorny question, ‘Do you really have a John Thomas?’ What have
I done to engender doubts on my gender? Your approach seems very British to
me, being so disrespectful to my sisters in The Sun and The Daily Mirror,
such newspapers known for their consistent high standards. Or should I say,
standards. And who are you referring to in the thigh-length boots? You or
me? By the way, before you get too excited with your verbal imagery, it’s
‘tassel’, not ‘tassle’, Petal. I will publish my photograph the day you get
photos of your John Thomas published in these pages.
Learn to Live to Learn: with Andrew Watson
Teaching and learning in the curriculum
In a moment of IB generated Euphoria, I woke up
this morning with something in my head. It is a point that has
been rightly made before by others and which I have hitherto
neglected to respond to. It is this: The IBO mission statement
ends with the words, “Other people, with their differences, can
also be right”. In a post-modern and post-colonial world, this
statement marks a significant and conscious divergence from the
idea, dominant perhaps until relatively recently (perhaps still
– I can hear it now – We fight for Democracy and Freedom!) that
it was possible and often preferable to impose one set of
cultural values upon another. It does not mean that the IBO is
in favour of cultural relativism, and one might argue that a set
of ethical absolutes could be generated, but I don’t think the
IBO would do this. They realize that a complex system network of
International schools, must be bound by something which is
strong, but not rigid. George Walker, former Director General of
the IBO and the “Albus Dumbledore” of the organisation, speaks
eloquently and passionately about this – the text of his
inspiring speeches are available online at www.ibo.org
Walker, like many others (myself included) is concerned with
addressing the challenges of the 21st century. So, obviously, it
is essential to develop some notion of what the challenges of
the 21st century might be. In so doing, it appears to be almost
impossible to avoid taking an ideological position in either
embracing a particular contemporary position or espousing a
future possible direction. Understanding of curriculum and
learning encompasses a huge variety of theory and practice at
local, regional and global levels. Almost inescapably, any
conclusions seem bound to reflect the multifarious variety of
socio-economic, political reality of the world’s population.
As the great Stephen Codrington of the UWC wrote, “Learning
environments, like life itself, are complex, non-linear and
The famous English educator Ted Wragg was clear that education
must incorporate a vision of the future. In IB, there exists a
curriculum which by its unapologetic idealism, its celebration
of cultural diversity, resonant of reconstructionist philosophy,
goes farther than any before in preparing students for the
challenges of the twenty first century. Whilst acknowledging
that my personal educational philosophy is but one of many, I am
proud to think of myself as a global nomad, an unapologetic
idealist and brazen aficionado of the International
Baccalaureate programmes. In my view, the overriding challenge
for the twenty first century remains the same as that of
previous idealists in centuries past and can be summed up very
simply in the words of George Walker, “We exist to make the
world a better place”
In my view, “making the world a better place” means redressing
the social, economic, political, humanitarian and environmental
imbalances of past centuries. The diffusion of knowledge and
understanding via curricula is still effectively (or
ineffectually!) controlled by the governments and agencies of
nation states, albeit at a decreasing level. But the rapid
effects of technological advances, especially in the realm of
communications, are increasingly rendering previous levels of
control wielded by the nation state, impossible to maintain.
A.K. Jalaluddin acknowledges this;
“The widespread disparities in the content and quality of
education that currently exist between and within different
nation states have made the impact of globalization and the
rapidly changing technological environment on both existing
cultural diversity and public education largely unpredictable”.
What seems to be clear is that the impact of chaos & complexity
theories characterised by the “cult of the immediate” in the
developed world, fuelled by technological advances, will
persist. Management guru Peter Drucker put it thus; “In a
fast-changing world, what worked yesterday probably doesn’t work
In my view, curricula need to be understood, (and designed and
implemented) with two aims in mind. Firstly, to reflect the
states of impermanence and constant change, which will continue
to characterise twenty first century existence. Secondly, there
is an imperative to sustain consciousness of the reality of the
condition of humanity on local, regional and global levels.
There can be “no cosmopolitans without locals” said Hannerz.
Both points require recognition of a multifarious variety of
cultures, which are simultaneously becoming more aware of the
‘particular’ whilst sensing the ‘universal’.
Learning is not a finite concept. But what is it, really? Is it
“The way we perceive the world, the way we process and respond
to information and the way we develop ideas and concepts” as
some have suggested? What does chaos and complexity theory
require of our understanding of learning? Have we, as Yat Sen Li
suggests, entered the twenty first century still holding the
mental maps of the nineteenth and twentieth? How relevant are
theorists like Skinner, Piaget, Vgotsky, Bruner, Dewey and
Gardner to education for the twenty first century?
It is my view that all theorists have a contribution to make,
yet none alone seem to be entirely or universally appropriate
for the twenty first century. Therefore, like a painter seeking
inspiration, it seems prudent to take what we need from whoever
is able to offer what we require in any given place, at any
given time, to any given culture. But in considering how far we
prepare students, according to Piaget, learning is a linear
development and a combination of “assimilation” and
“accommodation” whereby knowledge is essentially “constructed”
rather than “delivered”. In conjunction with his ideas of
“staged development”, advantages of managing the implementation
of Piagetian based curricula in western humanist democracies are
Skinner’s notion that students can be trained to “replicate
adult behaviours if they come to associate such repetition with
the occasional receipt of tangible rewards” may be simplistic,
but could be seen as appealing to autocratic nation states which
desire a society like Plato’s “Republic”, in which each
component member fulfils the demands of their fixed roles.
Howard Gardner proposes that, “Intelligences have distinct
developmental paths that are tied to the achievements of valued
roles in our society” and this could equally be manipulated
towards democracy or autocracy.
However, Skinner’s suggestion that “mistakes” impede learning is
surely just as redundant in the twenty first century for a
member of the San tribe in the Kalahari, as it is for an IB
diploma student in Vienna or GIS. Constructivist John Dewey
regards the learner as being an active part of the environment,
mistakes and all, rather than simply someone responding to
stimuli. Bruner’s proposal (a natural progression from Vygotsky)
advocates a ‘forum’ in the classroom, which necessarily involves
the teacher recognising that they can learn as much from
students as students can learn from them. This seems far more
attuned to not only twenty first century globalisation (children
always seem to be teaching computer skills to adults) but also
to spiritual teaching in philosophies such as Buddhism.
Andrew Watson is a Management Consultant for Garden
International Schools in Thailand.
All proceeds from this column are donated to the Esther
Benjamins Trust. www.ebtrust.org.uk email: [email protected]
Next week: Nation states and change