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Money matters

Snap Shots

Modern Medicine

Heart to Heart with Hillary

Learn to Live to Learn

Money matters:   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 husband.)
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 happy
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 value.
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 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 [email protected]

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.
“Hi Flashman,
“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 of reservations.
“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.
Harry F.

Modern Medicine: 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 weeks!
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

Dear 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.

Dear Hillary,
I hope you enjoy the small gift. (Attached to a bag filled with chocolates, delivered to the editorial office.)
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!

Dear Hillary,
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
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 open-ended.”
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 today.”
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 clear.
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. email: [email protected]
Next week: Nation states and change

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