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Money matters

Snap Shots

Modern Medicine

Heart to Heart with Hillary

Let’s go to the movies

Money matters:   Graham Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.

Learning from Japan, part 2

The USA is still regarded as the financial powerhouse of the world so what happens there is even more important than Japan. However, the massive debt which built up in the US was not created by non-financial business but by individual families and the financial sector. The total debt of the latter went up from 22% of GDP in 1981 to 117% in Q3 of last year. The debt of the non-financials only went up from 53% to 76% of GDP over the same time period. So, the requirements of the finance companies to reduce balance sheets could be seen as one of the main reasons for the recession in America. The problem is in even sharper focus when it is the banks which are bankrupt - i.e. it is the lenders who actually need to borrow.
So, how can we apply what happened in Japan to the problems of today? Well, the asset price bubbles are not as big in America and the Federal Reserve has done a good job in reducing interest rates to practically zero. This is to be commended. Unfortunately, the fiscal policy in the US is still being discussed and nobody seems to know what to do. It must be emphasised that if a country has almost zero interest rates and a balance sheet deflation then fiscal policy is all that can be used. The real problem is that the government may attempt to close the fiscal deficit too quickly. This could cause real problems.
The powers that be in the US do not seem to have a clue. The ideas they have put forward for a public/private partnership to buy certain toxic assets are worse than useless. Also, it is unlikely that they will raise the prices of the bad assets in a way that will recapitalise any damaged institution. However, it may well take time for people to realise this.
Bailing out the banks is going to increase the debt spiral and finally cause the destruction of the world’s biggest economy, says Jim Rogers. “It’s astonishing, they’re ruining the US economy, they’re ruining the US government, they’re ruining the US central bank and they’re ruining the US dollar. You are watching something in front of our eyes, very historically, which is basically the destruction of New York as a financial centre and the destruction of America as the world’s most powerful country. Japan’s economic lost decade was caused by trying to bail out the banks, and the West risks running out of money if it doesn’t let the bad banks fail now. Systemic risk is going to be the same in 10 months, 5 years or 10 years if the fundamental problem is not solved. The idea that you have too much debt, too much borrowing and too much consumption and you’re going to solve that problem with debt, more consumption and more borrowing?”
There is much worse to consider. So far we have only talked about Japan and America. The fact is that this present crisis is worldwide and everyone is suffering. Japan was helped greatly by the fact that it could sell its exports to a vibrant global economy. This no longer exists. At least half the economies in the world have been affected directly by purchasing what were to become toxic assets. Needless to say, those not directly involved are still indirectly concerned as the reduction in demand for their products has also affected them. As we said before, America is very much at the centre of the world trade and the global economy is not ready for decoupling.
The balance sheet deflation we face now is not as deep as it was in Japan but it does reach all over the world. This is why we have to aim for a return to global growth as quickly as possible. However, the problem is that no-one knows where the demand will come from to kick-start things on the way to recovery. Most western consumers are already up to their eyeballs in debt. It is equally unlikely that the emerging market consumer will come riding to the rescue either.
There is a hope that fiscal expansion will help but in reality it is not strong enough as only China and America seem to be doing anything. Euro-land is not doing anything and the rest of the emerging markets cannot take a gamble on anything too adventurous. 2007 was the last year of things looking as though they were okay. If we are not careful we are about to enter into a decade of what happened in Japan. In fact the bigger concern is that the West’s ‘lost decade’ will be more painful and severe than the 1990s were in Japan.
As Martin Gray, award winning manager from Miton Asset Management, said at a recent MBMG seminar, “I very much doubt we will see Western equity or property markets achieve their previous highs during my professional lifetime … and I have no plans to retire in the foreseeable future.”

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

Reflect and absorb

Whilst it would be nice to think that people reflect on these columns and then absorb the contents, that is not what I am on about this week. I want to show you how some very simple reflectors and absorbers can be used to give your photos some sparkle and mystery.
Remembering that all of photography is really just “painting with light”, let us look at manipulating the available light using very simple reflectors and absorbers, and both cost next to nothing! Yet the difference these can make to your photos is remarkable.
I was given a silver and a gold reflector, very natty, fold away, store easily, carry easily reflectors. These particular ones even come in their own little zip-up bags to keep them warm and dry. They unfold to make a one and a half metre diameter circular reflector. Both are white on one side, but on the other, one is gold and the other is silver. However, they are very simple to make.
But first, why do you need a reflector? If they are so damn good, why aren’t we all rushing around with silver and gold reflectors tucked under our arms? The simple answer is that we get too complacent and we end up saying that the results we get are “good enough”, or we were just taking snapshots anyway. However, if you really want photos that leap off the page, think about reflectors!
The first thing a gold reflector can do for your photographs is to give skin tones that “golden glow” that just makes portraits look that much more pleasing.
So what else does a reflector do for your photographs? Well it allows you to photograph “contre jour” as they say in the classics. That is having the light behind your subject (generally the sun) and then you can throw some reflected light back into the subject’s face. If you do not do this, the usual result is something closer to a silhouette than a portrait - a bright halo around the subject which then becomes so dark in the face that you cannot distinguish the features. But with the reflector, you can push the light back in and pick up the details.
So that was the gold reflector - what about the silver one? Well, if you want “clean” and bright light on a subject anywhere, the silver reflector will do that for you. Use this type of reflector when photographing silver jewellery or even motor cars, for example. Mind you, if you are photographing gold jewellery you must use a gold reflector or otherwise the gold necklaces look silver on film.
Now, here’s how you make your own. Get some “foamcore” - that lightweight plastic material that is often used to make signs (any sign makers will have some). Around one meter square is OK. Now go to the newsagents and buy some gold wrapping paper and some silver wrapping paper. Cover one side of the “foamcore” with silver and the other side with the gold paper and you have lightweight, portable (you can fold them in half easily) silver and gold reflectors. And it has cost you less than a couple of hundred baht.
Now “absorbers”. To give your shots some shadow, or even an air of mystery, it is good to manipulate the amount of shadow in your portraits. You do this by placing something on the side of the subject away from the light source, to absorb (and not let light be reflected back into the subject) and allow a natural fall-off of light. The best absorber is black velvet. You bring the black velvet absorber as close as you can to the subject, without it coming into the viewfinder. It is that simple.
To make this absorber, use another one meter square sheet of foamcore and cover one side with black velvet material. You pin or clip the material to it and that is it.
You will really be amazed by the way the use of a reflector and absorber can put a different atmosphere into your photographs - especially portraits. Try taking the same shot using different reflectors and note the difference for future use.

Modern Medicine: by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant

Stopping Smoking

I have just finished recording some radio spots for the hospital, and when I listened to them, one fact came out loud and strong. When listing ‘risk factors’ for conditions such as heart attacks, cancer, strokes, blood clots, diabetes, and the list goes on, “smoking” was coming up every time.
When you think about it, rolling up dried plant leaves and sticking them in your mouth and setting fire to the end of it sounds like a pretty silly proposal, particularly when you know it is dangerous. Honestly, you may as well stick lighted firecrackers up your anal canal. At least you’ll get a bang out of it!
Unfortunately, when you start smoking, it becomes very difficult to stop smoking. This is because smoking is not just a habit like chewing on a pencil when concentrating. Smoking is an addiction. What you have to realize is that Nicotine is more addictive than heroin. I know that’s probably hard to believe, but that really is the crux of the matter. You take Nicotine into all of your metabolic pathways until you “need” to have Nicotine to be able to function. Nicotine becomes part of your metabolic chemical chains, and they don’t work properly without it. Now you can see just why you feel so dreadful when you go without cigarettes (nicotine) for any period of time.
To give up cigarettes there are many, many ways, ranging from acupuncture, hypnosis, the I Ching, acupressure, Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT), chewing gum, patches, nasal spray and many others all the way through to Cold Turkey. Hop onto the internet and you are besieged with offers, all of which will make it ‘easy’ for you to stop smoking, and all of which will cost you money!
Interestingly, all of the above methods need the smoker to become committed to ceasing cigarettes. The success rate really hangs on that commitment. Leaving aside hypnosis and acupuncture, about which I know very little, but the good books tell me do not enjoy high success rates, let’s look at the other methods. The majority rely on Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). All the gums and sprays do is to make Nicotine available for you in measured doses - much like cigarettes do. You get the craving, you chew the gum. You get the craving, you squirt the spray.
Patches are slightly different. They deliver the Nicotine slowly over a 12 or 24 hour period and are supposed to stop the craving before it happens. But often do not.
After stabilizing on the NRT it is time to bring the dosage down, which is the next hurdle at which many fall. The end result can be cigarette smoking plus NRT - a potentially fatal combination. In fact, I strongly believe that NRT should only be done under close medical supervision. Too much nicotine can kill too!
So what is the best way? It’s called Cold Turkey. The proof is in the numbers. There has been enough research done and the prime factor is that the quitter has to be committed to the concept of becoming a non-smoker. Doing it (quitting) for somebody else, because you lost a bet, because you are being nagged into it by your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend is doomed to failure, I am afraid. This is something which requires your total commitment. 100 percent all the way. When I gave up smoking (yes, in my teenage years nobody thought that smoking was bad for you. Smoking was being cool and ‘adult’) and I thought it would be a bad scene for a couple of days, and then found that it was a couple of weeks of torture. Here I am almost three decades later and I could begin smoking again tomorrow. It requires dedication and commitment. Yours! No one else’s!
So, I admit that those who go Cold Turkey may go through a rough time with withdrawals initially, but the majority are still non-smokers after one year. The same cannot be said for the others. The “hard” way is ultimately the best way.
You have to make the decision to quit. You set the day. You tell all your friends that you are now a non-smoker - and you stick to it!
Become a non-smoker today!

Heart to Heart with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
By gosh your column is a load of ****, with specific reference to the boofhead who was full of anguish due to some guy he had never seen apparently beating a dog. Here’s some more dribble for people to suck in. Across from where I live in Chiang Mai, I have identified a zen-dog, a black and white scruffy collie that creeps around his little yard and hides in the corner, unseen, until people walk by. Then he suddenly barks very loud, just once, and they get a big shock (kids, men returning from work, anyone). Some laugh, some give out a little scream (kids), some find a rock to throw, some shout some Thai expletive, and others react with a jerky movement. After he barks, he jumps around a bit like he’s doing a little dance, and appears to be smiling. He’s protected by a fence so no one can get to him. Oh and by the way everybody, life means nothing (but only if you know it means nothing) so laugh at it.
Mr Magoo
Dear Mr Magoo,
I don’t know that I really agree with your calling one of the people who wrote in “boofhead”. He was showing a great deal of compassion for the unfortunate animal, and was wondering what he could do to make the situation better for the dog, Petal. Your concept of life is more Zen than the antics of the dog you describe, who is just being a dog, and obviously happy with his lot. So are you happy with yours? I think not, having to write to me and criticize others who have written in. Perhaps I should call you “woofhead”? Or even more apt, would be “McBarker” Quincy Magoo’s dog.

McBarker and Mr Magoo

Dear Hillary,
Forgive poor English, but I write any way because we tired to hear foreigner complain all time about Thai girl. Him want good fun, him want keep house, him want go butterfly but want Thai girl stay home not go bar see friends. Him stingy all the time and complain. Him get everything, go butterfly and Thai girl get nothing. Not fair.
Thai Girl
Dear Thai Girl,
Thank you for writing and it might show some of the people who write to this column just how they are thought of by the group of people they complain about. In any relationship it is a two way street, and if one party feels that the other is not being honest in it, then of course it breaks down, and each party grabs as much as they can from the wreckage. However, just as I tell the foreigners not to look for life’s partner in the bar, the girls who work in the bars should understand that most of the foreigners who go there are not looking for long term commitment.

Dear Hillary,
You are always telling your readers to meet ‘good’ Thai women if they want to be happy in marriage, but since the divorce rates seem to be the same all over the world, does it really make any difference? If you find a woman that wants to look after you, does it matter where she came from, beer bar or wherever? They’re still good women. I say may as well enjoy it all now, rather than waiting around for the Miss Right ‘good’ woman who might never appear anyway, and leave you after a few years after you’ve bought her everything. There’s plenty of partners out there. Just don’t give them too much.
Living it Now
Dear Living it Now,
You do have a (very small) point, but if we were all to live only for today, then we would be in a right proper mess by now, my Petal. Much of what we do today is geared towards giving us a better tomorrow. Why do you go to school? Why do you go on to train for a profession? Because you want a better tomorrow.
I can see that your concept as far as a life’s partner is concerned, does not correspond to my ideas or ideals. Your “If you find a woman that wants to look after you” makes me think that you are not after a “partner” to share life together, but that you are really just selfishly looking for a woman to take over from where your mother left off, but this time you can order her around as well. Your phrase “enjoy it all now” is for your own personal (and I’m afraid selfish) enjoyment. As you so gallantly write “Just don’t give them too much.” What a wonderful basis for any relationship. I feel sorry for you, Living it Now, because you will never experience the true joy of living life to the full with an equal partner. For many this seems an elusive Utopian dream, but you should look for it to really grow up and truly enjoy your position as an adult in this world, but you will be very lucky to find it in a beer bar.

Let’s go to the movies: by Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Pattaya
Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins:
US/ Germany/ UK, Action/ Sci-Fi – With Christian Bale, Moon Bloodgood, and Common; directed by McG.  In this highly anticipated – in some quarters – new installment of The Terminator film franchise, set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Christian Bale stars as the man fated to lead the human resistance against the dreaded Skynet and its army of Terminators.  But the future he was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row.  He must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past, as the two of them embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.
2022 Tsunami:
Thai, Action/ Disaster – Here’s their synopsis: “Thailand 2022. …All life is swept away in an enormous tidal wave, the land is destroyed, and the only way to survive now is to battle nature itself.”  Up to you.
Night at the Museum 2: Escape from the Smithsonian:
  US/ Canada, Action/ Comedy – If you liked the first adventure, you’re sure to like this one even more – bigger, better, and with fantastic special effects.  After a wacky night at the New York Museum of Natural History, the perpetually hapless Larry (Ben Stiller) must infiltrate the Smithsonian after some of his resurrected friends were shipped to Washington for storage.  He finds himself in the middle of a vast conflict between many of the museum’s most noteworthy historical figures, so in part it’s a mild history lesson, mixed in with the foolishness.
Krasue vs. Pop / Kra Seu Fad Pop:
Thai, Horror/ Comedy – A fight between two of Thailand’s most feared female ghosts, both played by pretty young actresses.  Krasue is a flying vampiric head that trails its entrails around.  Pop is a demonic spirit that likes to eat people’s livers.  Shown in Thai only with no English subtitles.
Angels & Demons:
 US, Crime/ Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – A tight, taut thriller.  The team behind the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code returns for this highly anticipated follow-up, based on the bestselling novel by Dan Brown.  Tom Hanks reprises his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who once again finds that forces with ancient roots are willing to stop at nothing, even murder, to advance their goals.  Ron Howard again directs.  The film has been written as a sequel to follow after events in The Da Vinci Code.  Mixed or average reviews.
Bangkok Adrenaline:
 Thai, Action/ Adventure – An English-language, Thai action-comedy created by and mostly starring Western foreigners, many of them stunt professionals, in a story about four deadbeat expatriates trying to survive in Bangkok after getting in debt to local gangsters.  Shot entirely in Thailand and filmed in English, mostly, but shown here dubbed in Thai, with no English subtitles.
The Pink Panther 2:
US, Adventure/ Comedy/ Mystery – Insp. Jacques Clouseau teams up with a squad of International detectives who are just as bumbling as he is to stop a globe-trotting thief who specializes in stealing historical artifacts.  Generally negative reviews.
Star Trek (2009):
 US/ Germany, Sci-Fi/ Action – All new! I think it’s a great deal of fun, for fans of the series, and also for those who are not.  This much-anticipated film is a reboot of the series, going back to the series’ ’60s roots by depicting the formative experiences of the legendary heroes Kirk and Spock.  The young James Tiberius Kirk is a wild Iowa boy whose father sacrificed himself at the helm of a spaceship at the very moment he was being born.  He is convinced to attend the Starfleet Academy and join the crew of the Enterprise.
Headed for the same destination is Spock, with a troubled background as a half-human, half-Vulcan.  How these two very opposite figures become mutually trusted colleagues is the basic story of the film.  It’s very well done, and I found it engrossing.  Reviews: Universal acclaim.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine:
 US/ Australia, Action/ Fantasy – Though most reviews are lukewarm, I think it’s simply brilliant, and a superb action film for anyone who likes the genre.  Stay for two very short additional scenes during the closing credits, one of which, in a bar in Japan, is a lead-in to the sequel.  Mixed or average reviews.
Saranae Howpeng:
 Thai, Comedy – Movie version of “Saranae Show” – a popular Thai comedy TV show that has been on the air for 11 years.
Crank: High Voltage:
 US, Action – The indestructible Jason Statham again plays a hitman, this time chasing a Chinese gangster who hijacked his heart and substituted a mechanical one that needs to be jolted regularly to stay pumping.  Rated R in the US for frenetic strong bloody violence throughout, crude and graphic sexual content, nudity, and pervasive language.