Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Rice Redux

For more than 50 years Thailand has been the world’s largest rice exporter. Now, thanks to the populist policies of Thaksin’s puppet government, it’s lost that position. That title now belongs to India, and by year end Vietnam’s rice exports will almost certainly have surpassed Thailand’s too.

It’s not difficult to understand why this has happened. Thai rice, thanks to the government’s rice mortgage scheme – a scheme designed to enrich the middlemen in the trade, not the farmers – costs as much as $170/tonne more than rice from competitor countries. Consequently exports have fallen almost 50% since last year, and the government now has 12 million tonnes of mortgaged rice in storage, progressively losing its taste, texture and value. The cost of this follow so far: 260 billion Baht (that’s 8.2 billion Yankee Dollars, or 5.3 billion Great British Pounds).

So, this is the cost of populist politics and politicians.

[622]

Advertisements

Police & Cons

In Thailand there are plenty of policemen who share a rather-too-close relationship with those they should be locking up. Indeed, there are plenty of policemen who should be locked up themselves for their manifold crimes, ranging from taking bribes to let motorists off for minor traffic law infringements (which is rampant in Thailand) to running brothels and casinos (both of which are apparently illegal in Thailand). The situation rather reminds me of the final line of Animal Farm:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

It was a bit of a shocker, though, to learn that the National Police Chief, Priewpan Damapong, recently made a trip to Hong Kong to have a chin-wag with Thailand’s most famous convicted criminal and fugitive from justice, Thaksin Shinawatra, who just happens to be his brother-in-law (or rather, ex-brother-in-law because Thaksin and his wife technically divorced to prevent her assets being seized for his criminality).

Rent-a-mouth deputy Prime Minister Chalerm couldn’t see anything with the country’s top policeman hobnobbing with a convicted felon, replying “Why was it inappropriate?” when questioned by reporters.

However, for the rest of us, the only question that remains is whether Priewpan’s actions broke the law, or were simply an ethical breach of staggering proportions?

[621]

No News from Laos

It appears that the young son of a British MP was arrested in Laos recently on drugs charges. For some inexplicable reason this story was totally ignored by every single newspaper in Britain. Surely not another superinjunction to protect the reputation of a member of parliament and their family?

My failure to find out who the MP concerned is gives me a bit of a stumper. Should I be commenting on the hypocrisy of the Conservative party – the so-called party of “family values”? Or should I be talking about the Labour party’s moral degeneracy? Or should I bemoan the abject failings of a Liberal upbringing? Answers on a postcard, please.

[620]

Whisky

It appears that Whisky wasn’t paying attention during poise and deportment class.

Whisky's deportment

[619]

Military Intelligence

It’s well known that war is all about old men (or, as in the case of Mrs. Thatcher, old women) sending young men to die. And sometimes in war many young men – too many – die pointlessly because of the crass ineptitude of their leaders. However, even in peacetime that leadership can result in meaningless deaths.

Back in February 2010 I wrote about the GT200 bomb scanners that the army had purchased. They didn’t work at all. They were just a meaningless box of wires which performed no function whatsoever. If the salesman had claimed “nothing is better than the GT200” he’d have been right. Then the news about the devices dried up. I’d assumed that the GT200s had quietly been taken out of use. How wrong I was. The matter has recently resurfaced because of an investigation into the purchasing of the devices. (And it’s almost certainly not a matter of whether there was corruption involved or not, but rather the extent of the corruption.) The devices are still in use. Supreme Commander Thanasak Patimaprakorn is reported as saying recently

“[I] have seen the effectiveness of GT200 detectors in finding explosives.”

The Defence Minister, Sukumpol Suwanatat, backs him up

“The GT200 bomb detectors, which are used in the far South, do work and they have detected explosives many times.”

Of course, this is utter nonsense. As the Bangkok Post put it

“It is easy to understand why the military would be reluctant to give up the device. It is lightweight, very portable and it can be used from a distance, allowing the user to stay out of range of dangerous explosives. The only problem, of course, is that it doesn’t work.“

And so more young men are going to be senselessly blown to bits by the terrorists in the South because the old men in charge are either too stupid to understand the irrefutable evidence that the devices are completely useless, or have something to hide.

[618]

Whisky Writes

there was something rather strangeWhisky Portrait
when i dragged master yesterday evening
i saw there was a frog
in the middle of the road
it looked like it was dead
of course i had to check it out
master was obviously afraid
and tried to drag me away from it
but i needed to be absolutely sure
it wasn t alive
frogs can be very devious you know
playing dead and all that
the strange thing was
that it was squashed flat
another strange thing was
it was outside the house with
too many pomeranians
though to be honest
even one pomeranian is too many
i m absolutely certain
that no pomeranian
has the finely honed skills
to be a frog killer
though possibly their incessant yapping
could send one deaf
it remains a mystery to me

***

master thinks he s quite clever
but there are a lot of things
he doesn t understand
for example he doesn t understand
why when he comes home
i have to pick up one of his sandals
run around a bit
and then drop it

and he doesn t understand why
i like to nose my way
through his laundry basket
and pick out a sock
which i ll carry around for a bit
in my mouth

he also doesn t understand why
i like to lick the chrome legs of his desk

he s also clueless as to why
i like to pick up one of his sandals
in my jaw
shake it vigorously for a few seconds
then toss it away

then he has no idea why
i like to grab sponges
from the kitchen worktop
or from the bucket
as he washes the car
and chew them to bits

he s also in the dark about why
i like to chew the wallpaper
off the wall

and he doesn t know why
i like to lick soap bubbles

and he doesn t know why
i love to chew hosepipe connectors

silly master

totally clueless


[617]

SFO: Not So Pusillanimous?

The Serious Fraud Office has (for the first time ever) had a change of heart and reopened its investigation into the Weavering Capital hedge fund fraud. This comes after a private court case against the odious Peterson and his band of thieving and/or incompetent allies in crime was concluded. The judge in her high court ruling shed a little light on what actually happened at Weavering:

The hedge fund was launched in 2003. Within less than three weeks it had lost almost 20% of its value. The following month Peterson entered into two OTC option transactions with another fund based in the Virgin Islands which he controlled, and backdated them to the previous month so that the fund appeared to have gained in value during the first month of trading. In other words, right from the outset Peterson chose to defraud investors.

During 2004 Peterson used the same deceit 13 times to cover monthly losses.

From 2005 switched to using swaps, rather than options, but basically continued the same fraud.

In 2009 the fund contained:

  • some worthless bonds
  • $40 million (net) options positions
  • $600 million swaps with Peterson’s company

This portfolio doesn’t really match the fund’s original prospectus which claimed the fund:

  • would construct a portfolio so as “to ensure a balanced and diversified risk profile”.
  • would maintain a “rigorous” and “pro-active” approach to risk management “[i]n order to meet its commitment to capital appreciation”.
  • would endeavour to adhere to investment restrictions, such that “no more than 20% of the value of the Gross Assets of the Company…is exposed to the creditworthiness or solvency of any one counterparty”.
  • adhered to the principle of diversification in the use of derivatives.

Lies, all lies. And there were more lies:

“The majority of the securities we trade are exchange traded, therefore valuation is very simple – LIFFE valuations are taken…”,

“There is currently one fund managed by the firm”,

“Portfolio concentration in terms of amount of instruments and exposure bias…: All positions are expressed through futures and options. N/A”,

“List the instrument types you use by percentage: Options: 75%/Futures: 25%”,

“We could liquidate our portfolio within 1 day; due to our option protection we would protect the overall portfolio within the predefined max loss limits [predefined as 5%]”,

“As all our investments are exchange traded we never have any pricing discrepancies”,

“Please describe any current or potential conflict of interest, any relationships which may affect trading, trading flexibility, e.g. associated broker/dealer: N/A”,

“Are investors informed when minor/major changes are made to the trading, money management, or risk control methods? Yes.”

The judge described Peterson as “… not at all arrogant in manner but his whole attitude to investment was an arrogant one.” With this arrogance he didn’t try to conceal that the transactions were with a related company which also had “Weavering” in its name. He also chose very reputable companies to audit his work. He also didn’t profit from the fraud; he didn’t take any money out of the Virgin Island company. The judge concluded “[the fraud] … been committed out of a sense of invincibility, self-belief, and a gambler’s mentality.”

There’s a lot more detail in the judge’s judgment at:

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2012/1480.html

As for the SFO, do I now consider them to be any less pusillanimous cowards? Absolutely not. I (and others) firmly believe that the only reason they’ve reopened their investigation is that if they hadn’t they’d have been taken to court by the administrators.

[616]

Phuket’s Problems Solved

The island of Phuket is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s also an over-priced, mafia-run hell hole.

One of the worst problems there is with transport. To get from the airport to your hotel or guesthouse you must use one of the mafia-controlled taxis – some licensed, others not, which charge an arm and a leg for a short trip (approximately six times what you’d pay in Bangkok). Then at your destination you’ll probably need to use a tuk-tuk if you want to explore, and that’ll be extortionate too. Hotels can’t provide a shuttle service and nobody is willing to incur the mafia’s displeasure by running a public bus service to and from the airport, or minivans between the different beaches. Not so long ago drivers blockaded the port so that ship passengers couldn’t be taken on private tours and had to use the mafia taxi service. They’ve also blockaded US warships for similar reasons. Curiously enough, taxis in Phuket have a special sticker, which is believed to show that they’ve paid their under-the-table dues to the local police.

Then there are the scams, the most popular of which is the jet ski scam. A tourist hires a jet ski without noticing that it is slightly damaged. Upon return he (or she) is charged a ridiculous amount to fix the “damage” the he is alleged to have caused. Going to the police does no good – they’re in on the scam, too. They’ll just tell you to pay up. And if you don’t, physical violence will be used, or guns drawn.

Then there are the dirty beaches, degraded natural areas, ugly, uncontrolled development and building upon supposedly protected land.

Add in the handbag snatchers and all the murders and rapes as well as the rather strange propensity for foreigners to go flying from their balconies and the police always deciding it’s suicide however much evidence there may be to the contrary, well Phuket isn’t a very pleasant place.

However, the Royal Thai Police have just come up with a brilliant scheme to improve Phuket’s image: a media blackout. Because of the blackout nobody is going to hear about the young Australian woman who was attacked outside her hotel a few days ago by a taxi driver who intended to drag her into his nearby cab and rape her. Thankfully a Japanese man saw what was happening and came to her aid, but we’re not supposed to know that either. On the plus side, the police have already arrested the would be rapist and he has confessed. The woman, it appears, is OK. The Japanese hero, however, needed 15 stitches to his face.

[615]

Siamese Sextuplets

Thailand has long been associated with twins since the original Siamese twins were born in the early 19th century. I guess chosing names for them wasn’t too difficult. Their parents plumped for Chang and Eng. One couple, however, faced a bit more of a challenge. The woman gave birth to sextuplets – the first such multiple birth in Thailand. In the end they decided to name them after their favourite car brands, so now the world welcomes Audi, Fortune (after Fortuner – a large, ugly brand of pickup truck), Porsche, Mini, Volks (minus the “wagon” part) and Fiat. The children are now two months old, doing well, and all but one of them is out of hospital.

[614]

Whisky Writes

i d like to tell you about something Whisky Portraitthat happened a few days ago
i call it

the curious incident of
the frog in the night time

it was late at night
i d already taken master for a drag
and he d fed me my whiskyfood
master had taken away my whiskybowls
and we were ready to retire
then i heard a strange noise outside
of course master didn t hear it
he s probably going deaf in his old age
i went to the door and stood there
thinking that master would notice
he did
but he pretended not to
then i started scratching at the door
master still ignored me
next i started barking
that got master s attention
master drew back the curtain
and looked out of the window
but still couldn t see
what the problem was
so he opened the door
i pushed past him
and quickly identified
that the problem was next door
pocky and the other two dogs that live with her
were clustered by their front gate
there was a strange mewing sound
that master thought was a kitten in distress
thinking that the next door dogs
had cornered a kitten
and were about to rip it to shreds
master tied me up
and went to have a closer look
what he found wasn t a kitten
but a small frog about 10 cm long
it was outside the gate
and just beyond pocky s reach
i dont think pocky knew what
terrible danger she was in
not all dogs have what it takes
to be a top frog killer like me
master then did something
either incredibly brave or incredibly foolish

he tapped the frog with his foot

it then hopped off into the bushes
he really should have come back
and got me
I m the expert in dealing with frogs
so anyway that s a new one on me
frogs pretending to be kittens in distress
to lure their prey
master had a lucky escape

***

while all this was happening
the new dog opposite was looking on
it s a golden retriever called het hom
het hom is thai for smelly mushroom
that s almost as ludicrous a name
for a dog as pocky
i don t like foetid fungus very much
he or she
i cant tell because of all that fur
has moved onto my patch
and sometimes is let out to poo
on my pavement

when i get a chance
i like to run across the road
and try to bite stinky shitakes muzzle
master doesn t approve of my doing this
for some reason
but then neither does putrid porcini
or his mistress
so now master ties me up
whenever he opens the front gate
that s so short sighted
what would happen if he were attacked
by a frog disguised as a kitten
i wouldn t be able to help him

p s master tells me that fragrant mushroom
is a better translation of het hom
and that it s the thai name for shitake
but het hom will always be smelly mushroom to me

whisky


[613]