Ahad, 31 Julai 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Chaos expected for university places in Britain - Independent

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 09:45 PM PDT

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 200,000 university applicants in Britain will fail to get places this year, the head of the admissions service said in an interview with the Independent newspaper published on Monday.

Chief executive of Ucas Mary Curnock Cook said a "carbon copy" of last year's confusion, when 210,000 youngsters did not get places, is inevitable.

A group of graduates gather outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University, Oxford, England, May 28, 2011. (REUTERS/Paul Hackett)

This year has seen record interest from teenagers ahead of increasing tuition fees next year, the newspaper said, citing the University and College Admissions Service (Ucas).

The number of candidates who fail to get into university is expected to rise when results are published in two weeks, which would repeat last summer's scramble following the publication of A-level results in August.

Disappointed teenagers will have to accept that their applications were just "not strong enough," Curnock Cook told the newspaper.

Applications have increased by 1.4 percent (9,000) but the number of university places available remains about the same.

Curnock Cook said that those who fail to find a place on A-level day will be faced with two choices: "One is to go into clearing and the other is to re-apply next year." Last year, 50,000 students found places during the clearing process.

(Reporting by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Europe shocked, appalled by Syrian Hama assault

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 09:45 PM PDT

LONDON (Reuters) - European leaders said they were shocked and appalled by Syria's use of tanks to storm the city of Hama on Sunday, an assault that activists say killed 80 civilians.

President Bashar al-Assad's decision to send troops and heavy armour into the city where his father crushed an Islamist uprising in 1982 suggested he intends to use all means to snuff out protests rather than carry out his promises of reform.

Smoke rises near a building in Hama in this still image taken from video July 31, 2011. (REUTERS/YouTube via Reuters TV)

Some analysts regarded the offensive, which came on the eve of Ramadan, as an attempt to deter further unrest during the Muslim holy month of fasting.

"This attack and the continuing crackdown in other Syrian cities is even more unacceptable coming on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan," said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"The Syrian army and security forces have the duty to protect citizens, not to massacre them indiscriminately."

EU governments plan to extend sanctions against Assad's government on Monday by slapping asset freezes and travel bans on five more people. The EU has already imposed sanctions on Assad and at least two dozen officials and targeted military-associated companies in Syria.

"I am appalled by the reports that the Syrian security forces have stormed Hama with tanks and other heavy weapons this morning, killing dozens of people," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

"The attacks are all the more shocking on the eve of the Muslim holy month. President Bashar is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis."

Italy called for a U.N. Security Council move on Syria, something opposed by Russia up to now.

Even Syria's former ally Turkey joined others in calling for dialogue and a political settlement to end the violence.

"Along with the rest of the Muslim world, Turkey is deeply disappointed and saddened at these developments on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan when it was expecting work to create an atmosphere of peace and quiet," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"The ongoing developments leave open to question the Syrian administration's sincerity and will to solve the problem by peaceful means," it said.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Daren Butler in Istanbul, Catherine Hornby in Rome and Olesya Dmitracova in London; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Strong quake off Papua New Guinea, no immediate reports of damage

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 08:44 PM PDT

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A strong earthquake of magnitude 6.8 struck off the coast of Papua New Guinea on Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of damage.

The USGS said the quake was recorded at 2339 GMT on Sunday evening, 81 miles (130 km) east of the town of Wewak at a depth of 10.4 miles. But no tsunami warning was issued for nearby areas.

A spokesman for Papua New Guinea's Geophysical Observatory in the capital Port Moresby said there had been no initial reports of damage.

He said the quake was felt in Wewak with an intensity of five. No local tsunami alert was issued.

PNG's National Disaster and Emergency Service said its office in Wewak had received no reports of damage.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

A bigger bite

Posted: 01 Aug 2011 01:04 AM PDT

Get up close and personal with the cast of The Vampire Diaries.

VAMPIRES are here to stay. They have a solid footing in pop culture and that is mainly due to the hugely successful Twilight series of films.

However, though every filmmaker and TV executive might have jumped on board the "vampire express", not every vampire related show is just Twilight in disguise.

For a few episodes on Season One of The Vampire Diaries (TVD), it may have seemed that brooding vampires and tragically doomed romances between mortal and immortal were the order of the day.

But TVD has proven that this show packs some serious bite and Season Two, which is currently airing every Tuesday on 8TV, is loaded with more supernatural shenanigans, spells and thrills.

The plot really thickens this season as relationships are tested, unlikely friendships are forged and mysteries are unveiled. And in tribute to members of the fanged fraternity, Galaxie has an entire spread dedicated to bloodsucker fans of TVD.

Editor Gordon Kho flew to London to meet up with TVD's Kat Graham, Candice Accola and Steven R. McQueen, and came back with an exclusive cast interview and insight that TVD is more than just a series with good-looking stars.

Besides this exclusive interview, Galaxie's TVD cover special also includes a look at the two gorgeous vampire brothers – Stefan and Damon Salvatore (played by Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder) – and pits Nina Dobrev's dual roles of Elena Gilbert and Katherine Pierce against each other so fans can decide who to love and who to loathe.

Whether you're into vampires or not, Galaxie has something for you in the Aug 1 issue.

There are also the very best bits of gossip related coverage on popular stars like Justin Bieber, the latest movie news, a fashion spread on Lady Gaga and favourites like LMFAO and Gossip Girl's Matthew Settle.

And just when you think it won't get any better than this, there are the contests that always offer some of the best goodies and pop culture merchandise. This issue's big giveaway is for Gleeks.

Our magazine is treating readers to a chance to watch Glee The Movie in 3D so get your copy now because you don't want to miss out on all the tasty treats this issue has to offer.

Galaxie, voted Entertainment Magazine Of The Year, is owned by Star Publications (M) Bhd and is also available online at galaxieblog.com.my.

For more updates on the magazine, its blog and the entertainment world, follow Galaxie on Twitter (twitter.com/galaxiemag).

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

HSBC to sell 195 NY bank branches for US$1bil

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:01 PM PDT

NEW YORK (AP) - HSBC said Sunday it will sell 195 retail bank branches, most located in upstate New York, to First Niagara Bank in a deal worth about $1 billion.

The sale is part of HSBC's strategy, presented to investors in May, to shift its focus away from retail banking to commercial and corporate banking, and to target investment in high-growth economies.

HSBC, which is still dealing with the legacy of bad loans in the U.S. from the 2002 acquisition of consumer lender Household International Inc., said in May that it intended to trim its costs by up to $3.5 billion within three years.

The companies expect the all-cash transaction to be completed early next year. First Niagara, a unit of First Niagara Financial Group Inc. of Buffalo, New York, said in a statement that it expects to retain most of the 1,900 workers currently employed by the affected banks.

HSBC Bank USA, a subsidiary of British banking company HSBC Holdings PLC, operates more than 470 bank branches in the U.S., including about 370 in New York. It has total assets of $197 billion through its retail, commercial, global and private banking segments and its wealth management divisions.

The 195 banks being sold represent about $15 billion in deposits, and HSBC will receive a premium of 6.67 percent of the deposits transferred when the deal closes, the company said in a statement. Based on May 31 figures, that would be about $1 billion.

When the deal is completed, First Niagara expects to have $38 billion in assets, $30 billion in deposits and 450 branches in Pennsylvania, upstate New York and the northeastern New England states.

The sale involves 183 branches in upstate New York, four in Westchester County, New York, two in Putnam County, New York, and six in southern Connecticut. The retail banks will remain open during the transition. HSBC will continue to provide commercial banking services in the region.

Latest business news from AP-Wire

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US Congress closing in on a deal to avert US default

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 04:59 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - Top Democrats in both houses of Congress emerged from a Sunday afternoon crisis meeting, with the party's leader in the Senate saying he hoped the upper chamber would vote soon on a compromise deal that would raise the nation's borrowing limit and avert an unprecedented default on its debt.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters who flocked around him as he left the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, that he hoped there would be a vote on the plan Sunday night.

But as time dragged on and House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, scheduled a conference telephone call with his rank and file, the likelihood of any vote Sunday night appeared less likely.

Reid later issued a statement saying he had signed off on a pending agreement, subject to approval by the Democratic rank and file in the Senate.

There were indications the deal had found sufficient backing from Senate Democrats. But it still lacked support among the most liberal Democrats and conservative, tea party-backed Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Pelosi said she would be meeting with House Democrats about the compromise measure on Monday.

"We all may not be able to support it or none of us may be able to support it," Pelosi said, indicating Democrats would want to study the plan.

Should it pass both houses, the compromise legislation stood to close out one of the nastiest partisan political fights to engulf the American government in recent memory.

Democrat Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, spoke optimistically earlier in the day that an agreement was in reach, but Washington fell silent on a blisteringly hot summer afternoon as politicians continued to huddle for last minute talks on the plan.

But by late Sunday officials said a final sticking point concerned possible cuts in the nation's defense budget in the next two years. Republicans wanted less. Democrats pressed for more in an attempt to shield domestic accounts from greater reductions. The White House, McConnell and Boehner remained silent.

Reid had said he was "cautiously optimistic," while McConnell said that negotiators were "very close." But as the day wore on and legislators continued crisis sessions in the capitol, politicians on the extremes of both parties lambasted the deal and threatened to try to block an agreement even with the deadline for a U.S. default ticking down to midnight Tuesday.

Without legislation in place by then, the Treasury will not be able to pay all its bills, raising the threat of a default that administration officials say could inflict catastrophic damage on the economy.

If approved, though, a compromise would presumably preserve America's sterling credit rating, reassure investors in financial markets across the globe and possibly reverse the losses that spread across Wall Street in recent days as the threat of a default grew.

The broadest outlines of the emerging plan, a deal being worked out in negotiations involving McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, would raise the federal debt limit in two stages by at least $2.2 trillion, enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections.

Big cuts in government spending would be phased in over a decade. Thousands of programs - the Park Service, Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department accounts among them - could be trimmed to levels last seen years ago.

No benefit cuts were envisioned for the Social Security pension system or Medicare, the federal program that provides health care payments to the elderly. But other programs would be scoured for savings. Taxes would be unlikely to rise.

Any agreement would have to be passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House before going to the White House for Obama's signature. With precious little time remaining, both chambers were on standby throughout the day, and House Speaker John Boehner was in his office.

The Senate began the day by rejecting an effort to advance a Democratic approach to resolving the debt issue. The vote was 50-49, or 10 short of the 60 votes needed to move forward on legislation proposed by Reid last week. That plan would have carried out $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years while raising the debt ceiling by $2.2 trillion. The outcome of that vote was expected and did not directly affect the behind-the-scenes negotiations on a compromise.

Undaunted, Reid said then that "We are hopeful and confident it can be done."

Officials familiar with the negotiations said that McConnell had been in frequent contact with Biden, who has played an influential role across months of negotiations.

The talks were proceeding toward a two-step system for raising the debt limit and cutting spending.

The first step would take place immediately, raising the debt limit by nearly $1 trillion and cutting spending by a slightly larger amount over a decade.

That would be followed by creation of a new congressional committee that would have until the end of November to recommend $1.8 trillion or more in deficit cuts, targeting benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, or overhauling the tax code. Those deficit cuts would allow a second increase in the debt limit, which would be needed by early next year.

If the committee failed to reach its $1.8 trillion target, or Congress failed to approve its recommendations by the end of 2011, lawmakers would then have to vote on a proposed balanced-budget constitutional amendment.

If that failed to pass, automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion would automatically take effect, and the debt limit would rise by an identical amount.

Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps would be exempt from the automatic cuts, but payments to doctors, nursing homes and other Medicare providers could be trimmed, as could subsidies to insurance companies that offer an alternative to government-run Medicare.

Officials describing those steps spoke on condition of anonymity, citing both the sensitivity of the talks and the potential that details could change.

The emerging deal could mark a classic compromise, a triumph of divided government that would let both Obama and Republicans claim they had achieved their objectives.

As the president demanded, the deal would allow the debt limit to rise by enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections.

But barring a change, it appeared Obama's proposal to extend the current payroll tax holiday beyond the end of 2011 would not be included, nor would his call for extended unemployment benefits for victims of the recession.

Republicans would win spending cuts of slightly more than the increase in the debt limit, as they have demanded. Additionally, tax increases would be off-limits unless recommended by the bipartisan committee that is expected to include six Republicans and six Democrats. The conservative campaign to force Congress to approve a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be jettisoned.

Congressional Democrats have long insisted that Medicare and Social Security benefits not be cut, a victory for them in the proposal under discussion. Yet they would have to absorb even deeper cuts in hundreds of federal programs than were included in Reid's bill, which many Democrats supported in a symbolic vote on the House floor on Saturday. - AP

Latest news, pictures and videos on US budget crisis from the AP-Wire

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Dim outlook for LED market

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 04:52 PM PDT

GEORGE TOWN: Manufacturing companies involved in the light-emitting diode (LED) business are experiencing a slowdown in the second half of the year due to an over-supply situation in the global market.

Globetronics Technology Bhd chief executive officer Heng Huck Lee told StarBiz that the group's LED chip products was down by between 5% and 10% compared with the corresponding quarter last year.

Globetronics LED business is one of the key contributors to the group's revenue annually.

"For Globetronics, we have managed to find new customers for our integrated circuits used for hard disk drives, and high performance timing device used in consumer electronic products, which will help the sustain business in the second half.

"We will introduce a new range of 10,000 lumens LED module product in November for customers in the United States and Europe, which will generate income in 2012," he added.

Heng added that the debt crisis situation in the US and Europe and the over-supply situation in the LED market had made the second half a challenging business environment.

"The stronger ringgit and the rising cost of power will increase production cost while eroding margins," he said.

Pentamaster Corp Bhd executive chairman C.B. Chuah said orders for the group's LED testers dropped by about 30% to 40% in the third quarter.

"Due to the excess supply of LEDs in the market, it is unlikely that business will pick up in the fourth quarter," Chuah said.

The group's LED testers, which are used in determining the brightness, colours, and electricity characteristics of LEDs, contribute about 15% of the group's revenue annually.

Chuah said the global economic crisis also contributed to the slower sales of LED products and LED testers.

"LED lighting is five time more expensive than conventional lighting. Thus, in times of economic crisis, the LED replacement rate will be slower," Chuah added.

The group's business in medical equipment, glove recycling machine, and semi-conductor automated equipment was still sustaining and would offset the slower sales in LED segment, he added.

Elsoft Research Bhd managing director C.E Tan said the market for low brightness LEDs was saturated, and growth was slower.

"So far, we still have orders for our LED testers supporting the mid to high-end market to deliver until the end of the year.

"These LED testers are for testing mid to high brightness LEDs used for street lighting and the automotive industries," he said.

There is excess supply because some 25 new LED manufacturers have entered into the market, while 75 LED manufacturers have increased capacity over the last two years, according to the Austin-based IMS Research report.

"In China, its metallorganic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) equipment programme is expected to result in some 1.6 billion yuan spending on MOVCD tools from 2010 to 2012 on machinery, which has encouraged existing Chinese LED manufacturers to expand capacity. "In 2011 and 2012, the supply growth is expected to outpace demand growth with no additional tools installed in 2012," the report said.

Another reason that demand was growing slower than supply was because there had been a large reduction in LEDs used in televisions and monitor panels since the third quarter of last year.

"This large reduction was achieved through improvements in LED luminous efficiency as well as improvements in light guide distribution efficiency, panel transmissivity and optical film optimisation.

"By reducing the number of LEDs, panel makers were able to migrate from four to six LED light bars per panel to just two light bars per panel significantly cutting costs," the report said.

Meanwhile, Malaysian American Electronics Industry (MAEI) chairman Datuk Wong Siew Hai said the semiconductor and electronics industry in the country in the second half was expected to improve compared with the first half 2011.

"The ICs and data storage business, for example, are still doing well.

"Compared with the same period last year, the growth in the semiconductor and electronics industry is expected to be slower," he said.

Wong added that the total export sales by MAEI were expected to stabilise to RM51bil this year, a 5% growth over 2010.

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Malaysians decide to stay in camp instead of going for break in London

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:17 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's World Championships-bound team were given a chance to travel to London on their off-day to relax and unwind.

But the team, led by world number one Lee Chong Wei, decided to remain at Bath University at Bath Spa in Somerset County to enjoy their day off from the badminton court.

And that has put the smile on the face of national coach Tey Seu Bock just a week before the start of the world meet, which will be held in Wembley from Aug 8-14.

"To break the monotony of training here in Bath, we gave them two days off (Saturday and Sunday). The coaches gave them the option to take a train ride to London city," said Seu Bock.

"It was a suprise when none took up our offer. They prefered to enjoy the quiet and serene city of Bath. They are looking very focused here and the coaches are happy with it."

Seu Bock said that it was important to give players time to cool down after feeding them with so much of physical workouts on the badminton court and gymnasium and also engaging them in pep talks and video analysis.

"Everything is so well organised here and the players are enjoying themselves as they balance training and rest sessions. We gave them a two-day break to take all that in and allow them to have some fun outside the camp."

Seu Bock said that none of the players were sick as everyone were taking good care of themselves by taking plenty of liquid and enjoying the "home" cooked food by Malaysian chefs.

The National Sports Institute have sent a support team led by Wong Ah Jit to look after all their needs.

The Malaysian players would resume training at Bath before breaking camp on Wednesday. They will head for Wembley on Aug 4 to soak into the atmosphere of the world meet, being hosted for the first time at Wembley Arena.

For the record, those in the Malaysian team at Bath are Chong Wei, Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif-Hoon Thien How, Chan Peng Soon-Lim Khim Wah, Wong Pei Tty-Chin Eei Hui, Ng Hui Lin-Ng Hui Ern, Goh Liu Ying (playing with Peng Soon in the mixed doubles), Ong Jian Guo-Sabrina Chong.

Veteran Wong Choong Hann, who is an independent player and currently sponsored by Dunlop, will leave for Wembley from Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

For the record, Malaysia have yet to win a world title since the tournaments' inception in 1977.

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Chinese teenager topples Hackett’s 10-year-old world record

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:17 PM PDT

SHANGHAI: Chinese teenager Sun Yang toppled swimming's oldest world record yesterday when he shattered Grant Hackett's 10-year mark in the men's 1,500m, ensuring a rousing finish to the Shanghai world championships.

Sun Yang, roared on by a capacity crowd, put on a devastating burst over the last 100m as he made up a deficit of more than two seconds to touch in 14:34.14, 0.42s inside Hackett's mark set at the 2001 meeting in Fukuoka.

America's Ryan Lochte claimed a superb fifth gold medal, and stuttering Olympic great Michael Phelps enjoyed a successful final night when he helped the United States defend their 4x100m medley title.

Sun Yang's performance was only the second new record in Shanghai, two years after polyurethane-clad swimmers set 43 new bests at the 2009 championships in Rome.

It broke the only men's mark to survive the infamous super-suits era, when muscle-compressing swimwear helped set more than 200 global bests in just two years.

"I was not obsessed with the world record before the final, because I wanted to focus on my plan - my goal was to win the gold," Sun Yang said.

"I'm so grateful to the whole Chinese team, including my coach and my parents as well, and I think the world record belongs to all of them."

Meanwhile US star Lochte, this week's other record-setter, underlined his supremacy in Shanghai with his fifth gold medal, matching Phelps' haul from 2009.

Lochte led from start to finish at the Sea Crown stadium to defend his 2009 title in 4:7.13, more than four seconds ahead of team-mate Tyler Clary with Japan's Yuya Horihata third.

But Lochte insisted he was "not really happy", saying he could still make big improvements before next year's London Olympics.

"For the most part I'm not really happy. I mean getting five gold medals is definitely great but the times I went I know I can go a lot faster," he said.

"There're a lot of places in my races that I messed up on, where I could have changed and would have gone faster but I guess I have a whole another year to make sure I have those perfect swims."

Also on the final night, American world record-holder Jessica Hardy made a successful return to the world stage from a doping ban when she won the 50m breaststroke ahead of defending champion Yuliya Efimova of Russia.

Hardy, who missed the 2008 Olympics after a positive test and was serving a one-year ban during the 2009 world championships, timed 30.19 - outside her record of 29.80 - with team-mate Rebecca Soni third.

"I am really excited, I've trained so hard for that," Hardy said. I am really, really glad that I did it.

"I performed very well. All of us did a good job."

British world record-holder Liam Tancock defended his 50m backstroke title from France's Camille Lacourt and Gerhard Zandberg of South Africa.

Sweden's Therese Alshammar won the women's 50m freestyle and America's Elizabeth Beisel won the 400m individual medley.

And Phelps was instrumental in the United States' 4x100m medley win, as he took them from fourth to second in the butterfly leg before Nathan Adrian finished off the win.

Lochte has long played second fiddle to Phelps but he has called the tune in Shanghai, beating his contemporary in the 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley, which he won in world record time.

The 26-year-old also won the 200m backstroke and gave the United States a record fourth straight 4x200m medley world title with a super-fast final leg, after a slow lead-off from Phelps.

FINA's doping control review board chairman Andrew Pipe said there were no positive dope tests during the meet, which was hit by controversy when Brazil's Cesar Cielo escaped a ban for testing positive for a banned diuretic. — AFP

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Button marks 200th GP with stirring win to remind rivals of his class

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:14 PM PDT

JENSON Button marked his 200th Grand Prix with a reminder of his class yesterday when he drove his McLaren to a stirring victory in a chaotic and incident-filled Hungarian Grand Prix.

The 31-year-old Briton, who started third on the grid, made the most of some wretched ill-fortune for his team-mate and compatriot Lewis Hamilton in changing wet-dry-wet-dry conditions to record his second win of the year and the 11th of his career.

"It's a great moment, all round a major weekend.

"For some reason, I like these conditions," said Button of the slippery track.

Back on the circuit where he claimed his first F1 win in 2006, for Honda, Button revelled in the demanding circumstances. Given a celebratory cake before the race on Saturday, he ate it with relish.

Hamilton, having started second, led for long periods after taking early control, but was caught out by a succession of strategic errors - when he chose the wrong tyres in rapidly-changing weather - and a harsh stewards' decision to give him a drive-through penalty after he forced Paul Di Resta off the track.

"The better man won today," said Hamilton.

"The team have done a fantastic job. It's a fantastic way to go into the (summer) break. We would have liked a one-two, I let the team down a little bit but we will be back."

Hamilton, who had spun in the sudden rain and then rejoined rapidly in front of oncoming traffic, ended up finishing fourth behind a triumphant Button, second-placed German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.

For Vettel, although it was disappointing not to win again, his second place was enough for him to increase his lead in the drivers' title race as his nearest rivals finished behind him.

Australian Mark Webber finished fifth in the second Red Bull ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari with impressive British rookie Di Resta seventh for Force India.

This meant that the young Scot, in his first season, was the leading Mercedes powered runner in the race as he came home ahead of Swiss Sebastien Buemi of Toro Rosso, German Nico Rosberg in the leading Mercedes car and Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari in the second Toro Rosso.

Seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher, 42, was forced to retire in his Mercedes with gearbox problems. — AFP


1. Jenson Button (Bri) McLaren 1'46:42.337, 2. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 3.588s behind, 3. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 19.819, 4. Lewis Hamilton (Bri) McLaren 48.338, 5. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 49.742, 6. Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:23.176, 7. Paul di Resta (Sco) Force India 1 lap, 8. Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso 1, 9. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1, 10. Jaime Alguersuari (Spa) Toro Rosso 1, 11. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 1, 12. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Lotus-Renault 1, 13. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams F1 2, 14. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India 2, 15. Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber 2, 16. Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams F1 2, 17. Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing 4, 18. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Hispania 4, 19. Jerome d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing 5, 20. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Hispania) 5.

Retirements: Jarno Trulli (Ita) Lotus) 18th lap, Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Lotus-Renault 24th lap, Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 27th lap, Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus 56th lap.

Drivers' standings: 1. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) 216 pts, 2. Mark Webber (Aus) 139, 3. Lewis Hamilton (Bri) 134, 4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) 130, 5. Jenson Button (Bri) 109, 6. Felipe Massa (Bra) 62, 7. Nico Rosberg (Ger) 46, 8. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) 34, 9. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) 32, 10. Michael Schumacher (Ger) 32, 11. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) 27, 12. Adrian Sutil (Ger) 18, 13. Jaime Alguersuari (Spa) 9, 14. Sergio Perez (Mex) 8, 15. Sebastien Buemi (Swi) 8, 16. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) 4, 17. Paul di Resta (Sco) 2.

Constructors' standings: 1. Red Bull 355 pts, 2. McLaren 243, 3. Ferrari 192, 4. Mercedes GP 78, 5. Lotus-Renault 66, 6. Sauber 35, 7. Force India 20, 8. Toro Rosso 17, 9. Williams F1 4.0.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Stone’s a quick study

Posted: 01 Aug 2011 12:51 AM PDT

Emma Stone has been on a steady rise in Hollywood, charming audiences everywhere.

EMMA Stone has gone from layperson to expert on the two publishing sensations she's helping to bring to Hollywood this summer and next.

Stone had not read Kathryn Stockett's The Help before auditioning for the lead role in the drama about a white woman who rocks the Deep South establishment by chronicling the hard lives of black maids in the early 1960s.

And before earning the female lead in The Amazing Spider-Man, Stone knew the Marvel Comics superhero mainly from Sam Raimi's three past big-screen "Spidey" adventures and glimpses of the web-slinger on memorabilia.

"I knew Spidey from Halloween costumes and Band-Aids and erasers and pencils and notebooks," Stone, 22, said in an interview at last week's Comic-Con fan convention, where she and star Andrew Garfield joined the filmmakers to reveal footage of the 2012 summer blockbuster-in-waiting.

"I knew that every little boy at school was obsessed with Spidey. I saw all the Sam Raimi movies, but I had not read the comics until I got involved. And now I'm a ridiculously enormous 'Spider-Man' fan. That's what happens. That character is one of the most incredible characters, I think, ever written, comic-book world or literary world. It's just such an inspirational character. I think that's probably the reason he's the president's favourite superhero."

Stone has been on a steady rise in Hollywood, co-starring in 2007's teen romp Superbad and 2009's horror comedy Zombieland, then charming audiences with her first big-screen lead in last year's The Scarlet Letter twist Easy A.

After supporting roles in back-to-back romantic comedies in the United States with last week's Friends With Benefits and this week's Crazy Stupid Love, Stone's profile shoots higher with the August debut of The Help, co-starring Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer.

Stone recalled being as much a novice on The Help as she had been on Spider-Man. She was about to meet with the filmmakers for the first time and happened to give her mum a call.

"I've got a meeting tonight for The Help," Stone told her mother. "And she screamed so loud my eardrums burst. She said, 'You've got to read this book! You have to go and read this book right now!' My mother is, like, she fainted, she was so beside herself."

The Help is expected to be a summer hit driven by the best-seller's female fans, a rarity in a season dominated by action tales and comedies aimed largely at young males.

As Gwen Stacy, the romantic interest for Garfield's Peter Parker in next July's Spider-Man reboot, Stone will be in the thick of a fan-boy frenzy. Yet the fact that Peter's a skinny, bullied kid who leaps to hero status through the bite of a mutant spider makes him an idol for everyone, not just comic-book and action fans, Stone said.

"Batman's great, but this isn't a rich guy building a suit. And Superman's great, but this isn't an untouchable guy like we've never seen before on this planet," Stone said. "This is someone you could go to school with and work with, that all of sudden, one day is able to fight off superhuman villains. It's pretty incredible. I get it now. I really do." – AP

The Help only gets to Malaysian cinemas in October.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


Posted: 31 Jul 2011 04:21 AM PDT

FOR the month of July, 2011:


1. A Doctor In The House: The Memoirs Of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

2. Chicken Soup For The Soul: Think Positive – 101 Inspirational Stories About Counting Your Blessings And Having A Positive Attitude by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark

3. Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going by Han Fook Kwang, et al

4. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

5. Speeches That Changed The World edited by Emma Beare

6. Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story Of His Trip To Heaven And Back by Todd Burpo & Lynn Vincent

7. Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice In The Dock (revised and updated edition) by Alan Shadrake

8. The Power by Rhonda Byrne

9. Quantum Leaps: 100 Scientists Who Changed The World by Jon Balchin

10. Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving And Thriving At Work, Home, And School by John Medina


1. The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

2. The Confession by John Grisham

3. Fall Of Giants by Ken Follett

4. Transformers 3 (the official novel) by Peter David

5. Last Man In Tower by Aravind Adiga

6. The Heiress by Lynsay Sands

7. Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

8. Swimming Pool Sunday by Madeleine Wickham

9. Water For Elephants (film tie-in) by Sara Gruen

10. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obréht

This month's list compiled by MPH Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur; www.mphonline.com.

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Beautifully funny

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 04:20 AM PDT

Who knew a tale of beauty queens on an island could be so snarky and original?

A PLANE full of teenage beauty queens crashes on a tropical island en route to the 41st Annual Miss Teen Dream Pageant. There are 14 survivors, including Miss Texas, the super-efficient and scarily perky Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins; Miss New Hampshire, razor-tongued Adina Greenberg; Miss California, super-assimilated Shanti Singh; and Miss Nebraska, secret wild-child Mary Lou Novak.

The stress and hardship bring out the worst and the best in the girls. You don't look the way beauty queens do without being hard as nails (Miss Mississippi is initially gleeful about the lack of food on the island, immediately thinking in terms of weight loss rather than starvation), and one broken nail too many and even the most disciplined beauty bot might blow a fuse.

Still, the girls eventually rise to the occasion, turning their beauty apparatus and pageant-wear into tools to help them survive. And as the girls dig latrines and spear fish together, they learn to trust one other and let their guard down.

The demons each one privately wrestles with range from the usual teen problems with self-esteem and body image to sexuality, gender and race issues. While some of the girls come clean with their new friends, others are not yet ready to be honest with themselves, let alone the other girls.

Shanti Singh finds denial the most comfortable stance to take and copes quite well with the nagging doubts she has, but Taylor's obsession with perfection tips her over the edge, turning her into a horrifying yet comic caricature of herself.

It's obvious that Libba Bray had lots of fun writing Beauty Queens. All the dodgy things you've ever heard – about pageant contestants and the lengths they go to in order to look perfect – are in this book.

I'm sure Bray will be accused by some (teen beauty queens and their parents? Pageant organisers?) of being inaccurate and unfair. Whether or not the tales of perpetual hunger, back-stabbing and obsessive parents are true, they make for a good story. I mean, it would be great if beauty queens were all thin, toned and stunning without constant dieting, exercising and beauty treatments, and it would be awesome if pageants were not a hot bed of jealousy and emotional abuse. However, natural, happy and well-adjusted are just not the stuff that bestsellers and reality telly are made of.

Unlike the producers of reality TV shows, Bray's purpose is not to shock, scandalise or titillate but to criticise the public's voyeuristic partiality for shocking, scandalous and titillating content, and the willingness of TV stations to exploit man's prurient tastes.

Beauty Queens is structured like a reality telly series, complete with product placement (Bipolar Bears, "a combination of vitamin and mood-levelling drug"; Discomfort Wear, innerwear "designed to eliminate rolls, ripples and muffin tops. In some cases known to eliminate circulation and breathing."), commercial breaks (cream hair-remover Lady 'StacheOff: "Because there's nothing wrong with you ... that can't be fixed.") and movie trailers (Wedding Day 3: Third Time's The Charm).

Bray lets it rip writing this, and leaves little doubt about what she thinks about the way women's insecurities are conditioned and manipulated by the media. These "interludes" are the funniest, snarkiest parts of the book.

While it's easy to predict the conclusion of Beauty Queens, the route Bray takes to get to the Teen Queens' final triumph is a hilarious, zany, surprising and original one. You wonder, though, if this really happened, would it end the way Bray wrote it?

In the book, Mary Lou says: "Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one's watching them so they can be who they really are." What happens when they leave the island, though? In reality, how many of these beauty queens would have the strength to still be themselves once the whole world starts watching again?

Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it, too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

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Looking out for gems

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 04:16 AM PDT

THE death of her British husband in 2004 pulled Linda Tan Lingard up. "It made me think – how long do you delay doing what you want?"

What she wants to do involves books, particularly children's books. However, it isn't new territory as she has been in the publishing industry for over a decade.

"I devoured children's books as a kid, for their illustrations. Reading opens up a whole new world. What you get, you can't get elsewhere. If you start young, it stays with you," says Lingard (pic).

In 2007, she left her job with a legal and text book publisher and set up a bookshop, Scallywags, at a condominium in Kuala Lumpur.

"I had high hopes, but I didn't expect it to be so quiet."

She also learnt that she wasn't keen to sit down for hours with children: "I didn't want it to be a day care."

It was time to step out. Lingard headed for the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy, where she was overwhelmed by the number and variety of titles available. More importantly, it struck her that "our illustrators can compete with the foreigners".

The First Book panel discussion at the fair – where panellists were asked to comment on the unpublished illustrations of artists – confirmed her observation. "When I saw some of the pictures, I realised I had seen better stuff from Malaysia."

Lingard got permission from the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), which had organised the panel discussion, to set up a Malaysian chapter. The chapter, registered last year and now 30-strong, aims to support and encourage local authors and illustrators by being part of an international organisation.

She was then introduced to writer/artist Yusof Gajah, who mentors several Malaysian artists. They teamed up and formed the Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency, to represent those who write, illustrate and publish books for children and young adults. "As agents we can do more than being just publishers."

In the last three years, Lingard has brought out numerous children's books under her own imprints, One Red Flower Press, Oyez!Books and Picture Book Art.

Naïve artist Jainal Amambing has one book published under each respective imprint – Longhouse Days, The Proud Butterfly And The Strange Tree, and The Wonderful Sparrow. Fellow Sabahan Awang Fadilah's Land Below The Wind was released under Picture Book Art early this year.

"Jainal and Awang won Noma Concours awards for their illustrations for Longhouse Days and Land Below The Wind. I was surprised the books had never been published," Lingard says.

Looking out for such gems and helping them see print is one of the agency's goals. Creating local content is another; it has approached four other illustrators in Sabah, namely Arthur Stephen Siowou, Melannie Clarice Mujip, Rosmaini Sunarjo and Azlan Dulikab, to come up with storyboards for manuscripts written by a KL writer.

"We want to develop books and contribute to the quality aspect, not just quantity," says Lingard, who hopes to work closely with the National Book Council. She has proposed having First Look and First Write panels at the Kuala Lumpur Children's Book Fair in November, whereby publishers can view pre-submitted works, and writers and illustrators will feel excited about having a chance to be published.

Marketing Malaysian titles abroad is another viable step. Similarly, importing books from the West, and buying translations rights.

"Japan and South Korea first boosted their people's interest in books by bringing in quality books from abroad – and readers got to know about different cultures," Lingard says.

Which brings her back to the ripple effects of reading.

"If adults read to children from young, they bond quickly with books. When we bring in good books, we begin to expect good art, good layout and typefaces. We get used to (having) them," she adds.

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The Star Online: Nation

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The Star Online: Nation

PM: Government committed to electoral reform

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:24 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government is committed to electoral reform and ensuring that parliamentary democracy is forever maintained, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"I am committed to electoral reform. We will undertake them.

"For example, there are concerns about phantom voters. We will ensure there are no chance for phantom voters," he said at the fifth annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit here on Sunday.

He also responded to the students' queries during the question and answer session.

Measures being taken to improve the electoral system, he said, included the introduction of the biometric system and early votes among uniformed personnel.

"Do not doubt our commitment to improving the system.

"There is no such thing as postal votes. Those are early votes from people on duty. They vote on their own and not on other people's behalf," he said.

Najib also reiterated that there was parliamentary democracy and fair elections in the country.

"We have shortcomings but no one can dispute there is democracy.

"Here, we can overthrow the government in Malaysia if there is a wish too. But I hope you do not wish to.

"I refute very strongly that there is no parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.

"We have lost elections before. We lost five states and PAS, which rules Kelantan, hung on to the state by a mere one seat in 2004.

"If you think we can manipulate the ballot box, don't you think we could have found the three votes needed to topple the majority in Kelantan? It would not have been difficult to do so," he noted in his speech.

Najib said people should not doubt that there were fair elections, especially given past results where the opposition had won several states.

"People get nervous when it comes to elections. Even Ministers get nervous."

"I always tell my people to go down to the ground as there is no guarantee," he said.

He added that it was a fallacy to state that dissent was not allowed, adding that those who took part in the July 9 rally were offered a stadium but took to the streets instead, which could have resulted in innocent bystanders getting hurt.

"In a street demonstration, there is no guarantee of who is in a crowd.

"It is my duty to ensure that every single Malaysian's life and property is protected from harm," he said, adding that he had had the Shah Alam stadium in mind for the rally.

"We need to find ways to listen to the people. I believe we need to do more listening than talking," he said, adding that cost of living was included as a new National Key Result Area to help tackle the burdening issue.

More in The Star on Monday

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Malaysian Muslims to begin fasting Monday

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:15 AM PDT

Published: Sunday July 31, 2011 MYT 8:14:00 PM
Updated: Sunday July 31, 2011 MYT 8:15:56 PM

KUALA LUMPUR: Muslims in Malaysia will observe the fasting month of Ramadan from Monday, the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal Datuk Syed Danial Syed Ahmad announced Sunday.

Bernama reported that he made the announcement on Radio Television Malaysia.

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MIC against full Barisan membership for other Indian-based parties

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 04:50 AM PDT

PUTRAJAYA: Indian-based political parties can join the Barisan Nasional as associate or affiliate members but not as component parties, said MIC president Datuk G. Palanivel.

"They can become affiliate or associate members. We have no objection. But as a main component we will not allow other Indian-based parties to get full membership status, (and) we will walk out (if it is otherwise)," he told a press conference after closing the party's 65th general assembly here Sunday.

He said MIC had all along been the largest political party representing the Indian community in Barisan and that it would not allow any other splinter Indian-based political groups to usurp its role.

However, the party welcomed these groups to join the MIC, he said, adding that some of them had shown positive response when approached.

However, he refrained from revealing who they were.

Among the other Indian-based political parties in the country are the Indian Progressive Party (IPF), Malaysian Makkal Sakti (MMS) and Malaysian Indian United Party (MIUP).

The Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (KIMMA) became an affiliate member of Umno from Aug 27, 2010.

Earlier, in his speech, Palanivel said it was vital for the party members to be registered as voters.

"Currently only 390,000 party members (out of 600,000) have registered as voters, and I am confident that by December, we will be able to get the remaining members to be registered as voters.

"I want to turn MIC into a powerful voting block," he added. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Leaking men

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:46 AM PDT

Is your hubby's urination habits affecting your lifestyle?

ARE you affected by your partner's urination habits? How has his frequent night-time visits to the bathroom affected your sleep?How has it affected your lifestyle when your partner has to plan his travel route and timing around visits to the toilet when you are out? Ever experienced being stuck in a traffic jam with him or whilst at the movies, and he has a sudden urge to urinate?

These are signs that your hubby may have some form of prostate enlargement.

Enlarged prostate 101

For some fortunate men, the size of their prostate does not change. Unfortunately, about 75% of men over 50 years of age have measurable enlargement of the prostate. This condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It reduces a man's ability to control his urination, and if not properly cared for, can lead to serious problems.

Growth of prostate tissue is stimulated by dihydrotestosterone, a male hormone. As long as this hormone is present, the prostate will keep enlarging. As the prostate enlarges, the layer of tissue surrounding it prevents it from expanding, causing the gland to press against the urethra, like a clamp on a garden hose.

The bladder wall then becomes thicker and irritable. The bladder begins to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination.

Eventually, the bladder weakens and loses the ability to empty itself. Urine remains in the bladder, which leads to incomplete emptying of the bladder sensation.

The narrowing of the urethra and partial emptying of the bladder causes many of the problems associated with BPH.

The best thing we can say about BPH is, it's not cancer. To make sure that point is clear, BPH has nothing to do with cancer of the prostate. However, BPH does seriously interfere with the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test.

The PSA is a blood test that measures the level of a protein known as prostate-specific antigen. While elevated PSA levels may indicate prostate cancer, these PSA scores can also be the result of BPH, prostatitis and other conditions.

In any event, consider an elevated PSA an early detection or warning sign.

PSA is measured by nanograms per millilitre of blood, with most healthy men having under 4ng/mL. According to the American Cancer Society, a PSA level between 4 and 10 indicates a 25% chance of it being prostate cancer. A PSA higher than 10 means there's at least a 50% chance its prostate cancer.

Treatment options

Prescription medication

Urologists sometimes prescribe medication to help relieve bothersome, moderate to severe urination problems caused by BPH. If you stop taking the medication, the symptoms will usually return.

Prescription medications used to treat BPH include finasteride, terazosin and tamsulosin. Though these drugs can reduce urinary symptoms in men with BPH, it is not clear whether they slow the progression of the disease.

For many, the undesirable side-effects are a major drawback, and many seek natural alternatives such as well-known herbal extracts with a long history of usage to support prostate health.

Herbal supplements

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is one of the most researched herbal remedies for the treatment of BPH. There have been many clinical trials done with saw palmetto in BPH.

A three-year preliminary study in Germany found that 160mg of saw palmetto extract taken twice daily reduced night-time urination in 73% of patients and improved urinary flow rates significantly.

In a double-blind trial at various sites in Europe, 160mg of saw palmetto extract taken twice per day treated BPH as effectively as finasteride.

A review of all available double-blind trials has concluded that saw palmetto is effective for the treatment of men with BPH.

Most recent studies have shown that to achieve the optimal benefits with saw palmetto, it is essential that fat-soluble saw palmetto extracts are standardised to contain 85% to 95% fatty acids. (Note: Most of the older preparations in the market are using the crude extract of saw palmetto berries. The problem with the crude extract of saw palmetto is that the quality of the powder may not be consistent, hence the potency may not be consistent.)

Pygeum (Pygeum africanum) is the second most popular herb for correcting enlarged prostate. It has been approved in Germany, France, and Italy as a remedy for BPH. Controlled studies published over the past 25 years have shown that pygeum is safe and effective for men with BPH of mild or moderate severity.

Lycopene contains phytosterols that gives tomatoes their bright red colour. Lycopene gets high marks from researchers for its apparently potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidants can neutralise harmful substances in the body called free radicals which can contribute to cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Research shows that high levels of lycopene consumption have been associated with long-term protection of prostate health.

The popular use of stinging nettle (Urtica dioca) extract in Germany has encouraged the onset of numerous clinical trials. Collectively, these trials have demonstrated the benefits of using the extract for the treatment of BPH. This extract may increase urinary volume and the maximum flow rate of urine in men with early-stage BPH.

It has been successfully combined with both saw palmetto and pygeum to treat BPH in double-blind trials.

Pumpkin seed (Curcubita pepo) extract contains phytosterols, curcubitin and selenium. The extract inhibits 5-alpha-reductase, preventing the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, which ultimately prevents prostate enlargement.

The above mentioned herbal extracts can help with:

● Decreasing day-time as well as night-time urinary urgency and frequency.

● Increasing the flow rate of urine, thereby improving weak urine stream and trickling.

● Decreasing the "incomplete emptying of bladder" sensation.

● Reducing prostate size by encouraging hormonal balance.

Generally, when shopping for herbal product(s), choose products that contain standardised extract(s) of herbs as they can guarantee the consistency of the product. The reason for using standardised extracts is to ensure that each herb contains the same amount of biologically active compounds.

In the case of crude powder/extract (non-standardised), the levels of the plants' active compounds fluctuate widely, depending on factors such as weather, soil quality, age of the plant and time of the year it's harvested.

There are many prostate supplements in the market. Some are as a single herb while others can be found in various combinations. Choose one that can help regulate and improve urination in men.


1. Bach D, Ebeling L. Long-term drug treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia—results of a prospective 3-year multicenter study using Sabal extract IDS 89. Phytomedicine 1996;3:105–11.

2. Carraro JC, Raynaud JP, Koch G, et al. Comparison of phytotherapy (Permixon®) with finasteride in the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia: a randomized international study of 1,098 patients. Prostate 1996; 29:231–40.

3. Wilt TJ, Ishani A, Stark G, et al. Saw palmetto extracts for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. A systematic review. JAMA 1998; 280:1604–9.

This article is courtesy of Live-well. For more information, email dshoon@live-well.com.my. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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A hepatitis warning

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:44 AM PDT

The impact of hepatitis in the Asia Pacific region is set to rise if the issue is not tackled on multiple levels.

LEADING experts in viral hepatitis, in conjunction with World Hepatitis Day on July 28, have urged governments and the public across Asia Pacific to become more aware of the devastating effects of hepatitis on individuals, their families and the community at large.

The group, known as CEVHAP (Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific) was recently formed to address the lack of awareness and political will to tackle issues associated with viral hepatitis.

Incorporated in October 2010, CEVHAP membership is comprised of many world-renowned hepatitis and virology experts, utilising the collective expertise of its members to assist the region through partnership with a broad range of stakeholders, including government bodies in public policy formulation and health education.

Viral hepatitis, particularly hepatitis B and C, affects one in 12 people worldwide, claiming the lives of approximately one million people every year.

Asia Pacific carries the major part of the global burden of viral hepatitis. China and India together have an estimated 123 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B and 59 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C, accounting for almost 50% of all infections worldwide.

On the local front, there are an estimated 2.5 million Malaysians who are infected with chronic hepatitis B or C, and some 25% of these individuals are at risk of serious liver damage.

"Viral hepatitis is a life-threatening disease, a situation made worse by the fact that a large proportion of those infected do not know that they carry the virus. Awareness of the disease has become a critical issue," said Prof Dr Rosmawati Mohamed, consultant hepatologist at University Malaya Medical Centre and an executive council member of CEVHAP.

"Compounding the problem, viral hepatitis is mostly a silent disease and many people are also ignorant about how it is transmitted and how it can be fatal if diagnosed at a late stage," she added.

The number of people chronically infected with, and annually dying as, a result of viral hepatitis exceed the prevalence and death due to HIV/AIDS and any cancer. Despite having a similar social impact, hepatitis lacks the same level of awareness and political momentum.

This is the first year that July 28 is recognised as World Hepatitis Day globally, as a result of the World Health Assembly's Resolution on Viral Hepatitis (WHA63.R18) of May 21, 2010.

The resolution also expresses concern about the lack of progress in the prevention, control and treatment of viral hepatitis around the world.

"WHO is calling for a global approach to tackle the problem of viral hepatitis, and we see that it is our role, as experts in the field, to ensure Asia Pacific is part of, if not leading, some elements of the global approach," said Prof Stephen Locarnini, divisional head of the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, and co-founder of CEVHAP.

CEVHAP's goal is to act as a bridge between the WHO Resolution and the Asia Pacific region. Its early focus is on Hepatitis B and C, the two types of hepatitis with the greatest impact in the region.

"While chronic hepatitis is a silent disease with little or no symptoms for many years, it is also a silent disease when it comes to public awareness and government attention.

"This has led to the situation we find ourselves in today, where a large population with viral hepatitis do not seek medical attention or receive treatment – and this is also true for countries where the treatment is reimbursed by the government," said Prof D. S. Chen, distinguished chair professor of the College of Medicine at National Taiwan University and co-founder of CEVHAP.

"The burden of hepatitis B on the health system will continue to rise unless effective public policy interventions are implemented by governments across the region," said Prof Locarnini.

"We are not saying that nothing has been done – there has been progress in countries particularly in the area of universal vaccination – it's just that a lot more can and needs to be done to effectively tackle this issue."

The Malaysian Campaign on World Hepatitis Day 2011, led by its organising chairperson, Prof Dr Rosmawati, has been scheduling a series of events over the period from June 15 to July 30 to observe World Hepatitis Day 2011 and draw public attention to the serious health threats posed by viral hepatitis.

In line with the campaign theme, "Know your liver, B aware, C a Dr", the organising committee aims to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment for hepatitis B and C in the country.

Activities, such as public forums, hepatitis B and C testing, and counseling on treatment and vaccination for viral hepatitis have been conducted in 27 centres, including 18 hospitals nationwide to create better awareness of the disease among the public.

The campaign objective is to not only raise the profile of viral hepatitis, but also promote greater awareness of how it is transmitted, as many who are infected are unaware that they carry the virus.

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Living in a probabilistic world

Posted: 31 Jul 2011 05:38 AM PDT

Risk is not certainty. There is seldom a 'one on one' nexus between any risk factor and a negative health outcome.

WHENEVER I give a talk on "Smoking and Cancer", one question inevitably pops up. "Doctor, my grandfather smoked 40 cigarettes a year for 60 years and he never contracted lung cancer. Can you comment on this, please?"

Sometimes, the tone of the questioner's voice is laced with disbelief. Does smoking really cause lung cancer? Not infrequently, the questioner is a smoker himself and is trying hard to justify his bad habit. There are times when there is a genuine desire to learn.

The short answer is: "Smoking greatly increases your risk of lung cancer. For 100 non-smokers, two will get lung cancer in their lifetime. For 100 heavy smokers, 20 will be diagnosed to have lung cancer and almost all 20 will die from it. The link between smoking and lung cancer was unequivocally proven decades ago."

A corollary question is: "Doctor, my sister is a non-smoker, teetotaller and also not married (where did this come from??), and yet she has been diagnosed to have lung cancer. How is that possible?"

Here is the longer answer to both questions.

Risk is not certainty. There is seldom a "one on one" nexus between any risk factor and a negative health outcome. Heavy smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, eating heavily fat- and calorie-laden foods three times a day, and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors for cancer, and heart disease. You can hear the naïve and wishful-thinking saying, "My uncle is obese, plays Farmville and other dumbing-down games the whole day long on his iPad 2 and snacks on tons of fries and tomato ketchup. Yet he is alive and kicking."

He won't be both for long, I assure you.

In almost all diseases there are susceptibility genes. We now know there are three sets of susceptibility genes for lung cancer. These susceptibility genes may be inherited from your biological parents or they may be acquired. Environmental factors can alter the genes you are born with or their expression. The way you were brought up as an infant and child (way beyond your control) is an important environmental factor. Even more important is smoking.

The first set of these genes determines your inherent risk of getting lung cancer. The second set has to do with DNA repair mechanisms. Some cancer patients have genes that are faulty and do not sufficiently repair the damage done to the DNA of the cells in their lungs.

The third set of cancer susceptibility genes codes for factors that make you acquire the smoking habit and your addiction potential.

What does all this mean? Well, if you do not have the lung cancer susceptibility genes (not possible to know by routine tests at present), you may not get lung cancer even if you are a heavy smoker. But heavy smoking will, in all likelihood, lead to other cancers (mouth, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, bladder, kidney), heart disease and obstructive airway disease (bronchitis, emphysema), which are major killers by themselves.

If you do not smoke and have a high genetic susceptibility (sets 1 and 2 genes overexpressed), you may get lung cancer if you are the unlucky two in 100.

What can you do if you are diagnosed with lung cancer? Go for the best treatment money can buy. There is some good news. The majority of non-smokers who get lung cancer will do well with conventional chemotherapy, as well as the new relatively costly molecular drugs like gefitinib, erlotinib and crizotinib.

Instead of an average life span of eight months (in smokers with lung cancer), non-smoking patients with lung cancer, especially in those with the "activating" or "good" mutations in their tumours, can live an average of 24 months with current anti-cancer drugs.

The short answer, the longer answer, and now, some philosophical musings. I said that the causative or risk factor of a disease is not "one-on-one". No risk is absolute. Only the simple and literal-minded see the world as black and white.

I am a relativist even in questions of ethics and morals. I am a moral relativist as opposed to the Man With The Golden Ring, who is a moral absolutist.

I have often heard it said that because science cannot provide all the answers, we must look to the realms of fantasy, fiction and faith. But cosmology, quantum physics and evolutionary biology have given me a satisfying, albeit provisional, picture of the universe.

It makes an uncertain world less uncertain. It is a probabilistic world we live in. Science may not reveal the ultimate truth but at least it gives me honest, penultimate answers. It is good enough for me for now.

All or nothing at all? Not me. I will make do with the answers science provides me – be it the treatment of cancer or hypotheses about the beginning and end of the universe – as I continue my search.

For all the cliché that it is, it is no less true. The journey, not the end, is all there is: its inadequacies, disappointments, triumphs, and glories.

Come, walk with me.

Dr Albert Lim Kok Hooi is a consultant oncologist. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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