Ahad, 23 Disember 2012

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Afghanistan says Pakistan serious about backing peace efforts

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 08:22 PM PST

KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan is genuine about backing the nascent Afghan peace process and shares the Kabul government's goal of transforming the Taliban insurgency into a political movement, a senior Afghan government official told Reuters.

"This is the vision that they share," said the official, who is closely involved in reconciliation efforts with the insurgent group. He also said recent face-to-face talks between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Paris were "enormously helpful" for peace efforts.

The remarks signalled unprecedented optimism from Afghanistan that Pakistan - long accused of backing Afghan insurgent groups - was now willing to put its weight behind reconciliation efforts, which are still in early stages and are vulnerable to factionalism.

The senior official cautioned that in order to sustain that optimism, Pakistan would need to take further concrete steps after releasing some mid-level Afghan Taliban members from detention, who may be useful in promoting peace.

Pakistan is seen as critical to U.S. and Afghan efforts to stabilise the country before most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

The Haqqani network -- which has far more experience in guerrilla warfare than the Afghan Taliban - would be welcomed to the peace process as long as it met certain conditions, said the official.

(Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Pakistan genuine about backing Afghan peace efforts - Afghan official

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 07:59 PM PST

KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan is genuine about backing the nascent Afghan peace process and shares the Kabul government's goal of transforming the Taliban insurgency into a political movement, a senior Afghan government official told Reuters.

"This is the vision that they share," said the official, who is closely involved in reconciliation efforts. He also said recent face-to-face talks between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Paris were "enormously helpful" for peace efforts.

(Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

U.S. Navy SEAL commander dead in Afghanistan in suspected suicide

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 07:53 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The commander of an elite U.S. Navy SEAL unit has died in Afghanistan, the Defence Department said on Sunday, and a U.S. military official said his death was being investigated as a suspected suicide.

Commander Job Price, 42, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, died on Saturday of a non-combat related injury in central Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Commander Job Price, 42, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, shown in this Naval Special Warfare Group TWO handout photograph, died of a non-combat related injury in central Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province, the Pentagon said in a statement. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout

Commander Job Price, 42, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, shown in this Naval Special Warfare Group TWO handout photograph, died of a non-combat related injury in central Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province, the Pentagon said in a statement. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout

"This incident is currently under investigation," it said.

Price, was assigned to a Naval Special Warfare unit in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and was the commanding officer of SEAL Team Four. He failed to show up for an event on Saturday and colleagues found him dead in his quarters, the U.S. military official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

NBC News and CNN also quoted unnamed military officials as saying that the death was being looked at as a possible suicide.

Lieutenant David Lloyd, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Group Two, which comprises the four SEAL teams on the U.S. East Coast, declined to comment on the cause of death, saying it was under investigation.

Price was married and had a daughter. He had been a naval officer since May 1993, Lloyd said.

Captain Robert Smith, the Group Two commander, said in a statement: "The Naval Special Warfare family is deeply saddened by the loss of our teammate. We extend our condolences, thoughts and prayers to the family, friends, and NSW community during this time of grieving.

"As we mourn the loss and honour the memory of our fallen teammate, those he served with will continue to carry out the mission."

SEAL is an acronym for sea, air, land.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Phil Stewart; editing by Christopher Wilson)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Reality TV star Bethenny Frankel and husband to separate

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 06:37 PM PST

NEW YORK: Reality TV star Bethenny Frankel and her husband Jason Hoppy are separating, Frankel announced on Sunday.

"It brings me great sadness to say that Jason and I are separating.

This was an extremely difficult decision that, as a woman and a mother, I have to accept as the best choice for our family," Frankel said in a statement confirmed by her representative.

"We have love and respect for one another and will continue to amicably co-parent our daughter who is and will always remain our first priority. This is an immensely painful and heartbreaking time for us." Frankel, 42, and Hoppy married in March of 2010.

They have a daughter, Bryn, who was born in May of 2010. On Sunday, Frankel tweeted, "I am heartbroken. I am sad. We will work through this as a family." Frankel first attracted attention in 2008 on the reality show "The Real Housewives of New York City," which chronicles the exploits of wealthy New York women.

She went on to star in two other reality TV shows, "Bethenny Getting Married?" and "Bethenny Ever After...," both of which centered on the couple's marriage and child-rearing.

Frankel also founded the Skinnygirl line of cocktails, and has written several diet and self-help books. In 2012 she launched a talk show, "Bethenny," which is set to air nationally in 2013.- Reuters

The Voice's Dia Frampton coming to KL in January

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 12:43 AM PST

Dia Frampton (pic), who rose to international fame after her stint in season one of American music reality show The Voice, will be coming to Malaysia early next month for a promo showcase.

The 25-year-old singer is set to stage her first gig in Kuala Lumpur at The Bee, Publika, Solaris Dutamas on Jan 12.

If you remember, Dia emerged first runner up on The Voice last year.

Hailing from St George, Utah in the United States, this singer, who is half Korean and half Dutch, is now eyeing this region to expand her solo career.

Last year, she released her album Red, which featured the chart single The Broken Ones. Her mentor is Blake Shelton, but Dia had a hand in writing the material on the album.

Pitched somewhere between folk and pop with a hint of country, Dia has a bagful of delightful tunes to take to the mases here.

Tickets for her show upcoming show in KL cost RM40. It will be sold on the day of the event; show starts at 9pm.

Browse: thebee.com.my.

Contact: 03 6201 8577.

Highlights from radio station 988

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 12:47 AM PST

Street Cases (Monday-Friday, 8am-9am)

THE world did not end, we're alive! Phew, we can breathe freely again. Some people view this is as our second chance at life ... to right the wrongs, to improve and be a better person.

Doomsday or not, life is not always a bed of roses. This week, the 988 deejays talk to five courageous people who overcame extraordinary ordeals to earn a second chance at life. They went through a past that was like a living hell, but they overcame it. Hear their inspirational stories.

The Feature (Monday and Tuesday, 9am-10am)

2012 In Review: Defining moments that happened within and beyond Malaysia – 428 Bersih 3.0, London Olympics, US Election, Gangnam Style. Which is the biggest event that rocked the world?

This week, the deejays take a look back at the year and reveal its top 10 defining events voted online by 988 listeners.

Street VIP (Wednesday-Friday, 9am-10am)

Annually, viewers vote for their favourite artistes and shows in awards programmes like the Kids' Choice Awards in the United States and TVB Anniversary Awards in Hong Kong.

It's fun, exciting and a reflection of popularity.

There may not be a trophy to give out here, but 988 listeners have also made their choices known. Tune in to find out who is the people's 2012 Favourite Street VIP of the year.

Music VIP (Monday-Friday, 2pm)

Evan Yo (Tsai Min Yo) is back. Having completed his military service, the Taiwanese singer-songwriter has released his fourth album Super Yo. It's often said that military service is an extraordinary experience that transforms boys to men.

How much has Tsai grown? What sort of musical surprises can we expect from this "brand new young man"?

Night Chat (Monday-Friday, 10pm-midnight)

Ever wonder why 988 DJ Piao Ming wants to get into theatre work? Wonder no more and tune in to find out what the director, choreographer and cast of Night Chat Show: Barcelona Letter have to say about Piao.

>For more information, log on to 988.com.my. 988 is owned and operated by The Star.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

UK household finances worsen sharply in December

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 07:06 PM PST

LONDON: Britons suffered the biggest deterioration in their finances in seven months in December and turned more downbeat about 2013, a survey showed on Monday.

The Markit Household Finance Index fell to 36.8 - the lowest since May - from November's near two-year high of 39.3, sinking further below the 50 level that would mark no change in the financial situation compared with a month ago.

Around a third of respondents said their finances had worsened in December, while only 6 percent reported an improvement. Overall, households also felt less secure in their jobs than in November.

"The latest survey suggests that domestic consumer demand will remain under pressure in the near term, especially since inflation perceptions remain elevated and job insecurities are prevalent across the UK," said Markit economist Tim Moore.

Three quarters of respondents expected their finances to worsen or to show no improvement next year.

In a further worrying sign for policymakers, inflation expectations for the year ahead picked up slightly from the three-month low posted in November.

The survey of around 1,500 people was conducted between December 13 and December 17. - Reuters

FBM KLCI up on window dressing

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 06:57 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: The local bourse's benchmark FBM KLCI was up in Monday morning trade on funds' window dressing activity.

The index gained two-thirds of a percent to 1,669.65 at mid-morning. Most Asian markets were up with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index and Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 were both up a fifth of a percent to 22,546.47 and 4,633.10 respectively.

MIDF Investment Bank Bhd research head Zulkifli Hamzah expects the FBM KLCI to end the year 1,670. "For the year until Friday, the KLCI had gained 8.4%, overtaking the Dow Jones and Taiex," he said in a report today.

At Bursa Malaysia, gainers outpaced losers 178 to 173 while 209 other counters were traded unchanged. Volume was thin at 169.53 million shares and turnover of RM159.87 million.

Plantation stocks were among the gainers. KLK rose 54 sen to RM22.06, Genting Plantations added 17 sen to RM8.50 and Keck Seng was up 18 sen to RM4.19.

UMW rose 16 sen to RM11.96 after its proposed sukuk musharakah to raise up to RM2bil was approved by the Securities Commission last week.

Petronas Gas jumped 68 sen to RM19.78 and Petronas Dagangan gained 44 sen to RM24.

The greenback was quoted at 3.06 to the ringgit at 10.30am.

How to spot questionable get-rich schemes

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 05:46 PM PST

SOMEONE once said: "The desire to be rich is human but to get there quickly is divine". In a world where instant gratification thrives, getting rich quickly removes all the hard work and time required in acquiring wealth. But when a scheme promises you the sky, it may eventually spell more headache for you than imagined, JOYCE CHUAH writes. How do you spot a scheme that spells trouble?

When it sounds too good to be true

When a proposal seems too good to be true, it really isn't. A guaranteed return of anything more than a risk-free rate should raise a flag for you. The catch word is "guaranteed" as no one can guarantee you any return besides published FD &saving rates.

When it is not sustainable

Sustainability is based on fundamentals. For example, if a proposal tells you that there is no downside or bad times, the fundamental basis of demand and supply has been violated.

When it has a short incubation period

A proposal that promises returns in a short period of time should raise a red flag. "Short" is generally considered as anything less than one year. An investment scheme or a business needs to have a relatively acceptable incubation period. Promises of returns within a few months must be questioned as to how that can be derived.

When your gut feel says "stop"

Greed is part of being human. But there is a part of our subconscious mind that protects us from being hurt that is our gut feel. When you hear that little voice saying "stop", listen to it. Tune out the excitement and stop the rush to get into such schemes.

There are essentially no "get rich quick" schemes that work but there are certainly slow ones that do. When you get your financial life reorganised, identify where you are wasting your money and then get the right money management strategies to work for you, getting rich slowly may not be that slow after all. Patience pays. Greed punishes.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Windfall for Kumar and Faisal in India

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 05:32 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysian hockey players are in for a windfall next year after managing to gain places in two teams in the Hockey India League, which starts on Jan 17.

Goalkeeper S. Kumar has been snapped up by Uttar Pradesh Wizards while the Mumbai Magicians have signed up forward Faisal Saari for the one-month league.

Kumar is set to get US$15,000 (about RM45,878) and Faisal US$26,000 (RM79,521) for a month's work.

This is the first official professional league in India.

Three Malaysians featured in last year's unsanctioned meet and Jiwa Mohan was the only one who was officially released by the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) to play in the league.

Two others from Sapura – Robert Alcantara and Mohd Rodhanizam Mat Radzi – did not get the MHC's blessings and were later suspended for six months.

This time, Kumar, Faisal, Razie Rahim, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin and Azlan Misron were sought by the teams in the league. But only Kumar and Faisal made it to the auction rounds.

Kumar was "auctioned" at US$15,000, which is the base price for foreign players while Faizal got US$26,000 (RM79,521).

The five-team league will also see players from Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Argentina and Spain in the fray.

The other teams are Delhi Waveriders, Punjab Warriors and Ranchi Rhinos.

Malaysia keep final hopes alive with hard-fought draw against Pakistan

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 03:26 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia held Pakistan to a 3-3 draw to stay in the hunt for a place in the final of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament in Doha.

It was the first drawn game of the tournament and both teams will have to win their next two games to make the final on Sunday.

Malaysia and Pakistan have seven points from three matches.

Pakistan, the runners-up last year, play India in a crucial match today while Malaysia meet China.

Malaysia had won their two earlier matches with identical scores of 4-1 against Japan and Oman while Pakistan had seen off China 5-2 and Oman 8-3.

India, who thrashed Oman 11-0 earlier yesterday, lead the standings with nine points from three matches.

The top two teams will meet in the final while the next two will clash for the third placing.

Defending champions India were again at their best against Oman, getting their goals through S.V. Sunil (3rd and 44th minutes), Dharamvir Singh (8th and 56th), V.R. Raghunath (30th and 38th) and Rupinder Pal Singh (33rd and 43rd), Akashdeep Singh (53rd), Harbir Singh (65th) and Danish Mujtaba (67th).

The defending champions had earlier beaten China (4-0) and Japan (3-1).

In the first match of the day, China beat Japan 4-2.

Teenager Rafiq set to join the elite squad

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 05:27 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Mohd Rafiq Ismail's impressive run under the Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress (MTBC) special squad programme may have earned him a place in the elite squad next year.

The Kuala Lumpur youngster is one of the biggest successes to come out of the special squad since he joined the programme two years ago and already has two Milo International Junior All-Stars titles – boys' Open this year and the Open Masters in 2011 – to his name.

The SMK Bukit Indah student also finished second at this year's Penang Pesta International Bowling Championships (men's Open) and last year's Milo International Junior All-Stars (boys' Open) as well as top six finishes this year – the Taiwan International Open (fifth in the men's Open) and the KL International Open (sixth in the men's Open).

And he is only 15 years old!

His performance has so impressed national coach Holloway Cheah that the latter plans to recommend the youngster to be included in the national elite squad when MTBC review the special squad's programme next month.

"Rafiq is a natural. He's very relaxed and doesn't let the pressure get to him. He's fearless. I see a lot of Shalin (Zulkifli) in him," said Holloway. "Shalin was 14 when she won her first major title and Rafiq is only 15. He's the most successful bowler from the programme. I'll definitely recommend him for the elite squad ... but the final decision rests with MTBC."

Holloway was also happy with the performances of both the elite and special squads at the recent Milo championships.

"I'm quite happy ... it was a very good showing by both squads, considering they faced strong international talents as well as the Korean national team," said Holloway.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Nation

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The Star Online: Nation

IGP denies there’s a rise in shooting incidents

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:21 AM PST

KUANTAN: Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar has denied reports that there has been a rise in shooting incidents in the country.

"This is a wrong perception. I do not agree that criminals are brandishing and discharging firearms blatantly. There are some cases but the situation is under control.

"Do not give the wrong signals to the public," he said after conferring honorary police ranks to five people here on Saturday.

Ismail said police had responded promptly to such cases and were also investigating several separate shooting incidents recently, which were believed to have been carried out by hardcore criminals.

On a separate matter, Ismail said the police needed the co-operation of the people in facing a new era of policing and increasing challenges.

Ismail commended the Pahang branch of the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) for providing a fleet of 16 vehicles to be used in crime prevention rounds.

Most flight, train and bus tickets are sold out

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:14 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Seats on public transport to most destinations in the country during the Christmas and year-end holiday seasons have been fully booked.

A check by Bernama showed that flight, train and bus tickets to many destinations have been sold out.

Many of the people rushing for tickets at several bus stations in the city were students from institutions of higher learning who wanted to return home for the holidays.

At Kuala Lumpur Sentral, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) ticketing assistant Nur Ashikin Baharom said only a few tickets for flights to Sabah and Sarawak on Monday were available.

"For those who did not make early reservation, it is going to be tough to get tickets because generally most seats are fully booked," she said.

KTM Intercity senior marketing manager Mohd Noordin Kimi said all train tickets up to Dec 31 for trips from Kuala Lumpur to the south, east coast and north had been sold out.

"Tickets for travel dates up to Dec 31 were sold out as the Christmas holiday is during the school holidays, and prompted most city folk to book their tickets early to return to their hometowns and villages," he said.

However, Mohd Noordin said, tickets were still available for the Electric Train Service (ETS) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh.

A Sani Express counter clerk at Pudu Sentral, Wajida Abu Hassan, said the express bus company had no plans to offer additional bus services though tickets for destinations in the north and east coast had been sold out.

Passengers heading to the east coast can still get tickets on the Mara Liner and Shamisha Express at Hentian Putra while those heading north can still get tickets on Shamisha Express. - Bernama

RM169,000 in fines imposed in price enforcement in Selangor

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 03:59 AM PST

SHAH ALAM: The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry has imposed a total of RM169,000 in fines on 205 errant traders in price-control checks in Selangor, since early this year until Dec 1.

The ministry's Selangor enforcement chief Othman Nawang said a total of 63 wet markets were among those inspected in operations carried out during the period, leading to various forms of seizures worth RM37,000.

"Most of them were issued fines for various offences such as not displaying clear price signs and using weighing scales with calibration validity lapsed," he told reporters after a price monitoring operation in conjunction with Christmas at the Tesco hypermarket here on Sunday.

The ministry has set maximum wholesale and retail prices for 13 price-controlled items to be enforced under the Festive Seasons Price Control Scheme in conjunction with Christmas 2012 from Sunday until Dec 27. - Bernama

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Barbra Streisand goes on a 'Guilt Trip' with Seth Rogen

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:15 AM PST

LOS ANGELES - Road-trip movies have been dominated by teenagers on wild adventures or "Hangover" style bro-mances, but Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen are driving the genre into new territories with mother-son comedy "The Guilt Trip" to usher in the holiday season.

"The Guilt Trip," which hits U.S. theaters this week, follows struggling novice inventor Andy (Seth Rogen), who is guilted in to bringing his mother on a work-related road-trip across the country.

Streisand, 70, who broke out as an actress in 1968's comedy "Funny Girl," returns to her comedic roots as Joyce, Andy's overbearing mother, who becomes closer to her son over the duration of their tense and comedic adventures on the road.

The actress told reporters at a recent press conference that it was her son Jason Gould who convinced her to do the project after reading the script with her, and Streisand found a deeper connection to the story.

"Mothers develop guilt trips," Streisand said. "(When my own son was young) I was working a lot and I felt guilty as a parent that I cannot pick (up) my son everyday from school, bake him cookies, that kind of thing. And so you try and compensate."

"I thought it was interesting to investigate this - trying to be his friend versus a mother...this movie, it hit on all those things that I thought I could explore."

Rogen, 30, also related closely to the mother-son storyline, saying that while he has a "good relationship" with his own mom, even she can drive him "crazy" sometimes.

"That dynamic where your mother is trying and the more she tries, the more it bugs you, the more it bugs you, the more she tries....All that is very, at times, real to my relationship with my mother," Rogen said.


Streisand, who is one of the few actresses to win a Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Oscar award over her six-decade career, last took a leading role in 1996's "The Mirror Has Two Faces," which she also directed and produced.

The actress initially had reservations about signing onto the movie and said she gave the movie studio numerous clauses "because I kept wanting an out some way."

Her requests included having a set "no more than 45 minutes away from my house" and later morning starts, as "my husband (James Brolin) and I stay up until two or three in the morning so we don't function...at six in the morning."

Streisand's requests were granted, and thus came about a road trip movie where the actors never actually went on the road. The film ended up largely being shot on a sound stage with Streisand and Rogen in a car against a green screen while backdrops of landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, were added in later.

With the exception of a supporting role as Ben Stiller's mother in 2004's "Meet The Fockers" and 2010's "Little Fockers," Streisand has stayed out of the spotlight in recent years, and attributes that as one of the keys to her long-standing success.

"I don't make many movies and I don't make that many appearances. Less is more. Maybe that keeps a little mystery," Streisand said, adding that she likes to "stay at home a lot."

While she hasn't signed onto another project just yet, she said what keeps her satisfied as an artist is engaging in work that is "private" as opposed to being on public display.

"I love recording and I love making films as a filmmaker," she said. "Because it uses every bit of what you have experienced or know, whether it's graphics, composition, decorating, psychology, story telling, whatever it is. It's a wonderful thing." - Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Mitch Albom writes to inspire

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:37 AM PST

With Christmas just around the corner, we share the thoughts of the 'father of inspirational fiction', Mitch Albom.

I DON'T," author Mitch Albom simply offers when asked about how he responds to cynics during a recent phone interview from London.

There was something about the brevity of his response, followed by an awkward silence that lasted a moment too long, that set us off in a fit of laughter. Then again, Albom has been known to be a man of few words, with his novels usually spanning a little over 200 pages.

The sports writer turned New York Times bestselling author has no doubt inspired readers all over the globe with valuable lessons on life (Tuesdays With Morrie), on death (The Five People You Meet In Heaven), on treasuring relationships (For One More Day), on faith (Have A Little Faith), and most recently, on time (The Timekeeper).

Unfortunately, while there are many who have drawn strength and hope from Albom's writings, some others find it difficult to take his writings to heart, unable to draw aside the veil of cynicism.

Yvonne Zipp of The Washington Post, for instance, has called The Timekeeper "a waste of time itself" while fellow sports columnist Jason Whitlock, apart from criticising Albom's sports writing career, called the writer "Myth Albom" and shrugged off his fictional work as some "feel-good narrative".

An ardent fan of the author myself, I was eager to find out how Albom would respond to cynics like them. But instead of calling them out and giving them a piece of his mind, the author chooses to stay mum. "Books shouldn't be argued about; they either appeal to you or they don't," the 54-year-old says.

Nevertheless, Albom stresses that his type of writing – which critics are quick to label "overly sentimental" – is not irrelevant, as it is purely a reflection of what we see in real life.

"When you ask somebody to open up their wallets or their pocketbooks, they don't have pictures of cynical people in them, they have pictures of their children or their grandchildren.

"When you ask somebody what their favourite song is, it's usually a love song because that's the song that was playing when they met their wives or their husbands,

"And when people die, their last words are not cynical or sarcastic sentences, they say things like 'I love you', sentimental things," he points out.

Albom feels it is often those who are tasked to review his books that find themselves needing to be cynical, as it somehow equates to being artsy. But he believes his readers want to read something inspirational. So he chooses to write for them.

True enough, many of his readers have indeed been inspired to turn their lives around with gleanings from his writings. Albom recalls one man who had the terminal neurological disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – the same disease that plagued Morrie, Albom's real-life friend – and had tried to take his own life:

"When he didn't succeed in killing himself, someone passed him a copy of Tuesdays With Morrie. After reading it, not only did he decide he wanted to live, he became a powerful driving force in the fight against ALS. As a wealthy man, he donated millions of dollars to research in the hopes of finding a cure for the disease."

In the past decade or so since Albom published that runaway bestseller about lessons he learned from his ailing sociology professor, there has been such an influx of similar inspirational titles – like Jason F. Wright's The Wednesday Letter, Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture and William P. Young's The Shack – that there are even whole sections in bookstores devoted to them.

"I've always felt that a book should be inspirational and uplifting. But there is room for all types of fiction. Some fiction is written to explore the characters or the plot, there may be no lesson learned, it's just a character study.

"But for me, although a big part of my writing is to tell an entertaining story that will hold the reader's attention, I have not done my job unless I have inspired people in some way or taught some kind of lesson," he shares.

Albom adds that he believes the growing presence of this genre points to the state of society today: "People look to books, as well as other things, to try to make sense of a world that is increasingly incomprehensible. Take The Timekeeper, for example. Everywhere around the world, time is an issue, people feel as though they are always running out of time and are worried about whether they're being efficient with their time."

Aside from writing books and travelling to give motivational talks, Albom contributes to the Detroit Free Press regularly, offering his two cents' worth on American national affairs, social issues and everyday occurrences.

Recently, the columnist garnered quite a bit of attention when he commented on the erotic novel, Fifty Shades Of Grey by E.L. James, and the infiltration of sex into our media and literary world. He lamented the lack of mystery and modesty with which the subject is being approached, confessing that he felt like a "prude" reading Fifty Shades.

"I'm not worried for myself or adults my age, we understand it (sex) in its proper perspective. But I worry about the children. I have a lot of nieces and nephews who I think are overexposed to sexual images and ideas. They may feel pressured to engage in sex a lot younger and dress in a way that's inappropriate for their age because they think this is how it works."

Albom plans to write a book documenting his experiences helping the underprivileged children of Haiti, and a novel about envy.

The Timekeeper is currently available in major bookstores nationwide.

War Memory a timely publication

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:35 AM PST

The war years were a defining period in Malaysia's history and how events of those times were remembered has determined the course of nation- building in this country and will continue to do so.

War Memory And The Making Of Modern Malaysia And Singapore
Authors: Kevin Blackburn & Karl Hack
Publisher: National University of Singapore Press, 476 pages

THE ongoing review of history textbooks makes War Memory by Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack a very timely publication.

This well-researched and readable book explains how World War II events, including the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, are remembered differently by various people, and how some of these memories alter with the passage of time.

The writers argue that individuals, communities and the state shape and reshape war narratives, and that efforts to create a collective memory out of divergent recollections have not been easy.

War Memory reminds us that history is constructed out of a multitude of sources and how the data are selected and used determines the slant and contestability of the resulting perspectives.

Drawing from the recollections of those who lived through the war years, War Memory revisits some momentous events that occurred during the Japanese Occupation. These include the fall of Singapore on Feb 15, 1942, and the surrender of more than 100,000 Allied troops.

In the following months, Japanese troops massacred thousands of Chinese in the terror-filled sook ching or "purging campaign" against those suspected of pre-war anti-Japanese activities.

In Johor alone, it was claimed that some 25,000 were executed. No one is sure of the exact number but, as War Memory points out, the scale of brutality and killings is beyond dispute.

No less tragic were the tens of thousands, mostly Indians but also Malays, who were forcibly taken from rubber estates to build the Thai-Burma Railway where disease, lack of food, and hard labour killed many.

Also included are chilling accounts of young men being picked up by Japanese secret police, never to be seen again. Young girls too were seized from respectable families to work as comfort women for the Japanese military. More poignantly and often forgotten were the thousands left as widows and orphans when their menfolk were taken away, and who had to fend for themselves.

For the rest of the population, life under Japanese rule was one of hardship with shortages of food and other essentials.

Also recounted are the many acts of bravery, even as Japanese troops marched down Malaya. Allied forces, including Indian soldiers, the newly-formed Malay Regiment, and the Dalforce unit consisting of local Chinese, were portrayed as putting up a valiant fight. Sustained resistance against the Japanese was carried out in the jungle by members of the famed Force 136 and the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army.

There are, on the other hand, stories of those who cooperated with the Japanese. As War Memory notes, much of the collaboration was the result of coercion and for survival. Others, however, were driven by the pursuit of separate nationalist goals. Those in the Kesatuan Melayu Muda were taken in by Japan's promise of political independence while Indian Nationalist Army (INA) members in Malaya and Singapore expected the Japanese to liberate India from British rule.

At the end of the war, the returning British, in an effort to restore imperial pride and power, reconstructed a war narrative where Singapore's fall in 1942 and Allied prisoners-of-war were depicted using heroic imagery.

For the post-independent Malaysian state, seeking to consolidate Malay unity and nation-building, the emerging war narrative theme was Malay nationalism.

In the Malay Regiment and Lt Adnan Saidi, who resisted the invading Japanese, were found war heroes held up as embodying the Malay martial tradition of the warrior Hang Tuah.

But in the narrative set out by the state, where is to be placed the communist-led resistance movement? It had become a problem because the movement, a one-time ally of the British, had regrouped under the Malayan Communist Party and in the post-war years had taken up arms against the British and the new Malayan state.

What about other individuals and communities who want their experience of victimhood to be acknowledged and compensated? With Japan emerging as a major economic power after the war, how did governments deal with demands for war compensation without harming growing Japanese trade and investments?

There is, therefore, not one memory but multiple historical narratives, divergent and seemingly irreconcilable, of the Japanese Occupation and its consequences.

And even these have, over the years and in changing circumstances, undergone revision when facts were either exaggerated or suppressed and myths created.

War Memory draws attention to this continuing contestation of state and non-state narratives. But the intensity of the debate, the book notes, has lessened in recent years with the observance of what is described as the plural commemoration of World War II. Those left out of the official commemoration are able to organise private memorial services for sook ching victims and there is some public and unhindered discussions of the role of left-wing anti-Japanese resistance movements.

But noticeably neglected are victims and survivors of the "Death Railway", because, as War Memory suggests, the dominant memory of the war among many urban Indians is that of the INA-inspired national awakening.

As an exercise in history writing, War Memory demonstrates how the use of a variety of research approaches enables and enriches the reconstruction of the past. The writers, who taught at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, encouraged students to interview and collect stories of World War II from earlier generations.

The writers also organised forums at which war survivors spoke of their experiences. Beyond these, they examined artefacts such as films, memorials, monuments, and literary works to capture the moments and meaning of an era that is fast fading from the memory of many.

The war years were a defining period in Malaysia's history and how events of those times were remembered has determined the course of nation-building in this country and will continue to do so. In this excellent study, War Memory brings out the multiplicity of memories and the challenge of constructing a national narrative that is inclusive yet authentic.

It is a book of high scholarly standard and should contribute to an informed discussion of history-writing in Malaysia.

Dr Lee Kam Hing, a former professor of history, is currently a Senior Research Fellow at Universiti Malaya's Research Cluster of Social and Behavioural Sciences.


Posted: 23 Dec 2012 12:51 AM PST

FOR the week ending Dec 16, 2012:


1. Syed Mokhtar Albukhary: A Biography by Premilla Mohanlall

2. Creating A Purposeful Life by Richard Fox

3. Dare To Dream: Life As One Direction (100% Official) by One Direction

4. Unstoppable: The Incredible Power Of Faith In Action by Nick Vujicic

5. The Wisdom And Teachings Of Stephen R. Covey by Stephen R. Covey

6. Guinness World Records 2013 by Guinness World Records Ltd

7. Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started (100% Official) by Justin Bieber

8. Chicken Soup For The Soul: The Gift Of Christmas by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark

9. Achieve Your Goals by Infinite Ideas

10. One Direction: The Story So Far (100% Unofficial) by Park Lane Books


1. Life Of Pi by Yann Martel

2. The Hobbit (movie tie-in) by J.R.R. Tolkien

3. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

4. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

5. One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

6. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James

7. The Artist Of Disappearance by Anita Desai

8. Please Look After Mother by Kyung- Sook Shin

9. Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel

10. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

Weekly list compiled by MPH Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur; mphonline.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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Latiff Mohidin comes full circle with Serangga

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:33 AM PST

An eagerly awaited exhibition finds one of Malaysia's great artists in playful mood and top form as the mark-maker and the iconoclast, and the poet of small and invisible things.

LATIFF Mohidin seems to have come full circle in the Serangga (Insects) exhibition, his first solo one in five years. Not since the 1960s has he revisited in such an absorbing way his celebrated Pago-Pago series, which is a compelling fusion of stupa-like monuments and natural plant-rock forms. In Serangga, though, we get a glimpse of insectopia.

Latiff himself dubs this excursion a prequel to Pago-Pago, explaining that it is a re-exploration of the minutae of the immediate environs inspired by his visits to sacred sites in Asia. Those haunting solitary "horns", antenna, tendrils or aloe-vera spikes topping his Pago-Pago monoliths – they all belong to insects!

"The shape of the Pago-Pago forms is three-quarter of a leaf. The jutting out part could be a pagoda or a stupa, with the half-dome, but it is also part of the insects," he confides.

He completed 33 pieces for Serangga, all within this year, out of which he used 12 in the book Faust, the first half of his translation from German into Bahasa Malaysia of the literary magnum opus by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Latiff, a world-class poet with several anthologies to his name, gained fluency in Deutsch linguistics during his early studies at the Berlin Art Academy in 1960-63.

The Serangga works are identified by serial numbers, save two – indicating that they are separate, distinct entities. The two named are the self-explanatory Dark Landscape, and Good Morn, Mr Mantis, with the full-frontal insect face dominated by the "spotlight" compound eyes attentively transfixing the viewer with its stare even as it is being watched.

The works are in two formats: 51cm x 38cm, and 76cm x 51cm. Like his works done in series since Pago-Pago, they are all rooted in Nature.

"I am a kampung boy (at heart)," reiterates Latiff. Nature has always been central to Latiff's works, and especially so as he was regarded the eminence grise of Anak Alam, the carefree art collective that broke away from the figurative-art tradition of the Angkatan Pelukis Malaysia in the early 1980s. The Lenggeng, Negri Sembilan-born Latiff has spent the last 19 years based in Penang.

The works in Serangga are neither illustrations nor metaphor-allegories of Faust's theme about the inevitable bargain with the devil for selfish gains. Because some of the Serangga works are in Faust, the uninitiated may see into them a Darwinian twist, or even a kind of poetic empathy – after all, the symbolic cockroach has survived the Ice Age and the female praying mantis/black widow spider are known sexual cannibals.

But the 74-year-old artist gives an emphatic "no" to all these fancy theories.

Serangga doesn't even, in some works, embody insect forms or traits. Maybe glimpses of an exoskeleton here, a thorax, pulpae, limbs, head, antennae or tail there. Fragments suggested or even concealed or camouflaged in a Where's Wally? jigsaw scrutiny. Sometimes, the works – call them drawings or paintings, as you like – take in a whole landscape or only elements found in a landscape.

This is where one may find a disconnect. In Serangga, Latiff revels in the delirious process of creation and its ritual of discoveries, and uses a combo of techniques – by tutelage, experiment or habit – to make ambiguous images manifesting Nature's mysterious forces at work. Even the frames of the works are handpainted. Here, Latiff is playful yet serious, the mark-maker and the iconoclast, the poet of small and invisible things.

While there are the obvious modules, as used in his 2007 collection, Kembara (Voyage), of wet-on-wet, dry-on-wet, wet-on-dry and dry-on-dry as well as the frottage rubbings popularised by Max Ernst, in Serangga, Latiff reveals a multiplicity of media in each work. This includes quick-drying acrylic, pastels, watercolours, charcoal, chalk, soft crayons, colour pencils and pens. Also in the repertoire are tailor's marking pencils that glide more easily over more resistant surfaces, and even correction fluid – for the streaks of opaque white that double as a dilution softener for the darker areas.

"Even when I started in the early 1950s (Latiff was dubbed a boy wonder at school in Negri Sembilan and he sold his first work, on brinjal, at the official age of 11 to none other than Sir Malcolm MacDonald, then British High Commissioner in Singapore), I had been doing various media (though as separate entities and not combined)," he reveals. There was even a collage of a black bamboo stalk in a 1951 work, which will be shown in his Retrospective, the second accorded him, at the National Art Visual Centre (Dec 26, 2012, to June 13, 2013).

The insects may be lost in the dense foliage, like in No. 25 with its aloe-vera megalith structures or No. 29 with its forest of mounds like ant-hill colonies, and No. 32 with the slanted giant leaf like a Tree of Life making a diagonal swathe.

Serangga is raw and unpolished, even at times looking unfinished.

No. 27 is the only concession to colour, with its dark red reminiscent of his 1968 Pago-Pago work, Red Night. Otherwise, Latiff's palette here is one of earthy ochres, burnt sienna and nocturnal black. It is depressingly dark, reminiscent of Neo-Expressionists like Anselm Kiefer, with an ambient backdrop that is tranquil and mysterious, secretive, and dangerous.

(The only time Latiff is known to have sexed up his colours with unbridled frenzy is in the psychedelic 1983 Mindscape which was sold in the May 2012 Henry Butcher Art Auction.)

Latiff also points out the flicked stipples of myriad dots reminiscent of the technique he used in his Mindscapes series. "Distance is important, as is the brush used and the amount of paint laden on the tip, and sprinkled at an angle. Not too far and not too near, how many feet and if not happy, six inches? There were some close encounters."

And also distance as detachment between artist and object.

Latiff also reveals that each painting was done differently from the next in terms of variations, "as little and as much", of colours, shapes and style.

The natural fibrous quality of the Tibetan paper with its uneven absorbency is used for effect, with the pigments "biting" into it and residual traces of colours hanging on strands and bumps of paper crevasses like overstaying dewdrops or perched, recalcitrant insects. A natural "ageing" and antique effect is a result of the slightly sepia tone of the paper.

For Latiff, it has been some 60 years of work with an unswerving affinity for Nature that has seen some of the most compelling Expressionist abstracts in print and on canvas – Pago-Pago (1963-68), Mindscapes (1974-75), Langkawi (1976-81), Mindscape Revisited (1982), Gelombang (1988 and 1990), Rimba (1998) and Kembara (2007).

Latiff reveals that he is working, in print, on a "travelogue" of sorts of his 1960s travels while another book will oscillate between "monologues and dialogues".

"I am comfortable learning from Nature and looking at it," he says, pointing out that he was in the Science stream at secondary school where he put flowers and frogs under the magnifying glass before his understanding of nature widened in his travels to the ancient sacred sites of South-East Asia .

His Serangga works are not botanical or naturalist studies of insects like, say, the works of anonymous Chinese trading artists in the William Farquhar Collection (1819-1823) or even those by Walter Spies (1895-1948), or going further back, 17th century Chinese woodblocks.

Yet, Latiff knows his insects. "Every praying mantis is different," Latiff says. "Sometimes, they look like they are carrying a sword and some have horns like reindeer. You don't see them, as they are usually mistaken for the jambu leaf they are perched on."

And it strikes you that the praying mantis in Good Morn, Mr Mantis, has become something of an alter ego, morphing into Latiff looking out with those sly eyes under the cover of darkness and the thickets of jungle that he has created, smiling and surveying. Guten morgen, Mr Latiff!

Serangga, which was launched by Bank Negara Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz on Nov 28, is on display at the Temporary Gallery, Level 2, Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery, Jalan Dato Onn, Kuala Lumpur. The exhibition ends on Jan 28, 2013. Admission is free and the gallery is open daily from 10am to 6pm. For more information, call 03-9179 2888, e-mail infomuseum@bnm.gov.my, or go to its Facebook page at facebook.com/BNM.MAG.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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Eat and live right

Posted: 22 Dec 2012 05:51 PM PST

Are you overweight? Start now on lifestyle and nutritional therapies to help stave off diabetes.

WITH the number of diabetics jumping from one in seven (2006) adult Malaysians to one in five (2011), there must be something terribly wrong in our diet and lifestyle that has caused this seemingly unstoppable problem.

Perhaps a comment by a patient of mine who was living overseas for five years (2006-2011) gives the underlying clue.

She said that upon returning, she was surprised to see that many of her friends had become fat or obese.

Sure enough, the statistics did show that the prevalence of overweight/obese adults ballooned from 43% to 60% during that period.

There is a direct correlation between overweight/obesity and diabetes, such that the risk of anyone with a BMI of 25 (overweight by World Health Organisation guidelines) is about 10%; a BMI of 30 (obese), 30%; and a BMI of 35 and above (severe obesity), 90%!

So, if you are overweight or obese, this should be an incentive to slim down.

While many doctors and the drug companies are busy talking about yet more "advanced" anti-diabetic drugs to "control" blood glucose, I would like to emphasize lifestyle, diet, nutritional and natural therapies to prevent and reverse the disease.

I have already written about the improvement, and even reversal, of diabetes by a nutrient-dense, high-fibre, low saturated fat, whole-food (legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) diet combined with exercise and weight loss.

Studies on these have been published in medical journals, but very few are aware of them, compared to the awareness of drugs that control diabetes.

For example, studies showed that the Pritikin Diet (one such low-fat, high-fibre, whole-food diet) dramatically lowered serum triglyceride, C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation and heart disease), LDL-cholesterol and blood pressure, and promoted weight loss in most people observing the diet diligently.

It improved insulin sensitivity and lowered serum insulin levels. In diabetics, it improved blood sugar regulation, and reduced or completely eliminated the need for anti-diabetic drugs (see References).

Several large studies have also shown that it is possible to prevent diabetes by the same strategies. For example, in the DPP Trial involving over 3,000 subjects with impaired glucose tolerance (a precursor stage to overt diabetes), the diet and exercise method was able to reduce the progression to diabetes by 58% (compared to the controls), which was even higher than the 31% achieved by those who took the drug metformin, and continued with their usual diet and lifestyle.

The study was done over a period of nearly three years.

Insulin resistance

The strategy to reverse or cure diabetes should be threefold.

The first is to restore the body's sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance (the opposite of sensitivity) is the basic problem in type 2 diabetes.

In the early stages of the condition, blood glucose levels are maintained by increasing the production of insulin. Doctors will not detect this unless they also monitor insulin levels as part of the routine evaluation of their patients.

Then, glucose levels start rising despite the raised insulin levels. This is the pre-diabetic stage.

Finally, the glucose levels become so high that the patient becomes overtly diabetic.

The persistent high insulin levels unfortunately, also cause damage to the beta cells of the pancreas, which secrete insulin. This further compounds the problem, as insulin production is soon impaired.

Many type 2 diabetics will ultimately require insulin injections, and they will require relatively high doses compared to normal insulin levels in healthy people because of insulin resistance.

The first-line medication for type 2 diabetes is metformin, and its major action is improving insulin sensitivity. Exercise (especially building muscles), weight reduction and many nutrients also improve insulin sensitivity.

Many nutrients have been shown in scientific studies to improve insulin sensitivity. These include almonds, alpha lipoic acid, chromium, cinnamon, curcumin (turmeric), grapefruit, oatmeal, omega-3 (polyunsaturated fatty acids), vitamins D and K, and many more.

Unlike the refined carbohydrates, unrefined complex carbohydrates protect against insulin resistance.

If you are healthy, ensuring your diet includes these foods/nutrients should help you stave off the metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

If you already have the disease, you will need higher doses, and should consider supplementation.

Reducing calorie intake

The second strategy is to reduce glucose and fat intake.

As the body has problems managing glucose (and fats), despite higher insulin levels, it is best to reduce the workload in order to help the body cope with this unhealthy situation.

A nutrient-dense, low-calorie diet allows us to maintain good health, as has been shown in many studies.

Very-low calorie diets (but not lacking in nutrients, ie only calorie restriction) have repeatedly been proven to extend the lifespan of animals of several studied species. It is reasonable to expect similar benefits in humans.

Studies have shown that under controlled conditions where subjects consume an equal number of calories, a high-carbohydrate diet induces insulin resistance faster than a high-fat diet.

However, when they are allowed to eat on their own (with no control over the amount of calories consumed), it was found that those who preferred high-fat diets fared worse.

This was because those on high-fat diets usually consumed more calories. High-fat means calorie-dense (or energy-dense), as fat has double the calorie content of carbohydrates and proteins.

The type of fat also matters, as saturated and trans-fats gave the worse results in these studies.

Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are protective against harmful effects, but not if taken excessively (remember the calorie/energy factor).

So, it is important to restrict both refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats from your diet to prevent and reverse diabetes. By doing so, you will definitely cut down the calories.

Unfortunately, the typical Malaysian diet is lacking in nutrients and fibre, but has plenty of refined carbohydrates (white rice, white bread, etc), unhealthy (saturated and trans/hydrogenated) fats, and unhealthy processed foods. You really have to be disciplined in choosing what you eat, if you are concerned about your health.

Refined carbohydrates also tend to have a high glycaemic index (ie raises blood glucose rapidly), compared to the healthier, wholesome unrefined complex carbohydrates.

The glycaemic load (index x amount consumed) determines the actual stress on your glucose management system. And don't forget that a bowl of polished white rice is equivalent (in calorie/glucose terms) to 20 teaspoons of refined sugar, even though the rice is not sweet!

Protect your body

The third strategy is to protect the body from the harmful effects of diabetes.

Most are familiar with the dangers of having too much glucose circulating in the blood, but many do not realize that the damage also results from another problem – while the blood is flushed with glucose, the cells in diabetic patients are actually starving as they have become resistant to the instructions of insulin to take in glucose.

Glucose is essential for energy production, and the cell's activities are slowed down or stopped because of the lack of energy.

This explains why diabetics are in fact, less energetic compared to healthy people, even though their glucose levels are much higher.

They are also prone to a myriad of health problems.

Because of the doubly unhealthy situation (glucose flooding the blood while the cells are starving), cells, tissues and organs are functioning sub-optimally, and are unable to cope with the assault from free radicals (produced by normal metabolism, plus more from the toxic environment and drugs), and invading germs (viruses and bacteria), yeast, fungi and parasites.

Diabetic patients require a lot of a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, co-enzymes, probiotics, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and possibly many others, if they want to remain healthy.

Some of the nutrients that improve insulin sensitivity are also cell protectors. Many powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients like curcumin (turmeric) and berries (which contain many types of phenols that make them the most powerful fruits in terms of antioxidant content), can help protect the tissues and organs in diabetic patients.

My experience in using these berries (in concentrated juice extract form) is that they also help in reducing blood glucose levels.

Diabetics will also benefit from taking glutathione-boosting supplements, as glutathione is the most important intracellular antioxidant.

They will also benefit from taking foods (eg kale, beetroot) or supplements that increase nitric oxide, which is important for good blood circulation, penile erection, immunity and many other functions.

Diabetics have low levels of both glutathione and nitric oxide.


The Government has announced that over 1.4 million Socso members 40 years old and above are entitled to a free medical examination.

This is an opportune time to screen a large portion of those at risk. I am sure this exercise will pick up many undiagnosed diabetics and hypertensives (and others suffering from "silent" diseases).

The doctors should also give adequate advice to those who are overweight/obese, and those with pre-diabetes and pre-hypertension as well, as these problems are much easier to reverse at the early stages.

The rest should also go for their checkup if they have neglected to do so.


1. Barnard RJ, Ugianskis EJ, Martin DA, Inkeles SB. Role of diet and exercise in the management of hyperinsulinemia and associated atherosclerotic risk factors. Am J Cardiol 1992;69:440-4

2. Barnard RJ. Effects of life-style modification on serum lipids. Arch Intern Med 1991;151:1389-94

3. Barnard RJ, Wen SJ. Exercise and diet in the prevention and control of the metabolic syndrome. Sprts Med 1994;18:218-28

4. Roberts CK, Vaziri ND, Barnard RJ. Effect of diet and exercise intervention on blood pressure, insulin, oxidative stress, and nitric oxide availibility. Circulation 2002;106:2530-2

5. Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, et al. Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle interventions or metformin. N Engl J Med 2002;346:393-403

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. 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.

The end... or not

Posted: 22 Dec 2012 05:50 PM PST

The world did not end, but still, it's time to take stock of our own lives.

PREDICTABLY, the world did not end a few days ago.

If I were born when civilization started (about 13,000 years ago) and lived till now, I would have opposed every person who announced "The End Of The World". This has happened with regularity every ten to hundred years.

But I am speaking with hindsight.

We knew less about geology, astronomy and evolutionary biology in the past. However, in the scientific era we are in, I am flummoxed that "The End Of The World" pronouncements still make news.

The world will not end for a few million or billion years to come.

A narrow definition of the end of the world is the end of Homo sapiens. Even this is unlikely for a few thousands to perhaps millions of years more.

One possibility of humans going extinct in the next one hundred to one thousand years is a very large undetected near-Earth object (over 20km in size) slamming into our planet at 100,000km per hour.

In such an event, enough dust particles will be generated to block off sunlight from reaching Earth for months to perhaps a couple of years.

Photosynthesis will be interrupted, and food chains will break down in key places. Man, being on top of many food chains, will have next to nothing to eat.

Detection of near-Earth objects (asteroids are the most common) is good, and continues to improve, so it is most unlikely that a very huge object out there will be missed.

Another scenario: all the world's nuclear weapons are exploded at one go with the cooperation of the declared and undeclared nuclear powers.

Those of us who do not die in the immediate aftermath of this catastrophe will suffer a 'nuclear winter' – the same scenario as if a large asteroid had hit us.

Even if all human beings do die in either scenario, the hardiest of all living things that survive a natural or man-made armageddon will repopulate earth and start a "republic of insects and grass" (The Fate Of The Earth by Jonathan Schell).

Defining the end

All humans constitute one species out of all extant species, which number over 30 million.

Forty trillion species (dinosaurs, the mammoth and the dodo included) have emerged and become extinct since life started 3.8 billion years ago. So, why should Homo sapiens be the exception?

We will go extinct, but it won't be for some time yet.

But the world will be unpleasant for Homo sapiens in the near and mid-future, to put it mildly.

The sea level will likely rise about 10cm by 2100 (and that's a conservative figure) because of global warming, and living conditions in the coastal and riverine areas will be unbearable.

The Earth's population will likely be around nine billion by then.

There will be insufficient potable water, increasing desertification, insufficient energy sources, and an environment polluted with carcinogens, greenhouse gases, parasites, bacteria and viruses.

Fossil fuels will be depleted. Wars will be fought over limited resources.

Not a pretty picture, but not the end of the world for sure.

The world will not end as soon as the doomsayers have it. Not even for millions and billions of years to come.

There won't be divine intervention, cosmic wrath or the revenge of unforgiving gods.

We must be clear by what we mean when we speak of the end of the world.

The end of all Homo sapiens is only one definition of the end of the world.

Self-replicating DNA forms will go on inhabiting planet Earth, regardless of the presence of humans.

The second definition of the end of the world could be the end of all life forms on Earth as we know it.

Life is very hardy. Extremophiles live in the hottest undersea hydrothermal vents without oxygen or light. Some species of bacteria, algae and fungi have survived billions of years.

It takes a lot to exterminate every single DNA replicator.

The third way to conceive of the end of the world is the end of planet Earth when our sun uses up all its fuel and finally implodes about 13 billion years from now.

Our sun is one of 200 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way – our local galaxy, and billions of billions of billions of galaxies make up the known universe.

There is then a fourth way to speak about the end of the world. That is when the entire universe becomes a very cold, large, dark and extremely diluted soup of undifferentiated matter and energy.

And that would be trillions and trillions of years from now.

Individual lives

Which brings me to a sad, but common story on Earth in my clinic.

A woman in her 50s had a partial gastrectomy. Two-thirds of her stomach was removed during surgery for gastric cancer.

Within a few months, her cancer had spread extensively to her bones.

Fortunately, palliative radiotherapy and morphine have made her comfortable.

Unfortunately, food prohibitions (taboo, pantang, superstition, culture) imposed on her by her relatives and loved ones have made her life a misery.

She pleaded with me: "Can't I have some bah kut teh and satay?"

The few pleasures she yearns for in the remaining weeks or months of her life are denied her. Whatever she eats now will not make an iota of difference to her survival.

Some questions we have to ask ourselves are: How much science do we want to permeate our lives and light it up?

Do we want to go on believing that the world will end soon?

Do we want to deny others earthly pleasures when we know it won't make a difference to their cancer survival time?

We have to ask ourselves many more similar questions.

The world will not end in the near or intermediate future. But our individual lives will.

How do we want to live the rest of our lives? Logic, science and humanism as a guide would be a good way. Enough of this doom and gloom.

Please join me in a toast for the New Year: "To Logic; to Science; to Free-thinking; to Love; and finally, to Life."

Dr Albert Lim Kok Hooi is a consultant oncologist. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my.

Weight-y menopause

Posted: 22 Dec 2012 05:49 PM PST

This hormonal phase of life may be the cause of that belly fat you've been accumulating.

MANY of my middle-aged patients are afraid of their impending menopause for several reasons.

Of course, they are anxious about the possibility of hot flushes, sleep problems and low libido, but weight gain is also uppermost among their concerns.

Weight gain is a valid problem for women to be worried about, especially as they hit their fifties. Most women will find themselves putting on at least half a kilogram every year around this age.

Women aren't just worried about weight gain because of vanity, but because many chronic conditions are linked to being overweight, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, knee and back problems, and even cancer.

Some recent studies have discovered fascinating information about the real relationship between menopause and weight gain (it's not really the kilos, it's about where the fat is), and I will share these insights with you here.

I will also shed some light on what this means for women who want to stay healthy throughout the menopausal and post-menopausal years.

Female 'spare tyre'

For a long time, women and their doctors believed that menopause was the cause of weight gain among women going through this crucial hormonal stage in their lives.

However, a key study, published just this October, has overturned this thinking.

This study, led by Prof Susan Davis of Monash University in Australia, reviewed available scientific findings on weight gain and menopause.

The first significant finding was that weight gain among menopausal women was not due to the hormonal changes, but rather, lifestyle and environmental factors.

But many of my patients insist that their clothes are tighter, especially around the waist, and their stomach has grown bigger, so they must have gained weight!

They are not entirely mistaken. Prof Davis explains that the new "spare tyre" women complain of after menopause is real, as more body fat tends to be deposited around the abdomen, compared to anywhere else in the body.

Why would the body suddenly start storing more fat in the stomach area, compared to, say, the thighs or the buttocks? After all, isn't the spare tyre the domain of ageing men?

Oestrogen and testosterone

This is where the hormone changes of menopause come into play. The body changes the way it stores fat due to the decrease of oestrogen caused by menopause.

While younger women find that a lot of their weight is concentrated slightly lower, around their hips, the loss of oestrogen in the body changes all this.

Suddenly, women in the menopause stage find something new to be concerned about – a flabby tummy, or what doctors call "visceral fat".

A study back in 2009 looked at various factors that could possibly explain the increase of visceral fat during this period, including age, race, cardiovascular risk factors, and levels of testosterone and oestradiol (the main form of oestrogen) in the participants.

From the study's findings, age, race and cardiovascular risk factors did not correlate significantly with the amount of visceral fat. Neither did oestradiol levels.

Instead, it turns out that testosterone is the culprit. As the level of oestrogen in the body dips with menopause, the level of active (or bioavailable) testosterone increases. It is this active testosterone that is the strongest predictor of visceral fat.

Visceral fat is a bad thing – and not just because it is fat. It turns out that there are different types of fat cells, and the fat located beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat) is different from the fat surrounding internal organs in the abdominal area.

Depending on where the fat cells are found, they behave differently. Visceral fat isn't just made up of inert cells that cause weight gain; it is metabolically active and causes inflammation – contributing to premature atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels) and risk of acute coronary syndrome.

The presence of too much visceral fat, also known as abdominal obesity, is part of the metabolic syndrome, which severely increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

This is why heart disease is the number one killer among post-menopausal women, although many people still mistakenly believe that only men are prone to heart disease.

A menopause message

While the hormone changes of menopause are inevitable, women can still be in control over their weight and health.

The menopausal phase is actually sending women a message, telling them that it is not too late to pay attention to their health.

For many women, the years leading up to menopause have been about their careers, families or social lives.

Finally, at a time when their children have grown up, they have retired, and their lives are finally about them, they can concentrate on taking care of themselves.

At this point, women should not only be talking to their doctors about addressing the symptoms of menopause, but also its effects.

They should review their overall health status, and start looking seriously at their cardiovascular risk factors.

This is also the time to grab the initiative and lead a much healthier lifestyle.

To counter the hormonal effects of menopause on abdominal fat, women need to eat healthily and become much more active. They need to balance their hormones with natural hormones and nutritional therapies.

Fortunately, there are many health centres and exercise classes that cater to women of all ages today.

So, don't let menopause get you down. Instead, take it as a new step forward in staying healthy and trim!

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. 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.

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