Jumaat, 3 Mei 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Israel has conducted airstrike in Syria - U.S. official

Posted: 03 May 2013 08:18 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel has conducted an airstrike in Syria, apparently targeting a building, a U.S. official said on Friday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to elaborate. CNN quoted two unnamed U.S. officials as saying Israel most likely conducted the strike "in the Thursday-Friday time frame" and that Israel's warplanes did not enter Syrian airspace.

CNN said the officials did not believe Israel had targeted a chemical weapons facility. CBS News cited U.S. sources as saying Israel targeted a warehouse.

There was no official confirmation. Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told Reuters, "I'm not aware of any attack right now."

A White House spokeswoman referred questions on the CNN report to the Israeli government. The Pentagon declined comment.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli military spokeswoman said, "We do not comment on reports of this kind."

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said, "We cannot comment on these reports, but what we can say is that Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon." Hezbollah fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

The CNN report said that during the time frame of the attack, the United States had collected information showing Israeli warplanes overflying Lebanon.

In January this year, Israel bombed a convoy in Syria, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah, according to diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources in the region.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart in Washington, and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations, Writing by Sandra Maler; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Obama does not foresee sending U.S. troops to Syria

Posted: 03 May 2013 06:23 PM PDT

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday he does not foresee a scenario in which he would send U.S. ground troops to Syria and outlined a deliberate approach to determining whether the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in a 2-year civil war.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla after their meeting at Casa Amarilla in San Jose May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla after their meeting at Casa Amarilla in San Jose May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama insisted that the United States has not ruled out any options in dealing with Syria as the United States investigates whether the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons.

But Obama, who has spent much of his presidency winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, made clear he was not inclined to send troops to Syria, saying "I do not foresee" such a scenario.

Leaders in the region that he has consulted on this issue agree with him, Obama said.

If Syria is found to have used chemical weapons, however, Obama will be under pressure to take some action beyond what the United States is already doing. The Obama administration is considering sending lethal aid to Syrian rebels.

Obama, who has come under fire from some critics in Washington who contend he has a muddled approach to Syria, insisted the United States is not standing by even as it waits for a chemical weapons ruling.

"We're not waiting," he said. "We are working to apply every pressure point that we can on Syria."

The United States has said it has "varying degrees of confidence" that chemical weapons have been used by Syria's government, which violates a "red line" that Obama had established against such action.

At his news conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Obama said more evidence is bound to turn up if Syria is continuing to use chemical weapons.

"If in fact there is the kind of systematic use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, we expect we are going to get additional further evidence and at that point we will absolutely present that to the international community," Obama said.

Any additional steps taken by the United States, he said, will be based on the "facts on the ground" in Syria and what is in the best interests of the American people and U.S. national security."

He stressed he would not be pressured prematurely into a deeper intervention into Syria.

"I'm going to make those decision based on the best evidence and after careful consultation, because when we rush into things, when we leap before we look, then not only do we pay a price but oftentimes we see unintended consequences on the ground. So it's important that we do it right," Obama said.

Privately, U.S. officials predict it will be weeks before any conclusion is reached about whether Syria used chemical weapons. Syria denies using chemical weapons.

Obama administration officials have not specified what "physiological" evidence they have that Syrian forces used sarin but U.S. government sources said it included samples of blood from alleged victims, and of soil.

Obama has repeatedly shied away from deep U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, which erupted in 2011 and has killed 70,000 people and created more than 1.2 million refugees.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released on Tuesday found that 62 percent of Americans believe the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting between Assad's forces and anti-government rebels.

Only 39 percent of respondents said they were following the Syrian violence closely, indicating that it is not among U.S. citizens' top concerns.

(Editing by Sandra Maler and Bill Trott)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Wildfire on Southern California coast threatens 4,000 homes

Posted: 03 May 2013 06:06 PM PDT

CAMARILLO, California (Reuters) - A fierce, wind-whipped wildfire spread on Friday along the California coast northwest of Los Angeles, threatening 4,000 homes and a military base as residents were evacuated ahead of the flames and a university campus was closed.

Firefighters battle the Springs Fire at Point Mugu State Park May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

Firefighters battle the Springs Fire at Point Mugu State Park May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

More than 950 firefighters had built containment lines by late afternoon around about 20 percent of the inferno, which has blackened 18,000 acres (7,280 hectares) of dry, dense brush and chaparral since erupting on Thursday morning. More firefighters were said to be on the way.

Fire managers said they expected it would take until next Monday to achieve full containment of the blaze, which sent a pall of thick smoke drifting over the beach community of Malibu and farther inland across Los Angeles County.

Several farm buildings and recreational vehicles were engulfed and fire officials said 15 homes were damaged, along with five commercial properties. While 25 outbuildings were destroyed, no residential structures were lost and no injuries had been reported to firefighters or civilians.

Some 4,000 homes were considered threatened, with evacuations ordered for about a quarter of those residences, the Ventura County fire and sheriff's departments said.

The so-called Springs Fire and a flurry of smaller blazes around the state this week marked a sudden start to a California fire season that some weather forecasters predict will be worsened by a summer of high temperatures and drought throughout much of the U.S. West.

"We're seeing fires burning like we usually see in late summer, at the height of the fire season, and it's only May," Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tom Kruschke told Reuters.

The temperature in Camarillo hit a record high of 96 degrees F (36 C) by late morning on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Strong, erratic winds that complicated efforts to combat the Springs Fire through much of the first day were calmer on Friday, officials said. The improved wind conditions allowed several air-tanker planes equipped for dumping payloads of fire-retardant chemicals to return to the air along with a fleet of eight water-dropping helicopters.


The Springs Fire, which may have been ignited by a tossed cigarette butt, broke out at 6:30 a.m. local time (1330 GMT) on Thursday beside the U.S. 101 freeway, less than 10 miles (16 km) from the Pacific coast, and spread quickly to the edges of the communities of Camarillo and Newbury Park.

By Friday morning, flames had advanced to within a short distance of the ocean's edge in some places, forcing authorities to close several miles of Pacific Coast Highway.

At the Point Mugu U.S. Naval Air Station on the coast, all non-essential personnel were ordered to stay home for a second day as flames encroached on a firing range at the extreme western end of the base, spokeswoman Kimberly Gearhart said. She said no ammunition was stored at that location, bordered on two sides by coastline and wetlands.

But a base housing unit that is home to 110 active-duty military personnel and their families was evacuated on Friday because of heavy smoke, Gearhart said, adding there was no immediate fire threat to that vicinity and military aircraft were continuing routine flights between the base and a communications post on San Nicolas Island offshore.

In mid-afternoon, residents were ordered to clear out of more than 900 homes in Hidden Valley, an enclave of ranches and estate-type properties southeast of Camarillo. Some 200 dwellings were evacuated earlier along the coastal highway and adjacent canyon roads, sheriff's Sergeant Eric Buschow said.

Previous evacuation orders for two housing subdivisions at the northern end of the fire zone closer to Camarillo were lifted, but those neighbourhoods remained restricted to residents carrying identification, Buschow said.

California State University at Channel Islands campus, including student housing, was closed for a second day, the university said, although official evacuation orders for the school were lifted.

A separate late-afternoon brush fire in the hills above Glendale, a suburb just north of Los Angeles and about 50 miles (80 km) east of Camarillo, prompted the evacuation of a number of homes and an elementary school. But water-dropping helicopters and ground crews moved in to quickly contain it.

A larger fire in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, on Thursday destroyed two houses and damaged two others before firefighters halted its spread, and at least five additional wildfires burned in Northern California.

Hot, dry conditions in Southern California were fed largely by Santa Ana winds blowing in from desert areas to the east.

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Reeva Steenkamp’s swansong

Posted: 04 May 2013 12:12 AM PDT

A new reality show portrays slain model Reeva Steenkamp as a happy and vibrant person.

IN THE reality show Tropika Island Of Treasure 5 there is haunting footage of Oscar Pistorius' slain girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, speaking about the need to leave a positive mark on life, words laden with unintended poignancy after her shocking death on Feb 14.

"Not just your journey in life, but the way that you go out and make your exit is so important, you have either made an impact in a positive way or a negative way," Reeva Steenkamp said in the reality competition series.

The 29-year-old model and law school graduate was shot three times at Pistorius home in the early hours of Valentine's Day in a case that shocked many and topped news broadcasts around the world.

Pistorius – a national icon who inspired people around the world when he became the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic Games last year – has been charged with murdering his girlfriend in cold blood.

His uncle gave the strongest indication yet that the star athlete, who broke down sobbing during his initial court appearance, would plead not guilty to the charges against him.

"We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation and that the State's own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or indeed any murder at all," Arnold Pistorius said in a statement.

"We are all grieving for Reeva, her family and her friends," he said.

"Oscar - as you can imagine - is also numb with shock as well as grief."

The track star faces a life sentence if convicted of premeditated murder, as alleged by state prosecutors.

Arnold Pistorius added that the couple "had plans together. Oscar was happier in his private life than he had been for a long time."

When the show premiered on South African television two days after her death, it offered the world a small glimpse of the less well-known half of the doomed couple.

A one minute tribute before Tropika Island Of Treasure 5 showed Steenkamp appearing contemplative and at ease with herself, sitting beneath a beach-front palm, dressed in a strappy top and a yellow, black and dotted bikini, with her blonde hair tied back.

Looking deep into the camera, she also offered some advice to the up to three million people who watch the show every week.

"Just maintain integrity and maintain class and just always be true to yourself," she said in what now sounds like a soliloquy on a life cut short.

"I'm going to miss you all so much." But there were plenty of more light-hearted moments.

Steenkamp is seen swimming with dolphins and smiling broadly as she floats down the jungle-flanked Martha Brae River on a punted bamboo raft.

The model blew kisses, laughed and splashed across an aquatic obstacle course with other contestants trying not to be voted off the show.

The reality show, shot on location in Jamaica, featured the slain model as well as 13 other local personalities competing for one million rand (RM337mil) prize money.

Producers defended their decision not to shelve the show, instead painting its broadcast as a tribute to Steenkamp.

"She was happy, healthy, beautiful and vibrant and that's the way she should be remembered," said executive producer Samantha Moon.

In an earlier statement Moon said the decision to broadcast Tropika Island Of Treasure 5 was taken after "much deliberation".

"This week's episode will be dedicated to Reeva's memory."

The show was broadcast on state television channel SABC1, which said Steenkamp's mother had given the showing her blessing.

Many more than the three million South Africans who normally watch the show were expected to tune in.

Many found it bitter sweet.

"It's so painful watching Reeva smile at us on TV, while knowing she's no longer with us" @MotsoPitsi wrote on Twitter.

"Tragic loss of Reeva Steenkamp – she looked so vibrant, sweet, young and beautiful. So sad for her family," wrote Cavil Shepherd.

Born in the southern city of Port Elizabeth, Steenkamp moved to Johannesburg six years ago to pursue her modelling career. She had been dating Pistorius since at least November.

Elsewhere forensics teams are still working at Pistorius' home to try and establish what took place before and after Steenkamp was shot in the head and hand.

Meanwhile unconfirmed details of Steenkamp's last hours appeared in the South African press.

Beeld, an Afrikaans newspaper which initially broke the story of the murder, reported that two hours before the shooting, neighbours complained to complex security over the loud fighting at the house.

Beeld had initially said Steenkamp was shot having been mistaken for an intruder, but this claim has been dismissed by police and prosecutors.

The daily also reported that Steenkamp was shot through the bathroom door while on the toilet.

Using unnamed and unquoted sources the paper said Pistorius carried Steenkamp in his arms downstairs and tried performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

When guards arrived, Steenkamp was breathing but gargling blood because of her injuries.

The paper also reported that aside from the weapon used to kill Steenkamp, Pistorius had pending licence applications for seven other guns, including .223 semi-automatic - the same type of weapon used to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the United States in December. - The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Tropika Island Of Treasure 5 premieres on Life Inspired (Astro Ch 728) on May 5 at 10pm.

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Who's that girl?

Who’s that girl?

Posted: 04 May 2013 12:03 AM PDT

TROPIKA Island Of Treasure 5 is not another reality competition series; it is Reeva Steenkamp's final appearance on TV before her untimely death.

Steenkamp was allegedly shot dead by her boyfriend, athlete Oscar Pistorius, on Feb 14 this year. Executive producer Samantha Moon made the difficult decision to air the show just two days after Steenkamp's shocking death.

"I hope to give the viewers the chance to know Reeva in this small way," Moon said in an interview.

In this series, a group of celebrities and their fans pair up to compete in a variety of challenges to win one million rand (RM337mil).

In an e-mail interview provided by Life Inspired, Moon talks about her working experience with Steenkamp on Tropika Island Of Treasure 5.

Has the decision to air Tropika Island Of Treasure 5 two days after Reeva Steenkamp's sudden death affected the public's perception of the show?

Perhaps initially. But as each episode aired, our audience has fallen in love with Reeva. Now, we receive heartfelt messages from viewers, thanking us for giving them this opportunity to get to know Reeva.

Was it difficult to approach Reeva's family to get their consent on airing the show as planned?

Her parents knew that it was a consideration, and asked that we air the show as planned.

Did you get to know her well during the show?

I did. I cast her over a year ago, and then spent a fair amount of time working with her on location over the last year.

Many of our viewers in Asia are wondering who Reeva really was apart from being a model and a rising TV star. Can you describe who Reeva was as a person?

Reeva was a wonderful human being and an extremely talented and intelligent woman. She had a kind and loving spirit that was evident to all who knew her and her zest for life will be truly missed.

Thinking back, was there a memorable moment of Reeva while shooting Tropika Island Of Treasure 5?

It's one that viewers get to see. I won't ruin it.

The contestants had to go through a number of highly physical challenges. Did Reeva undergo any preparation before shooting commenced?

Reeva, as a child, had been an avid horse rider, until a bad fall broke her back. She had to learn to walk again after the accident. Reeva was therefore exempted from our more "physical adventures" such as cliff jumping.

Can you tell us one thing about Reeva that most people do not know?

She was a law school graduate and an activist who regularly spoke out against gender violence and bullying.

Tropika Island Of Treasure 5 is said to be very similar to Survivor. Do you agree?

Part reality show, part game show, part travelogue, Tropika Island Of Treasure presents a different type of entertainment. Contestants on the show get to truly experience the culture our destination offers.

What can our viewers in Asia look forward to with Tropika Island Of Treasure 5?

High-octane excitement! Ten weeks of adventure and fun, and quality entertainment following the lives of 14 compelling players on the beautiful island of Jamaica.

Related Stories:
Reeva Steenkamp's swansong

Tuning back the dial

Posted: 03 May 2013 10:26 PM PDT

TALK about a throwback! Dubbed the Red Reunion, JJ and Lil' Kev of the Red Breakfast WTF managed to convince some of their old deejay friends to come back for a cameo appearance on their show this week.

Listeners were given a chance to reminisce with some of the biggest names of Malaysian radio, including Fly Guy, Rudy, Ross Yusof, Kudsia Kahar, Farouk Khan, and Serena C.

These were just some of the voices who kept you company during school bus rides or as your mum dropped you off at tuition classes. Ross, a name synonymous with the UK Top 40 charts back then, currently hosts a weekly football show both on TV and radio.

Kudsia's sultry voice was not only exclusive with the English radio industry but was also a household name in the Malay radio scene. Fondly known as "The Big Kahuna", she recalled how she was bullied by Lil' Kev and Fly Guy when they used to work together under the same roof but she took it all in good fun.

Rudy Suffian (of the morning crew JJ and Rudy) also made his first radio appearance in two years.

In conjunction with GE13 this Sunday, Red FM will be keeping voters company with a special election countdown. The top 104 songs will be played on air as voted by listeners on the website. So go forth and vote!

For more information, log on to red.fm, like Red FM on Facebook at (fb.red.fm) or follow them on Twitter (@iloveredfm).

Red FM is a subsidiary of The Star Radio Group.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Cricket: MCC set for French leave

Posted: 03 May 2013 06:33 PM PDT

LONDON: While France has fallen for the charms of football and rugby despite their Anglo-Saxon origins, the "je ne sais quoi" of cricket has never taken hold on the other side of the Channel in quite the same way.

But that won't deter Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) from sending its latest side to France on Sunday as part of its ongoing mission to spread cricket round the world, and not just in the countries and lands of the former British Empire which provide its leading Test match nations.

Such "missionary work" matters to MCC, which owns London's Lord's ground - the self-styled "home of cricket". This year also sees the club touring Cyprus, Uganda and Rwanda.

But suggestions a planned MCC tour of France in 1789 was scuppered by the French Revolution - a rather more memorable reason for an abandonment than the customary "rain stopped play" - may be more of a legend than historical fact according to MCC researcher Neil Robinson, with the club's records from that period destroyed in an 1825 fire.

"MCC was only formed in 1787 so you'd think they would have had more pressing issues than organising a tour of France two years later," Robinson, in charge of the library at Lord's, told AFP.

"However, legend has it that the Duke of Dorset suggested to the Earl of Tankerville (a title deriving from Tancarville in Normandy) he bring a cricket team over to help assuage anti-British feeling.

"Tankerville was one of the grandees who would have played a role in the formation of MCC. The legend also has it that when the team got to Dover (the south-east coastal port town then, as now, an embarkation point for France), they saw the Duke of Dorset coming the other way as a result of the Revolution," said Robinson.

Former British Prime Minister and lifelong cricket fan John Major appears to have finally put paid to all talk of an MCC, or indeed any kind, of 1789 tour while researching his book "More Than a Game", a history of early cricket.

Dorset, according to Sir John Major, "didn't leave France until four weeks after the French Revolution, when reports had already reached England. Given what was known at the time in England about the French Revolution, why would anyone want to send a cricket team there at that time?"

But while talk of cricket in France in 1789 may be far-fetched, there is evidence it has been played in the country, if not extensively, for hundreds of years.

And the only time the sport appeared in the Olympics was at the 1900 Games in Paris where France, admittedly with a team largely made up of expatriates, won the cricket silver medal after losing to Britain.

There is also a French link to one of cricket's most famous names in former Australia captain turned commentator and journalist Richie Benaud, whose great-grandfather, Jean Benaud, was born in Bordeaux and settled in Australia in 1840.

In the mid 1990s Richie Benaud became a patron of France Cricket. This year's MCC team will be managed by former Surrey and Nottinghamshire batsman Darren Bicknell.

John Stephenson, now the MCC's head of cricket, looked forward to the five limited overs matches in France by saying Friday: "MCC is committed to increasing cricket's international appeal... I hope that this tour will contribute to the growing identity of France within the international cricketing community."

Although it is more than 40 years since MCC ceased to run English cricket, it still has worldwide responsibility for the sport's rules or laws, with the global game now administered by the Dubai-based International Cricket Council. - AFP

Formula One: Reckless drivers face football-style bans

Posted: 03 May 2013 06:30 PM PDT

LONDON: Reckless Formula One drivers have been warned that the introduction of a 'football-style' penalty points system may lead to them facing race bans in future.

Discussions into the viability of a revised punishment system for dangerous or other irregular driving are expected to take place at next weekend's Spanish Grand Prix and could be introduced later this year.

International Motoring Federation (FIA) race director Charlie Whiting is due to meet the teams at a meeting of the Sporting Working Group think-tank ahead of the Barcelona race to discuss potential future rule changes.

"It's a complex question and we need to get the balance right because banning a driver is a serious issue," he said.

"We need to make sure a driver genuinely deserves any ban.

"We will be monitoring offences and running a (hypothetical) system in the background to see how it would all work if put into practice. We need to do that for a while."

Although there has been some support for the new idea from a number of teams, there has not yet been the necessary unanimous approval required.

If this changes, a new rule could be drafted in this season.

Teams and drivers are anxious that a series of relatively minor infringements by a driver could lead to a ban.

Whiting said that the FIA were mindful of this problem and that a ban could be out of context with a driver's general conduct and that is why he and his assistants were analysing and trialling the possible systems.

The drivers, in general, are understood to be keen for the system to be brought in to replace the existing unpredictable way of handling misdemeanours and using fines and grid penalties.

Last season, several serial offenders on the track emerged after a spate of first-lap accidents and later collisions and other incidents.

These included Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams, who was involved in several crashes, and Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus, who was in seven opening-lap crashes in 12 races.

The Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) had sought clarification from the FIA about why drivers were still being fined for speeding this year when a deal agreed for an increase in super-licence fees was supposed to have stopped financial penalties.

Following discussions with the FIA, the GPDA has been happy to hold fire on the fines issue until the penalty points issue is resolved. - AFP

Formula One: Button clears air with teammate Perez

Posted: 03 May 2013 06:27 PM PDT

LONDON: Jenson Button made clear this week that he has cleared the air with his McLaren team-mate Sergio Perez and will not have any concerns about racing against him again in next week's Spanish Grand Prix.

The 2009 world champion said also that he was suprised at how exaggerated the tension between the two McLaren drivers was made to look - and reiterated that he had not intended to broadcast his immediate emotions of their clashes during last month's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Button, 33, said he felt glad, on reflection, that he and Perez had been allowed to race one another in a genuine and unfettered fashion.

"I think we're very lucky that we were allowed to race. There are a lot of teams where team-mates aren't allowed to race, but we'd better respect that decision and not take advantage of it," he said.

"That's something that we all understand now. Hopefully we can be racing again in Barcelona - fighting cleanly and hopefully for the win, not for sixth or seventh."

He said any ill will or bad feelings between them evaporated after the Bahrain race.

"After the race it was important to sit down with the team, and 'Checo', and for us all to talk about the race, get it out and move on," he explained.

"The problem with the radio (broadcast) is that my message is not meant for the masses - it's meant for the team.

"In a way it's a pity that TV companies just choose the messages they want, because they can come across in the wrong way. I was obviously angry, but the anger was supposed to be kept within the team, because I am radioing the team, I'm not radioing TV companies."

The clashes in Bahrain followed an ill-starred and disappointing start to the season for both drivers and the McLaren team.

The domination they demonstrated in the final part of 2012 was lost as they brought in a new car for 2013 and found that it lacked competitive performance.

As a result, both men were under pressure with Perez, 23, reacting by adopting a far more aggressive approach.

Button, on a promotional visit to Hungary this week, said he remained optimistic.

"In terms of our results, they haven't been good," he said. "But in terms of the direction we're going with the car, I think it's very good."

"We have some new parts for Barcelona which should help us and we can build on them in future races, but the points need to start coming soon... We understand that."

Many critics have suggested already that McLaren would be wiser to abandon developments of their 2013 car and move to the 2014 machine and the future.

Perez believes his drive to sixth in Bahrain was proof he can be successful at McLaren.

"We've been through some very difficult moments but I think this is the start of our season," he said.

"I never lost my confidence, I always believed in myself. I've shown the critics that I can do a good job." - AFP

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Pre-and-post GE to fuel adex growth

Posted: 03 May 2013 04:59 PM PDT

THE Malaysian Advertisers' Association (MAA) forecasts that the pre-and-post periods of the general election (GE) will fuel advertising expenditure (adex) growth for this year.

At the MAA's AGM recently, president Khoo Kar Khoon attributed the growth to the high volume of expenditure committed by political parties before the elections.

He also points out that those advertisers who had steered their campaigns away from the glare of the elections would roll them out in the second half of the year.

In a statement, the MAA says the adex momentum will be maintained by the traditional festive seasons Hari Raya, Deepavali and Christmas and the Mega Sale promotions that take place in the second half of the year.

In the same statement, Khoo says he has "great expectations" for digital and social media.

"This medium has seen impressive adex numbers in the past five years and the advent of high-speed broadband, mobility, creative usage and consumer habits will see more brands placing digital options in their communications plans.

"The digital industry is growing fast with more players coming into the business in providing new and alternative communication platforms. We will definitely witness the emergence of more digitally related creative, media or consumer communication agencies."

MAA says it will continue to work with the various industry bodies to enhance the development of the industry and address issues that are of interest to members, namely industry talent issues.

Leveraging through Putra Brand Awards

Posted: 03 May 2013 04:58 PM PDT

4As looking to collaborate with SME Corp to promote home-grown brands

THE Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) is looking to collaborate with SME Corp to promote home-grown brands through the former's annual Putra Brand Awards.

"The function of SME Corp is to help grow small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and we'd like to work with them," 4As president Datuk Johnny Mun tells StarBizWeek.

He adds that the Putra Brand Awards would serve as a good platform to fast-track Malaysian brands locally as well as abroad.

"We'd like SME Corp to recognise the synergies it can have with us. We're here volunteering our service, know-how and people to help better local brands."

When contacted, SME Corp chief executive officer Datuk Hafsah Hashim says both parties had already met and discussed a potential "consolidation."

"We have discussed on how to consolidate. I have discussed at length on how to fine-tune the methodology of selecting winners for the awards," she says.

Mun says winners of the Putra Brand Awards undergo a stringent evaluation and judging process before they are announced.

Introduced in 2010 as an extension of the Malaysia's Most Valuable Brands (MMVB) programme, the Putra Brand Awards is organised by the 4As and supported by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade) as well as other industry associations.

"Under the Putra Brand Awards, we look at the Nielsen advertising expenditure report before selecting the top 10 to 15 brands. Then we shortlist them and send them to the Pulse Group (a research agency) for research," says Mun.

"We also invite the Branding Association of Malaysia for additional input to facilitate the research. Then we present the shortlisted winners to our board of governors, which comprise various industry captains," he says, adding that Matrade also sits in on the evaluation process.

According to Mun, for the recent Putra Brand Awards, some 6,000 consumers were polled to determine Malaysia's favourite brands in 21 product/service categories - arguably making it the largest survey of its kind in the country.

"It's important to know the methodology of how the winners are chosen. I'm not sure whether other awards go through such evaluation," he says, adding that winners at the Putra Brand Awards are also not obligated to pay money to be recognised.

"Of course, we would like the winners to buy a table at the awards because we want them to come and celebrate the victory. If you choose not to buy a table, we would still give you a ticket to attend the event anyway."

Alternative investments can derive big gains if expertly managed

Posted: 03 May 2013 04:56 PM PDT

THE market today is rife with unconventional investment opportunities.

From art to ores and wines to coins, assets are reckoned to appreciate with time and then flipped within niche circles.

Information technology major-turned-financial consultant Jonathan Quek learned that while many were deeply affected by the crash in the bond and stock market during the financial crisis last decade, his high networth clients remained unperturbed.

"Diversifying their asset class investments helped alleviate their finances slowly but surely," he says.

In general, financial consultants advise that investors adhere to the "tried and true" of niche asset classes that have shown consistent returns and appear to be reasonably sustainable over the long term.

Otherwise, investors will be merely chasing the flavour or theme of the month pushed by sales agents and fund managers who want to make a quick buck out of the unwitting, independent financial consultant Robert Foo says.

If you must invest in these mostly unregulated schemes, assign no more than 5% of your total investment funds, he cautions.

Quek, who specialises in gold, silver and crude oil, says that even Securities Commission-regulated schemes could default.

"Look at the business model of generating returns for you. Is it sustainable? Consider the management are they trustworthy? To me, these matter more than regulation," he says.

A nose for fine wines

These days, 52-year-old Dr Richard Lee, a medical practitioner, gets to enjoy the finest red wines about twice weekly throughout the year.

Each bottle costs between 50 euros (RM250) and 200 euros (RM1,000), which over five years sell for 70 euros (RM350) to 650 euros (RM3,250), respectively.

Lee hedges against his consumption over the long run by way of an initial outlay of RM30,000 towards a bulk purchase of Bordeoux wines.

Some he drinks, others he trades on the Live-ex Fine Wine Market.

He currently has 12 cases in stock, which cost him about RM90,000.

Lee is a classic example of a "passion investor", who is happy to consume what he can't sell.

He estimates that each case of wine rakes in about RM10,000 in profit.

On the flipside, investors like 47-year-old Prudence Loh, who owns a business in virtual assistance services, has cashed in about RM100,000 from the wines' long-term returns.

Her confidence is rooted in her wine manager's expertise and the fact that all five crates she bought, which are stored at the Octavian Vaults in London, are French wines.

"This investment is more liquid than property, which undoubtedly yields higher returns. But for that, greater effort is required and the risks are higher in terms of my trust in the developer," Loh says. "French wines can be sold within a month on Live-ex."

More people are drinking wine and growing demand by emerging markets far exceeds supply, Vintage Assets Pte Ltd co-founder Chris Low says.

Low explains that Bordeoux only produces 400,000 cases of wine 80% of which is consumed, the balance, left for market manipulation in a year.

"When currencies fluctuate, your cash can debase even if you put it in the bank," Low says and adds that individuals would fare better to have it vested in assets.

"It is asset value that goes up when that happens. And wine may just be the new currency," he says.

Low estimates that there are some 200 wine investors in the country, a third of which he reckons invests with his company.

Consultant Foo recommends that investments for the majority of investors be in the form of paper wine assets rather than physical.

To further safeguard investors against risks in this unregulated market, Low emphasises that the fine wines are purchased under the individual's name, not the broker's.

"People have made losses for that reason when wine brokerage companies wind up. When that happens, the Live-ex is unable to trace the individual investors' names," Low explains.

He adds the public has made the mistake of investing in Australian wines, which barely has a market in this context.

"Only the right wines, and in this case, produce from Bordeoux, have an active secondary market. French wines have the heritage," he says.

Low admits the difficulty in determining the returns on investment on an annual basis.

"In about 25 years, investors can expect to rake in some 20%-25% annual returns. But this has simply been the trend in the last decade. We don't use these figures to encourage our customers. Our company KPI, however, is between 6% and 8% per annum," Low says.

Low does encourage his clients, however, to keep their investments for the long term as not every year is profitable.

"Every three to five years, we have outstanding vintages, so don't be quick to sell your wines when prices are low that year.

Investors' exit strategy is to sell their lot to willing buyers at a brokerage fee of 10%, the same charge upon purchase.

In this situation, Low offers investors the convenience of selling their stock on Live-ex under his membership.

"Go for the top 10 Bordeoux wines from outstanding vintages. And buy them young," says Low, whose company facilitates customers' receipt of storage certificates from Octavian.

The certificate protects clients' benefits and indemnifies them from responsibilities in the event that something happens to the wine brokerage company, whose clientele is based in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Wines typically have a shelf life of 80 years, so the older wines have less of a maturity and profitability period for the secondary market, which comprises drinkers, collectors, auction houses and investors.

"Hong Kong is among the most active wine markets in the world, challenging the UK and US as the most active wine investment market in the world," he says, adding that wine performance is not directly related to equities. "There are no fundamentals in wine."

Wine serves the same purpose as gold and property, he says.

New investors typically start with a case of wine, which would cost about 2,000 euros (RM10,000).

Low typically advises clients to allocate 5,000 euros (RM25,000) to 12,000 euros (RM60,000) for a more balanced poftfolio.

Allocations, if necessary, depending on the risks and returns profile of the client should be minimal for this asset class, which is affected by economic performance, Foo says.

"I would recommend paper wine assets rather than physical," he adds.

"China seems to be new market for premium wines but as with all asset classes, wines can also be volatile," he says.

Oil palm growers scheme

It's been nearly a year since the failed Country Heights Growers boiled over, stirring a slew of investors at having their two-year funds returned devoid of long-term interest, dividends and bonus.

Understandably, hopefuls have needed some time to regain their faith following the debacle.

Consider why these plantation companies would want to open their profits to the public, a reasonably leery Robert Foo cautions.

"Well, it's just a business model like any other. Our company keeps 30% of the profits and others get to benefit too," Golden Palm Growers Bhd chief executive officer Rajan Thurairatnam says.

The company's executive chairman Andrew Phang offers some comfort and points out that profitability hinges on the structure of the scheme.

The plantation company, a three-year-old player in the industry, leased from the state government in 2007 land in Gua Musang, Kelantan to start the plantation.

Since 2010, investors have bought into the scheme, which promises yields after six years, during which, an annual dividend of 6% is distributed.

A discretionary bonus of 2% was included in the first two years.

Phang tells StarBizWeek that since oil palm isn't ordinarily available to the common person, the scheme would allow the general public to "buy and grow trees themselves sans the labour".

"By the sixth year, we will be ready to distribute 100% of the profits based on palm oil pricing then. Bear in mind that the 6% dividend we offer outstrips fixed deposit rates," Phang says, adding that the structured floor on minimum returns ensures that its financials are not stressed.

The scheme

For an outlay of RM9,600, an individual can buy a quarter-acre plot from Golden Palm.

About 90% of the land has been purchased at this point, mostly by middle-aged investors who have secured their investments in property and blue chip stocks.

Compared with the stock market, this acquisition is not tradable but liquid, in that it can be sold to a willing buyer within a 12-month holding period, or back to Golden Palm by 2016.

So far, only 1% of its clients have traded their plots in.

Phang emphasises that the grower scheme is a long-term investment vehicle for people who understand and like the oil palm industry.

An oil palm peaks for commercial yield from its 6th to 20th years, after which growers may consider replanting.

Targeted schemes like Golden Palm's differ from those of, for instance, Sime Darby's, as the latter's profits are spread across six different divisions, Phang says.

Oil palm is essentially a reliable crop with wide downstream demand.

"Rubber is good too but since it's prices started trending downhill years ago, many people lost interest in it. In general, there are just not that many crops with good returns in the long term," he adds.

Over the decades, the oil palm industry has faced much flak from outraged environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) seeking to protect natural forests and all that live within them from being cleared for new plantations.

Industry challenges

Phang admits that the negative perception only gets more challenging over the years.

"When they started talking about the adverse effects of palm oil to health, it was eventually debunked by scientists. Our greatest challenge remains to be that of wildlife conservation. We have our Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), which uses facts and figures to counter those arguments but we're up against awareness commercials that play on the human emotion. That's tough to counter," he says.

Both industries are true to their beliefs, and it is the palm oil's claim that the world needs to be fed.

Even so, Phang maintains that there is great demand for palm oil from emerging countries China and India as well as Indonesia.

"The need will only continue to grow," he says.

At the moment, the Golden Palm Growers acreage is still in its infancy, so the industry-wide shortfall in labour is not yet felt.

As the Malaysian economy progresses, its people have become more selective about their jobs, Phang says.

This means that plantations need to turn to foreign labour.

The upstream oil palm business is very labour intensive, from the growing to maintenance, and is not easy to mechanise.

"We'll need 100 more workers in the next three years. For now, it's a question of how we manage their time," Phang says.

The good news is that over the last 50 years, research and development have done much to enhance plantation practices such as provide new techniques to deal with hilly areas and produce new fertilisers to increase yields.

Keen investors who are making comparisons between grower schemes need to fully understand what's at stake.

In retrospect, there are lessons to be gleaned from the CHGS issue, as Golden Palm was pressured to see to its rival's equivalences.

"Our overall profit sharing spells trouble bad if we don't make money," Phang says, "but it also means unlimited upside if we do, and we're confident of the demand."

Country Heights had claimed that poor plantation yield, overtly hilly terrain, the torrential rains and too many wild elephants were its bane; agricultural issues which Phang's team addressed from the get-go.

"Now, the problem is that our land sits just about 50km from their site. But there are many different types of soil for various crops. We purchased ours specifically for optimum oil palm yield," Phang says.

By the 19th year, Golden Palm will have a meeting, where investors can cast their vote to have the trees replanted for another 23-year cycle, or close off the scheme and the undertaker will sell the plantation.

Unlike exotic investments such as wines and art, oil palm plantation schemes are more mainstream, Phang says.

He adds: "Oil palm has had a 50-year history of doing very well in Malaysia, which at this point, can't be said of the former categories of investment.

Foo urges investors to evaluate carefully the growers schemes they enter into.

He adds: "Many times these schemes are under the Company's Commission's regulatory purview, but does it have the resources to check and ensure proper and best practice guidelines are imposed and followed to protect the interest of minority shareholders?"

Time for tea

Like wine, Chinese tea gets better with time.

But unlike alcohol, storing tea is simple just a temperate, clean environment in the house so there are no ancillary costs such as air-conditioning and construction of a cellar.

This, and reckoned health benefits have popularised the commodity amongst niche investors in the country over recent decades.

Teas come in a vast variety, the most popular of all being "Pu-Erh", a dark, aromatic produce of Yunnan in China, which costs and fetches the highest prices.

According to 34-year-old Mike Lee, a local teas distribution accountant, 24 cakes of Pu-Erh (about 500g each) cost between RM1,000 and RM2,000.

His own investment in the last 10 years totals over RM50,000.

He believes that in a decade, its sale will reap multi-fold profits.

He isn't concerned about a lack of market.

"There will always be people who believe in its health benefits and tea shops that would snap them up," says Mark Chong, a businessman in his late 20s. If ever there was the perception that the Chinese tea business was a game for the elderly, Chong and Lee are instances of quarter-life folk who want to take advantage of time.

Chong has in his keep about RM6,000 worth of Chinese teas, which fill a small cabinet at home which he hopes to sell in some years.

His little stash is the result of recommendations from tea specialists and friends because he sees this as a very casual investment with minimal effort yet one with certainty of success.

And he believes that the specialty shops he visits are steady businesses that will continue to be.

"I'm starting young because this is a time business," Lee says. "In any case, I'd be glad to consume the products myself for the health benefits."

What Lee says agrees with the advice from financial consultants and other niche investors to first enjoy as a consumer the product before investing in it.

Two years ago, the price for 42 cakes of 357g worth of Pu-Erh was about RM5,000, Lee says.

They were just two to three-years-old.

He explains that the stock was sold to hunters late last year for RM7,000 and that in China, where the industry is massive and government-supported, the same amount would be worth CNY26,000 (RM13,000)," he says.

Valuation, based on quality and age, is subject to the valuer's estimation.

Yes, it would be helpful to have direct connections with the mainland Chinese for higher profitability, but a middleman would do just as well, he suggests.

He estimates that shipping charges would come up to 5% of the overall bulk.

That adds to the call that investors should invest only in quality teas for better net profits, since the shipping expense commensurates with weight.

While Lee gathers that the local teas investment industry is small and unregulated, the ideal climate helps to keep investors interested.

To his knowledge, there are Taiwanese investors who store their teas here as the warm climate would ferment their stocks quicker and therefore sooner be saleable as mature, quality products.

Financial consultant Robert Foo, on the other hand, is rather apprehensive about investing in teas.

"Pu-Erh hasn't performed very well in Malaysia and the investment has been closed," he says.

He wouldn't recommend it unless the investor or his advisor is a specialist of teas, and has shown consistent performance managing money into this niche asset class.

Appreciate art, art appreciates

A reliable gauge of the local art auctioneering industry would be event revenues.

The two-day Art Expo Malaysia 2012 raised RM17.2mil.

Last May, the Henry Butcher Art Auction sold all 86 lots, making over RM4mil and went on to sell 86 lots in their October auction, raising RM3.7mil in revenues.

Just last week, they sold 101 of 102 items and turned over RM3.45mil in sales.

The KL Lifestyle Art Space auction last month drew in RM2.99mil, adding to last year's total of RM4.8mil raised in its events in September and December.

Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers director Sim Polenn says that investors should ideally have an innate liking for art before investing in it.

If you do, he says, the returns are great.

Local artist Yusof Ghani's 1999 "Siri Segerak Sketch II" sold for RM500 at one point.

Just before being auctioned off last December, it was valued at RM6,500.

More dramatically, a 1995 oil on canvas art piece by renowned artist Abdul Latiff Mohidin was sold in that same auction for RM715,000.

It was at that time valued at half a million ringgit.

In separate interviews with both auction houses, owners credit the heightened awareness of art to savvy marketing.

"Before art auctions were popularised locally, people did not know what Datuk Ibrahim Hussein's pieces were worth," HB Sim says. "Auction houses are important because they give you an estimated value of a painting's worth and those estimates go on record."

Those records are crucial for several reasons; for one, they protect owners against theft as art pieces move slowly and ownership is traceable; and they provide a comparative benchmark to its latest valuation.

Sim explains that art theft is not common in Malaysia as the industry is relatively cosy and people tend to know one another, as well as the artworks.

Certifications from specific art institutions also help safeguard owners against fake copies.

"Indonesia has been notorious for fake certificates, so be careful," Sim cautions.

Sim points out that the auctioning process can be emotionally taxing as bidders may feel challenged to purchase beyond what they were prepared to buy.

"But most times, they leave happy," Sim says.

"The emotional buyer, who buys for his personal enjoyment with no intention of selling. The art lover, who also has an aptitude for artwork and the people behind it, but unlike the emotional buyer, this guy also sees the investment value. And the big time collectors who accumulate them by the series," Sim explains.

"Then, there are the ones who buy art to as a declaration of their (heightened) financial status. They've arrived there and it's time their guests knew."

"Art collectors tend to spend on local and international artworks based on an 80-20 ratio."

"Some collectors develop an eye for choosing pieces that appreciate exponentially. Such individuals who have been right on several occasions tend to attract a following for their recommendations," he says.

"It would help those new to the scene to spend some time networking and attending art fares to acquaint themselves to the industry. Save yourself the pain of rookie mistakes," he says.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Monstrously exciting read

Posted: 03 May 2013 08:49 AM PDT

City In The Desert: The Monster Problem
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
Writer/Artist: Moro Rogers

WHAT does a monster fighter do when there are no more monsters to fight?

That's the unique dilemma that courageous bounty hunter Irro finds himself in. He and his assistant Hari (who looks like a female version of the Monkey King from Journey To The West) have made a good living doing what they love – hunting monsters and selling them for cash.

However, things change after a mysterious religious sect called The Way of the Sacred Peace introduces a way to get rid of the monsters forever, putting the two out of a job.

Irro and Hari soon discover, however, that no more monsters does not necessarily mean no more problems. The two are called back to action after a strange disorder afflicts their city of Kevala, transforming its citizens and even turning Irro and Hari against each other.

City In The Desert: The Monster Problem is a solid graphic novel, an entertaining tale of adventure and friendship containing both humour and drama.

Published by Archaia Entertainment, the novel is lettered by Deron Bennett, and written and illustrated by first-time creator Moro Rogers.

The California-based Rogers' debut work is impressive, managing to be well-paced, compelling and simple all at the same time.

Her characters are memorable: Irro is a charismatic, courageous monster hunter who is occasionally too confident for his own good – a hat and whip away from Indiana Jones. Hari, on the other hand, is passionate yet brooding, her identity issues forming the emotional heart of the story. The dynamic between the two is well played, and I look forward to learning more about Hari's mysterious heritage in later volumes.

The supporting characters are also fun, particularly Vanik, a cantankerous monster-oil merchant, as well as the sinister Darga, the leader of the Way. My favourite character, however, has to be Bok, Irro and Hari's mount – a bison-like creature with a detachable head!

While Rogers' story can be read as a fun, monster-killing romp, The Monster Problem also explores themes of humanity and morality. To reveal more would spoil the story, but the graphic novel invites its readers to ask themselves: "If acting on negative emotions is part of being human, would failing to do so stop you from being human?"

As The Monster Problem is the first volume in a series, its story is not resolved; indeed, it seems to serve mostly as an appetiser and an introduction to Rogers' world and her characters.

Indeed, the world of Kevala seems to be an exciting place to visit, packed with sinister religious cults, thrill-seeking monster hunters, and weird spirit fountains. Readers may only get a glimpse of the land in this initial book, but Rogers drops many tantalising hints about Kevala's rich and interesting history throughout the story. Irro, for example, makes references to a previous rebellion where terrible acts were committed, to his monster-hunting parents as well.

Hopefully, future volumes will expand on Kevala's fascinating background and resolve the monster problem in a more satisfying way.

The Monster Problem's art, however, was slightly harder for me to appreciate. I am a fan of lush, detailed panels, and so it took me a while to warm to the book's simple, rough style. Rogers is fond of using bold, curved lines, resulting in many of her characters looking slightly cartoonish. At times, I felt as though I was flipping through a sketchbook rather than a finished graphic novel.

Because of this, I think her novel could be particularly enjoyed by a younger audience.

This does not mean, however, that the art is bad. Rogers seems to be a master of minimalism, managing to make her characters extremely expressive despite their simple appearances. I also liked the design of her monsters, with a particular highlight being a drooling, slack-eyed hyena monster Irro and Hari encounter in the middle of the novel.

Rogers' novel is mostly coloured in grounded tones such as brown and grey, which perfectly capture the harsh, dry setting.

All in all, the City In The Desert series promises to deliver a cracking good story, and while I am not that fond of the art, I look forward to its next volume, The Serpent Crown, which is due out soon. The previews show Irro fighting some sort of praying mantis-scorpion monster – doesn't that sound cool?

City In The Desert: The Monster Problem is available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC.

Thrilling time in The Reluctant Assassin

Posted: 03 May 2013 08:48 AM PDT

A master at writing for young adults begins a delicious new series.

W.A.R.P. Book 1 – The Reluctant Assassin
Author: Eoin Colfer
Publisher: Puffin Books, 321 pages

TIME travel stories are notoriously tricky to write because the author has to balance the plausibility of the concept with the momentum of the plot. Too much exposition on how the time travelling is done and the book risks getting boring; too little, and it starts feeling like an ill-thought-out plot device.

Which is why Eoin Colfer's latest book, The Reluctant Assassin, is so fantastic: time travel is the device around which the plot hinges, but the concept is woven in so perfectly that you don't think twice about it.

Famous for the Artemis Fowl series as well as books like The Wish List and The Supernaturalist, Colfer has proven himself time and again a master at writing for young adults, blending fantasy, adventure and humour in just the right amounts. The Reluctant Assassin is no exception.

The novel is the first in a series called W.A.R.P., which stands for Witness Anonymous Relocation Programme, a top-secret witness protection programme by the FBI that hides people in the one place they can't be found – the past. Sounds foolproof, right? Far from it.

The story begins in Victorian London, where an illusionist-turned-assassin named Albert Garrick and his young orphaned apprentice Riley are about to commit a murder. An unexpected series of events, however, get them tangled up with WARP, and Riley is transported through a neatly explained time-travelling device to the present day.

Meanwhile, in our time, a precocious 19-year-old FBI agent named Chevron (Chevie) Savano is on a dead-end detail in London, as punishment for her impulsive behaviour on a previous mission in Los Angeles.

Little does she realise that her boring posting is soon about to become a frantic chase not just around London, but through time – because it isn't just Riley who made it to the present, but the brilliant and bloodthirsty Garrick too, who intends to use his newly-acquired knowledge in all sorts of diabolical ways.

Forced to partner up, Chevie and Riley must try their best to stay on Garrick's tail while keeping out of his way, as they zip back and forth from present day to 19th century London.

Colfer's descriptive abilities are in top form, particularly his realisation of Riley's London. By the time he is done taking us through a sleazy criminals' den and a filthy slum, you can practically smell the sewage of the Dickensian city. Equally absorbing is Riley's awed reactions upon his introduction to the city in modern times.

The Reluctant Assassin does not have the laugh-out-loud humour of the Artemis Fowl novels, though Colfer's wit still shines through in the dialogue and plot. Instead, the series seems to be adopting a darker tone, with vivid descriptions of grisly murders and the squalor of Victorian London.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the characterisation of Garrick. This master of disguise and sleight-of-hand is no bumbling bad guy, but rather, a chilling villain who is genuinely disturbing.

Chevie and Riley, meanwhile, are both instantly likeable and share great rapport. Chevie's bravado and sarcasm, coupled with Riley's street smarts and old-school charm make them a delightful pair, with some of the best parts being when each is forced to adapt to a London from a different time.

Part sci-fi, part cat-and-mouse adventure and part mystery, the story keeps you breathlessly engaged till the very end, and when you get there, you immediately wish there was more. Colfer leaves us with tantalising hints of the series' future. Here's hoping that we get to read it sooner rather than later.

Win the book

HERE'S your chance to get your hands on The Reluctant Assassin, the first book in Eoin Colfer's thrilling new time-travel series called W.A.R.P.

Penguin Books Malaysia has three copies of the book to give away – if you can prove yourself to be a true fan!

To win, answer the following questions:

1. What does W.A.R.P. stand for?

2. Who are the two protagonists in The Reluctant Assassin?

3. If you had to hide in the past, which bygone era would you pick and why? (Answer in 50 words or less.)

E-mail your answers to contest@penguinbooks.com.my, with "W.A.R.P. CONTEST" in the subject line.

Remember to include your full name, age, phone number, address and e-mail address. This contest closes at midnight on May 19, 2013.

Grant Morrison's Happy! saved by flying blue horse

Posted: 03 May 2013 08:46 AM PDT

Grant Morrison's latest creator-owned project is a violent, almost sordid affair, saved by a flying blue horse.

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Darick Robertson
Publisher: Image Comics

WHAT a weird book this is. It starts out as a violently hardcore, foul-mouthed crime story, and just when you think it is getting drearily predictable ... POOF! Say hello to Happy, the flying blue cartoon horse!

Grant Morrison is a brilliant writer, there is no doubt about that. All-Star Superman remains one of the best Superman stories ever written. Ditto Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth for Batman. The Invisibles reads like a fascinating drug-addled trip through a psychedelic version of the 1980s, while his run on Animal Man is one of the most groundbreaking superhero comics ever written.

However, Morrison is also the guy who came up with the sordid mess that is DC's Final Crisis, which ended in the so-called "death" of Bruce Wayne, and led into the awful Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne ... so yeah, he's not perfect.

With Happy!, it's rather hard to pinpoint which side of Morrison is writing this. It's got hints of Joe The Barbarian's childlike innocence mixed up with some Invisibles trippiness, with a heavy dose of Mark Millar-esque hardcore gore and violence.

There are times in this book when the only way you can describe what you've read is to use the phrase his protagonist uses when he sees Happy for the first time: "The f***?".

Morrison's main man this time is a former dirty cop turned hitman called Nick Sax, "adrift in a stinking twilight world of casual murder, soulless sex, eczema and betrayal", according to the book's synopsis.

After a hit goes wrong, Sax finds himself in a hospital with a bullet in his side, wanted by both the cops and the mob. At this point, the book was getting really, really dreary and depressing to read. Nothing seemed to be happening (besides a lot of swearing and people getting killed, of course), and Sax is so unlikable a character that it was becoming a chore just getting through the first few pages. Sure, he gets shot and ends up in the hospital, but I felt no sympathy whatsoever for him. In fact, I was hoping he'd die, just to make things interesting.

Then, just when I was about to give up on the book, along came Happy the talking blue flying unicorn.

It's hard not to like a comic book that has a flying blue unicorn called Happy, it really is. Not even when it's in a book where heads get blown off every other panel and the swear words seem to outnumber the polite ones.

Happy turns out to be the bright blue ray of sunshine that helps turn this book around. To paraphrase him, Happy represents hope – all-singing, all-dancing hope – and is merely doing his best to "brighten up the old graveyard" while the rest of the characters continue on in their dreary, violent and extremely foul-mouthed way.

The rest of the story seems almost incidental, as Sax goes on the run while struggling to deal with the fact that there is a flying blue horse talking to him, trying to convince him to save a little girl from a perverted Santa Claus.

Having drawn the stellar Transmetropolitan, as well as the extremely violent Garth Ennis-penned The Boys, Darick Robertson is no stranger to comic book violence. His artwork here is everything you'd expect it to be – gory and graphically explicit, but strangely clean and expressive at the same time. However, it's the contrast between the gritty "real world" panels and the bright blue ball of Happy fluff that flits around within those panels that stood out the most for me. Sax could be blowing someone's head off in one panel, but when Happy shows up in the next, you just can't help but grin at the absurdity of it all.

Perhaps that's what Morrison wants us to get out of this book. After all, with so much sex, violence and gore prevalent in graphic novels these days, sometimes all you need to help cheer you up is a talking blue flying horse named Happy.

Happy! is available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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