Sabtu, 5 Oktober 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Free app to detect colour blindness


PARENTS will soon be able to tell within minutes if their young children are colour blind, with a simple game available as a free app from next month.

Designed by National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers for children between the ages of three and six, the game requires them to "catch" butterflies of matching colours by tapping a screen.

Those who are colour blind would consistently select different butterflies since they are unable to tell the difference between red and green, for instance.

A study on 32 children by the Singapore National Eye Centre this year found that the game, believed to be a world first, was as effective as existing tests in identifying red-green colour blindness, the most common variant.

A 2008 local study of more than 1,200 teenagers here found that 5.3% of boys and just 0.2% of girls were colour blind.

The game makes early detection of the condition in pre-school children possible, and in a fun way, said Dr Ellen Do, co-director of the Keio-NUS Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments (Cute) Centre.

Most would otherwise be too young to take standard colour blindness exams such as the Ishihara test, which requires them to make out numbers hidden in a group of coloured dots.

This is important because children begin learning using colours in kindergarten, said the game's designer Nguyen Linh Chi.

"They may get scolded by teachers and parents if they cannot complete a colouring task, but no one knows they are colour blind," she said. "They may begin to lose self-confidence."

Early detection would also prevent parents from wrongly thinking that their children have a learning disability if they struggle in school, added Dr Do.

Their views were echoed by Professor Saw Seang Mei, an eye disease expert from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"If a child has colour blindness, it's good to know early. It may have an impact – not just on their visual function – but also emotionally and mentally, like how they cope in school."

She added that the new game app would make it more convenient for parents to test their children, rather than wait for a formal screening.

Colour blindness is caused by faulty cones in the eye's retina that help tell colours apart.

The free app will be available from next month on the Apple App Store. A version for Android may be developed in the future. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

Big Brother is always watching


Thanks to modern technology, it is very easy for governments to spy on their people.

T Aipeh: Big Brother is watching you" – The horror of being constantly spied on by the government, as depicted by George Orwell in his famous novel 1984 seems to have become reality in Taiwan.

It is nothing new that a ruler would want to spy on his people. A dictator may be anxious to take total control of the country; a president may want to know what moves his or her political rivals are plotting. Spying may be done in the name of crime prevention; it may be needed to enhance public safety, or against infiltration by foreign enemies or terrorist attacks.

We've seen many examples of governments spying on their people throughout history.

Queen Elizabeth I is believed to have run an extensive network of spies working for her. Christopher Marlowe, one of the greatest English playwrights of her reign, is said to have been a government spy.

Perhaps it is because of England's strong tradition of the government watching its people that it was the 18th century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham who put forward the concept of the panopticon, a watch tower at the centre of a prison where inmates' cells are arranged in a circle around the tower.

The idea is to make it easy for the prison guards to watch the inmates. And the beauty, or horror, of that design is that inmates constantly feel they are being watched – whether there actually are prison guards inside the tower may be irrelevant.

Orwell wrote 1984 in defiance of that panopticon tradition but, ironically, modern-day London has the most public surveillance cameras in the world, watching every corner of the city. It is just a step shy of the panopticonic vision, as citizens are still not watched at home. But do they really have the privacy they think they have?

In China, the tradition of the government spying on its people may be as strong as that in England.

The most notorious and fearful spying network in Chinese history was run by eunuchs during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The spies helped the emperors control the government officials and the country, and very often, the emperors themselves were controlled by the spies.

And it is this piece of history that the opposition camp in Taiwan has been frequently alluding to when criticising the Ma administration over the ongoing wiretapping row.

Spying is of course nothing new in Taiwan. Wiretapping of civilians by the military and law enforcement units – whether legal or illegal – has often been conducted.

Not long ago, when Taiwan was still technically at war with China, its people were constantly reminded of the threat and possibility that communist spies were around them.

Such a propaganda move actually turned each and every one of the citizens into a spy for the government as they suspected and monitored one another.

Now, like London, many big cities in Taiwan have installed public surveillance cameras supposedly for crime-prevention purposes.

And thanks to modern technology, it is very easy for governments to spy on their people. Phone conversations can be easily monitored and recorded. All Internet activities are recorded by service providers.

The Edward Snowden controversy has revealed that the US government has been spying on its people over the Internet. Internet firms' transparency reports have shown that many governments have asked them for user information. Taiwan is among those governments.

The requests for information from Internet firms may be legitimate, but it highlights the fact that few can really escape Big Brother. You think your home shields you from the surveillance cameras on the streets, but when you log onto Facebook or any other social media, or surf the Net, you are being watched.

Big Brother is really watching, and the panopticon is really working – both enabled by modern technology.

Without tutors, where would I be?


MANY, many moons ago when I took my O-Level exam, I scored a B3 for Chinese as a second language.

In today's super-achieving world, that's just a so-so grade. But to me, it was a miracle.

I had struggled with Chinese all my school life, barely passing it at each exam.

Around the time I took my O-Levels, the government decreed that students would need to pass their second language to enter junior college.

It was the worst possible news for me, and my Secondary 4 year was one of fear and dread.

If I couldn't get to junior college, it meant I couldn't get to university, and if I couldn't get to university, what hope did I have in life, I thought. My parents didn't have the funds to send me abroad to study.

My future hinged on passing Chinese.

I'm not exaggerating when I say it was only in recent years that I stopped having nightmares (yes, literally nightmares) about failing the subject, even though I took the exam decades ago.

I've always struggled with Chinese. Maybe I'm what is today described as dyslexic in Chinese (although a part of me wonders if such a condition really exists or do I just need to work harder at the language), but the script simply confounded and still confounds me. I find it a struggle to tell the words apart, or remember how to pronounce or write them.

My command of Mandarin was also very poor, and as I came from an English- and Teochew-speaking home, I got no help there.

The only reason I not only passed Chinese but got a decent grade too was because of tuition.

Starting from primary school, I had a string of tuition teachers.

The first was an elegant Taiwanese woman who'd married a Singaporean and settled here. She was nicely plump, wore her hair in a high, glossy bun and drove a car. Every time she dropped by to tutor us, it felt a bit like an occasion.

When my siblings and I said we were bored with Chinese, she got us ink, brushes and rice paper and taught us calligraphy.

Another tutor was a pretty, fine-featured girl who bit her nails. She must have been in her early 20s then. She later married a wealthy businessman whom my father introduced her to. We were happy for her.

There were two or three other tutors after that. My least favourite was a stocky, unsmiling man who wore thick black-rimmed glasses and smelt of cigarettes and sweat. I made it plain that I disliked Chinese tuition – and him. He must have detested me too.

The tutor in my O-Levels year was a bespectacled young man who came to my house every Saturday. Unlike some of the others before him, he had an easy-going manner. I liked him.

Tuition was not pleasant – my attention strayed and I was both bored yet stressed out – but I didn't hate it.

Under his gentle cajoling, I managed to memorise a couple of essays and, with several months of cramming under my belt, sat the exams.

I was shocked by my result, as was my Chinese language teacher in school. I still remember her look of astonishment when I showed her my result slip.

She wasn't a bad teacher, but what she taught, and the way she did it, did not meet the needs of a Chinese language dunce like me. I required more attention, more explanation and more encouragement. My tuition teacher gave me that.

I made it to JC and had to cross yet another hurdle to get to university – I had to pass Chinese again.

I continued with the tuition. This time, I wasn't as diligent and had a D7. It was considered a pass and good enough to gain university admission. I was happy to say goodbye to the subject forever.

Ironically when I was in my 30s, I had a renewed interest in Chinese and got a young woman from China to tutor me. We went through Chinese song lyrics and newspaper articles. I enjoyed the sessions but dropped out after a few months because I was busy.

Chinese wasn't the only subject I needed extra help in at school.

Additional Maths was the other. I was tutored by an uncle and a cousin who were very kind, patient and generous with their time. I got decent grades for the subject at O and A levels.

Every few years, a debate on the merits and demerits of tuition will surface, and Singapore is in the midst of yet another round.

This time, it's about Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah's remark in Parliament that "our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary".

While I've no doubt that that's the aim of the Education Ministry, the reality is Singapore is a tuition nation – and it's not necessarily the ministry's fault either.

Tuition would be unnecessary if parents – and students – are content with kids getting grades based on their natural ability. So, if your child is super smart, he'll get As, and if he's not bright, expect Ds, Es and Fs.

If we live in a society where low grades are tolerated, then, yes, who needs tuition?

But we don't. The reality – not just in Singapore but practically everywhere – is grades can make or break your future, hence the race to get better ones.

And while the school system here does a good job of catering to kids of all abilities, there will always be those who will seek extra help outside.

Why risk not having tuition for your child especially when you can afford it? It's an investment in his future.

Tuition is no guarantee that your grades will improve. But when it's done well, and when the student is willing to be tutored, it can do wonders, like it did for me.

My O-Levels Chinese tutor gave me his full attention, understood what I was weak in, and customised a method to help me pass. And because it was just me and him, I felt free to admit what was confusing me without fear of being laughed at by classmates better at the subject.

This current round of debate will fizzle out sooner or later, and tuition will remain a fixture on the Singapore school scene.

I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

All my tutors helped me a lot, and I remain ever grateful to them. — The Sunday Times/Asia News Network


The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

As Obama's Asia 'pivot' falters, China steps into the gap


KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - When then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared two years ago "We are back to stay" as a power in Asia, the most dramatic symbol of the policy shift was the planned deployment of 2,500 U.S. Marines in northern Australia, primed to respond to any regional conflict.

At this point in time, however, there is not a single U.S. Marine in the tropical northern city of Darwin, according to the Australian defence ministry. Two hundred Marines just finished their six-month tour and will not be replaced until next year, when 1,150 Marines are due to arrive.

The original goal of stationing 2,500 Marines there by 2017 remains in place, but the lack of a U.S. presence there two years after the policy was announced underlines questions about Washington's commitment to the strategic "pivot" to Asia.

President Barack Obama's cancellation of a trip this week to four Asian nations and two regional summits due to the U.S. government shutdown has raised further doubts over a policy aimed at re-invigorating U.S. military and economic influence in the fast-growing region, while balancing a rising China.

While U.S. and Asian diplomats downplayed the impact of Obama's no-show, the image of a dysfunctional, distracted Washington adds to perceptions that China has in some ways outflanked the U.S. pivot.

"It's symptomatic of the concern in Asia over the sustainability of the American commitment," said Carl Baker, director of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Hawaii.

As embarrassed U.S. officials announced the cancellations last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Indonesia announcing a raft of deals worth about $30 billion and then in Malaysia to announce a "comprehensive strategic partnership", including an upgrade in military ties.

He was en route to this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei, where Obama will no longer be able to press his signature trade pact or use personal diplomacy to support allies concerned at China's assertive maritime expansion.

Since 2011, China has consolidated its position as the largest trade partner with most Asian countries and its direct investments in the region are surging, albeit from a much lower base than Europe, Japan and the United States. Smaller countries such as Laos and Cambodia have been drawn so strongly into China's economic orbit that they have been called "client states" of Beijing, supporting its stance in regional disputes.

Leveraging its commercial ties, China is also expanding its diplomatic, political and military influence more broadly in the region, though its efforts are handicapped by lingering maritime tensions with Japan, the Philippines and several other nations.

"For countries not closely allied with the U.S., Obama's no-show will reinforce their policy of bandwagoning with China," wrote Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.


China, for instance, has been the biggest trade partner of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since 2009, and its direct investments are surging, bringing with them increased economic and diplomatic influence.

Chinese companies invested $4.42 billion in Southeast Asia in 2012, up 52 percent on the previous year, according to Chinese state media citing the China-ASEAN Business Council. Investments into neighbouring Vietnam rocketed 147 percent.

China is demonstrating that it can deploy forces far beyond its coastal waters on patrols where they conduct complex battle exercises, according to Japanese and Western naval experts. Chinese shipyards are turning out new nuclear and conventional submarines, destroyers, missile-armed patrol boats and surface ships at a higher rate than any other country.

Operating from increasingly modern ports, including a new naval base in the south of Hainan island, its warships are patrolling more regularly, in bigger numbers and further from the mainland in what is the most sweeping shift in Asia's maritime power balance since the demise of the Soviet navy.

China's military diplomacy with Southeast Asia is rapidly evolving as it takes steps to promote what Beijing describes as its "peaceful rise".

The Chinese navy's hospital ship Peace Ark recently treated hundreds of patients on a swing last month through Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia - its first such mission across Southeast Asia. Its naval vessels returning from regular international anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden have made calls in Southeast Asian ports, including Singapore and Vietnam.

Still, analysts and diplomats say Beijing has a long way to go to catch up with not just the long-dominant United States, but other regional military powers such as Australia, Japan and Russia.

"China has come late to the party," said Richard Bitzinger, a military analyst at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.


U.S. officials dismissed the notion that Obama's no-show would imply any weakening of the U.S. commitment to the region. Just last week, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry were in South Korea and Japan to reaffirm the U.S. military commitment to the two key allies, and Kerry will fill in for Obama at the two Asian summits.

"The bottom line is that the United States of America is not going to change one iota the fundamental direction of the policy under this president," Kerry said on Saturday.

"I think everybody in the region understands. Everybody sees this (the cancellation of the visit) as a moment in politics - an unfortunate moment - but they see it for what it is."

The United States has ramped up military funding and assistance to its close ally the Philippines, expanded military exercises with other nations and increased regional port visits.

From only 50 ship visits in 2010, nearly 90 ships have visited the Philippines since January this year alone.

Washington has stationed surveillance planes there and promised up to $30 million in support for building and operating coastal radar stations, all aimed at improving its ally's ability to counter China's naval encroachment in the disputed South China Sea that has alarmed several Asian nations.

But talks to establish a framework agreement on a regular rotational U.S. military presence in the Philippines have yet to bear fruit, and are unlikely to have been helped by Obama's cancellation of his planned visit to Manila.

For the Darwin deployment, a U.S. Senate Committee said in April that it would cost $1.6 billion to build lodgings for the Marines, but the Australian government last month called for only a first-stage A$12 million ($11.3 million) tender to construct new quarters at existing Australian barracks for around 350 marines.

The economic leg of the pivot, negotiations for the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, has grown to 12 nations. But the complex three-year-old talks, which seek unprecedented access to domestic markets, are facing resistance in many countries and are unlikely to completed soon.

A final deal would have to be approved by the U.S. Congress, raising the prospect of domestic politics again obstructing Asia ties.

"Even if the administration could push through some agreement on the TPP, it's very unlikely there is going to be legislative success getting that through based on the acrimony that exists," said the CSIS's Baker.

"...On the commercial side (of the pivot), there seems to be more rhetoric than action."

(Additional reporting Greg Torode and David Lague in Hong Kong,; Jonathan Thatcher in Jakarta,; Jane Wardell in Sydney,; Manuel Mogato in Manila,; Paul Eckert in Washington,; Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Lesley Wroughton in Nusa Dua, Indonesia; Editing by Jason Szep and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Tropical Storm Karen drops to a depression off U.S. Gulf coast


NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Karen weakened to a depression as it hovered off the Louisiana coast on Saturday after earlier fears it would reach hurricane strength prompted the evacuation of some coastal areas and disrupted U.S. energy output in the Gulf of Mexico.

Karen's top sustained winds dropped to 35 mph (55 kph) on Saturday night. That was down from 65 mph (105 kph) on Thursday and 50 mph (80 kph) on Friday, and National Hurricane Center forecasters in Miami said Karen had lost its status as a tropical storm.

"All tropical storm warnings have been discontinued," the centre said in an advisory. "There are no coastal tropical storm warnings or watches in effect."

Dry air and wind shear had been tearing the storm apart all day, even as it threatened to draw renewed strength from warm sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf.

Karen was originally forecast to become a hurricane, and authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying areas south of New Orleans on Friday.

Tropical storms carry winds of 39 mph to 73 mph (63 kph to 118 kph).

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama had earlier declared states of emergency to speed storm preparations, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency recalled some workers who were furloughed in the federal government shutdown to assist.

Nearly two-thirds of oil output in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico was halted as Karen neared the Louisiana coast earlier this week, prompting oil and gas companies to shut platforms and evacuate workers in preparation for the storm. The Gulf accounts for about 19 percent of U.S. oil production and 6 percent of natural gas output.

By late Saturday night, the slow-moving storm was centred about 185 miles (295 km) southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River. On its projected path, Karen was likely to move over the southeast tip of Louisiana early on Sunday before skirting the coasts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle on Sunday night and Monday.

The storm could dump up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) of rain on some areas of the central Gulf Coast and Southeastern states through Monday before breaking up entirely, the hurricane centre said.

(Additional reporting by Terry Wade in Houston, Greg McCune in Chicago and David Adams in Miami; Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. captures al Qaeda leader in Libya, also raids Somalia


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. forces launched raids in Libya and Somalia on Saturday, two weeks after the deadly Islamist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, capturing a top al Qaeda figure wanted for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon said senior al Qaeda figure Anas al Liby was seized in the raid in Libya, but a U.S. official said the raid on the Somali town of Barawe failed to capture or kill the intended target from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab movement.

Liby, believed to be 49, has been under U.S. indictment for his alleged role in the East Africa embassy bombings that killed 224 people.

The U.S. government has also been offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture, under the State Department's Rewards for Justice program.

"As the result of a U.S. counterterrorism operation, Abu Anas al Liby is currently lawfully detained by the U.S. military in a secure location outside of Libya," Pentagon spokesman George Little said without elaborating.

CNN reported in September last year that Liby had been seen in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. It quoted Western intelligence sources as saying there was concern that he may have been tasked with establishing an al Qaeda network in Libya.

That CNN report quoted counterterrorism analysts as saying that Liby may not have been apprehended then because of the delicate security situation in much of the country, where former jihadists hold sway. It quoted one intelligence source as saying that Liby appeared to have arrived in Libya in the spring of 2011, during the country's civil war.

The Pentagon confirmed U.S. military personnel had been involved in an operation against what it called "a known al Shabaab terrorist," in Somalia, but gave no more details.

One U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the al Shabaab leader targeted in the operation was neither captured nor killed.

U.S. officials did not identify the target. They said U.S. forces, trying to avoid civilian casualties, disengaged after inflicting some al Shabaab casualties. They said no U.S. personnel were wounded or killed in the operation, which one U.S. source said was carried out by a Navy SEAL team.


A Somali intelligence official said the target of the raid at Barawe, about 110 miles (180 km) south of Mogadishu, was a Chechen commander, who had been wounded and his guard killed. Police said a total of seven people were killed.

The New York Times quoted a spokesman for al Shabaab as saying that one of its fighters had been killed in an exchange of gunfire but that the group had beaten back the assault.

It quoted an unnamed U.S. security official as saying that the Barawe raid was planned a week and a half ago in response to the al Shabaab assault on a Nairobi shopping mall last month in which at least 67 people died.

"It was prompted by the Westgate attack," the official said.

Residents said fighting erupted at about 3 a.m. (midnight GMT). "We were awoken by heavy gunfire last night, we thought an al Shabaab base at the beach was captured," Sumira Nur, a mother of four, told Reuters from Barawe on Saturday.

"We also heard sounds of shells, but we do not know where they landed."

The New York Times quoted witnesses as saying that the firefight lasted more than an hour, with helicopters called in for air support.

The paper quoted a senior Somali government official as saying that the government "was pre-informed about the attack."

Earlier, al Shabaab militants said British and Turkish special forces had raided Barawe, killing a rebel fighter, but that a British officer had also been killed and others wounded.

Britain's Defence Ministry said it was not aware of any such British involvement. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official also denied any Turkish part in such an action.

In 2009, helicopter-borne U.S. special forces killed senior al Qaeda militant Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a raid in southern Somalia. Nabhan was suspected of building the bomb that killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast in 2002.

The United States has used drones to kill fighters in Somalia in the past. In January 2012, members of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs rescued two aid workers after killing their nine kidnappers.

Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, has described the Nairobi mall attack as retaliation for Kenya's incursion in October 2011 into southern Somalia to crush the insurgents. It has raised concern in the West over the operations of Shabaab in the region.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Phil Stewart, Warren Strobel and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Peter Cooney)


The Star Online: Business

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U.S. House passes bill to retroactively pay furloughed government workers


WASHINGTON: The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on Saturday that would retroactively pay 800,000 furloughed workers once the now five-day-old government shutdown ends.

The measure now goes to the Democratic-led Senate for concurrence. The White House has said that President Barack Obama will sign it into law. There is no end in sight to the shutdown, and there are still no bipartisan negotiations. - Reuters

Obama expects Congress will raise debt ceiling before deadline


WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said he does not expect to have to take any unusual steps to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt because he believes Congress will raise the debt ceiling before a looming Oct. 17 deadline.

"I don't expect to get there," Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press released on Saturday. "There were at least some quotes yesterday that (House of Representatives) Speaker (John) Boehner is willing to make sure that we don't default," he said.

"And I'm pretty willing to bet that there are enough votes in the House of Representatives right now to make sure that the United States doesn't end up being a deadbeat," Obama said. - Reuters


The Star Online: Nation

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MACC: Address failings in the system


PETALING JAYA: The Chief Secretary to the Government has been urged to form a special committee to act on the disgraceful findings of the Auditor-General's Report 2012.

"Immediate action must be taken to address the weaknesses in the system," said the Consultation and Prev­ention of Corruption Panel of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also called on the Chief Secretary to table proposals on improvements that would prevent such failings from recurring.

State governments and government-linked companies (GLCs) must take immediate remedial action as well, said the panel.

"We also support the proposal for a more frequent A-G's Report, such as thrice annually, because this will enable more effective monitoring and supervision, as well as faster remedial action," said panel chairman Datuk Johan Jaaffar.

The panel was disappointed with the discrepancies in the tender systems, supply and procurement systems and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the ministries, agencies, state governments and GLCs concerned.

"We take a serious view of these weaknesses that not only could lead to abuse of power and corruption but undermine the government delivery system," Johan said.

He added that the panel viewed with deep concern the serious acts of negligence in the system of control and supervision, which had even resulted in dangerous assets such as firearms going missing from storage.

"What's obvious is that there is a lack of supervision on suppliers and contractors that (in turn) resulted in shoddy work," he said.

Johan said the panel was also baffled by the fact that despite these weaknesses being highlighted in previous reports by the A-G, they kept on being repeated.

He said that while the panel took cognisance of the remedial mea­sures taken by the various ministries, agencies and state governments in response to the criticism contained in the previous A-G's Report, stronger actions were necessary.

The panel commended Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang's commitment for exposing these weaknesses and the willingness of the Government to be transparent.

"The Government, in accepting the report, is praiseworthy and shows that it has no intention of keeping any part of it out of the public domain, no matter how critical the findings or how much these would result in negative perception," Johan said.

Choo-sen by editors


KUALA LUMPUR: Author Yangsze Choo (pic) was ecstatic when she found out that her debut novel The Ghost Bride was listed as Oprah Winfrey's "Book of the Week".

She was told of the news by her friend, who e-mailed her that the novel was among 48 books in the autumn list, of which the editors of "couldn't stop reading".

"At first, I couldn't believe it. Then I ran around the house shouting 'Oprah! Oprah!'. It was a wonderful endorsement," said the Malaysia-born Choo, who is based in California.

Her novel, a love story in the Chinese world of the dead, was described by the reviewer as "the kind so full of longing, the pages practically sigh as you turn each one".

The Ghost Bride has also earned reviews in USA Today and is listed in Barnes & Noble's Fall 2013 Discover Great New Writers selection.

Despite the accolade, Choo, 40, said her life had not changed much since the book came out two months ago.

"It's just the housework that has fallen by the wayside. I recently had to catch up on two weeks of ironing!" she said.

And she misses the clouds back home in Malaysia.

"There are some spectacular cumulus cloudscapes that you can see almost daily.

"Now that I live in dry and arid California, I miss those clouds.

"At sunset, they sometimes look like an enchanted land of mountains and islands in the sky," she said.

Choo, whose parents are from Perak and whom she contacts frequently via Internet phone, said she had always liked "the limestone ridge of hills that look bluer and mistier as they recede into the distance".

"We spent a lot of time driving to see my grandparents (near Ipoh) before the highway was completed.

"There's something very nostalgic about driving through rubber plantations and past tin-mining dredges on a hot, still afternoon.

"Along the way, we'd have certain must-do stops, such as eating duck noodles in Bidor," she recalled.

Her novel took her about three years to complete.

When it appeared on the bookshelves, it felt surreal to her.

"I wrote the book without thinking of getting it published, so I didn't anticipate anything," she said.

"I'd been writing short stories for years and this book was originally intended to amuse family and friends.

"It was low key because I just wrote as the story occurred to me."

As a child, she was a bookworm.

"My mum was always sending us outside to 'run around and get some exercise'. Instead, I'd climb the mango tree in front of our house and hide there with a book."

A book of strange Chinese tales fascinated her back then.

"One of the most interesting tales in it was The Painted Skin, about a demon who wore the skin of a beautiful woman," she said.

Choo, who did Social Studies in Harvard University and once worked as a management consultant, is married to a Chinese-American whom she met while studying. They have two children.

"My kids love roti canai, char kuay teow, beef ball noodles and sardines (must be Ayam brand). They also like fried ikan bilis and green coconuts, which my dad buys for them and opens at home with a parang. They're always so thrilled by this," she added.

As for her next plan, Choo said she and a comic book artist were working to make The Ghost Bride into a graphic novel.

"I'm also working on another novel although I'm a bit stumped right now," she said.

RM100mil boon for Xiamen University Malaysia campus


KUALA LUMPUR: Xiamen University – China's first university to be set up outside that country – received a boon with a RM100mil donation by local tycoon Tan Sri Robert Kuok for its campus in Malaysia.

Kuok, based in Hong Kong, gave the money to build a university library, which will be part of the main building.

This was announced by Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, the Prime Minister's special envoy to China, during a luncheon attended by President Xi Jinping here yesterday.

Present were Kuok, businessmen and representatives from non-governmental organisations.

The Malaysian campus of the Chinese university will be built in Salak Tinggi, about 16km from the KL International Airport in Sepang.

It is expected to be operational in September 2015.

"While Chinese education is well protected here in Malaysia, the Chinese community here mingle with other races and live in harmony," said Ong.

Xi, in his speech, said the Chinese diaspora in most countries were successful.

He joked that some China nationals thought that Malaysian singer Fish Leong was from China.

"We have 40 years in strong diplomatic ties with Malaysia and I hope this will last," he said.

Speaking to reporters later, Ong said Xi told him that he and his wife Peng Liyuan tried durians on Thursday night and enjoyed it.

Ong said this was Xi's second visit to Malaysia after visiting Sibu, Sarawak, 20 years ago.


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

New app turns Van Gogh fans into art detectives


Museum visitors can explore the information concealed in and under the paint.

AMSTERDAM'S Van Gogh Museum launched a new app for tablets on Oct 3 which allows users to turn "art detective" when looking at the Dutch master's paintings.

The "Touch Van Gogh" app for Android and iPad tablets allows users to explore the secrets behind some of Van Gogh's best works including The Bedroom, View From Theo's Apartment and Daubigny's Garden.

"The app ... uses multi-touch features that make it easy and entertaining to explore the information concealed in and under the paint," the museum said in a statement.

"People can discover the secrets of Van Gogh's painting techniques and learn more about his working methods," added museum director Axel Rueger.

For instance, with the swipe of a finger an old layer of varnish can be digitally removed from The Bedroom to revealed a restored painting, or the top layer of View From Theo's Apartment can be rubbed away to reveal how Van Gogh reused his canvasses.

The app allows users to "discover how a painting looked before restoration, exactly why it was painted, where the paint has become discoloured and how the composition is constructed," the museum said.

"Like a detective, users can unravel the mysteries of Vincent van Gogh's paintings at their own pace, gradually learning more about the life and work of this famous artist," it added.

In September, The Van Gogh Museum unveiled a long-lost painting by the Dutch master, thought for years to have been a forgery.

Sunset At Montmajour, a large oil landscape from 1888 was authenticated by experts as a genuine artwork after spending decades in a Norwegian attic.

The museum reopened its doors to the public in early May with a stunning new display of some of the Dutch master's greatest works, completing a trio of renovations of the city's most famous museums.

It is located on Amsterdam's historic Museumplein where many other Dutch art treasures like Rembrandt's Night Watch can also be found at the recently reopened Rijksmuseum. – AFP Relaxnews


The Star Online: Metro: Central

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Husband jailed for beating wife to death


UNAWARE that her husband had lost his job, Tang Shifang slapped him for spending his time playing computer games.

This angered him and the fight that followed left her with multiple injuries including collapsed lungs and a ruptured kidney. Tang eventually died from her injuries.

Her husband Lee Show Fui, 33, was yesterday sentenced to five years in jail, after pleading guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Justice Woo Bih Li considered Tang's provocation, and an offer the schizophrenic man made to call an ambulance when he realised his wife was badly injured.

The couple have a history of violent quarrels and are both trained in martial arts. Their fight on Aug 31, 2011, began with Lee oversleeping. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Two more jailed for sex with minor


TWO more men were jailed 10 weeks each for engaging in commercial sex with a 17-year-old Chinese national who was forced by her pimp to work as a prostitute.

This brings the total number of men sentenced so far to 15. Ng Keng Siong, 56, a project manager, admitted paying S$80 (RM205) for the sexual services of the minor at Budget One Hotel in Geylang on May 20. He had another charge committed the next day taken into consideration.

In the same court, assistant manager Ong Boon Hock, 61, admitted paying S$60 (RM153) for the teen's services at a lodging house in Lorong 21 Geylang between May 19 and 23. He, too, had a second similar charge considered.

According to both men, they had asked the minor for her age. She told them she was 19 and 20 respectively. But neither of them took any steps to verify this. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network


The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Husband jailed for beating wife to death


UNAWARE that her husband had lost his job, Tang Shifang slapped him for spending his time playing computer games.

This angered him and the fight that followed left her with multiple injuries including collapsed lungs and a ruptured kidney. Tang eventually died from her injuries.

Her husband Lee Show Fui, 33, was yesterday sentenced to five years in jail, after pleading guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Justice Woo Bih Li considered Tang's provocation, and an offer the schizophrenic man made to call an ambulance when he realised his wife was badly injured.

The couple have a history of violent quarrels and are both trained in martial arts. Their fight on Aug 31, 2011, began with Lee oversleeping. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Two more jailed for sex with minor


TWO more men were jailed 10 weeks each for engaging in commercial sex with a 17-year-old Chinese national who was forced by her pimp to work as a prostitute.

This brings the total number of men sentenced so far to 15. Ng Keng Siong, 56, a project manager, admitted paying S$80 (RM205) for the sexual services of the minor at Budget One Hotel in Geylang on May 20. He had another charge committed the next day taken into consideration.

In the same court, assistant manager Ong Boon Hock, 61, admitted paying S$60 (RM153) for the teen's services at a lodging house in Lorong 21 Geylang between May 19 and 23. He, too, had a second similar charge considered.

According to both men, they had asked the minor for her age. She told them she was 19 and 20 respectively. But neither of them took any steps to verify this. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Ex-assistant pastor jailed for sex abuse


A FORMER assistant pastor was sentenced to 16 months' jail for making a 15-year-old girl from his church perform oral sex on him twice.

Both cannot be identified because of a gag order to protect the identification of the victim but the court heard that in one of those incidents, the offence was committed on church grounds and the other at a park in 2011.

The 46-year-old man, who is married with three children of his own, also faced a third charge of committing an obscene act that was considered during his sentencing.

The accused was in charge of the church's youth group, and had organised programmes and activities for its younger members.

He and the victim were apparently in a relationship after having expressed their love for each other.

The pair had started chatting via text messaging. Their conversations became progressively more intimate and sexual in nature, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Yiwen, adding that the accused would talk to the victim about sex and intimated that he wanted to have sex with her.

Some time between end-September and early October of 2011, he made her perform oral sex on him at a secluded part of a park. The second time she did it was in October when she went to help him with some chores in church.

It was only after she left for a school trip in Beijing later that month that she realised that what the accused had done was wrong. She then sent a text message to her mother who then flew to Beijing with her husband to escort her back.

A police report was later filed on Nov 22 that year. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network


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