Jumaat, 15 November 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro


Suspected hacker claims trial

Posted:

JAMES Raj Arokiasamy, the alleged hacker accused of using "The Messiah" pseudonym, is claiming trial, said lawyer M. Ravi after a short discussion with his client in court.

This came yesterday after Ravi's application to have access to his client was heard earlier in the day at the High Court.

Justice Choo Han Teck allowed the lawyer to meet with Arokiasamy for a few minutes before he was led away after the hearing.

The prosecution had no objections to the meeting.

Arokiasamy is suspected of having signed off as "The Messiah" after he allegedly hacked into the Ang Mo Kio Town Coun­cil's website on Oct 28, court documents filed by the pro-secution on Tuesday showed.

Apart from the Misuse of Computer and Cybersecurity Act, the runaway drug offender, who had been in hiding since 2011, also faces three charges for drug consumption.

The 35-year-old, who was arrested in Malaysia on Nov 4, is currently being remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for psychiatric evaluation.

The case against him will be heard again in court on Nov 26. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Govt knew Yong could escape death penalty

Posted:

THE Singaporean government was aware that drug mule Yong Vui Kong could escape the gallows when it proposed lifting the mandatory drug penalty, said Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

But it went ahead with the changes for the benefit of the wider society, he told reporters on the sidelines of a gathering of Common­wealth foreign ministers here on Thursday.

"We were certainly aware of the possibility that he could be one of those to benefit from the changes because we know that he had given some information which led to the arrest of someone else more senior in the hierarchy," Shanmugam said.

"It was a case that seemed to fit with the changes we were making, but we made those changes as they were in the interest of society as a whole."

The minister was responding to a question on whether the high-profile nature of the Malaysian's fight against the death penalty was a factor in his resentencing.

Earlier on Thursday, Yong, 25, became the first convicted drug trafficker to be given a chance under the new law. He was resentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane by the High Court.

Judges now have the discretion to impose life terms and caning on drug couriers who substantively assist the Central Narcotics Bureau.

Shanmugam said that the lifting of the mandatory drug penalty would provide an incentive for drug couriers to help the authorities nab bigger fish.

"If they know that the more they tell us, the more certainty they will face the death penalty, they will not cooperate," he noted. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz


How 'Dead' gave life

Posted:

A new documentary examines how George Romero and his team created an icon of the horror genre.

SURELY the only film to simultaneously play in a 42nd Street grindhouse and at the Museum of Modern Art, Night Of The Living Dead, director George A. Romero's 1968 classic, redefined the horror film for all time.

"Horror really has a function in society, of expressing cultural anxiety, and there's no greater way to examine that than with Night Of The Living Dead," says filmmaker Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter), who is executive producer of Birth Of The Living Dead, a new documentary about the Romero masterpiece.

"This movie," he adds, "perfectly expressed the failure of the 1960s to deliver a new society, and the general anxiety of the time."

Romero was a Pittsburgh ad man making beer commercials when he raised money from friends, hired a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors and, using an abandoned farmhouse as a claustrophobic set, shot a story of the dead rising from their graves.

Night Of The Living Dead rescued the zombie film from its voodoo roots.

Combining an end-times narrative in the era of Vietnam and racial unrest, Night Of The Living Dead took the bold step of featuring an African-American protagonist, Ben (Duane Jones).

Combining an end-times narrative in the era of Vietnam and racial unrest, Night Of The Living Dead took the bold step of featuring an African-American protagonist, Ben (Duane Jones).

Its end-times narrative had enormous resonance in the era of Vietnam and racial unrest (it also featured an African-American hero, Ben, played by Duane Jones), and it became a prime example of what talented people can do with imagination and almost no budget.

"It's an awesome example of indie chutzpah," says Fessenden. "This is a tale of a little movie that could – it became an iconic film."

Relegated to second-tier movie houses, the movie was eventually championed by Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine, and several American and European critics.

Eventually honoured by being placed on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, Night Of The Living Dead jump-started a zombie genre that continues to frighten in such films as World War Z and the hit TV show The Walking Dead.

"The zombie was thought of as a niche horror genre (at the time)," says Fessenden. But Romero changed all that with his film's political subtext, and "in general, the zombie motif still speaks to our times, in the sense of apocalyptic despair."

Yet, despite its cheap look and bleak ending, says Fessenden, Night Of The Living Dead "still packs a wallop. We're not accustomed to endings this bleak. You still feel there's a sense of integrity in the storytelling. It unsettles and challenges you." – Newsday/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates


Philippine typhoon survivors begin to rebuild

Posted:

TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Survivors began rebuilding homes destroyed by one of the world's most powerful typhoons and emergency supplies flowed into ravaged Philippine islands, as the United Nations more than doubled its estimate of people made homeless to nearly two million.

But the aid effort was still so patchy that bodies lay uncollected as rescuers tried to evacuate stricken communities on Saturday, more than a week after Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands with tree-snapping winds and tsunami-like waves.

After long delays, hundreds of international aid workers set up makeshift hospitals and trucked in supplies, while helicopters from a U.S. aircraft carrier ferried medicine and water to remote, battered areas where some families have gone without food and clean water for days.

"We are very, very worried about millions of children," U.N. Children's Fund spokesman Marixie Mercado told reporters in Geneva.

A U.N. official said in a guarded compliment many countries had come forward to help.

"The response from the international community has not been overwhelming compared to the magnitude of the disaster, but it has been very generous so far," Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told the Geneva news briefing.

Captain Victoriano Sambale, a military doctor who for the past week has treated patients in a room strewn with dirt and debris in Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm, said there had been a change in the pace in the response.

"I can see the international support coming here," he said.

But he is still overwhelmed. "Day one we treated 600-plus patients. Day two we had 700-plus patients. Day three we lost our count."

President Benigno Aquino, caught off guard by the scale of the disaster, is scheduled to visit typhoon-affected areas on Saturday. He has been criticised for the slow pace of aid distribution and unclear estimates of casualties, especially in Tacloban, capital of hardest-hit Leyte province.

A notice board in Tacloban City Hall estimated the deaths at 4,000 on Friday, up from 2,000 a day before, in that town alone. Hours later, Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez apologised and said the toll was for the whole central Philippines.

The toll, written on a whiteboard, is compiled by officials who started burying bodies in a mass grave on Thursday.

Romualdez said some people may have been swept out to sea and their bodies lost after a tsunami-like wall of seawater slammed into coastal areas. One neighbourhood with a population of between 10,000 and 12,000 was now deserted, he said.

The City Hall toll was the first public acknowledgement that the number of fatalities would likely far exceed an estimate given this week by Aquino, who said lives lost would be closer to 2,000 or 2,500.

Official confirmed deaths nationwide rose by more than 1,200 to 3,621 on Friday. "I hope it will not rise anymore. I hope that is the final number," said Eduardo del Rosario, director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. "If it rises, it will probably be very slight."

U.S. HELICOPTERS AID RELIEF EFFORT

But massive logistical problems remain. Injured survivors waited in long lines under searing sun for treatment. Local authorities reported shortages of body bags, gasoline and staff to collect the dead.

"Bodies are still lying on the roads. But now at least they're in sections with Department of Health body-bags," Ian Norton, chief of a team of Australian aid workers, told Reuters.

The number of people made homeless by the storm rose to 1.9 million, up from 900,000, the U.N.'s humanitarian agency said. In Tacloban alone, at least 56,000 people face unsanitary conditions, according to the U.N.'s migration agency.

Stunned survivors in Tacloban said the toll could be many thousands.

"There are a lot of dead people on the street in our neighbourhood, by the trash," said Aiza Umpacan, a 27-year-old resident of San Jose, one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods.

"There are still a lot of streets that were not visited by the disaster-relief operations. They are just going through the highways, not the inner streets," he said. "The smell is getting worse, and we actually have neighbours who have been brought to hospital because they are getting sick."

Across the city, survivors have begun to rebuild. The sounds of hammers ring out. Men gather in groups to fix motorbikes or drag debris off splintered homes and wrecked streets. Most have given up searching for lost loved ones.

The preliminary number of missing as of Friday, according to the Red Cross, rose to 25,000 from 22,000 a day earlier. That could include people who have since been located, it said.

The nuclear-powered USS George Washington aircraft carrier and accompanying ships arrived off eastern Samar province on Thursday evening, carrying 5,000 crew and more than 80 aircraft.

U.S. sailors have brought food and water ashore in Tacloban and the town of Guiuan, whose airport was a U.S. naval air base in World War Two. The carrier is moored near where U.S. General Douglas MacArthur's force landed on October 20, 1944, in one of the biggest Allied victories.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Brian Goldbeck, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, said the United States had moved 174,000 kg (383,000 lb) of emergency supplies into affected areas and evacuated nearly 3,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Eric dela Cruz and Manuel Mogato in Manila, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva. Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by John Mair)

(The story was refiled to remove extra word in the headline)

'Quite possible' Iran, powers can reach nuclear deal next week - U.S. official

Posted:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major powers and Iran are getting closer to an initial agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program, a senior U.S. official said on Friday, adding it is "quite possible" a deal could be reached when negotiators meet November 20-22 in Geneva.

"For the first time in nearly a decade we are getting close to a first-step ... that would stop the Iranian nuclear program from advancing and roll it back in key areas," the official told reporters.

"I don't know if we will reach an agreement. I think it is quite possible that we can, but there are still tough issues to negotiate," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif were to meet on November 20 in Geneva. They will be joined later the same day by a wider group known as the P5+1 comprising Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The talks are likely to last through November 22, the official added.

The talks will seek to finalize an interim deal to allow time to negotiate a comprehensive, permanent agreement with Iran that would end a 10-year deadlock and provide assurances to the six powers that its atomic program would not produce bombs.

Iran has denied that it is seeking the capability to produce atomic weapons and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and other civilian uses.

Negotiations last week in Geneva ended without an agreement, although the sides appeared to be close to a deal that would defuse their standoff over the nuclear program.

U.S. President Barack Obama has urged sceptical U.S. lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Iran while negotiations are ongoing and called for a pause in U.S. sanctions to see if diplomacy can work.

ALIGNED WITH WHITE HOUSE APPROACH

In addition to lobbying lawmakers, the White House this week also reached out to progressive groups supportive of diplomacy with Iran to make sure they stay aligned with the Obama administration's approach, according to a source close to the matter.

Senior administration officials told supporters that they are guardedly optimistic about reaching an interim deal with Iran in Geneva and that the P5+1, including the French, are ready to present a unified position there, the source said.

The senior U.S. official who met with reporters Friday said that published estimates of direct sanctions relief being offered under a preliminary deal - which have ranged from $15 billion to $50 billion - were "wildly exaggerated."

"It is way south of all of that and quite frankly it will be dwarfed by the restrictions that are still in place," the official said, saying to impose further sanctions threatened the negotiations not only with Iran but also among the six major powers.

"The P5+1 believes these are serious negotiations. They have a chance to be successful," the official said. "For us to slap on sanctions in the middle of it, they see as bad faith."

A senior administration official estimated that Iran has about $100 billion in reserves, the vast majority of which is held up in overseas bank accounts, which Tehran has limited or no access to.

U.S.-imposed sanctions have hit Iran's economy hard. U.S. officials estimate that the economy contracted by more than 5 percent last year and its currency lost about 60 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar since 2011.

Global oil prices slipped lower on Friday on the reports that Western powers may reach a deal but then rose slightly as markets weighed Libyan supply outages.

Commenting on a U.N. inspection report released on November 14 that said Iran had stopped expanding its uranium enrichment capacity, the official said the development was "a good thing" but did not resolve fundamental questions and concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"We appreciate the step but the reason for our negotiation is to get at certainty that Iran can't have a nuclear weapon and we are a long way from that," the official added.

Western diplomats said one of the sticking points during talks was Iran's argument that it retains the "right" to enrich uranium. The United States argues Iran does not intrinsically have that right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The official dismissed suggestions that the issue could be a deal breaker. "I think there is a way to navigate that," the official said. "We each understand where each other is and what is possible, and what is not."

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Philip Barbara and Jim Loney)

Guinea Supreme Court rejects all challenges to parliamentary vote

Posted:

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea's Supreme Court on Friday rejected all of the complaints lodged against the results of a September 28 parliamentary election.

"None of the complaints were supported with the necessary proof," said Mamadou Sylla, president of the court. Guinea's main opposition parties had sought to annul the vote while the RPG had challenged a handful of results.

The ruling means that President Alpha Conde's RPG party won 53 seats in the vote, defeating all its rivals but falling short of an absolute majority in the 114-seat parliament. A period of coalition-building is now expected.

(Reporting by Saliou Samb; writing by David Lewis; editing by Jackie Frank)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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How 'Dead' gave life

Posted:

A new documentary examines how George Romero and his team created an icon of the horror genre.

SURELY the only film to simultaneously play in a 42nd Street grindhouse and at the Museum of Modern Art, Night Of The Living Dead, director George A. Romero's 1968 classic, redefined the horror film for all time.

"Horror really has a function in society, of expressing cultural anxiety, and there's no greater way to examine that than with Night Of The Living Dead," says filmmaker Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter), who is executive producer of Birth Of The Living Dead, a new documentary about the Romero masterpiece.

"This movie," he adds, "perfectly expressed the failure of the 1960s to deliver a new society, and the general anxiety of the time."

Romero was a Pittsburgh ad man making beer commercials when he raised money from friends, hired a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors and, using an abandoned farmhouse as a claustrophobic set, shot a story of the dead rising from their graves.

Night Of The Living Dead rescued the zombie film from its voodoo roots.

Combining an end-times narrative in the era of Vietnam and racial unrest, Night Of The Living Dead took the bold step of featuring an African-American protagonist, Ben (Duane Jones).

Combining an end-times narrative in the era of Vietnam and racial unrest, Night Of The Living Dead took the bold step of featuring an African-American protagonist, Ben (Duane Jones).

Its end-times narrative had enormous resonance in the era of Vietnam and racial unrest (it also featured an African-American hero, Ben, played by Duane Jones), and it became a prime example of what talented people can do with imagination and almost no budget.

"It's an awesome example of indie chutzpah," says Fessenden. "This is a tale of a little movie that could – it became an iconic film."

Relegated to second-tier movie houses, the movie was eventually championed by Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine, and several American and European critics.

Eventually honoured by being placed on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, Night Of The Living Dead jump-started a zombie genre that continues to frighten in such films as World War Z and the hit TV show The Walking Dead.

"The zombie was thought of as a niche horror genre (at the time)," says Fessenden. But Romero changed all that with his film's political subtext, and "in general, the zombie motif still speaks to our times, in the sense of apocalyptic despair."

Yet, despite its cheap look and bleak ending, says Fessenden, Night Of The Living Dead "still packs a wallop. We're not accustomed to endings this bleak. You still feel there's a sense of integrity in the storytelling. It unsettles and challenges you." – Newsday/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio


Bittersweet ending for Cobie Smulders

Posted:

Cobie Smulders faces final season of How I Met Your Mother.

THERE are 59 series starting their new seasons on the five networks in the United States this fall to go along with the 26 new programmes being added to the lineups. All but one of those shows started the year hoping to have a good enough year to get brought back next season.

The cast and crew of How I Met Your Mother started their ninth season in September knowing that this is the last year. After being teased for nearly a decade, viewers will finally get to find out how Ted (Josh Radnor) met the woman he would wed. How that plays out through the final episodes isn't clear, but it will all take place in what's supposed to be the weekend leading up to the marriage of Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders).

If that's the case, Smulders had better like the wedding dress her character will be wearing because she'll be in it for a big part of the year. The only break will come during episodes that will include flashbacks.

The end of How I Met Your Mother is bittersweet for the Canadian actress. She's excited about the opportunity to move on to other projects, but she's been on the show for so many years that it feels like home. The reality is that this is the end.

Just like fans of the show, Smulders got to see the "Mother" when Cristin Milioti appeared in the last moments of the season eight finale. There have been a lot of different candidates for the "mother" job over the years.

"In the first year, I thought I was going to end up being the mother," Smulders says. "But that went away in seasons two or three. There still have been a lot of people who wanted to offer their theory. For me, all I cared about was what I was doing."

Smulders is glad Milioti will be on the series all season and get to interact with the cast. Her greatest fear was that the character would be revealed in the last scene of the very last episode with Bob Saget – whose been the narrator as the voice of future Ted since the start – saying "and that's how I met your mother" and the screen going black.

After this season, the cast will go their separate ways. Smulders has been thinking about future work that could include stage or even another series, although she's leaning more toward work in films.

"Right now I'm excited because since we know this is the last year, I have time to choose what I want to do," she says.

Smulders is going to reprise her role of Agent Maria Hill – first seen in the feature film The Avengers – in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that will be released in 2014. She's hoping to be part of the Avengers sequel when it starts filming. – The Fresno Bee/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

* The final season of How I Met Your Mother airs every Monday at 7.50pm on Star World (Astro Ch 711).

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business


Alam Maritim sails into calm waters

Posted:

ALAM Maritim Resources Bhd has been getting a string of contracts lately, pushing its order book to RM1.4bil, possibly one of its highest levels since the financial crisis of 2008.

In September alone, the company which currently derives almost 70% of its revenue from providing offshore support vessel services (OSV), obtained four contracts totalling more than RM120mil.

Last month, it got another RM22mil job supplying tug supply vessels for oil and gas firms to carry out their business activities.

Share price-wise, the Alam Maritim stock has doubled from 72.5 sen on Jan 2 to RM1.48 now, pushing the company's market capitalisation to above RM1bil.

In the same period, the benchmark index is up only 7%.

"Our shareholders must be happy," managing director Azmi Ahmad (pic) quips during a short interview with StarBizWeek.

Still, he is far from satisfied and certainly not proud of the company's achievements so far.

"These (referring to the recent contracts) are the jobs that we had earlier bid for and only recently have they flowed in," he says.

He is not expecting another "spurt" of contracts until the first quarter of next year.

Alam Maritim has put in bids valued at more than RM2bil, says Azmi, and going by historical data, aims to secure some 20% to 25% of the total.

Profit margins are between 17% and 19%.

"We want to beef up our other segments such as offshore installation and construction as well as sub-sea engineering and water services."

"Regionally, the company is not doing such businesses yet but we want to go regional in these segments, I think the potential is there," says Azmi.

Daily charter rates are in the company's favour as these have been on a general uptrend, going from a low of US$1 per brake horse power (bhp) in 2010 - 2011 to US$1.80 to US$2.20 currently.

OSV firms such as Alam Maritim are picking themselves up, to say the least from a slump that started somewhere in 2010 following the global financial crisis.

At that point, daily charter rates had fallen from a peak of US$2.20-US$2.70 per bhp to a low of US$1/bhp, no thanks to a heady mix of overbuilding, a credit crunch and a slash in oil exploration and production budgets which added salt to the wound.

RHB Research said given the tightening supply of vessels in the Malaysian market, it believed Alam Maritim stands to be the biggest beneficiary of rising demand for OSVs by virtue of its fleet of 44 vessels being one of the largest in the country.

Alex Goh, analyst at AmResearch who also tracks Alam Maritim says he is maintaining his forecast for the company's FY13- FY15 earnings with assumed higher vessel utilisation rates of 80%-90% as well as underwater and offshore installation & construction orders of RM300mil-RM500mil.

Currently, the company's vessels utilisation rate stands at about 79%.

Azmi says he wants to improve it by working on enhancing and making more efficient, Alam Maritim's value-add services such as its maintenance services.

Meanwhile, Goh is expecting the company to make a net profit of RM78.7mil for its FY13, RM119.2mil for FY14 and RM129.mil thereafter.

For FY12, it made some RM60mil in net profit.

"We understand that Alam Maritim hopes to secure RM1.2bil to RM1.5bil worth of contracts for underwater services, which were earlier extended to Offshoreworks Holdings Sdn Bhd, a company currently in financial distress.

"Hence, the group may enter a joint venture with Pacific Radius to acquire two diving support vessels to service its subsea inspection, repair and maintenance contracts, which could easily double prospective net margins," Goh told clients in a report last month.

RHB Research concurs in saying that fuelled by Petroliam Nasional Bhd's rising capex, vessel demand going forward should remain buoyant. Petronas has a five-year RM300bil capital expenditure plan to reverse current declining production.

The national oil company said in June that it would have to play catch-up after having spent only RM72bil, or 24%, of that amount between 2011 and January this year. In the same vein, it announced yesterday that it had awarded a major 13-package, five-year offshore hook-up, commissioning and maintenance services contract with a total work value of about RM10bil to six local service providers.

AmResearch's Goh has a "buy" call on the company and values it at RM2.45 per share while RHB's target price is RM2.

At the current price, it is trading at an FY14F PE of about 10 times, which is below industry's average of about 17 times.

While its healthy order book and incoming orders are likely to keep Alam Maritim's earnings visibility clear for at least the new few years, Azmi says there is no plan for the company to come up with a dividend policy anytime soon.

"We will start rewarding shareholders with something every year but for now, no plans for a dividend policy."

The company did not pay any dividends the last couple of years.

Palm oil firms on export prospects, typhoon concerns

Posted:

KUALA LUMPUR/SINGAPORE: Malaysian palm oil rose Friday, gaining for five out of six weeks as data from India and Malaysia showed improving demand, while a possible shortage of competing edible oil from the Philippines lifted prices of palm-based substitutes.
    India's palm oil imports rose 21.4 percent in October from
the month before as strong demand in the festival season and low
domestic supply boosted purchases. 
    "Towards the second half of the month, exports should
improve further because China will be buying to replenish their
stocks before their Lunar New Year festival in January," said a
trader with a foreign commodities brokerage.
    Exports of Malaysian palm oil products dropped 4.6 percent
in the first half of November, cargo surveyor Intertek Testing
Services said, a slight improvement from shipments in the Nov.
1-10 period which fell a steeper 13 percent. 
    Another cargo surveyor Societe Generale de Surveillance said
exports during the period fell 8.2 percent to 734,476 tonnes
from 799,853 tonnes shipped during Oct. 1-15. 
    The benchmark January contract on the Bursa
Malaysia Derivatives Exchange closed up 0.9 percent at 2,609
ringgit ($815) per tonne. Total traded volume stood at 43,636
lots of 25 tonnes each.
    Palm oil prices have risen 4 percent this week, fuelled by
fears that super typhoon Haiyan had caused severe damage to
coconut crops in the Philippines, disrupting coconut oil supply
from the world's biggest exporter.
    A shortage of the edible oil would channel demand to palm
oil-based alternatives such as palm kernel oil ,
commonly used as a raw material to produce soaps and cosmetics. 
    Trade volumes however are low with investors staying away
from risky bets as they waited for more information on palm oil
production. Output in October rose to 1.97 million tonnes and
market players are expecting November to produce smaller yields.
    "Investors are looking for new leads besides the Philippine
issue. They want to see how the export and production situation
turns out," the Malaysia-based trader added.
    Malaysia has set its crude palm oil export tax for December
at 5.0 percent, a government circular showed on Friday. The rate
had been left unchanged at 4.5 percent since March.
    "If the tax goes up it should restrict exports," said a
Kuala Lumpur-based trader. "But the fact is that supply is
getting very tight, so I don't think the price will go down."
    In other markets, brent oil held above $108 a barrel,
heading for its biggest weekly gain since early July on
expectations the Federal Reserve will stick with its easy money
policy for now. 
    In competing vegetable oil markets, the U.S. soyoil contract
for December rose 0.6 percent at 0958 GMT, while the most
active May soybean oil contract on the Dalian
Commodities Exchange finished marginally higher.
($1 = 3.20 Malaysian ringgit)

  Palm, soy and crude oil prices at 1027 GMT
                                                                                                                    
  Contract        Month    Last   Change     Low    High  Volume
  M'ASIA PALM OIL  NOV3       0    +0.00       0       0       0
  M'ASIA PALM OIL  DEC3    2618   +36.00    2564    2618     847
  M'ASIA PALM OIL  JAN4    2609   +20.00    2571    2620   16955
  M'ASIA PALM OIL  FEB4    2610   +19.00    2573    2620   10786
  DALIAN SOY OIL   MAY4    7256    +4.00    7250    7324  947296
  CBOT SOY OIL     DEC3   41.21    +0.24   40.97   41.32    4783
  NYMEX CRUDE      DEC3   93.83    +0.07   93.74   94.30   11960
                                                                                                                    
  Palm oil prices in Malaysian ringgit per tonne
  CBOT soy oil in U.S. cents per pound
  Dalian soy oil in Chinese yuan per tonne

  Crude in U.S. dollars per barrel- Reuters

Yellen signals new emphasis on Fed policing role

Posted:

NEW YORK: Move over inflation and job growth.

The next Federal Reserve chief appears set to direct the central bank's might at ensuring financial stability and stern banking oversight with the same vigor it currently applies to its traditional mandates of fostering price stability and maximum employment.

The question of monitoring and stabilizing Wall Street was a dominant issue during Fed chair-designateJanet Yellen's confirmation hearing before a Senate committee on Thursday. Yellen, widely expected to win Senate backing for the job, said financial regulation should be on par with monetary policymaking on the Fed's list of priorities.

The central bank's current vice chair, Yellen appeared willing to draw fellow governors on the powerfulFed Board into more decisions on stabilizing the still-vulnerable financial system.

In a telling exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Yellen said it was a "worthwhile idea" to consider reinstating regular board meetings to tackle financial supervision, as was the case at the central bank in the 1990s.

In strong language, she also said she was prepared to use traditional monetary policy tools such as higher interest rates to prick any emerging asset-price bubbles, and pledged that addressing too-big-to-fail banks "has to be among the most important goals of the post-crisis period."

While Yellen and current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke often speak of the need to do more to curb WallStreet risk-taking and erase the notion the government will step in to bail out massive banks that get into trouble, as it did in the midst of the crisis, Yellen's testimony hints at a new approach.

"She was unambiguously clear on how the Fed has massively revamped supervision of big banks, and left me with the sense she will spend more time discussing macroprudential oversight with colleagues than in the past," said William O'Donnell, head of Treasury strategy at RBS Americas.

"It suggested they would shift to a better balance of macroprudential and monetary policy."

The Dodd-Frank law in the wake of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and Great Recession tasked the Fed with protecting the overall financial system from risks that could spill into the broader economy, something called macroprudential regulation.

The 2010 law effectively doubled down on the central bank's regulation of Wall Street, even though Fed policymakers - including Yellen, who ran the San Francisco Fed at the time - failed to avert the crisis in the first place.

Absorbing this fresh supervision task into the Fed's traditional dual mandate of stable prices and full employment has proven tricky: requiring banks to hold more and better-quality capital can for example clash with the Fed's desire for those banks to ramp up lending to spur investment, hiring and economic growth in the wake of the recession.

BUBBLES, BIG BANKS

There also appears to be internal disagreement on how best to stamp out financial risks.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher is alone among U.S. central bankers in calling on regulators to go beyond Dodd-Frank and simply break up the too-big banks; and earlier this year Fed Governor Jeremy Stein set off a debate over whether the Fed should battle asset bubbles with tighter policies.

Yellen said on Thursday she does not yet see the broad buildup of leverage that threatens financial stability. Nor does she feel that U.S. stock prices - which are at record highs thanks in large part to the Fed's ultra easy policies - are in "bubble-like" territory.

Yet toward the end of the two-hour confirmation hearing, Yellen told Warren the Fed's "supervisory capabilities are critical and they are just as important as monetary policy." She added that despite some logistical hurdles, it could be possible to better involve policymakers in key regulatory decisions that are usually handled by staff.

"I remember in the 1990s that the board did regularly meet to discuss supervisory issues ... and I did consider those very valuable," Yellen said. "So I think that's a very worthwhile idea."

Those regular meetings faded as the Fed under Alan Greenspan and in the early stages of Bernanke's chairmanship favored a hands-off approach to bank regulation. Yellen, who was president of the San Francisco Fed from 2004-2010, is still smarting that she and other regulators failed to "connect the dots," as she put it in 2010, between loose lending practices and a overpriced housing market that helped spark the crisis.

Warren is an influential Democrat who made her name pushing tougher rules for banks, and she played a big role in the lobbying effort that knocked Yellen challenger Lawrence Summers out of contention for Fed chair earlier this year.

At the hearing, the senator highlighted a $9-billion settlement the Fed and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reached with several banks accused of improper foreclosures. Warren criticized the decision to simply let staffers lead the effort, instead of having Fed governors vote on the deal.

Such matters are typically handled by regulation experts at the central bank and spearheaded by Governor Daniel Tarullo, the Fed's point-person and chair of a three-governor committee on bank supervision that includes Stein and Jerome Powell.

"Tarullo has been carrying this load virtually single-handedly," said Ernest Patrikis, a partner at White & Case and a former first vice president at the New York Fed. "The question is, will that change with more Board involvement in evolving issues and matters?"- Reuters

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Shop owner foils dognapping bid

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KLANG: An attempt to abduct an expensive Maltese dog from a pet grooming outlet here failed after the shop's owner gave chase and rescued the pet.

According to store staff Ang Yi Ching, 19, the suspect was talking to himself and did not seem to be in the right frame of mind when the latter entered the store at about 7.30pm on Wednesday.

"I was scared so I went to the back of the store to inform my boss, who was grooming another dog at that time," she said.

She said her boss took less than five seconds to come out to the front of the shop, but by then, the man had the 11-year-old dog and took off on his motorcycle.

"My boss then gave chase on foot," she said, adding that the suspect panicked and freed the dog before escaping.

Ang said the owner of the dog had bought it for RM8,000, adding that a Maltese puppy would cost not less than RM2,000.

A Maltese is a small breed dog, with an adult ranging between 2.3kg to 5kg.

Ang said he had lodged a police report.

Maliau Basin off limits for another 50 years

Posted:

KOTA KINABALU: The Maliau Basin, Sabah's Lost World that is described as a "Jurassic Park sans dinosaurs", will not be touched for another 50 years.

This commitment was renewed under a 10-year strategic conservation plan for the sprawling 20,000ha area in Tawau, in the south central part of Sabah, at a management plan stakeholders workshop for the basin here.

Yayasan Sabah's conservation and environmental management general manager Dr Waidi Simun said the ban would not be lifted under the second plan from 2014 to 2023.

"This area will remain out of bounds to anyone – including our rangers – until the expiry of the 50-year commitment," he said at the start of the workshop for the Maliau Basin Conservation Area here yesterday.

The stakeholders meeting was opened by state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Nyuk Ming.

"It is part of our commitment to allow future generations to study an area totally untouched by man," Dr Waidi said, adding the first 10-year plan was from 2003 to this year.

He said under the first plan, a Maliau Basin Studies Centre was set up at the southeast edge of the basin for research, conservation, education and eco-tourism purposes.

Various international and local organisations have helped to build satellite camps, trail and bridge construction, observation towers, a Maliau skybridge and a reception and information building.

He said under the next plan, more intensive research in the area would be carried out, as the first plan had focused on auditing the area and placing basic infrastructure facilities.

Opening the meeting, Pang said efforts were still under way to place the Danum-Maliau-Imbak (DaMal) area as a World Heritage site.

"The nomination of DaMal was endorsed through the state cabinet and submitted to the National Heritage Department by my ministry.

"The final dossier is expected to be completed by the end of this year," he said.

The Maliau Basin contains an unusual assemblage of 12 forest types, comprising mainly lower montane forest dominated by majestic Agathis trees, rare montane heath forest and lowland, and hill diperocarp forest.

There is also the seven-tier Maliau Falls.

Keen visitors must obtain permission to enter the Maliau Basin in advance from Yayasan Sabah.

Relatives also hunt for Harun

Posted:

KOTA BARU: Fugitive Harun Mat Saat, a self-proclaimed deity presiding over worldly affairs, a man with many monickers and wanted by the police, the religious authorities and Bank Negara, is also being hunted by relatives who had allegedly been duped into investing their hard-earned money in his so-called get-rich-quick schemes.

His name is despised by his relatives in Kampung Jelutong, Kok Lanas, who claimed they had been swindled in his quick-money schemes in 2008.

Against a backdrop of padi fields in this quaint and peaceful town is a huge bungalow, said to have been abandoned for more than a year, where the so-called Tuhan Harun, wife Jawahir Zakaria and their three children had purportedly lived.

Retired soldier Adnan Abdullah, 50, a cousin of Jawahir, claimed he invested RM100,000 in Harun's schemes that promised returns of RM50,000 in less than 12 months.

"He told me the scheme was Islamic-compliant and halal and since he is the husband of my cousin, I felt convinced and made the investment," he said of the glib talker, who was also a rock singer, composer, stage performer, religious teacher and alleged confidence trickster.

"I realised I had been duped after I checked my bank account and found the promised returns had not been debited into my account," said Adnan, who is unmarried.

Fatimah Ismail, 54, another of Jawahir's cousins, said she was left with nothing but a heavy burden after she invested RM110,000 of many years of saving in Harun's scheme.

"It took years for me and the children to save the money to buy a house – only to see our hard-earned money disappear just like that," added the single mother, her voice choking with emotion.

Fatimah said Jawahir and Pahang-born Harun moved to Kampung Jelutong after they got married in the late 1990s.

"I had wondered what Harun did for a living, as they led a luxurious life, built a big house and drove expensive cars... until I was cheated," she said, hoping against hope to get back all of her money.

Fatimah, who lives near Harun's mansion, said she had not heard of Jawahir since they moved out from the bungalow last year.

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Thumbs up for three-generation flats

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THE latest three-generation living approach by the Housing Board (HDB) looks set to continue, given the number of young families with elderly members who applied for September's offerings.

Noting the positive response on his blog, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "The launch of 3Gen flats has clearly encouraged more to consider multi-generation living. This is a good sign.

"We should continue to facilitate multi-generation living for Singaporeans who wish to do so."

The HDB had offered only 84 three-generation units in Yishun, as it was "not sure of demand" then.

But a third of the 1,152 applications for three-generation units and five-room flats were from multi-generation households.

This is in stark contrast to last year, when only 3% of five-room flat applicants applied to live with their parents under the Married Child Priority Scheme, wrote Khaw.

The three-generation units are a new type of flat offered by the HDB.

They have four bedrooms and three bathrooms, and are 5 sq m larger than current five-room units.

The Housing Board bundled the three-generation flats and five-room units so that applicants would have an "alternative housing option" if one type ran out, Khaw said.

Second-time applicants signalled strong interest in these larger flats, forming two-thirds of the applicants.

Among first-timer multi-generation families, six in 10 are either expecting or have young children below age 16.

Their median age is 39, higher than the previous median of 30 among first-time applicants for five-room flats.

One in 10 first-timer households have no children, and their median age is understandably lower at 32.

Khaw said: "I am happy they are planning ahead to move into a larger flat to better take care of their ageing parents and future children."

Singapore is projected to have one in five people aged 65 or older by 2030.

"As population ages, family support will become increasingly important for our seniors," said Khaw.

"They also help to enrich family relations by sharing their experiences, and lending an extra hand in caring for their grandchildren."

Another 100 three-generation flats in Jurong West will be available in the next HDB exercise later this month. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Lee: Asean must work together to combat cyber threats

Posted:

ASEAN nations must cooperate to strengthen their defences against hackers, which threatened several member states in the past two weeks, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

"We must not condone such malicious and harmful behaviour," he said, at the opening of the13th Asean Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers Meeting (Telmin) yesterday. The annual meeting promotes regional cooperation in infocomm efforts to strengthen regional economies and social development.

Hackers compromised websites in Thailand, Philippines and Singapore over the past two weeks. Malaysia and Indonesia were also targets.

"We must strengthen our defences and cooperate to deal with these common threats," he said.

Singapore has arrested some of the people suspected in connection to the hacking incidents in Singapore. Condemning these acts as a crime, Lee said: "It is not a prank when someone hacks websites and intrudes into computer systems ... At a minimum it inconveniences the public, but potentially it has much graver consequences; it can damage infrastructure and endanger lives."

This happens when the electricity grid or a hospital management system fails to work. He also urged citizens to speak up against such acts, and express their disapproval of those responsible, or others who have supported the perpetrators.

In his opening address, Lee also touched on the need for Asean countries to "accelerate" the harmonisation of airwaves in the 700MHz band, currently used for TV broadcasting, so they can be recycled for mobile broadband purposes.

By agreeing on a common spectrum, regional mobile roaming can take place with minimal signal interference along coast lines.

So far, four out of eight Asean member nations – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – have committed to the plan to use the 700MHz spectrum, expected to be freed up when the switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasting takes place over the next few years. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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Thumbs up for three-generation flats

Posted:

THE latest three-generation living approach by the Housing Board (HDB) looks set to continue, given the number of young families with elderly members who applied for September's offerings.

Noting the positive response on his blog, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "The launch of 3Gen flats has clearly encouraged more to consider multi-generation living. This is a good sign.

"We should continue to facilitate multi-generation living for Singaporeans who wish to do so."

The HDB had offered only 84 three-generation units in Yishun, as it was "not sure of demand" then.

But a third of the 1,152 applications for three-generation units and five-room flats were from multi-generation households.

This is in stark contrast to last year, when only 3% of five-room flat applicants applied to live with their parents under the Married Child Priority Scheme, wrote Khaw.

The three-generation units are a new type of flat offered by the HDB.

They have four bedrooms and three bathrooms, and are 5 sq m larger than current five-room units.

The Housing Board bundled the three-generation flats and five-room units so that applicants would have an "alternative housing option" if one type ran out, Khaw said.

Second-time applicants signalled strong interest in these larger flats, forming two-thirds of the applicants.

Among first-timer multi-generation families, six in 10 are either expecting or have young children below age 16.

Their median age is 39, higher than the previous median of 30 among first-time applicants for five-room flats.

One in 10 first-timer households have no children, and their median age is understandably lower at 32.

Khaw said: "I am happy they are planning ahead to move into a larger flat to better take care of their ageing parents and future children."

Singapore is projected to have one in five people aged 65 or older by 2030.

"As population ages, family support will become increasingly important for our seniors," said Khaw.

"They also help to enrich family relations by sharing their experiences, and lending an extra hand in caring for their grandchildren."

Another 100 three-generation flats in Jurong West will be available in the next HDB exercise later this month. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Lee: Asean must work together to combat cyber threats

Posted:

ASEAN nations must cooperate to strengthen their defences against hackers, which threatened several member states in the past two weeks, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

"We must not condone such malicious and harmful behaviour," he said, at the opening of the13th Asean Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers Meeting (Telmin) yesterday. The annual meeting promotes regional cooperation in infocomm efforts to strengthen regional economies and social development.

Hackers compromised websites in Thailand, Philippines and Singapore over the past two weeks. Malaysia and Indonesia were also targets.

"We must strengthen our defences and cooperate to deal with these common threats," he said.

Singapore has arrested some of the people suspected in connection to the hacking incidents in Singapore. Condemning these acts as a crime, Lee said: "It is not a prank when someone hacks websites and intrudes into computer systems ... At a minimum it inconveniences the public, but potentially it has much graver consequences; it can damage infrastructure and endanger lives."

This happens when the electricity grid or a hospital management system fails to work. He also urged citizens to speak up against such acts, and express their disapproval of those responsible, or others who have supported the perpetrators.

In his opening address, Lee also touched on the need for Asean countries to "accelerate" the harmonisation of airwaves in the 700MHz band, currently used for TV broadcasting, so they can be recycled for mobile broadband purposes.

By agreeing on a common spectrum, regional mobile roaming can take place with minimal signal interference along coast lines.

So far, four out of eight Asean member nations – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – have committed to the plan to use the 700MHz spectrum, expected to be freed up when the switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasting takes place over the next few years. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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Roger Waters preparing new album

Posted:

It will be his first rock album in more than two decades.

IN an interview with Rolling Stone, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters said he is currently working on a rock album, his first since Amused To Death, released in 1992. The bassist has been focusing on the project since wrapping up his tour for The Wall recently.

Waters told the magazine that the 55-minute concept album is "couched as a radio play" combining music and theatre, with dialogues between several characters. He also hinted that the album represented a "quest" involving "an old man and a young child trying to figure out why they are killing the children".

In 2005, Waters released his most recent disc, Ca Ira, a classical opera in three acts on the theme of the French Revolution. When it comes to rock, however, the artiste has not released a new album since Amused To Death.

In September, Waters performed the final show in his three-year-long The Wall tour, during which he gave 219 concerts in stadiums and concert halls around the world. – AFP Relaxnews

Everything's coming up roses for Katy Perry

Posted:

Katy Perry is riding her momentum into new areas.

KATY Perry had come to dance.

On a recent afternoon the pop superstar was at a Burbank, California, United States rehearsal studio, fortifying herself with a salad before diving into four hours of sweaty physical movement – a not-so-dry run for a handful of performances in which she'd be doing more choreography than at any point in her career.

Perry, known for bubbly, fun-loving hits such as I Kissed A Girl and Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), was dressed for a workout: black tights, black sneakers, a ripped-up T-shirt with two cats pictured on it. (Big cat lady, Katy Perry.) Several times she used the sleeve of her gray hoodie as a napkin, another sign that she was here to get down to business. No time for niceties.

As focused as Perry appeared, though, she was squishier regarding her new album. We were talking about what distinguishes Prism,from her first two records, and at first she offered only generalities – "It's got some substance to it" – language that seemed to be circling a more straightforward description.

The music, I finally suggested, feels grown-up.

"Yes!" she said, not flinching at the term but nodding eagerly. "And I love being mature. I'm ready for my 30s – I hear it's so much better than your 20s."

For normal folks, perhaps, but rarely for pop stars, whose work usually amounts to selling youth to young people. And Perry has sold more youth than most: Five singles from 2010's double-platinum Teenage Dream went to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, an achievement she shares with only Michael Jackson; Roar, the lead single from Prism, has also reached the top spot.

But if Perry is unusually accepting of the g-word, there's good reason for that: The singer, who turned 29 last month – a few years older than A-list peers Rihanna (who's 25) and Taylor Swift (23) – no longer seems like much of a kid.

Prism, her third studio disc, follows a tumultuous period she referred to as a "real crossroads in my life." In late 2010, just as her career was exploding, Perry married British comedian Russell Brand; 14 months later he filed for divorce. The experience was reported on extensively by the tabloid press, of course, but it also figured prominently in Katy Perry: Part Of Me, an unexpectedly candid 2012 documentary that included scenes of the star nearly        paralysed by grief.

"I couldn't pretend that I didn't have a failed marriage – it was already out there in the news," she said of the decision to address the topic in the film. "So why not show the reality of what it was?"

That reality and its aftermath are all over Prism, in moody, midtempo songs such as Ghost and Love Me – in which she rhymes "lost my own identity" with "forgot you picked me for me" – as well as more robust anthems of self-empowerment like Roar, with a music video that depicts Perry as a vine-swinging jungle queen singing about having the eye of the tiger.

"Some people are going to see it as a song about cats," the singer said with a laugh. She was curled on a sofa, her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. "But it's not just a song about cats. It's about finding your inner strength and not turning into a shell of yourself when you're faced with a situation you don't agree with.

"That may be a little psychological – like, What does it all mean?" she added with mock-profound intensity. "But I literally just came from therapy, so I'm already there."

A weighty message isn't entirely new for Perry, whose breakout 2008 debut, One Of The Boys, came after earlier unsuccessful attempts at Christian rock – her parents are religious leaders – and grungy Alanis Morissette-style pop. One of those five No. 1 singles from Teenage Dream was Firework, an earnest stadium-rave pep talk aimed at misfits "feel(ing) like a waste of space."

Yet with its adventurous textures and introspective lyrics – not to mention a dreamy cover shot by art-world photographer Ryan McGinley – Prism strikes a newly sophisticated balance between accessibility and idiosyncrasy; it's a work of confession scaled to Top 40 dimensions, one in which Perry uses her success as license to explore inside and out.

"Some of the songs on the album are songs you might be scared to do if you didn't have the momentum Katy has," said Dr. Luke, the writer-producer who's had a hand in most of Perry's biggest hits. (The singer's other collaborators on Prism include her longtime songwriting partner Bonnie McKee, the Swedish pop wizards Max Martin and Klas Åhlund and, in the throbbing Dark Horse, the Memphis rapper Juicy J.)

As an example, Dr. Luke singled out Legendary Lovers, a vaguely psychedelic excursion with Eastern-sounding strings and words about feeling one's lotus bloom. "That's an amazing song," he said, "but it may not be a door-opener for a first-time artiste."

Perry felt confident taking risks on Prism because her fans "ended up trusting me at the end of Teenage Dream," she said. "People have figured out that I'm not going to abuse their attention, so now I think they're ready to jump off with me."

Perry, who said she's involved in every aspect of her business, admitted that she worries about overexposure in social media, especially regarding an album that tries to cultivate a feeling of intimacy.

"You put one thing out and then instantly it's on Facebook! It's on Twitter! It's on Vevo!" she said, punctuating each name with a jab of her hand. "You're like, 'Ugh, just let me make up my own mind.'"

In the wake of her divorce, her love life is something to be handled carefully too. "I never play into the paparazzi," she said. "I don't feed that beast."

That certainly hasn't stopped photographers from snapping pictures of her with her famous boyfriend, John Mayer. (This past summer the singers shared a plush soft-rock duet, Who You Love, on his Paradise Valley album.) "And I put my phone down if I'm going to have a drink," she said. "I don't drink and tweet."

The challenge, she added as she prepared to head into rehearsal, is figuring out what's too much and what's not enough.

"I just want people to see more of me," she said, and by extension less of the "cutesiness" she clung to on Teenage Dream, when she played shows in an electric-blue wig and a ruffly dress adorned with cupcakes.

"Where can you go from a cartoon character?" Perry asked. "You have to maybe go the other way." – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Ron Thal and all guns blazing

Posted:

Multi-talented Guns N' Roses guitarist reveals an insatiable appetite for developing and nurturing young talent.

THE adage of a man who wears many hats is certainly tailor-made for Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. A musician, music producer, songwriter, guitar teacher, hot sauce entrepreneur and lead guitarist of Guns N' Roses (GN'R), Bumblefoot, as he is widely known, added another feather to his distinguished cap recently, courtesy of the "Appetite For Durian" Malaysia tour, organised by the US Embassy from Nov 3-8. Thal began his five-day trip in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and rounded off the proceedings in Kuala Lumpur, conducting motivational talks and musical outreach programmes for our young music hopefuls.

Thal, slight of build and sporting a distinctive braided goatee, has ambitions and aspirations that are imperious. Having worked with the US Embassy on a similar platform in Albania and based on its astounding success, he was recommended to make a difference on our shores. "What motivates me to do this is very simple. I enjoy it and I like to share that joy. I hope to make new friends, new connections and enjoy new experiences," shared the soft-spoken 44-year-old durian lover. "I love it here." Besides thriving in our sweltering conditions, Thal also enjoys our spicy food. "I also like the way Malaysians treat each other," he said.

Aspiring musicians and guitarists would have done well to take note of his valuable advice in order to be successful in their craft. "Do not be late. Always be on time and always be prepared. Do not show up not knowing what you're supposed to know. Also, be relaxed, be calm and be comfortable and make other people feel the same way," he said.

Naturally, given the band he plays in, one thing stands tall with many Malaysian rock aficionados – Guns N' Roses. Surprisingly, he intimated that the band is as normal as they come. "We get together, go out and enjoy doing things. Nothing is forced, where everybody has to do everything. We bring our families and crew, and everyone is welcomed. No one is made to feel unloved or anything like that – it's like one big travelling circus!" he revealed. "Everyone's a songwriter in the band. When I write songs, it might be for my own album, or I'll say, hey guys, I have an idea, just like that," he shed some light on the band's creative process. His role onstage is to play the crazy, technical, insane guitar parts and chip in with a lot of backing vocals. "I also hope to bring a strong and solid musical base, knowing that I'm very focused on the music," he said.

As to how Guns N' Roses will continue to craft those signature tunes such as Sweet Child O' Mine, Paradise City and Estranged, Thal's reply was again surprising, yet refreshing. "It's really easy. The more you think about it, the more difficult it will get. It's like trying to think about breathing. It's not going to flow if you're trying to control it. Just let go, let it happen. And when you want to let it happen, all you have to do is not try!"

If he had his way, Thal's vision for the band's next album will be to factor the pureness of rock 'n' roll, where listeners can point out what each member of the band is playing and the music will be injected with each member's distinctive personality. "It (the album) would be very imperfect, very real, natural and not edited to give it a live, raw, organic sound. I think that's what people want from GN'R. And when they think about GN'R, they think about rock 'n' roll, and that's what I like to be ... the best rock 'n' roll band we can be," he enthused.

His commitment to the band apart, Thal also obtains complete gratification and fulfilment as a solo artist. The prolific axeman has released nine CDs and a live DVD since the early 1990s. Reminiscing on his career, he also recalled his first gig, which was in his basement in 1977 when he was only seven years old. Even back then, the talented Thal was already composing his own songs.

Raised on a steady diet of classic rock, heavy metal and punk, Thal knew he wanted to make this his vocation as early as five years old when he first heard Kiss' Alive! album. "My family were very supportive and let me put on concerts in the basement. They also let me record in my little home studio," he recalled fondly, listing Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix and Ace Frehley as his six-string heroes.

Fun and laughter is always around the corner with the band as he shared his funniest moment onstage, when frontman Axl Rose duct taped his entire body – as he was ripping on a solo! "I was playing," he gestured animatedly. "And I couldn't stop despite being all wrapped up!" he laughed.

Thal then moved swiftly to dispel the negative perceptions that continue to plague the band's enigmatic leader. "Axl actually has a great sense of humour. He tells the corniest jokes. I'll be in the midst of playing a solo, and he'll crack jokes into my in-ear monitors. Jokes aside, he makes you feel very welcomed when you're hanging out with him and he's always telling stories and making everyone feel like friends," he shared. He also revealed that Rose does a lot of charity work in his spare time and also throws a lot of holiday parties for kids and invites their parents, too. "If at all, he actually cares too much, and I think if anything, he should care a little less," Thal opined.

Despite having achieved so much over the course of more than two decades, Thal still feels there's an infinite road ahead to be discovered. "I would still love to be writing more songs, and I would love to create a song that has a melody where everybody wants to sing and play on their guitar," before adding selflessly, "And, I think it can happen with GN'R."

On a personal note, Thal feels that our homegrown musicians need our full support to allow them to take their music to a global audience.

Thal is also pursuing his idea of organising a music festival that will combine popular artistes and aspiring musicians from around the world. "There are a lot of phenomenal musicians everywhere in the world, but who do not have the opportunity to branch out. I think this (festival) is a fantastic way for these musicians to gain attention," he said.

Travelling the world and connecting with youth has allowed Thal to bring musicians and music closer together. "My visit here may be the start of bridging that gap," he concluded.

Perhaps, that will give Malaysian fans renewed hope that maybe, just maybe, Guns N' Roses will blaze its way back to our shores to stage another spectacular show, with a deserving local band in tow.

> For more information on Ron Thal, visit www.bumblefoot.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my
 

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