Ahad, 17 November 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Lee: ‘Poverty line’ is obsolete


SINGAPORE is past the point where a poverty line is useful, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated yesterday, adding that the groups of needy now take shifting and multi-faceted forms.

Hence, the Government's kueh lapis (layered cake) approach to social assistance, he said, summoning a metaphor that Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing used to describe the multi-layered help it provides to those in need.

Speaking to reporters after a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, Lee weighed in for the first time on recent calls to establish a poverty line in Singapore, after Hong Kong did so in September.

He said that a poverty line like the World Bank's measure of US$1.50 (RM4.80) a day was irrelevant in Singapore as there are no "dead poor" here, by which he means those who are starving and unsheltered.

Rather, the poor here range from those going through temporary setbacks to families suddenly felled by illness, to the needy elderly and low-skilled workers.

Each of these groups needs a different sort and scale of help, and often, "men and women of good sense" are required to assess what assistance is desirable and necessary in each case.

This cannot be accomplished by a rigid poverty line, he said, which might be polarising and leave some outside the definition of poor.

"To say as an ideological matter that 'I must have a proper definition, and I want to reduce this group to zero' – I think we have moved beyond that point and I don't think that a definition will help us to improve our schemes," he said.

Lee also dismissed suggestions that a poverty line would help "focus minds" on the issue of the poor in Singapore.

"What is important to us is not about whether we can find a definition with which we can focus minds on the problem, because our minds are focused on the problem," he said.

There are many people doing social work of various kinds in Singapore, he added, a diversity of effort that could actually be hindered by the establishment of an all-encompassing poverty line.

The topic dovetailed with discussions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, whose theme was "Growth with Equity".

During retreat sessions with leaders of the 53-member grouping, Lee set out Singapore's approach to sustainable development, explaining why it is careful to spend within its means and not provide a false sense of well-being through deficit spending.

While it is right for governments to shield their people from the uncertainties and inequalities of the globalised world, it is hard to translate "noble intentions" and social spending into real gains, he said.

In some countries, heavy public spending has not solved the problems of unemployment and a lack of competitiveness but has led to growing debt, he said.

Singapore's approach is to live within its means so as not to leave the next generation indebted, pursue long-term growth strategies rather than deficit spending, and protect the environment, he summed up.

Later, he told reporters that the biennial Commonwealth meet remained a valuable point of contact between Singapore and countries in Africa and the Caribbean that it did not have many direct links with.

On the sidelines of the two-day summit, Lee met his counterparts from Malta, Rwanda, Tanzania and Vanuatu for bilateral discussions.

He also congratulated Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa on a summit well-hosted.

Thousands rally in Australia for climate action


SYDNEY: Thousands of people rallied across Australia calling for stronger action on climate change, days after new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott moved to abolish a carbon tax.

Activist group GetUp, which organised the National Day of Climate Action, estimated that more than 60,000 people turned out at protests.

"From remote country towns to the big cities, Australians have come to their own conclusions after our hottest year on record. And they want action," GetUp national director Sam Mclean told reporters.

Australia has just experienced the hottest 12 months ever recorded, which coupled with massive bushfires in New South Wales state last month has inflamed debate about whether there is a link to climate change. — AFP

‘Batman’ gains greater notoriety than his crimes


SINGAPORE'S Batman Suparman made news when he was sent to jail last Monday for a string of crimes. His story also took off beyond Singapore, making the list of best-read stories on the BBC website.

The interest clearly was less about his crimes – theft, housebreaking and consuming heroin, for which he was jailed for two years and nine months – and more about his name.

His mother, however, was not amused to hear that his name was being talked about. "A person's name is not a laughing matter," she said, irritated to be asked if he had been named after the comic hero.

She claimed Batman, 23, was a "normal" Javanese name properly pronounced as "But-Mun".

Some international media called on experts to help explain Batman's name. Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer told BBC it was an "interesting juxtaposition of local naming with Western culture".

Veteran Malay language teacher Abdul Rahim Omar told The Sunday Times that Batman has no meaning in Malay or Javanese.

"I think his parents were probably inspired by the comic."

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Boeing airliner crashes in Russian city of Kazan, 50 killed


MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Boeing 737 airliner crashed on Sunday in the Russian city of Kazan, killing all 50 people on board and spotlighting the poor safety record of regional airlines that ply internal routes across the world's largest nation.

The son of the president of the oil-rich province of Tatarstan and the regional head of the FSB intelligence service were named among those killed when the plane exploded in a ball of fire upon hitting the runway.

Pictures showed charred wreckage scattered over a wide area, apparently taken after fire fighters had extinguished the fire. Russian television broadcast a blurred video showing a bright flash of light. It also showed a photo of the plane's gaping fuselage with fire fighters in the foreground.

The Tatarstan airlines flight from Moscow had been trying to abort its landing in order to make a second approach when it crashed, killing all 44 passengers and six crew on board, emergency officials said.

Flight U363 took off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport at 6:25 pm (1425 GMT) and crashed just over an hour later, emergency officials said. The leased plane was 23 years old.

There had been no technical problems reported with the plane prior to the flight and regular maintenance and troubleshooting between flights had been conducted, the news agency Interfax cited the airlines' press office as saying.

"The pilots, both born in 1966, had lots of experience," the agency cited a spokeswoman as saying.

According to local reports, the Boeing lost altitude quickly and its fuel tank exploded on impact.

There were high winds and above-zero temperatures over the airport in central Russia. Flights to and from the airport were halted until midday on Monday.

Kazan, which is 800 km (500 miles) east of Moscow, is the capital of the largely-Muslim, oil-rich region of Tatarstan. A new runway was built at the airport ahead of the World Student Games, held in the city earlier this year.

Russia will host the Winter Olympics in the southern city of Sochi early next year.

The son of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, Irek, was among those killed in the crash, as was the head of the regional Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Antonov, according to a passenger list whose authenticity was confirmed by the regional government.

There was one foreigner, a British national, among the victims.

Russia and the former Soviet republics combined have one of the world's worst air-traffic safety records, with a total accident rate almost three times the world average in 2011, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the disaster "a frightening tragedy", offering his condolences to the relatives of the victims in a Tweet on Sunday.

State television showed images of a woman scanning a list of passenger names posted outside the airport and crumbling into tears as she apparently recognised one.

Boeing officials had no immediate comment on the circumstances of the crash, but issued a statement.

"Boeing's thoughts are with those affected by the crash of the Tartarstan air company flight. Boeing is prepared to provide technical assistance to the investigating authority as it investigates the accident."


Russia spans nine time zones, from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific across large areas of largely uninhabited land, making efficient air and train links especially important to the country's economy.

In Soviet times, flag carrier Aeroflot had a virtual monopoly of the airline industry, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a multitude of small private companies emerged.

A spokesman for state aviation oversight agency Rosaviatsia said authorities would search for the flight recorders.

"The plane touched the ground and burst into flame," Sergei Izvolsky said. "The cause of the crash as of now is unknown."

The plane had been forced to make an emergency landing a year earlier on November 26 due to problems with "cabin depressurisation" shortly after take off, a law enforcement source told Interfax news agency. No one was hurt.

IATA said last year that global airline safety had improved but that accident rates had risen in Russia and the ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.

In April 2012, at least 31 people were killed when a Russian passenger plane crashed after take-off in Siberia.

In September 2011, a Yak-42 passenger jet carrying members of a major league ice hockey team came down shortly after takeoff and burst into flames near the Russian city of Yaroslavl, killing 44 people.

The Boeing 737 is the world's most popular passenger jet in commercial use. There have been 170 crashes involving this model of aircraft since it came into use.

In the Russian city of Perm in 2008, a Boeing 737 exploded a kilometre above the ground, killing 88 people.

Chile's ex-student leaders march their way to congressional victory


SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Camila Vallejo, who helped spearhead Chile's student uprising in 2011, leapt from the street protest to the ranks of Congress alongside three other former university leaders on Sunday, underscoring a generational shift in local politics.

The 25-year-old communist shot to international fame as one of the most recognizable faces of a student movement seeking free and improved education in a nation fettered by the worst income distribution among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's 34 member states.

Vallejo's victory is key for presidential front-runner Michelle Bachelet's bid to have her Nueva Mayoria coalition gain a stronger foothold in both houses of Congress.

"We're going to celebrate our triumph on the streets of the La Florida (district in Santiago)," Vallejo said on Twitter.

Bachelet, who held Chile's highest office from 2006 to 2010, was the clear winner in the Andean nation's presidential election on Sunday, although she will have to go through a second-round runoff next month to seal her victory.

The massive student protests of 2011 rocked incumbent President Sebastian Pinera's government and helped shape the 2013 electoral campaign, with Bachelet running on a platform to implement a tax reform to finance an education overhaul.

Independent candidates Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric and fellow communist Karol Cariola, former comrade-in-arms in the student movement, also gained seats in Chile's lower house on Sunday.

Their ascension to power, however, likely will not keep protests from spilling onto the streets next year as some in the new generation of student leaders view them as sellouts.

"I wouldn't vote for Giorgio Jackson ... for Camila Vallejo neither," said Melissa Sepulveda, the new head of the Universidad de Chile's student body (FECh), a position once held by Vallejo.

"The possibility for change isn't in Congress," Sepulveda said in the recent radio interview.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bill Trott)

Fast-moving storm kills five as tornadoes rip U.S. Midwest


WASHINGTON, Illinois (Reuters) - A fast-moving storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that killed at least five people and flattened large parts of a town in Illinois as it tore across the Midwest, authorities said.

The storm also forced the Chicago Bears to halt their game against the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL fans at Soldier Field to seek shelter as menacing clouds rolled in. Chicago's two major airports also briefly stopped traffic while the metropolitan area was under a tornado watch.

A National Weather Service survey team confirmed preliminary EF-4 tornado damage in Washington County in southern Illinois, with winds of 166 to 200 miles (267-322 km) per hour.

A small farmhouse there took a direct hit, according to the NWS survey team report. "The homestead was totally destroyed with only the foundation remaining," the report said.

A total of 80 tornado reports were received along with 358 reports of damaging winds and 40 reports of large hail, according to Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster with the weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

The storm moved dangerously fast, tracking eastward at 60 miles per hour (97 kph) and Thompson said the bulk of the tornado damage from the storm occurred over a period of about five hours.

"We'll still have a wind damage threat across Pennsylvania and New York into the overnight hours," Thompson said late on Sunday.

An estimated 140,000 were without power in Illinois on Sunday night, along with about 100,000 Michigan residents, due to storm-related outages, according to utility providers.

About 50,000 outages were also reported in Indiana and some 3,000 people were without power in Kentucky.


The town of Washington, Illinois, was hit especially hard by the tornadoes that Thompson said had ripped through Indiana and Kentucky as well as Illinois and a small corner of Ohio.

"It's a sad day in Washington. The devastation is just unbelievable. You just can't imagine. It looks like a war zone in our community," said Washington Mayor Gary Manier.

"It's kind of widespread and went right through our community of 15,000 people," he added, saying hundreds of homes in the town, 145 miles (233 km) southwest of Chicago, had been destroyed.

The state Emergency Management Agency said one person was killed in Washington. Thirty-one people injured by the storm were being treated at St. Francis Medical Center, one of the main hospitals in nearby Peoria, according to hospital spokeswoman Amy Paul. Eight had traumatic injuries.

Two people were killed in Washington County, Illinois, about 200 miles (320 km) south of Peoria, said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The agency estimated that hundreds of homes were damaged and at least 70 levelled across the state.

Washington County coroner Mark Styninger said the two people who died there were elderly siblings. The 80-year-old man and his 78-year-old sister suffered massive trauma when their home was demolished in the storm, Styninger said.

Two people were killed in Massac County, Illinois, on the Kentucky border where a twister devastated several neighbourhoods, emergency officials said.


"It wiped out homes, mobile homes," said Charles Taylor, deputy director of the Emergency Services and Disaster Agency in Massac County. "It downed trees, power lines. We have gas leaks, numerous injuries whether they were in mobile homes, or outdoors, even in the motor vehicles, people have been trapped."

"We have reports of homes being flattened, roofs being torn off," Sara Sparkman, a spokeswoman for the health department of Tazewell County, Illinois, where Washington is located, said in a telephone interview. "We have actual whole neighbourhoods being demolished by the storm."

Sparkman said the storm also had caused damage in Pekin, south of Peoria.

Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said officials believe some people may be trapped in their basements under debris.

The American Red Cross worked with emergency management officials to set up shelters and provide assistance to displaced residents, even as rescue workers searched for more people who might have been caught in the storm's path.

The Washington tornado came out of a fast-moving storm system that originally headed toward Chicago as it threatened a large swath of the Midwest with dangerous winds, thunderstorms, and hail, U.S. weather officials said.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, Jonathan Allen, James Kelleher and Carey Gillam; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

A new China in the making?


BEIJING: China has pledged to make the most sweeping changes to the economy and the country's social fabric in nearly three decades with a 60-point reform plan that may start showing results within weeks.

Some financial and fiscal reforms are likely to be the first out of the blocks, analysts said.

But the more wrenching changes such as land reform, reining in the power of state-behemoths, and a more universal social welfare system may take years as the Communist Party leaders balance reorganising the economy with a need to maintain stability.

"It's clear that they understand what reforms are needed. They will probably start with reforms that could offer the highest returns with the lowest costs," said Lu Zhengwei, chief economist at Industrial Bank in Shanghai.

China unwrapped its boldest reforms since Deng Xiaoping set the country on a course of opening up to the world in the 1970s and 1980s. The Communist Party pledged to let the market play a "decisive" role in the economy and outlined changes designed to unleash new sources of growth that it said would yield results by 2020.

After three decades of breakneck expansion, the economy is showing signs of spluttering under the weight of industrial overcapacity and piles of debt.

Chinese leaders have made clear that reforms will be carried out in a more concerted way by setting up a high-level group to lead them, but analysts believe they will move first with some less controversial reforms, such as interest rate and price deregulation on utilities and natural resources.

"They are likely to start with some easier ones or reforms that have already been kicked off," said Chen Letian, an economist at Rising Securities in Beijing.

The central bank is likely to unveil a long-awaited deposit insurance system by the end of this year or early in 2014 to pave the way for freeing up bank deposit rates, which are now subject to administrative caps, analysts say.

The insurance scheme would protect depositors as Beijing is concerned some smaller lenders could go under as banks compete for deposits in a more open regime. Earlier this year, the central bank removed controls on lending rates.

They expect qualified private investors will get the green-light in the coming months to set up banks to compete with big state lenders that currently dominate.

The government will further loosen its controls on prices of water, electricity and natural resources, in line with the pledge to let the market play a "decisive" role, with changes sooner rather than later.

Fiscal reform is likely to gain some urgency as a lack of constraint on the finances of heavily indebted local governments will make interest rate reform less effective. A bigger slice of tax revenues would reduce their need to borrow heavily or to sell land to raise revenues.

The leadership pledged to push fiscal reform to improve budget management and let the central government assume more spending obligations.


But some changes will require much more preparation and may not show any signs of happening for months or years, analysts say.

Reform to allow farmers to sell their land more freely is still being tested in parts of the country, so the government appears a long way off from deciding exactly how the new idea will work in practice.

Policymakers also want to make sure that urban areas can absorb the hundreds of millions of rural migrants they want to move to cities to help promote a consumer-led economy.

That means social welfare systems, from healthcare to education, have to be strong enough to cope with the influx of people and importantly that jobs are available in the cities.

Policymakers worry a sudden rise of landless and jobless migrants could upset the national stability central to the Communist Party's justification for one-party rule.

"The pre-condition for reforms is that economic growth will be steady and social stability will be maintained," said Xu Gao, chief economist at Everbright Securities in Beijing.

A relaxation of the household registration system, or hukou, which currently means that migrants leave behind the public services they are entitled to as resident of their home villages, will only gradually be expanded from smaller cities to bigger ones, analysts say.
A more universal system is seen as critical if Beijing is to encourage more migration to urban areas.

But Beijing is attempting to overturn a social system in place since 1958, so change will take probably some years, they say.

Reforming state-owned companies will also take years, analysts say. The Communist Party signalled it was in no rush to break up the monopolies that dominate many sectors of the Chinese economy.

Instead, it appears to be targeting a slow squeeze on these companies, which analysts say probably reflects a more practical approach given the political power of the big state firms and the ministries that back them.

The Communist Party has raised the amount of profit the state-owned enterprises have to set aside for dividend payouts, will allow private firms to enter some protected business sectors and will allow markets to play a greater role in pricing assets, suggesting these bloated companies will have to become more efficient over time to cope with market forces.

The government has previously tried to open up sectors currently monopolised by state firms – such as oil and gas, banking, telecommunications, electricity, and transportation – to private investors, but with little success.

The reforms pledge to quicken the process of making the yuan fully convertible, but some government economists caution against high expectation amid fears among some policymakers that allowing the currency to move freely too quickly could expose the economy to volatile capital flows, such as the ones blamed on the US Federal Reserve's economic stimulus programme.

The central bank has pledged to make the yuan "basically convertible" by 2015 but it has not given a clear definition of what that means.

Still, Beijing can not be too cautious, said Zhu Baoliang, chief economist at State Information Centre, a top government think-tank in Beijing.

"They may have to quicken reforms in all fronts, otherwise they may not achieve the tasks by 2020," Zhu said.


The team leading reform is likely to be more powerful than the State Commission for Restructuring the Economy, which was responsible for drawing up a reform blueprint that led to the shutdown of thousands of inefficient state-owned firms and the loss of millions of jobs in the 1990s.

A top party official could head the team, they said. Some speculate that Premier Li Keqiang could take charge, while others pointed to Han Zheng, Shanghai's party chief.

Eventually, Beijing may have to deal with the thorniest issue.

"Over the longer term, both central and local governments will have to downsized and they will no longer need so many people," said Xu at CCIEE – Reuters. 

Gulf carriers’ 15 minutes of buying hysteria


DUBAI: It was a security consultant's nightmare and a moment to savour – royalty, airline bosses, planemakers and press hordes wedged into the same overcrowded room wanting to see the same thing: the colour of money in the oil-rich and fast-growing Gulf.

Gulf airlines dropped US$100bil in 15 minutes on the opening day of the Dubai Airshow, as they ordered hundreds of passenger jets to expand a common ambition to turn the region into a global aviation hub.

After one mega-deal, as Emirates airline and Qatar Airways ordered 200 of Boeing's newly re-launched 777 jet, a quick decor change brought Airbus to the stage to sign a deal with Emirates for 50 of the world's largest jetliner, the A380 superjumbo.

"I don't have my calculator," Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai airline groups Emirates and flydubai joked when asked to estimate the value of deals just unveiled.

The rapid burst of deal-making captured both the frenzy of business activity in the region and the ambition, shared by Gulf states, to diversify their economies away from energy wealth.

But the carefully choreographed event also masked bitter competition between the region's airlines to attract passengers, amid weak margins and high fuel costs.

Airlines jostled for position ahead of the show, each wanting to go first, people aware of the arrangements said.

"The press conferences were changed several times as all of them wanted to be the first to announce," said one source familiar with the closed-door discussions.

Missing from the main announcement, where Boeing launched its revamped 777 jet, was Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, a rival of neighbouring Dubai's Emirates which had agreed to announce orders at the show only after behind-the-scenes talks.

"We rarely announce plane orders at air shows but when we do, the world takes notice," Etihad chief executive James Hogan declared after kicking off the show with his own 777 order.


The hub cities in the Gulf – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – are spending billions on infrastructure to draw more travellers from former hubs in Europe and Asia to the Middle East.

While Western carriers are languishing amid weak margins and high fuel costs, airlines are economic weapon of choice in the Gulf to globalise its economy and diversify oil-based revenue.

The deep-pocketed Gulf carriers are taking bigger roles in global aviation, with planemakers Airbus and Boeing depending increasingly on them for the success and sales of their planes.

"The Middle East three (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Air) have successfully expanded their global route networks over the past decade, in part through the economics of securing highly competitive deals for long haul aircraft – particularly at a time when airlines in other areas of the world faced many challenges to their businesses," said Peter Morris, chief economist at the London-based consultancy Ascend.

Emirates, the oldest of the Gulf carriers, uses Dubai's hub airport status to fill its large fleet of A380 superjumbos that reach all the way to Europe, the US and Australia.

"I would say that the successful and profitable development of Emirates airline is perhaps the most significant factor of last 20 years that has put Dubai on the map for its economy, trade, tourism and growth," Morris said.

Etihad, which completed its 10 years in service this month, is catching up through equity partnerships in airlines around the world, including Air Berlin, Virgin Australia, Aer Lingus and India's Jet Airways.

Qatar Airways has chosen the more traditional route – it became part of the oneworld alliance of airlines in October after decades of resistance from its European rivals.

While competing with each other, the new breed of Gulf airline faces criticism from carriers in the US and Europe which say such large plane orders could disrupt markets.

US airline pilots have said the huge growth is unfair, while some have called for curbs on the use of US export credits to smooth the plane orders to foreign carriers.

"We have to accept competition and never fear it," Sheikh Ahmed said. "People have the right to expand, grow their business and prepare for newcomers to the market." – Reuters – Reuters. 

Berjaya Auto aims double digit growth in the Philippines


KUALA LUMPUR: Mazda car retailer Berjaya Auto Bhd, which staged a solid debut on the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia on Monday, sees potential for double-digit growth in total industry volume in the Philippines from about 4% now, said CEO Datuk Yeoh Choon San.

Its Philippine operations, via 60%-owned Berjaya Auto Philippines, is already contributing to 5.2% of group sales despite starting only in January.

In the longer-term Berjaya Auto is targeting for revenue from the Philippines to grow to 15% to 20% of group turnover, Yeoh told reporters after the listing ceremony.

The company is the sole importer and distributor of Mazda cars there.

He also said Typhoon Haiyan was unlikely to have a major impact on its business in the Philippines as the damage was limited to the Tacloban province.

Berjaya Auto opened with a premium of 85 sen, or 121%, to its IPO price of 70 sen at RM1.55, with a first trade of 2.32 million shares.

At mid-morning the stock was trading at RM1.90 after hitting a high of RM2.20, on volume of 42.66 million shares.

The IPO raised RM58mil from an offer for sale of 82.76 million shares. Most of the proceeds will be used for working capital.

Berjaya Corp Bhd remains Berjaya Auto's single largest shareholder post-listing with a 68% interest, followed by Yeoh with 7.1%.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Maleficent's heart of darkness


Angelina Jolie makes quite an impression – is it those horns? – in just a few seconds in the new Maleficent teaser.

IT must be said that even with just a 15-second appearance in the teaser trailer of Maleficent, Angelina Jolie is quite, erm, magnificent.

Maleficent has horns like the ones on Loki's helmet, she's clad all in black, has an unwavering voice and powers that allow her to bend trees to her will. The 86-second trailer ends with Jolie giving an evil laugh that would've made Vincent Price proud.

It was only last year that another evil queen was brought to life (quite well, really) by Charlize Theron in Snow White And The Huntsman. This evil queen, however, originates from Disney's 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty.

Here is the official synopsis: "A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent, has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land.

"Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone.

"Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king's successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realises that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well."

Aurora is played by Elle Fanning, whom we encounter in the first half of this teaser trailer – a sweet innocent child who coaxes Maleficent to come out of the dark. Whether this is a good idea or bad, we'll have to wait and see.

Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora, a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty, in Maleficent.

Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty, in Maleficent.

Besides Jolie and Fanning, the film also features Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton and Sam Riley. Jolie's daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, plays Princess Aurora as a toddler. Directed by Robert Stromberg,

Maleficent is scheduled to open in Malaysia on May 29 next year.

Movies now showing



THIS remake of the classic horror movie based on Stephen King's book is a fairly freaky watch with some scary moments.

Although I haven't seen the 1976 original, from what I've read, this movie is an almost exact remake of its predecessor.

Carrie – the sheltered, misfit daughter of a sexually repressed, religious fanatic mother – unleashes her newfound telekinetic powers at the school prom after being pushed too far by bullies.

The scares come mainly courtesy of the excellent performances given by Julianne Moore, who plays the mother, and Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie. I found the opening birth scene particularly, and unexpectedly, freaky.

The supporting performers also carried their parts well, especially Judy Greer as physical education teacher Miss Desjardin, Gabriella Wilde as sympathetic Sue Snell, and Ansel Elgort as kind Tommy Ross.

A film that will provide some enjoyable chills without scaring you out of your wits.

Fans of the original film or the book might want to check it out just to see how faithful it is. – Tan Shiow Chin (***)

The Second Sight

REMEMBER the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Well, we all know that karma is not something to be trifled with and in this film, karmic debt can put one in a seriously scary situation.

This Thai horror flick is quite generous with the ghosts, yet it is still somewhat short on the scares. The CGI is certainly a cool touch but too videogame-like to be taken seriously.

I suspect that you may have to watch it in 3D to fully appreciate its beautiful actresses' bountiful assets; there's a boardroom scene that gives viewers an eyeful via an extended bird's-eye view and a bathroom scene that gives new meaning to the word bloodbath.

According to this movie, never kill slimy catfish or eat slithery serpents, for they will definitely come back to devour your soul. – Seto Kit Yan (***)

Ender's Game

AS someone who has read the classic novel this movie is based on, I felt the film was a CliffsNotes version of the book.

All the important parts are there – hardly surprising, as author Orson Scott Card is one of the producers – and the story tries its best to portray the emotional complexity of protagonist Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), but viewers who haven't read the book will feel a little lost at times as the movie throws in concepts that are not properly explained on screen.

The story is about the training of the best young minds to lead humanity's forces against alien invaders called Formics, who attacked Earth 50 years ago.

Ender is picked out as the most promising candidate and recruited to Battle School to intensify his training in preparation for the upcoming attack against the Formic home world.

Overall, this is a fairly decent effort. The visuals are excellent, the story's a bit different from the usual sci-fi action fare and the acting is quite good.

Worth a watch, but those who have read the book will get the most out of it. TSC (***)

Thor: The Dark World

TRUTH be told, I don't remember much about the plot and I only watched this last week. Something about Dark Elves wanting to harness a force called Aether to bring eternal darkness to all existence.

What I do remember is having a ball watching the movie. The story here is more about Asgard (beautifully realised in CGI) and focuses on characters like Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Frigga (Rene Russo) and Heimdall (Idris Elba).

While the best parts involve Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) being forced to deal with their sibling angst in ways both hilarious and touching, there is a lot more to enjoy here (though Natalie Portman's Jane Foster is still not one of them), including an awesome inter-dimensional climactic sequence.

The movie retains the mix of visual effects, action, humour and emotion that worked so well in Thor's first outing, and while it may not be the best entry in the Marvel movie universe, it's still loads of fun. – Sharmilla Ganesan (****)

Mark Wahlberg says he wasn't cursing out Tom Cruise


Controversy arose after Cruise's lawyer compared acting to military service.

MARK Wahlberg would like to make it known: He didn't intend to curse out Tom Cruise when he railed against comparing acting to military service on Tuesday night. But he still thinks it's a dumb comparison to make.

A Wrap story on the screening suggested that Wahlberg might have been coyly referring to a recent media dust-up over Cruise. But the Planet Of The Apes star Wahlberg said on Wednesday that he wasn't aware that the comparison was connected to Cruise, TMZ reports.

"I didn't know it was Tom Cruise that said that, somebody just mentioned that people were comparing that, you know?" Wahlberg said. "I love Tom Cruise."

In actuality, Cruise didn't make the comparison – it was his attorney, during a deposition in the actor's libel case against Bauer Media, who compared a lengthy movie shoot to "serving in Afghanistan".

The actor himself was quick to scoff at the comparison, saying: "Oh come on. You know, we're making a movie."

Nonetheless, Wahlberg took extreme exception to the comparison during a Q&A following the world premiere of his new film Lone Survivor, about three Navy SEALs on a mission in Afghanistan.

"For actors to sit there and talk about, 'Oh I went to SEAL training,' and I slept on the – I don't give a f*** what you did. You don't do what these guys did," Wahlberg fumed. "For somebody to sit there and say my job was as difficult as somebody in the military's. How f****** dare you. While you sit in a makeup chair for two hours."

Wahlberg did not specifically reference Cruise during the tirade. While professing his love for Cruise on Wednesday, Wahlberg did say it was an "unfair" comparison.

"I have the utmost respect for Tom Cruise, but I have the utmost respect for military guys, so it's just unfair for anybody to comment on that," Wahlberg noted. – Reuters

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Valley Of Amazement


Lucretia "Lulu" Minturn is the American mistress of the mansion, a first-class establishment of first-rate beauties who confer pleasures upon their patrons between secret smiles, skilled singing, and sweet nothings.

Lulu is also a master mediator, with a knack for facilitating deals between patrons of different nationalities. Her wilful half-Chinese daughter, Violet, lives a life of privilege in this "house of flowers", but treasures her mother's (divided) attention above all sweetmeats and silver.

Their rich and varied narratives will sweep readers through decades of love and loss, lingering over lavish parties glittering with flower sisters and hot-blooded gentlemen, and transport them back in time to the streets of San Francisco, and journey deep into the heart of a remote Chinese village and its lonely beauty.

In the eight years it took to finish this book, Tan invested a tremendous amount of research into her latest work, and it shows.

Detail-oriented readers will enjoy lavish descriptions of high-ranking courtesan costumes and traditional living quarters, see the majestic natural landscapes in their mind's eye, and find themselves familiar even with the minutiae of the past.

This holds true with Tan's fascination with – and dedication to – researching the yesteryears and presenting them in all their grit and glory.

The relationship between Lulu and Violet experiences its fair share of mother-daughter angst, but those looking for Tan's usual brand of familial bonds may not find that dynamic here.

The sheer scale of detail provided can sometimes overwhelm the ties described, but this may merely be an effect of the overbearing artifice of the courtesan environment.

Happily, there are some personalities you warm to quickly and learn to care for, such as the sassy, smart-mouthed older courtesan Magic Gourd, whose pragmatic views are tempered with love and vulnerability.

Of course, when the story concerns courtesans whose bread and butter lies in the consummation of carnal pleasure, passages can be rife with descriptions of sexual paraphernalia and seduction techniques, especially in chapters such as "Etiquette for Beauties of the Boudoir".

The acts are often described in a woman's wry voice, and the wisdom of trysts both tame and terrifying leave the teller with a certain canny frankness. It is largely devoid of any real passion or romance, as befitting any form of love put up for sale.

The complex characters commit mostly believable mistakes, though their motivations (or lack thereof) sometimes remain a mystery even to themselves.

But for all their flaws, each seems to inhabit and illustrate the story exactly the way Tan intended.

Violet, for one, is forced to face harsh realities and bloom into adulthood before her appointed time. Interestingly, her journey's timeline is in tandem with Shanghai's ascent towards its golden age in the 1920s, and the events that develop forthwith provide a compelling parallel.

A mysterious painting called The Valley Of Amazement also serves as a key plot point, and readers might enjoy the push and pull in the family history described.

Though the ending may seem ripe for a sequel, Tan herself dismissed the notion as she is not interested in continuing an already completed story: "I also think I am not as curious about what happens to the characters, because I more or less know what will become of them."

And while readers might even find some of them downright unlikable, it is perhaps testament to Tan's writing that her cast of characters cannot be faulted for their flawed, and sometimes fickle, actions.

After all, their behaviour is in instinctive accordance with the innate chaos and disorder of one very natural condition: the ever-changing depths and desires of the human heart.

Denial: Self-deception, False Beliefs, And The Origins Of The Human Mind


EVERY person who reads this book review will die – obviously not as a result of reading this but just because the nature of human life, and indeed all life, is that it is finite. Of course, almost every human being who has reached the age of reason knows and understands that our time on earth is limited, yet our behaviour is very often at odds with that knowledge and we behave as if our lives will continue indefinitely.

Authors Ajit Varki and Danny Brower maintain that though we can intellectually grasp our own impermanence, on an intuitive level we don't really believe it. When it comes to our own mortality we are in a state of denial.

This may well be necessary for our personal wellbeing and the survival of the species as a whole. Evolution has moulded us to be capable of denying the risk of mortality. If we were to be constantly and viscerally conscious of our imminent demise we would be in permanent panic mode, essentially so terrified of our own existence that we would be all crouched in foetal positions gibbering in a corner. Any creature exhibiting this type of behaviour would be unlikely to find a mate and consequently unlikely to pass down its genes.

While the rational analytical mind is a useful tool and has allowed us to dominate this planet as a species and go beyond, or at least stretch (close to breaking point), the environmental constraints placed upon us, our biological makeup has also prepared us for times when thinking is not such a good idea. When being attacked by a wild animal, or a neighbouring tribe, the fight or flight mechanism overrides rational thought. Biologically and neurologically we haven't evolved beyond this point. The mechanisms that allow us to act, or rather react, without having to give any sort of rational or logical analysis of a given situation are still very much in place.

The pathways between prefrontal cortex and amygdala involved in the stress response are not fully developed in humans until we reach our early 20s. This goes some way to explaining the sometimes reckless behaviour of "invincible" teenagers, and specifically young men. They will take incredible risks, often just for the fun of it, risks that no sane middle-aged person would ever consider. This, incidentally, makes young men very useful military recruits.

Reality denial comforts us. We do not brood on death all the time. Yet sooner or later we all experience some form of existential angst and ask ourselves the big questions: Who am I? What am I here for? What will happen to me after I die? The thought of our own discontinuity is unnerving. We may be troubled by the idea that our lives would be pointless if it was all just to end in a black void. We look for a meaning in our lives.

Along with our innate capacity for denial we may also be hardwired for spirituality as part of the same survival mechanism. Many choose to see their lives as fitting into some sort of divine plan, believing in a greater scheme of things and some sort of higher authority that governs our lives to some inscrutable end.

All major religions play on this and have evolved to assuage our doubts. They tell us that even after we die we will continue on in some other form, that there will be an after-life or another life. Billions of humans accept this on faith, without a single shred of evidence, because we are in denial of the reality of our mortality, because our intuition insists and whispers reassuringly that we are immortal.

This book is full of examples of our capacity for self-delusion and denial. We develop and maintain nuclear weapons and assume that they will never fall into the wrong hands or be used against us. We blithely dismiss the fact that we have irreparably altered the environment, that there have been countless extinctions within our lifetimes and many more to follow, that we have created an economic model that thrives on inequity, exploitation and human misery.

Despite decades of warnings from the world's top scientists we avoid dealing with the issue of environmental destruction and fail to instigate any meaningful legislation or action to offset the worsening state of our climate. We assume, quite wrongly, and against all scientific evidence, that it will somehow all just sort itself out.

The authors assert that "we are in a state of denial about our denial of reality". We can't change that denial is part of our genetic makeup. But we have to face up to the reality of the problem in the same way an alcoholic or addict takes the first step to overcoming their addiction – by admitting that there is a problem.

On the bright side, we can see optimism as a useful aspect of denial. The same neural wiring involved in our stress response is better at informing our brains about good news than bad news. Ignoring the likelihood of failure allows us to carry on in the face of the most unlikely odds and has enabled us to achieve countless advances of all sorts. Ultimately, we need to recognise when our capacity for using "mind over reality" is useful to us and when it isn't.

Denial is a meaty book that merits being read slowly, but is definitely a thought-provoking and well worthwhile read.

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The Star Online: Nation

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Malaysia to give input on post-millennium goals


MALAYSIA is set to give its input to the association of Commonwealth Nations on the United Nations Post-Millennium Development Goals as part of a measure to give the 53 member nations a better role in setting its direction.

The heads of government attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) had decided that the member nations would play a more decisive role in shaping the outcome of the post-millennium goals in 2015, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"To achieve this, a conference of CHOGM finance ministers will be held to discuss the matter and prepare input to determine the direction of UN's Post-Millennium Development Goals," he told reporters after launching the Foshwa Pvt Ltd One-Stop-Centre for Malaysian visas at a ceremony in Colombo yesterday.

Such a decision was taken based on the influence of CHOGM's member nations, which would be able to shape the direction of other international forums, said Najib.

Malaysia, he said, would be channelling its input to CHOGM by 2014 before the Commonwealth body presented its views to UN following the proposed conference.

Initiated in 2000, the eight Millennium Development Goals are aimed at, among others, halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, providing universal primary education, reducing child mortality, promoting gender equality and ensuring sustainable development.

Najib said leaders also continued their discussions on how to achieve sustainable, equitable and inclusive development for the member nations.

Earlier, he had joined other leaders for two sessions of the CHOGM retreat.

Held at the upmarket hotel Waters Edge, the discussions during the retreat, among others, touched on the Commonwealth's fundamental values as well as the global economic situation.

Bootcamp for housemen


KUALA LUMPUR: New doctors may soon undergo their housemanship at army hospitals as the Health Ministry struggles to cope with their large numbers.

"We will be raising the issue with the Defence Ministry to allow housemanship training at their hospitals," said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

Speaking to reporters after opening a Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) seminar on housemanship training here yesterday, he said 3,700 new doctors enter the healthcare sector annually.

"There are certain hospitals with wards or units with 100 doctors," he said, adding that the ratio in some hospitals was two or three doctors to one patient.

Dr Subramaniam said that due to this, new doctors may not be getting adequate training, exposure and experience.

He said the ministry was looking at setting up a curriculum for housemen to complete to ensure they had the skills to be competent.

Dr Subramaniam said the ministry was hard-pressed to find places for new doctors to undergo the required two-year housemanship with a "waiting list" that grew by the day.

He said other measures being considered were to send these doctors to serve in primary care clinics, district hospitals and expanding the number of teaching hospitals.

In the long-term, he said the ministry was looking at addressing the huge number of students taking up medicine every year.

"We need to reduce these numbers. It won't be easy but we have started discussing this matter with the Education Ministry," said Dr Subramaniam.

MMA president Datuk N.K.S. Tharmaseelan said that unlike in the past, housemen today did not get the opportunity to perform or witness many procedures such as a cesarean delivery.

"It's easy for them to get disenchanted and disillusioned with becoming doctors because they lack confidence to manage patients on their own," he said.

Kelantan still seeking expert views on hudud


KOTA BARU: The judges of the Kelantan Syariah Court are ready to hear criminal cases under hudud laws but the PAS-led state government is still seeking expert views before implementing the Syariah Criminal Code passed 20 years ago.

State Syarie Judges chief Datuk Daud Muhammad, a staunch advocate of hudud, has renewed his call to the state to implement it.

When asked to comment on the matter, Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Abdullah said the government was adopting a "non-hasty" approach and needed to collate views from experts, including former International Islamic University professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari.

Dr Abdul Aziz, an expert in constitutional law, had said that the Kelantan government only needed the Sultan's consent to implement hudud.

Mohd Amar, who is also state PAS deputy commissioner (III), said other experts were of the view that there was a need to amend the Federal Constitution.

The Syariah Criminal Code Enactment (II) was passed in 1993 and received the consent of the then Sultan of Kelantan, Sultan Ismail Petra ibni Yahya Petra.

Mohd Amar said that although the law included a special court to hear hudud cases, the state government also needed the cooperation of the police and the Prisons Department on where to hold those arrested for offences.

Meanwhile, MCA publicity bureau deputy chairman Loh Seng Kok said Daud's remarks on the readiness to enforce PAS' version of hudud showed the irrelevance of the opposing statements by DAP leaders.

"Responses by Pakatan Rakyat leaders are insufficient to convince anyone as the PAS-led Kelantan state government unanimously passed state enactments favouring the implementation of hudud," Loh said in a statement.

He said it was clear that the current Kelantan government had consented to the implementation of hudud regardless of the assurances to the contrary being given by Pakatan.

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Wooing the best minds back to home


Many top Singaporean researchers work abroad. What will bring them home — and at the same time help retain scientists who stayed on in the republic?

FOUR decades ago, armed with a newly minted doctorate from Cambridge University, a young Malaysian neuro-anatomy researcher arrived to work at the then University of Singapore.

Having come back to South-East Asia to be closer to his family, Prof Ling Eng Ang found a research landscape "like a Third World country". Research funding was scarce; the lab had to buy and breed its own rats for studies, and there was no budget to publish papers in top journals that sought fees from researchers.

When the university began hiring scientists from the rich West who had lengthy publication records, "how could we compete?" he recalled.

Singaporean researchers left for countries with a more developed culture of science and richer funding. Later, others went and stayed, seeking to grow their careers.

Now, Singapore wants to woo this diaspora home, particularly those who have excelled in their fields.

Once they are headhunted by universities and research institutes in the island-state, scientists who are Singapore citizens will get up to five years of research funding.

This comes out of the S$16.5bil (RM41.2bil) pot earmarked for R&D between 2011 and 2015, while their salaries are paid by the institute that employs them.

"By doing so, we hope to anchor the research capabilities and grow the Singapore core," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month when he announced the scheme.

Lee explained it was "worthwhile to make an extra effort".

"These are the people who might not be otherwise thinking of coming back," he said.

"They have already set up their careers, settled in and have challenging and exciting jobs. wherever they are in the world. We say: come back, we would like to have this link with you, either come back to visit or come back to relocate."

This seems like a good idea in principle.

As the popular narrative goes, Singapore has very deliberately been bootstrapping itself up to the head of the class in engineering, physical and biomedical sciences over the past two decades, a process jump-started by importing big-name scientists from the West.

Now, it's time to groom Singaporeans – who presumably will have a vision for science in the republic – to take up leadership positions.

That is the core idea. But how effective will it be?

Singaporean stars

The National Research Foundation (NRF) does not keep tabs on how many Singapore scientists are abroad, but it said it was building a database of those overseas.

However, it is known that some are outstanding in their fields. For example, Prof Peh Li-Shiuan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's electrical engineering and computer science department studies ways to boost the computing power of computer chips.

Assoc Prof Wong Chee Wei at Columbia University manipulates light to study tiny nanostructures. Last month, he was named a Fellow of the Optical Society of America.

Another Singaporean, Dr Desney Tan, is a principal researcher at Microsoft's research division, where he studies human-computer interaction, mobile computing and healthcare applications.

Even if Singapore could track all its expatriate scientists down, drawing them back is a different matter. Choosing where to live and work are very personal decisions.

Singapore presents itself as a vibrant, well-funded destination for science research. If this is the case, why do Singaporean scientists need an extra carrot to come home?

In some fields, the opportunities elsewhere are richer.

Assoc Prof Leonard Lee of Columbia Business School, whose PhD in marketing was from MIT, said the opportunity to learn from his field's best minds was "too great to miss". But he keeps a foot in each country, giving seminars at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and other Singapore universities.

And Microsoft's Dr Tan said the firm offered him support to build a "dream team". He was also drawn by the chance to "conduct scientific research with the very best and then to translate that research into commercial products that get used by millions of people".

Over time, many put down roots overseas. Some have married non-Singaporeans and live in their spouse's home country. Some like the economies of scale in the research environment at, say, Harvard.

The truth is, people sometimes leave because they are simply dissatisfied with the level of bureaucracy or pressure for quick results. The latter has also been known to turn off some of the big names lured from overseas.

NRF might be more successful if it understood what draws Singaporeans home.

Family is a major reason: Nanyang Technological University (NTU) mathematician Chua Chek Beng gave up a tenure-track post at the University of Waterloo in Canada in 2006 because he and his wife wanted to be closer to their parents in Singapore.

It helped that he was offered the chance to work at NTU's brand-new school of physical and mathematical sciences, too.

Assoc Prof Too Heng-Phon of NUS' biochemistry department, who is Malaysian and a permanent resident here but whose wife and son are Singaporean, said he came back to the region to be closer to family as well.

Grants can help. When she received a Clinician Scientist Award grant from the National Medical Research Council, cardiologist Carolyn Lam returned from Mayo Clinic in the United States to practise and do research at the National University Hospital (NUH), where she focuses on women's heart health.

Equal treatment

Great teachers are another draw. NUS' Prof Ling said that while the conditions were spartan back in the 1970s, the late Prof Ragunathar Kanagasuntheram was a great mentor. He also stayed in Singapore out of a sense of duty. "We were almost like the 'pioneers' and we helped build up this place both in teaching and research. If we don't, who else?"

As Singapore builds up its research ecosystem and draws other leading minds, those who come home may themselves become a draw for younger academics looking for mentors.

Prof Ling, for instance, has trained generations of medical students. And collaborations like the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology allow those like Prof Peh to guide younger scientists in both Singapore and their home university.

While Singapore draws its own home and attracts foreign researchers, it also ought to recognise those who have long served here. It should treat equally those who have gone abroad and those who have stayed. Researchers like Prof Ling, Prof Lee and NTU dean of science Prof Ling San agreed on this point. The NRF carrot could help to retain outstanding Singaporean scientists, too.

At the same time, the move to woo back Singaporean scientists can also be seen as an exhortation to young scientists to go forth, grow their careers wherever they wish, then come home. They will not be considered quitters, but valuable returnees.

Dr Wilhelm Krull, secretary- general of Germany's private Volkswagen Foundation and a member of Singapore's high-level Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, suggested it was "time to think more in terms of circulation rather than brain drain or brain gain".

Dr Tan of Microsoft noted that the new scheme signalled a strong commitment to top local talent, a change from previous years.

When he completed his PhD in 2004, he felt Singapore favoured foreign hires with more attention and fat relocation packages. To draw him home, Singapore would have to replicate the "excitement, unfettered support and commitment" of his current conditions.

"There is no cookie cutter formula for this. What will work for one domain and individual, may not work for another ... But if done right, I believe top talent will choose to jump back in from their presumably fulfilling positions outside of Singapore and to embrace the challenge.

"In general, I think many Singaporeans would love to return home and serve the country, and I'm excited to see conditions swinging in favour of this," he added.

Living with nature's onslaught


More than 11,000 people have been displaced after Super Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, tore a path of destruction through central Philippines last Friday. At least 4,000 are feared dead. One writer reflects on the latest disaster to hit his home country.

OF the first images of the devastating power that Super Typhoon Yolanda bore as it barrelled through the Visayan islands, what struck me most was the grainy footage of the frenzied swaying of chandeliers in an old cathedral in Leyte whose roof was torn piece by piece by the howling wind.

Throughout the day, television stations had seemed hard-pressed to show scenes of massive destruction that somehow would match the worldwide attention Yolanda had garnered even before it made landfall.

The memorable footage was taken by a GMA-7 TV crew that had sought shelter from the storm inside the church. To me, it dramatically captured the essential aspects of our traumatic encounters with nature - our helplessness in the face of its frightening power, and our unshakable faith that, in spite of everything, we will be saved.

So powerful were Yolanda's winds that, even as she made several landfalls, she went away as swiftly as she came – as though she were headed somewhere else and was only passing through. She stayed on track and didn't linger. There were no other weather systems in the horizon to complicate her journey.

She arrived not a minute sooner – not under cover of darkness, like other typhoons, but just as daylight was breaking. This meant that residents in the affected areas had every opportunity to find refuge in safe places. Most important of all, although she gathered unprecedented strength while traversing the Pacific Ocean, Yolanda didn't carry with her a lot of rain. From experience, we know that it is torrential rain, with the killer floods and mudslides it triggers, that tends to multiply the number of fatalities.

Still, I would argue that, more than luck, it is practice founded on learning that spells the greatest difference between survival and tragedy, and between being crippled by crisis and being able to rise from it. That is the whole significance behind the need for drills and exercises.

We have gone through so many tough challenges, indeed perhaps more than our fair share of nature's catastrophic events, that our daily routines as a people have become, by themselves, survival drills. Under the circumstances in which we live, only the most foolish would fail to learn how to parry nature's blows.

As a result, I think most Filipinos have mastered the art of suffering. Our personal psychology revolves around the virtue of overcoming adversity. We are generally unfazed by misfortune. We adapt to it as if it were living's default mode. As the average overseas Filipino worker abundantly shows, we take unimaginable risks working in the most unfamiliar places in the world as though it were the most natural thing to do.

Yet, as a country, we seem chronically unable to translate this gift into a source of collective strength. At best, we internalise it within our respective families, but seldom do we cultivate it at the level of the local and national community.

So when we say we lack discipline as a people, what we are acknowledging is our inability to coordinate our efforts and move as a unified social system. We have clearly failed to develop those tools by which we may collectively manage nature's fury. In contrast, when the killer tsunami hit Japan two years ago, that nation moved as one in the aftermath of the disaster.

But, interestingly, I learnt that, in Sendai, when everyone else was panicking in the face of the rising tide, it was the Filipino women who kept calm and instantly became the pillars of strength in the Japanese families into which they had married.

Over the years, we have learnt how to survive under very real exigencies. We have had no time for disaster drills and education.

Nature itself has kept us on our toes, throwing a variety of challenges in our direction almost as if it were preparing us for the big thing. Slowly, we are learning to heed warnings and instructions, to prepare for disasters as communities. We have become more conscious of new epidemics that come in the wake of natural calamities.

We are learning to take stock of the collective resources at our disposal and to offer spontaneous leadership and organisation when our formal institutions fail to respond. Most importantly, we are learning to befriend nature.

Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls these forms of competencies "anthropotechnics" – strengths acquired through repetitive practice that enhances our performance for the next challenge. It was these, I think, that Yolanda tested and brought to the fore the other day. – Philippine Daily Inquirer/ Asia News Network 

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