Ahad, 26 Januari 2014

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Trierweiler in India for first outing after Hollande scandal

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:06 PM PST

MUMBAI: Valerie Trierweiler, the ex-partner of French President Francois Hollande, was in India Monday on a charity visit, making her first public appearance since revelations of the leader's affair with an actress.

Trierweiler arrived in the financial city of Mumbai just after midnight for the long-planned two-day mission to promote a French humanitarian group, despite no longer being France's first lady. 

Trierweiler did not speak to reporters after landing at Mumbai international airport and was surrounded by photographers before getting into a waiting car.

Hollande announced to AFP on Saturday that he was splitting from his partner of eight years following intense media scrutiny over his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet, 41.

Trierweiler, 48, had been convalescing at a presidential residence outside Paris after leaving hospital last Saturday, where she was treated for what was described as fatigue brought on by media reports on the affair two weeks ago.

Trierweiler is expected to visit a hospital Monday in Mumbai where the charity organising the trip, Action Against Hunger (Action Contre la Faim - ACF), helps care for malnourished children.

The trip - which the charity says is being financed mostly by private Indian partners - also includes witnessing a training programme for medical staff.

She will lunch with the wives of top local businessmen and attend a gala dinner on Monday evening at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel where she is also staying.

A press conference is planned for Monday but Trierweiler herself may not address the media, the charity has said. Her visit is expected to generate intense press interest given the scandal and her refusal so far to speak about it.

Her entourage said on Sunday she was accompanied on the trip by a presidential bodyguard. A source close to her said: "She is on good terms with the president and she is better."

Monday's dinner has been organised to promote ACF's local charity partner Fight Hunger Foundation, with Trierweiler the guest of honour and sponsors including Moet & Chandon.

She will be shown around the city by French actress Charlotte Valandrey, who is involved in the cause of promoting organ donations and transplants.

Trierweiler visited India in February last year when, accompanied by the president, she visited a shelter for street children in New Delhi and spoke of her desire as First Lady to become a champion of children's rights.

Trierweiler is a glamorous, twice-married career journalist who has three children of her own.

Hollande, 59, announced his separation from Segolene Royal, a senior member of his Socialist party and a presidential candidate in 2007, just after she lost the election to Nicolas Sarkozy.

He then started living openly with Trierweiler. Although she is not married to Hollande, she assumed the role of first lady at official functions after Hollande's election in 2012.

Trierweiler cut down on her work at the French magazine Paris-Match and engaged in charitable activities after his election.

Following Hollande's announcement of their separation, Trierweiler tweeted: "I extend all my gratitude to the fantastic Elysee staff. I will never forget their dedication nor the emotional farewell."

On Sunday several thousand people marched through Paris to rally against a slew of policies under Hollande - the most unpopular French president of modern times - in a "Day of Anger" which ended with clashes between police and protesters. -AFP

Related story:
Hollande heads to crisis hit Turkey after split from first lady

Para-counsellor policemen help other cops

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Superintendent of Police Jason Loke does not just catch crooks. He also catches problems – the personal kind.

The 40-year-old is one of a growing number of volunteer police para-counsellors who are trained to help their colleagues deal with life's issues, whether marital, financial or work-related.

Once, he noticed how another policeman was under-performing at work. He took him out for drinks, and the married colleague revealed that he was having an affair with an old friend.

"He wanted to end the extramarital affair. He was concerned that it would affect his family and career," said Loke, an assistant director of the Forensics Division at the Criminal Investigation Department.

"I told him that if he gave up his family or career, it may not be the best way forward. Ultimately, he ended the relationship."

Loke, who has served in the force for 16 years, noticed how officers are more comfortable sharing their problems with one of their peers instead of an in-house psychologist.

That was one reason the voluntary para-counselling programme was launched in 2001. It started with 100 counsellors, but there are now 330, with at least one para-counsellor in every division.

It may be a volunteer position, but those who sign up have to go through a rigorous selection process, which involves passing a psychometric test to see whether the volunteers have the traits of a good counsellor, and a selection interview.

And then there are five days of training. During this time, they are taught basic counselling skills and learn how to support officers and their families in a crisis.

They also go through a suicide intervention and prevention course, in which they learn to spot signs of suicidal behaviour, such as depression and sudden withdrawals from social interactions.

Staff sergeant Dalip Kaur, 37, remembers how the para-counselling skills she learnt helped her deal with one of her recruits at the Training Command.

He was having problems dealing with the fact that he could not go home to play computer games, said Dalip.

"It was just a few more weeks to passing out and the trainee had refused to talk, as if he had lost his voice," she said.

"I showed him a calendar and tried to explain to him that he could go home to his games soon, after taking away the Saturdays and Sundays.

"After that, he seemed okay. I didn't think that a calendar could do such wonders," she said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

China patient with 'botched' nose gets death for killing doctor

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 09:12 PM PST

BEIJING: A Chinese court sentenced to death Monday a patient who fatally stabbed a doctor over what he considered a botched nose operation, state media reported, in a case spotlighting China's overburdened health system.

Lian Enqing, 33, killed an ear, nose and throat specialist and injured two others because he "felt displeased with his nose and claimed to be suffering respiratory problems", the Xinhua state news agency said.

"While the hospital confirmed that the surgery was successful, Lian felt he was being cheated by the doctors," it cited Lian's sister as saying.

The attack last October prompted dozens of hospital staff to protest outside their workplace in Wenling city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, urging stronger safety guarantees in the face of periodic violence by patients.

Doctors in China, the world's most populous nation, are often overburdened with too many cases and taking bribes for better care is reportedly a widespread practice.

Authorities last month announced a one-year campaign to better protect hospital staff against attackers. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

More than 300 fall ill on Royal Caribbean ship; cruise cut short

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:45 PM PST

(Reuters) - More than 300 passengers and crew members fell ill aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, many with vomiting and diarrhoea, the Centres for Disease Control said on Sunday.

Royal Caribbean confirmed the outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness, saying that the 10-day cruise would end two days early, with the ship returning to its home port in New Jersey.

"New reports of illness have decreased day-over-day, and many guests are again up and about," Royal Caribbean said in a written statement. "Nevertheless, the disruptions caused by the early wave of illness means that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting."

The CDC said in a statement that 281 passengers and 22 crew members aboard the Explorer of the Seas reported becoming sick during the voyage. The ship was carrying 3,050 passengers and a crew of 1,165.

The ship was on a Caribbean cruise after departing Cape Liberty, New Jersey on January 21.

The CDC said the cause of the sickness was unknown but that an environmental safety officer and an epidemiologist would board the ship in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to determine the cause of the outbreak and the proper response.

The ship's crew increased cleaning and disinfection procedures and had collected specimens from those who reported being ill following the outbreak, the CDC said.

"After consultation between our medical team and representatives of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, we think the right thing to do is to bring our guests home early, and use the extra time to sanitize the ship even more thoroughly," Royal Caribbean said.

The cruise line said it believes the illnesses are consistent with norovirus, a highly contagious virus spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Edith Honan and Eric Walsh)

Thai red-shirt heartland backs government despite rice fiasco

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:36 PM PST

CHAIWAN, Thailand (Reuters) - Rice farmer Thiwakorn Chomchan hasn't been paid in 2 months, but he is not angry with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose flagship policy is meant to guarantee him an above-market price. Instead, he blames anti-government protesters in Bangkok.

"Some farmers in the north and northeast of the country who are part of the rice scheme are not upset. They know the government has its hands tied," said Thiwakorn, 51.

Elsewhere across Thailand thousands of farmers, many of whom are owed 4 months' pay, are demonstrating against the multi-billion dollar scheme they say is riddled with corruption and have threatened to join the protests disrupting the capital.

In the northeastern heartland of Yingluck's Puea Thai Party and her brother, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, nobody is switching sides.

A meeting convened by Thiwakorn around a smoky fire in Chaiwan, a district in the northeastern province of Udon Thani, captured the mood: the 20 assembled farmers decided unanimously that they would not be joining the demonstrations.

"We're loyal people. We have faith in the government's policies," said Sunanta Wimasee, who owns 9 rai (1.4 hectares) of rice fields.

The rock solid support of the poorer but populous north almost certainly guarantees Yingluck will win a February 2 election if legal challenges escalating violence do not force its postponement.

But the erosion of rural support elsewhere leaves her increasingly reliant on the electoral bastion built by Thaksin - further polarising an already deeply divided country where a protest movement based in Bangkok and the more prosperous south is determined to drive her from office.


The protests are the latest chapter in an 8-year conflict that broadly pits the Bangkok-based middle class against the mainly poorer supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, who was toppled by the military in 2006.

Ten people have been killed since the protests began in November. In a sign tensions are escalating, an anti-government protest leader was shot and killed in Bangkok on Sunday as demonstrators blocked polling stations set up for early voting.

Last Wednesday, Kwanchai Praipana, an outspoken leader of the pro-government "red shirt" movement, was seriously injured after an unidentified gunman opened fire as he sat reading a newspaper on his front porch.

Just a day earlier, he had told Reuters a nationwide "fight" would ensue if the military launched another coup.

"We won't accept them seizing power, if we need to divide the country then we will," Kwanchai, who leads thousands of red-shirted supporters in Udon Thani. "We won't send people to Bangkok to fight empty-handed."


Thailand's central plains, the country's main rice-growing region, have traditionally been up for grabs at election time, with no party dominating and constituencies keenly contested.

In 2011, voters there helped Yingluck sweep to power after she promised to kick-start the rice intervention scheme. Out of the 265 seats won by Yingluck's party in 2011, more than 39 percent were from northeast, while 15 percent came from the central "swing" region.

The rice policy, however, has been a fiasco, with losses of 136 billion baht ($4.14 billion) in the 2011-2012 crop year. Critics of the scheme, including former Central Bank Governor and Finance Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula recently estimated the total at 425 billion baht ($30.42 million).

As financing strains mount on what has been a centrepiece of the government's programme, unpaid farmers are getting angry.

"The government took our rice and they haven't paid us and those poor farmers can barely make a living," Prasit Boonchoy, head of the Thai Farmers Association, told Reuters, adding that more than 10,000 farmers would march to Bangkok.

Over the past week protesting farmers in 26 of the country's 76 provinces blocked major roads demanding compensation.

"Almost everyone in the northeast has been paid because they've already harvested their rice. Elsewhere that's not the case," said Nipon Poapongsakorn from the Thailand Development Research Institute.

"It's life and death for them and the farmers that are protesting now are really mad. The government will certainly lose a few farmers' votes in the next election."

Unlike in "Isaan", as the northeast region of the country is called, provinces in central Thailand are well-irrigated. Farmers there can grow rice as much as three times a year.

But a long dry season in northeastern Thailand means farmers harvest rice once a year and diversify by growing other crops including sugar-cane, rubber and cassava.


Thaksin, who lives in Dubai to avoid a corruption sentence handed down in his absence in 2008, remains a hero to many in the mostly poor, rural north and northeast for his big-spending populist policies, including free healthcare and cheap loans.

In interviews with Reuters, farmers in Udon Thani blamed the protesters in Bangkok for delayed payments for their rice.

Donning a green cap with a five-pointed red star as he erected campaign signs for Yingluck's Puea Thai Party, Thongpoon Promying, 61, said the government's critics were deliberately discrediting the scheme.

"It isn't the government's fault," said Thongpoon, a former member of the Thai Communist Party.

"There's money but the farmers' bank is playing politics. They call themselves a bank for grassroots people but they bend to the will of the elite," he added, referring to the state-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives


Under the scheme, the government uses loans from the BAAC to fund the purchases, and is supposed to repay the loans by selling rice on the world market.

The bank's labour union has threatened an investigation against the government if it continues to use its reserves to pay farmers. Many of the bank's clients, fearing their savings will be used to pay off the scheme, have withdrawn their money.


Prasert Satitthammanit, owner of "Udorn Permsin" rice mill in Udon Thani, admits the scheme is flawed.

"It's the government's fault. The policy is fine, it's the way officials execute it. It should be first in, first out. They shouldn't leave rice to rot over three years," said Prasert.

Thailand now sits on stockpiles of 18 million tonnes, almost double a normal year's exports and nearly half of annual global trade of 38 million tonnes, and has had little success in offloading its mountains. The government has even resorted to storing rice in airport hangars.

The anti-corruption agency says it will investigate allegations Yingluck was negligent in her role as head of the National Rice Policy Committee. She could eventually face charges and be banned from public office.

Bangkok's protesters have urged farmers to join them - but the offer finds few takers 450 km (280 miles) away in Udon Thani.

"The protesters are stunting the country's growth," said farmer Somboon Pansa, 61. "This is the old way of thinking... keep the power in Bangkok and keep us poor."

(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Drawn-out Thai crisis unsettles investors, may deter new money

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:35 PM PST

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Long-term foreign investors say they are sticking with Thailand despite its political woes but the threat of worsening chaos may scare away new money as companies scope out other options in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia.

Protesters trying to topple the government have rallied in the capital, Bangkok, since November. This month they have forced ministries to close and blocked major roads. They say they will stop a general election being held on February 2.

"Assuming the political woes go on, foreign investors may decide to shift to other countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar," Kyoichi Tanada, president of Toyota Motor Corp's Thai unit, said this week.

"Many investors want to invest in Thailand. If the situation has not been resolved, the ones which are already invested may not go away, but whether they will invest more, it's questionable," said Tanada, also vice-president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, which represents 1,524 Japanese firms in the Southeast Asian country.

Thailand gets more than half of its foreign direct investment from Japan. That foreign capital brings much-needed money into a country that recorded a current account deficit in 2013 and may again this year.

It is the biggest car market in Southeast Asia and a regional production and export base for top manufacturers such as Toyota, Nissan Motor Co and Ford Motor Co.

It is also a major global production centre for hard disk drives with big players such as Seagate Technology and Western Digital having operations in the country.

Thai partners are putting a brave face on things.

Hemaraj Land and Development runs seven big industrial estates, home to factories for the likes of Ford Motor, General Motors and Caterpillar.

David Nardone, its chief executive, said 10-20 percent of new customers had postponed signing contracts to take up facilities since December.

"It's short-term disruption," Nardone said, hopeful there would be a recovery in the next few months. "There may be some people who don't know Thailand so well and they may take longer, have more questions and wait for clarity."

The optimists point to 2010, when more than 90 people died in another protracted bout of political unrest. Foreign direct investment jumped 88 percent that year, the stock market surged 41 percent and the economy bounded ahead by 7.8 percent.

This time, however, the protests have gone on for three months and government work is being disrupted.

Some $60 billion (36.38 billion pounds) of infrastructure spending may not get started this year, for example. Consumer confidence fell for the ninth month in December to a two-year low and investors worry about a possible escalation of violence, which will hold back Southeast Asia's second-largest economy after Indonesia.


"Political instability is always preventing investment flows. Long term investments projects may be reconsidered and other locations may be reassessed," said Rolf-Dieter Daniel, President of the European ASEAN Business Centre, which groups 14 European chambers of commerce in Thailand.

Foreign direct investment probably totalled almost $13 billion in 2013 but could drop to less than $8 billion in 2014 even if tension eased and investors returned in the second half, said Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong, an economist at Kasikorn Research Center in Bangkok.

Investment also dropped in 2011 when widespread flooding disrupted the activities of global electronics and car firms.

"Multinational firms tend to diversify their investments to other ASEAN countries as well, to reduce risks (either from politics or disasters)," Pimonwan said, adding FDI could return to a more normal $8-9 billion per annum in the next 3-5 years.

Economists say Thailand's fundamentals - a relatively large market of around 67 million people, a growing middle class, pro-business environment, good infrastructure and geographical advantages including access to emerging markets such as Myanmar - helped it stand out in Southeast Asia and attract investment.

Jongkie D. Sugiarto, chairman of the Association of Indonesia Automotive Industries (Gaikindo), said Indonesia with its 240 million people was well placed to catch up.

But the regulatory environment had to be improved and the domestic market developed, he said. "We also have to build our infrastructure, from ports to the provision of electricity and gas, roads and so on. How can we possibly ask car companies that want to invest in Indonesia to build power plants first?"

This year was always going to be tough for Thailand.

"Lacklustre exports and weak consumer spending from 2013 have resulted in low average capacity utilisation at around 64 percent and high growth of inventory accumulation," said Sutapa Amornvivat, chief economist at Siam Commercial Bank, expecting private investment growth of about 3 percent in 2014, much lower than the average 10-year rate of 6 percent.

"But, looking beyond 2014, we think Thailand still makes a very good long-term bet," she said.

That sentiment was echoed by Honda Automobile (Thailand), part of Honda Motor.

"New potential investors may be spooked by the political woes," said Pitak Pruittisarikorn, its executive vice-president. "For Honda, we have been in Thailand for more than 50 years and we are still confident in Thailand's long-term outlook." ($1 = 32.8350 Thai baht)

(Additional reporting by Orathai Sriring, Manunphattr Dhanananphorn, Pisit Changplayngam and Pairat Temphairojana in Bangkok and Eveline Danubrata in Jakarta; Editing by Alan Raybould and Emily Kaiser)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Saving a lot of money through careful small purchases

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

ON my recent visit I noticed that my getting more-affluent relatives have been wasting their food. 

A wrongly made sandwich would be ignored and ended up in the bin.

Sometimes two of the same brand milk bottles are opened at the same time and then thrown out when expired.

Fruits which are a little shrivelled also went in the way of the regular trash. 

After a salad has been made, the leftover half a chunk of cabbage and three quarters of a bunch of parsley were also thrown out.

Probably 10% of the items in the refrigerator gets chucked out four times a year.

The air conditioner is left on when they go for a short jaunt out.

("It's too hot, I need the room to cool down sufficiently before I come home").

Other forms of wastage are leaking taps, washing clothes too often, over-stocking the pantry and purchasing groceries from a higher end supermarket.

And yet the parents complain about the lack of funds fortheir child's education.

I know these all seem insignificant because the wastage is only a little money. 

I am also guilty of this. Just yesterday Iwent to a restaurant and the bill came to RM30.80 for two people.What I wasted was one bowl of rice (RM1.50) and one pot of tea (RM5.00) which would have been enough with just one glass (RM1.50).

Perhaps the small money wasted every day can amount to something.

Take my example of wasting the RM5.

If we manage to not waste it every day and put that away in a 6% growth vehicle, what will happen?

This over a 17-year period will become RM50,000. It may not be a lot but it surely makes the situation of the lack of education fund less dire.

Watch out for small things, accumulated over time; they can become something significant.

Do not underestimate the value of a few small ringgit. It's worthwhile, especiallywith the recent price hikes that require us to relook into our financial habits.

Perhaps we should be more mindful of our small purchases so that we are able to make our money last longer.

Japan trade deficit hits record high in 2013

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 06:29 PM PST

TOKYO: Japan's trade deficit swelled to a record US$112bil in 2013, official data showed Monday, as the benefits of a cheap yen for exports were diluted by soaring post-Fukushima energy bills.

The shortfall of 11.47 trillion yen marked the biggest deficit since comparable data started in 1979, according to the finance ministry, with the December deficit alone doubling from a year earlier.

Japanese energy imports surged after the 2011 Fukushima crisis forced the shutdown of nuclear reactors that once supplied a third of the nation's power.

A sharp decline in the yen, which is good for exporters' profitability, also forced up the cost of importing pricey fossil fuels to plug the country's energy gap.

The yen has been under pressure since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in late 2012, launched a policy blitz that meshed government spending with a huge programme of central bank monetary easing. The growth plan, dubbed Abenomics, is aimed at kickstarting the world's third-largest economy, which has been plagued by deflation for years.

The weak yen has boosted the bottom line at exporters such as Sony and Toyota, as the cheaper unit makes them more competitive overseas while also inflating repatriated profits.

Exports rose 9.5% last year to 69.79 trillion yen, their first increase in three years, backed by robust shipments of cars and electronics.

Shipments to China rose 9.7% as demand recovered following a consumer boycott on Japanese brands that was linked to a Tokyo-Beijing diplomatic row, which soured already testy relations between the Asian giants.

Exports to the key US and European markets also improved.

Japan has seen a mixed bag of data recently, but the government's efforts to boost the economy appear to be taking hold.

Growth in the first half of the year outstripped other G7 nations, although that pace slowed in the third quarter, while November inflation data suggested the Bank of Japan was getting closer to its goal of reaching sustained inflation of 2% within two years.

Last week, Japan's top central banker Haruhiko Kuroda said the BoJ's monetary easing blitz was winning the war on deflation as policymakers held off announcing any fresh measures to stimulate the economy.

The decision after a two-day policy meeting was widely expected, with analysts predicting the BoJ would launch an expansion of its asset-buying plan later this year to counter the effects of an April sales tax hike.

The tax rise, seen as crucial to bringing down Japan's eye-watering national debt, has stoked fears of a damaging slowdown in consumer demand – AFP. 

Won, ringgit, Philippine peso fall; baht steady

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 06:23 PM PST

The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0130 GMT monday.

    Change on the day at 0130 GMT
  Currency    Latest bid   Previous day    Pct Move
  Japan yen       102.22         102.39       +0.17
  Sing dlr        1.2780         1.2786       +0.05
  Taiwan dlr      30.246         30.420       +0.58
  Korean won     1084.70        1080.40       -0.40
  Baht             32.87          32.88       +0.03
  Peso             45.42          45.31       -0.23
  Rupiah        12185.00       12175.00       -0.08
  Rupee            62.66          62.66       -0.00
  Ringgit         3.3435         3.3325       -0.33
  Yuan            6.0467         6.0488       +0.03
  Change so far in 2014
  Currency    Latest bid  End prev year    Pct Move
  Japan yen       102.22         105.28       +2.99
  Sing dlr        1.2780         1.2632       -1.16
  Taiwan dlr      30.246         29.950       -0.98
  Korean won     1084.70        1055.40       -2.70
  Baht             32.87          32.86       -0.03
  Peso             45.42          44.40       -2.25
  Rupiah        12185.00       12160.00       -0.21
  Rupee            62.66          61.80       -1.37
  Ringgit         3.3435         3.2755       -2.03
  Yuan            6.0467         6.0539       +0.12- Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

The Invention Of Wings

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

FROM the opening words that place 10-year-old Hetty, a slave girl whose mama calls her Handful, in the courtyard of a Charleston plantation, The Invention Of Wings tells a story of strength, sorrow and shame.

For Handful is presented as a birthday gift to one of the many children of the South Carolina estate, Sarah Grimke, to mark her 11th birthday. One child being given another – shameful.

But Sue Monk Kidd's deft writing takes us into the hearts and minds of both of these girls immediately, as Sarah tells her mother she has no need to own a slave.

"I was sent to solitary confinement in my new room and ordered to write a letter of apology to each guest. Mother settled me at the desk with paper, inkwell and a letter she'd composed herself, which I was to copy."

From that first act of rebellion, Kidd shows readers that Sarah strains against the mould forced on young women of American Southern aristocracy. She reads voraciously, abetted in the early years by her father. But once she is caught teaching Hetty to read, her father decides he's doing his wilful daughter no favours and forbids her from his vast library.

While Sarah is going through her own growing pains, Handful must live under the control of her owners. She has only her mother, Charlotte (who Handful calls Mauma) to turn to – and Charlotte is as wilful as Sarah.

Charlotte tells Sarah early on that she must help Handful to freedom, and Charlotte fights against her slavery as best she can. She steals, fakes an injury when it aids her and never lets Handful forget that they are human beings who deserve freedom.

As Sarah and Handful grow to adulthood, they fight different battles while remaining committed to similar goals – Sarah wants freedom for all slaves, and Handful wants freedom for herself and Mauma.

Kidd weaves a fascinating story, for Sarah Grimke and her sister, Nina, were real women of the early 1800s who became the first female abolition agents. And Handful also existed – a young slave named Hetty given to Sarah.

But the rich and complex relationship between Sarah and Handful is the author's creation, and a masterful one. They become friends, of sorts, but Handful resents her position and Sarah – despite her pure intentions – was reared with a sense of entitlement and wealth that are hard to shake.

Kidd, best known for The Secret Life Of Bees, also creates the rich love between Mauma and Handful. Mauma vanishes from the plantation when Handful is 19, leaving Handful unsettled at not knowing her fate. The love between these two women is palpable; you share Handful's sense of loss.

Most of this book is about Sarah, Nina and Handful. A few men play important but small roles. But this beautiful and ultimately uplifting book is about women and their fight to be heard.

No wonder media mogul Oprah Winfrey picked The Invention Of Wings for her book club. It's a most deserving choice. – St Louis Post-Dispatch/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The Gods Of Guilt

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

FEW writers can hook in readers from the start like Michael Connelly. Give me five minutes with a new Connelly novel and that's pretty much it. None of the slow burn, pull you in gently stuff; it's in with a bang and where did my weekend go?

Connelly is a master of many things and, less dramatically, consistency is one of them. I have yet to read a bad novel by the multi-award winning American and I have a feeling I never will. For many of us he is the ultimately professional writer and surely every publisher's dream – one or two books a year that never drop in quality or appeal. Or presumably success. Which is why the arrival of a new novel is always a source of celebration in our household because we know that a good read is pretty much guaranteed.

The Gods Of Guilt starts with a twist. Mickey Haller – for this is a Lincoln Lawyer novel not a Harry Bosch one – is in court defending another of the lowlifes on whom his practice and income depends. Things are not going well until Haller pulls one of his most devious defence tricks. It's startling, dramatic and underhand – in other words, it's typical Haller. But it is just the warm-up act for what follows after he gets a text from his ex-wife Lorna, now his general factotum. It reads, "Call me ASAP – 187".

That number is the California penal code number for murder and murder cases are appealing because, as Haller explains, "to defend a murder suspect you had to be at the very top of your game. To get a murder case you had to have a certain reputation that put you at the top of the game. And in addition to all that there was the money.... You get a murder case with a paying customer and you likely make your whole nut for the year."

And things look very good when the suspect in this particular killing offers to pay in gold, and sends a chunk of it to pay all of his initial expenses in advance. Andre La Cosse is a digital pimp, that is, he runs a website on which escorts can advertise their trade. The deal is straightforward: La Cosse keeps them looking good on the website and then collects a percentage when the advertising attracts a client.

That was what he was doing when he went to collect his dues from Giselle Dallinger. According to la Cosse, Giselle claimed that she went to the hotel room as instructed but there was no one there. La Cosse did not believe her and a row ensued. La Cosse admits grabbing Giselle by the throat but strenuously denies killing her. From a defence point of view this does not look good. But Haller comes to believe that La Cosse, unsavoury character though he might be, is innocent.

He also learns that the victim was a former client of his, then known as Gloria Dayton. The two had a close bond and Haller tried, in vain as it turns out, to turn her away from escort life. Now the stakes have suddenly been upped by the addition of a personal involvement.

Haller's defence takes time to build and it is not long before a host of subsidiary characters are introduced, some villainous, some not. One I particularly enjoyed was Legal Siegal, Haller's mentor now in a nursing home that tries to control his diet and lifestyle, a restriction that Haller does his best to subvert by bringing in such luxuries as French dip from Philippe the Original secreted in his briefcase. It is to Siegal he turns when needing advice on the strategy behind a case and when needing some support after a criminal for whom he gained an acquittal killed two people in a driving incident. That had cost him the love and respect of his daughter.

Connelly explores the moral issues of being a defence lawyer with some subtlety. Haller's clientele are by and large lowlifes and many are clearly guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. Yet as Legal Siegal reminds him, it is the bedrock of the legal system that everyone is entitled to a proper defence – Mickey is just doing his job. Haller is unconvinced: "People died and it's on me, Legal. You can't hide behind just doing your job when two people get creamed at an intersection by the guy you set free."

The Gods Of Guilt of the title are the jury who return a verdict and, "Those I have loved and those I have hurt. Those who bless me and those who haunt me". Mickey Haller, tough nut though he is, has his own ghosts and they add depth and complexity to a wonderful character creation in yet another excellent Connelly thriller.


Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

CREATORS of popular television have often invoked comparisons with written fiction: Dennis Potter and Steve Bochco both used the term "TV novel" to describe series such as Potter's The Singing Detective and Bochco's LA Law and NYPD Blue. Both screenwriters also published novels, and this switchover tradition continues with J.J. Abrams, the power behind Alias and Lost.

Perhaps surprisingly, writers who rethought the structures of television often became reverentially conventional on the page: Potter's Ticket To Ride and Bochco's Death By Hollywood had impressive plot and dialogue, as you might expect, but an Edwardian reader would be at ease with the novels' approach to narrative and chapters.

Abrams, though, has come up with a novel of such structural daring that the first task of the audience is to work out a way of reading it. And I say "come up with", rather than "written", because one of the conventions challenged is that of authorship. On programmes such as Lost and Alias, Abrams operated as what American TV calls a "showrunner", overseeing every decision and episode but not writing every episode himself. With S., Abrams is a sort of "novelrunner", having conceived the project but left the prose to someone else: Doug Dorst, a US novelist and creative writing tutor.

You suspect that this collaboration with Abrams must have taught Dorst a few things about the nature and creation of fiction. The finished product consists of a shrinkwrapped package that – perhaps fittingly – resembles a TV boxset. Inside is what looks like an old library book, complete with shelf code and date stamps of its borrowing history. This book is Ship Of Theseus, the 19th and final novel of an author called V.M. Straka, which has been translated with copious footnotes by someone called F.X. Caldeira.

The latter's preface claims that Straka was "one of the most idiosyncratic and influential" authors of the first half of the 20th century. Almost nothing is known about him, and his elusive identity, Caldeira rather grumpily records, has led to an "authorship controversy", somewhat akin to the Shakespearean one, with rival academic camps supporting different candidates. Noting this plot‑seeding catalogue, the Abrams fan thinks of the pilot episode of Lost in which almost everything said by a survivor of the plane crashed on the desert island seemed to open up a mystery.

We are, however, already not wholly concentrating on Caldeira, because the book, though otherwise a library hardback realistically battered and yellowed over six decades, has startlingly wide margins. These accommodate, on almost every page, scribbled handwritten comments that alternate between the lower-case scrawl of a woman called Jen and the neat capitalised writing of a man by the name of Eric. Both are obsessives of the Straka literary mystery, and are taking Ship Of Theseus in turn out of the stacks of the library of Pollard State University and conducting an analogue equivalent of e-mail in the white space on the pages.

So, by now, we have two other readers in the book with us, but possibly only one author: Jen's and Eric's marginalia tell us that some researchers suspect that Caldeira the translator may in fact be Straka the novelist, or possibly vice versa. We also learn that unscrupulous academics are competing to publish a solution to the Straka mystery and that, as they bicker, cooperate and share their life stories at the edges of the disputed text, Jen and Eric are falling rather touchingly in love. Plus, like ad-break cliffhangers in a TV episode, we keep finding between the pages, apparently at random, cuttings from a college magazine and faded Spanish newspapers, postcards, letters, essay notes and, at one point, a map drawn on a napkin from the Pollard State canteen.

Although an electronic edition has been released, the book should clearly be experienced in its physical form, which is one of the most staggering feats of book production I have ever seen. Indeed, Abrams's major contribution to the project is to have come up the antihistorical concept of an analogue interactive book.

Such is the suspicion raised in the reader by the book's many tricks that the idea rapidly takes hold that "Doug Dorst" is actually Abrams, making a novel-writing debut under protective cover. But, unless his Google footprint is an elaborate hoax, Dorst is real, though the prose is perhaps the weakest part of the concept.

In literary terms, S. resembles a mash-up of Nabokov's 1962 novel Pale Fire, which consists of a fake literary text with critical apparatus, and A.S. Byatt's 1990 Booker prize winner, Possession, in which academics compete to solve a literary mystery. But Abrams and Dorst are, in effect, asking us to read both of those books simultaneously while puzzles keep dropping on to our knees. Even the most dedicated book lover becomes a learner reader, having to decide in which order and with what frequency to read the paragraphs and margins.

Related story:
From J.J. Abrams to readers, mystery wrapped in romance

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Shattering home experiences

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Tempered glass is now a popular feature with many homeowners. But just how safe is it?

Lawyer Sue Yap remembers the day when her shower screen spontaneously shattered in 2008.

"It was about 6.15am, and I was still asleep, when I heard a bang coming from the (ensuite) bathroom of my apartment. I went into my bathroom to have a look, and that's when I realised that my shower screen had shattered," says Yap, 36.

Yap adds that she had only had the tempered glass shower screen installed for about a year then.

"I was very surprised because it seemed to have shattered for no apparent reason. But I'm very thankful that I was still sleeping at the time, so I wasn't hurt. I'm very sure I wasn't told of this risk when I got my shower screen installed.

"After the incident, I did some reading up online but I didn't come across any local cases, although there were similar cases reported overseas. I don't have any family members or friends who have experienced anything like this, so I guess I'm the unlucky one," she says.

Yap has since replaced the shower screen with a plastic one.

"No more glass shower screens for me," she quips.

Yap's case is not an isolated one.

'Inexplicably exploding'

According to National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) legal executive K. Santhosh, the centre received about 10 similar complaints last year alone.

"Almost all were about the tempered glass on their furniture 'inexplicably exploding'. Although there were only 10 complaints, we actually had more than 40 enquiries on this issue," he says.

"We have advised the consumers to either file a complaint with us or go straight to the Consumer Claims Tribunal (under the Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry). I believe many of them went to the tribunal."

Such cases are not limited to Malaysia.

In 2012, ABC News reported that the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had received more than 60 complaints (in over eight years) from across the US of shower doors shattering for seemingly no reason.

"The sudden explosions can cause serious lacerations and bleeding, according to CPSC incident reports ... with some people reporting that they needed stitches and surgery after being 'covered in glass' or having glass 'embedded' in their skin," the news report said.

Over the years, tempered glass has become increasingly popular in Malaysian homes, due to its strength and versatility, says Ajiya Safety Glass Sdn Bhd executive director Sim Chee Liang.

"In the early 1990s, Malaysia only had one or two tempering furnaces. Today, Malaysia has about 40 tempering furnaces, with about 20 players in the industry, so you can see how much the industry has grown over the last 20 years.

"Tempered glass can be used as shower screens, kitchen backsplash, table tops (furniture), partitions, staircase railing, wardrobe doors ... there are so many uses for it."

Sim says tempered glass is classified as safety glass, and is three to five times stronger than normal glass.

"It is manufactured by heating ordinary float glass to its softening point, at about 700°C, then cooling the glass rapidly by quenching it with a uniform blast of air on both surfaces simultaneously. When broken, it breaks into a multitude of small fragments, which offers some protection against serious injuries.

"However, if it were to break or burst at high speed, it could still be dangerous," he explains.

What could cause tempered glass to shatter?

"Tempered glass can break for a variety of reasons, even though it is stronger than normal glass. It can break from impact, or if the glass edge or surface has been damaged from handling or glazing. If you have a tempered glass table and the edge has chipped, it is no longer consi­dered safe; that chip could eventually cause the whole piece of glass to shatter.

"Structural movements from, say, major renovations going on next door, could also cause the tempered glass to shatter," he says.

As for spontaneous breakages, Sim explains that it could be caused by nickel sulfide inclusions, although such cases are generally rare.

"It's the presence of microscopic impurities of nickel sulfide in raw glass, which unfortunately cannot be complete removed," he says.

Mark Meshulam, a glass specialist in the US, explains nickel sulfide inclusions as "a tiny rock of unmelted material that remains in the glass".

"You can well imagine that a little rock embedded in a slab of glass which is under high tension or compression forces, could weaken the glass and eventually cause breakage. But the story gets worse – nickel sulfide grows an additional 4% of its size over time, especially in the presence of heat. If it is located in the strata in the glass between tension and compression, and it grows ... kaboom!" he says on his website, the Chicago Window Expert.

Sim says heat-soaked tempered glass have a much lower risk of spontaneous breakage.

"A test which will eliminate nickel sulfide inclusion as much as possible, is a heat soak test in accordance to the BS EN 14179 Standard, which is a common test used in Europe. It's basically a stress test, so that if the glass breaks, it breaks in our furnace and not in your home.

"But heat-soaked tempered glass costs about 15% more than normal tempered glass, and delivery might take a few days longer, which is why consumers still sometimes choose normal tempered glass. But if you're using tempered glass for your shower screen, I would highly recommend using a heat-soaked one for safety reasons, " he says.

Sim adds that only about 25% of the industry players offer heat soak tests which adhere to the standard listed above.

Consumers should also be aware that tempered glass is not always suitable for every occasion.

"Some consumers use tempered glass for their canopies or skylights, but that's not suitable at all! Minimally, they should be using laminated glass so that even if it cracks, it will not shatter, and they have plenty of time to replace it.

"Ask to find out what kind of glass you're getting," Sim says, adding that many China-imported tempered glass do not meet international safety standards.

Santhosh agrees.

"Consumers need to be more savvy about what they buy. Read up before you make a purchase, so that you can make an informed decision, and you are aware of the risks involved.

"At the same time, perhaps the relevant ministry could look deeper into this issue, as it is a matter of consumers' safety.

"Perhaps there should be requirements in place to ensure that glass used for furniture and in the home should always meet international safety standards. Safety should always be a priority," he says.

The pros and cons of National Service training

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

PETALING JAYA: Accounts executive T. Sulochana dreads the day when she has to send her son off for National Service (NS) training.

L. Dharma had been selected for the next intake and is looking forward to the outdoor activities. But Sulochana, 52, is worried about his safety.

"All the news reports of the fights, deaths, illnesses and poor conditions at the camps over the years are frightening. Parents will feel better if the government can guarantee the safety of our children," she said.

Her only source of reassurance is the fact that her two nephews who attended NS camp enjoyed it and did not face any problems.

Housewife Jamiah Doragi, 57, is happy that her youngest daughter learnt to be more independent after her NS stint.

She too had qualms before her daughter left for NS two years ago.

But her daughter assured her she was coping well and having fun.

"When she returned, she began doing her own laundry, something she had never done before. It was a pleasant surprise," Jamiah said.

R. Anuradha, who attended camp in 2006, said while the programme had good objectives, some irresponsible trainers gave it a bad name.

She recalled an incident in which trainees were sent into the Endau-Rompin forest without any supervision. "My group got lost and we were roaming the forest for three hours. We could have got lost or injured," said Anuradha.

Nor Syahirah Amani Idris, 20, however, had a different story.

"When I was first selected, I was hesitant because it meant being away from home for the first time.

"But I made good friends with whom I am still close with till today. I think we were very well taken care of by the trainers," she added.

Related stories:
Groups split on NS after nine years
Make NS mandatory for school leavers, says Zahid
Revamp aims to make programme more attractive
They came they saw and they bonded
Stop pampering trainees say pioneers

Freshwater fish prices up by 8% to 12%

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

IPOH: The price of freshwater fish has gone up between 8% and 12% since early this month.

Perak Freshwater Fish Breeders Association cited factors such as increased electricity tariff and petrol prices.

The levy imposed on foreign workers at their farms was also a heavy financial burden for industry players, association president Steven Kong said.

"The decision was made based on a consensus between freshwater fish breeders, distributors and exporters nationwide.

"We hope consumers could use the percentage as a guideline to determine whether the freshwater fish they purchased is in accordance with the market price," he told reporters during the association's pre-Chinese New Year dinner here on Friday.

Kong said Perak accounted for 80% of the country's freshwater fish supply. The price revision was reasonable, he said, adding that there had been no major change in prices of freshwater fish in the last few years.

"We have to make the adjustment in order to survive," he said.

Fish fry breeder Jacky Yao, 39, said he hoped consumers would understand their situation.

He said there had been an increase of 10% in the production cost at his farm ever since the electricity tariff hike was implemented.

Freshwater fish exporter Jimmy Ting, 49, said consumers could opt for imported fish from Thailand and Indonesia as they were sold at a cheaper price.

"We are worried that there would be a day when we could no longer sustain our business.

"The Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry must look into the pricing issue and rectify the relevant problems," he said.

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Creature feature in 'I, Frankenstein'

Posted: 23 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Aaron Eckhart explains why Victor Frankenstein's monstrous creation is just like everyone else.

THE monstrous creature that is Victor Frankenstein's creation in the novel Frankenstein, stands at eight feet tall. Frankenstein had used discarded human body parts to form his "monster" and had been obsessed with the idea of reanimating the body. When it is successfully brought to life, Frankenstein becomes horrified by its grotesque appearance.

He shuns the creature, causing it to wander around alone with so much anger and confusion.

In a telephone interview earlier this week from New York, actor Aaron Eckhart said he empathised with the legendary creature.

"Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a compelling story with a universal theme. It's about being unwanted, unloved and trying to find your purpose in life. People will find themselves asking the same questions that the creature has pondered upon. He was looking to be loved and he just wants to belong," said Eckhart, 45.

The actor plays the creature, named Adam, in the film I, Frankenstein. Based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, the film depicts how Adam is caught in the middle of a war between gargoyles and demons. For centuries, the gargoyles – led by its queen, Leonore (played by Miranda Otto) – has been able to prevent the demons from destroying humanity.

Eventually, demon leader Naberius (played by Bill Nighy) realises that the key to victory lies in Frankenstein's method of reanimating corpses. If he could get his hands on Adam as Frankenstein's only living specimen, he would be able to create his own legion of undead fighters.

Eckhart said the gothic-action film has reimagined Adam as a "dynamic fighter".

"He's got to be a lean, mean fighting machine. I think we came up with a new, nicer version of the creature."

Eckhart performed his own stunts in the film and even mastered a new skill for his character. Instead of relying on just brute strength, Eckhart trained in the Filipino art of Kali stick fighting to give Adam an edge over his opponents.

"Yeah, if anyone comes up behind me in an alley and there's a stick around, I could defend myself (laughs). I trained for five to six months to master the fighting. I really worked hard to make it look like I know what I was doing in the film."

Adam also has a less-than-intimidating appearance working for him. Gone are the signature bolts at the sides of his head and stitches on his forehead. You can also forget about the familiar green, gangly appearance – which would have made him easy to spot, really.

"We tried all kinds of makeup during rehearsals and the process is really quite beautiful. We didn't want to make him look so big and cumberstone. The team put a lot of thought into the scars around Adam's face and body. We looked at the scars as an ingenious way of telling Adam's story," Eckhart shared.

Despite the radical way I, Frankenstein has changed the creature's look, Eckhart believes its inner struggles remain the same.

"I think it's not so much on how you look, but really how you feel on the inside. Adam still has so much rage in him due to how he feels after being ostracised and rejected by everyone, including his creator."

Even in the company of the winged gargoyles, Adam is often being questioned over his identity. Since he is neither human nor demon, some of the gargoyles feel that he doesn't belong with them.

On the other hand, Naberius' clan wants Adam to be on its side but that would mean he has to turn his back on humanity.

"That's the crux of the story. Adam has to make a decision based on his instinct. He doesn't have anyone to help him. He doesn't know what love and kindness feels like. He never experienced anyone being nice to him."

Eckhart revealed that he can relate to how his character is always wandering around the world, all on his own. "I feel very much like Adam in that sense. I work in different cities all over the world. During weekends or between days off, I simply wander the streets and I don't know anybody."

The actor hopes audiences get to see Frankenstein's infamous creation in a different light, despite numerous other films portraing him as a brainless monster with limited vocabulary. "Mary Shelley has written the creature as a sensitive, intelligent character. He has deep thoughts. He was looking for love and companionship."

That said, however, Eckhart noted that he has mixed feelings about hearing everyone's reaction to I, Frankenstein.

"(Laughs) I don't know. I like hearing nice things and I don't like hearing bad things. It's quite nerve-racking because everyone has an opinion about it. I hope it's a big success. But you know, that's the way it goes. It's the business. I'm kind of used to it by now!"

I, Frankenstein is showing in cinemas nationwide.

Related story:
Aaron Eckhart: Of monster and man

Movies coming soon

Posted: 24 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

The Lego Movie (pic, above) Emmet, an ordinary Lego mini figure, mistakenly thought to be the last living Master Builder, is recruited to stop an evil tyrant, Lord Business. With some help, Emmet is forced to unlearn everything he has ever learnt and unleash the power of his imagination to save the Lego universe. Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks and Morgan Freeman lend their voices to this animated movie.

Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat! – This inspirational film tells the story of Ah Huat, an autistic young man who has an extraordinary sense of smell and a unique ability to brew the perfect cup of coffee.

Also, in spite of his quest for success, Ah Huat never loses sight of his motto that "honesty is the best policy".

This made-in-Malaysia flick stars Aniu and Joyce Cheng.

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One of Thailand's anti-govt protest leaders shot dead

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 02:26 AM PST

BANGKOK (AFP): A Thai anti-government protest leader was shot dead Sunday and several other people were injured as demonstrators blocked advance voting for a controversial general election.

"Suthin Tharathin was shot in the head while giving a speech from the back of a pick-up truck," protest spokesman Akanat Promphan told AFP.

"The government has failed to provide any safety and security for anybody today despite the emergency decree," he said, referring to a government order empowering police to control protests.

Bangkok's Erawan emergency centre confirmed one man had been killed and nine injured in the shooting in the city suburbs, without giving further details.

Hundreds of protesters earlier Sunday besieged polling stations in Bangkok and forced most to close, obstructing advance voting for next weekend's election and deepening doubts about whether it can go ahead.

The embattled government of Yingluck Shinawatra called the election for February 2 to try to calm months of street protests.

Demonstrators trying to topple her government fiercely oppose the snap election.

Suthin was the tenth person to be killed during nearly three months of rallies that have sparked international concern and investor fears over the country's economy.

Hundreds more have been wounded.

Each side in the bitterly divided kingdom blames the other for the violence.

Thailand's recent history has been scarred by sporadic street unrest since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, was ousted by a military coup in 2006.

The most serious bloodshed was in 2010 when scores of pro-Thaksin Red Shirts were killed in an army crackdown.

Philippines, rebels see final peace deal in weeks

Posted: 26 Jan 2014 02:36 AM PST

Manila (AFP) - The Philippine government and the country's main Muslim rebel group said Sunday they hoped to sign within weeks a final peace deal to end decades of deadly insurgency after clearing the last hurdle in 18 years of negotiations.

A "comprehensive agreement" with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should be signed in February or March, Manila's chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told AFP, following a breakthrough announced on Saturday.

"We have just been discussing the next steps and our goal is to be able to get a good schedule for that," she said from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur where the last round of talks was held.

"We have set a time frame of between February and March," she added.

The talks that began in 1996 with the 12,000-strong MILF are aimed at ending an insurgency in the country's south that has left an estimated 150,000 people dead since the 1970s.

On Saturday, both sides agreed on a "normalisation" deal detailing how the rebels will hand over their weapons and the creation of a security force to police what will be a self-ruled Muslim region

Both sides had previously signed deals on power-sharing, taxation and governance, but the last agreement was more sensitive because the MILF had repeatedly warned it would not lay down its arms unless other threat groups in the south were disarmed.

After the final deal is signed, President Benigno Aquino is expected to sign a "basic law" for the creation of a new autonomous region for the Muslims.

This would then be passed to Congress, and subjected to a referendum, with Aquino hoping to have it completed by the time he ends his six-year term in 2016.

Long years of insurgency have left much of the southern region of Mindanao volatile, with a proliferation of unlicensed firearms in the hands of other armed groups, including Al Qaeda-linked militants and offshoots that are opposed to the talks.

But Ferrer said that to thwart any possible armed challenges, a joint security group composed of MILF fighters and government forces would be tasked to patrol the areas to be covered during the transition phase.

"There will always be contrarians, but as far as the partnership between the MILF and the government is concerned, we have mechanisms that will allow us to address peace and order concerns more effectively," Ferrer said.

She did not specify any group, but the toughest challenge to the peace deal came in September, when hundreds of supporters of rebel leader Nur Misuari laid siege to a key southern port city, leaving more than 240 dead in three weeks of fighting.

Misuari, who remains at large, founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which the MILF splintered in the late 1970s.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs, Ghazali Jaafar, told AFP Sunday that the rebels were "ecstatic" over the new development but said much work remained to be done.

"The next step is that we will have to talk about the final wording of the comprehensive compact agreement," he said. "Meantime, a transitional commission will have to start drafting the basic law to be sent to Congress."

He said he believed a final deal would be in place "soon" but that some members of Congress in the mainly Catholic country may oppose the agreement.

Ferrer however said the peace process was "on track" to meet Aquino's deadline.

"We believe the majority of our people and our decision- and opinion-makers are on our side," she said.

The United States, Japan and the Europan Union were also upbeat about the breakthrough, calling it a historic moment that could finally bring peace to the region.

"This agreement offers the promise of peace, security, and economic prosperity now and for future generations in Mindanao," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. - AFP

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Setting the art stage in Singapore

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Art Stage Singapore 2014 saw a bigger push on art from the region through curated country platforms.

IT was mission accomplished for the recently concluded Art Stage Singapore 2014. The art fair is expected to continue focusing on contemporary South-East Asian art in an over-arching Asian outreach to define its direction and identity.

With the stirring "We Are Asia" tag-line, the fourth edition of Art Stage Singapore (held at the Marina Bay Sands from Jan 16-19) centred on newly introduced country/regional platforms which brought new awareness and appreciation towards particular Asian art communities while serving to redress gaps in (regional) representation in art-investment commerce.

The Swiss-born Art Stage director-founder Lorenzo Rudolf said the game plan was to build on its strong Asian focus, while developing the fledgling South-East Asian market.

The platforms comprised eight individually guest-curated satellite showcases, namely Australia, Central Asia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and South-East Asia (Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand).

A man photographs an art installation titled

A man photographs an art installation titled Goldrush by Dolk of Norway.

This model neatly sidestepped the sticky situation last year when 30 artists were wooed for the dedicated Indonesian Pavilion, riling the country's powerful gallery-system lobby.

Not surprisingly, Indonesian veterans spearheaded by FX Harsono (ARNDT) and Made Wianta, both 65, exerted considerable presence again at Art Stage Singapore.

Of course, the hotshot Indonesian line-up (all in their 50s) – Heri Dono (Mizuma Gallery), Agus Suwage (Nadi Gallery), the Swiss-based Eddie Hara (Nadi Gallery, Semarang Gallery) and Yunizar (Ben Brown Fine Arts and Gajah Gallery) – featured strongly too.

Two-time Venice Biennale (2005, 2013) representative Entang Wiharso, Eko Nugroho, Nyoman Masriadi, Joko Avianto (remember his Theatre Of Ships bamboo installation at last year's George Town Festival?), Jumaldi Alfi, Eddy Susanto, Maryanto, Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo (noted for his use of Merapi volcanic ash, since 2008) and the indie guerilla husband-and-wife team of Santi and Miko also sparked healthy marketplace conversation for the Indonesian contingent .

A close-up of Malaysian artist Haslin Ismail's finely-detailed 'Book Land' installation, which was an attraction for the South-East Asian platform at Art Stage Singapore 2014.

A close-up of Malaysian artist Haslin Ismail's finely-detailed Book Land installation, which was an attraction for the South-East Asian platform at Art Stage Singapore 2014.

At Art Stage Singapore 2014, Wiharso's Borderless (measuring 300cm x 1,000cm) was arguably one of the largest (works) displayed.

Chillingly imposing was Harsono's installation The Raining Bed, which shed light on the hidden past of Chinese Indonesians. For this work, a serrated curtain of continuous rain kept falling on a Peranakan bed of ceramic alphabet decals. One of Harsono's poems was also used for this installation.

The South-East Asian platform showcase also highlighted Malaysians J. Anu (Ma-Na-Va-Reh: Love, Loss And Pre-Nuptials In The Age Of The Big Debate, Wei-Ling Gallery), Haslin Ismail (Book Land, G13 Gallery) and Justin Lim (There Is No Other Paradise, Richard Koh Fine Art).

Conceived as a tribute to Anu's "wedding-planner" grandmother, Ma-Na-Va-Reh playfully re-enacted the ceremonial Hindu rituals in a shrine-like ambience of a wedding dais and painted panels with tacky bric a brac while telescoping into the present in the larger racial matrix with kolam featuring political leaders' portraits as "a kind of solemnisation of our shared histories."

Haslin's origami of architectonic book sculpture installations was a masterful babel of reconstructed socio-linguistic histories. Here was a young Malaysian artist with a work that was at once whimsical, clever, ironic and pointed.

Justin Lim explored the slippery engagements of the racial divide and issues of race and religion in his fibre-glass bathtub sprinkled with white resin flowers in a ritual cleansing mandi bunga.

A part of Malaysian artist Justin Lim's 'There Is No Other Paradise,' which borrows from mandi bunga (¿flower bath¿), a traditional ritual form of cleansing. Featuring new works, Lim¿s multimedia installation is centred on a video projection over a fibreglass bathtub filled with white flowers made of resin. The work reflects on social issues in contemporary Malaysian society.

A part of Malaysian artist Justin Lim's There Is No Other Paradise, which borrows from mandi bunga (flower bath), a traditional ritual of cleansing. Featuring new works, Lim's multimedia installation is centred on a video projection over a fibreglass bathtub filled with white flowers made of resin. The work reflects on social issues in contemporary Malaysian society.

Shoosie (Susylawati) Sulaiman's work, Negara 2012-2013, was taken from her major solo show, Sulaiman Itu Melayu, at the Tamio Koyama Gallery, Gillman Barracks in Singapore last month. It took pride of place at the gallery's Art Stage booth with its take on notions of identity, especially on the Malay-Chinese dilemma – Shoosie's mother is Chinese. In it, glum faces of bald people save one, were set against a backdrop of haphazard fragments of the Malaysian flag, probably referencing the fractious general elections last May. Shoosie, like Haslin (2010) was a winner of the Major Award of the Malaysian Young Contemporary Artists competition in 1997.

Penang-raised artist Ch'ng Huck Theng also showed his latest sculptural creations, while two Australians with Malaysian roots – Malaysian-born Kevin Chin (Dianne Tanzer Gallery) and Singapore-born/Malaysian-raised Simryn Gill (Michael Janssen Gallery), the sole Australian star at the 2013 Venice Biennale, were also featured.

The other South-East Asian platform eyebrow-raisers included Thai artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert's golden skull and Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew's veiled layered time-space featuring gossamer images of his "seated" ageing father; Myanmar artist Soe Naing's diaristic on-site reverse paintings; Laotian artist Phasao Lao's shamanistic patchworks; and Filipino artist Bea Camacho performance art of knitting herself "back" into a womb-like spool.

Where Singaporean art was concerned, the banal dramas of alienation of Sarah Choo Jing and Jolene Lai were independent entities within an enclosed space, with Choo's entire stock at the fair sold out.

Elsewhere, Jane Lee's paint smorgasbord 50 Faces dubbed the "Melting-Cheese" painting sold for an estimated conversion rate of RM219,823.

Malaysian-born Singapore-based Kumari Nahappan also did well with her chilli concoctions (the highest price paid for her work was RM34,305).

A Gerhard Richter went for RM2.61mil although the highest-priced Richter in the Michael Schulz Gallery was one with a RM38.2mil tag. The gallery didn't even bother to label his works, blithely taking it for granted.

Other noteworthy sales included Zao Wou-ki (Lin &Lin, RM4mil); Donald Sultan (Sundaram Tagore, RM1.33mil); Jean-Michel Othoniel (Galeri Perrotin, RM675,228); Anthony Gormley and Qiu Zhijie (Galleria Continua, RM737,222 and RM208,026 respectively), and four pieces of Yoshitomo Nara for a total of RM114,414.

Sculptures by Singapore-based artist Kumari Nahappan displayed at Art Stage Singapore.

Sculptures by Singapore-based artist Kumari Nahappan displayed at Art Stage Singapore.

News resource site Art Market Monitor reported robust sales at Art Stage Singapore 2014 on the first day itself from, among others, Yunizar (RM384,628), China's new superstar Zhu Yi-yong (RM756,057), photographer S. Salgado (RM129,010), Egyptian Ives Hayat (RM721,828), Filipino Rodel Tapaya (RM73,272), Frenchman Philippe Pasqua (RM311,860), and a video by Yang Yong-liang (RM333,064). A Malaysian reportedly snapped up one of the works of Indonesian artist Yarno for RM62,372.

Four rare works of Nam June Paik, the Grandfather of Electronic Art, done between 1990 and 1995, were also sold by the new Space Cottonseed.

In the game of name-dropping, you also had Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Botero, Picasso, Chagall, Yue Min-jun, Zhang Xiao-gang, Wu Guan-zhong, Yayoi Kusama, Gilbert & George, Bernar Venet, Ai Wei Wei, Marina Abramovich, Chu Teh-chun, Zhang Da-qian, M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza, Wim Delvoye, Takashi Murakami and his former protégé Mr, a self-confessed otaku.

In particular, there were visceral "oddities" like a wire ying-yang spliced bicycle (Shi Jin-dian), delicate painted paper-plastic bumblebees (Mylyn Nguyen), wings of shuttlecocks (Zhou Wen-dou), painted stacked soft-drinks crates (Pakpoom Silaphan), a random spool of coloured threads (Lee Myungil) and safety-pin art (Jim Lambie).

Art Stage Singapore 2014, with 158 exhibitors, attracted some 45,700 visitors to its Marina Bay Sands venue in a giddying roustabout of 70 events celebrating Singapore Art Week, including the spillover parade from the Singapore Biennale 2013.

Three artists' idea of what tomorrow brings

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Three artists visualise what the future holds for us.

YOU are looking inside an elephant, one that has been stripped of its outer layer. And in it are mechanical cogs bolted firmly in place. Just as the wheels go round and round in this work (at least, one easily imagines so), the entire show seems to be testament to a journey – of what has been, what is now, and what could be.

This group exhibition might be called Tomorrow's Land, but tomorrow is very much influenced by yesterday.

"It is a route back to where it all started, getting back to basics, finding 'real' interaction and just being the person you are inside," says Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail – rather simply – of her works. "It is a search for the beauty within."

Working with white stoneware and high quality porcelain, the artist shares that what she enjoys most about working with clay is its malleable properties and the resulting unpredictability.

Pace Gallery, Tomorrow's Land. Ahmad Shukri Mohamed transports us into a materialistic and carefree world through his works.

Ahmad Shukri Mohamed transports us into a materialistic and carefree world through his works. 'How does time change us? And how do we deal with this change?' he questions. 

Out from the fire, her ceramic figurines freeze in mid-motion, dressed in brightly coloured clothes and sporting smooth, blank faces. Flowers and leaves scatter beneath a blue sky – all part of Umibaizurah's allusion to an inner yearning to return to the familiarity of a childhood past, where things were simple and change was slow.

Ultimately, her work is about hope – the hope that our decadent ways can "fall back to a time where things were slower paced, a time where we were more in tune with the land."

Describing her works as a sort of homage to nature, a reminder of how beautiful our flora and fauna is, Umibaizurah recollects that she grew up spending a lot of time entertaining herself outdoors and immersing herself in nature.

"So these things tend to be reflected within the source imagery of my current work," she says, adding that she likes to incorporate elements that remind her of childhood and play.

Tomorrow's Land at Pace Gallery features the works of Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail (left), Ahmad Shukri Mohamed and Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali from Patisatu Studio.  IZZRAFIQ ALIAS / The Star. January 22, 2014.

Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail explains her work The Dreamer to some curious visitors at the Tomorrow's Land exhibition.

Umibaizurah, 38, is part of the trio behind Patisatu Studio, based in Puncak Alam, Kuala Selangor. When the studio was launched in 2007, it was with the vision to promote ceramic art in Malaysia through workshops, exhibitions and residency programmes for international sculptors.

The studio got off to a grand start with its inaugural exhibition entitled Warning! Tapir Crossing, featuring the paintings and ceramic sculptures of founding members Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, 44, and Umibaizurah, respectively. The third member of the group, Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali, 29, joined the husband and wife team a year later, and along the way, the works emerging from this studio evolved to incorporate other forms of art as well.

Now, six years later, they are having their first group exhibition featuring the works of all three artists.

"This is a group that has played a big part in establishing ceramic art in the country. It is the first time the studio members are showing their works together and a lot of people have been looking forward to this," says Pace Gallery owner Yusof Majid.

Tomorrow's Land is a two-part exhibition with the second part scheduled for July, with works created in Amsterdam during an exchange programme there last year.

The artists share that they felt the works needed to be shown separately, particularly as it took on a new direction while they working overseas. Some time for self-reflection here was deemed necessary.

"Especially since we felt that the work we produced in Amsterdam addressed the theme differently," says Khuzairie.

Challenging as it might be to envision what tomorrow might bring, he takes a brave stab at prophesising what the future may hold for us. The elephant with cogs is his, a chilling glimpse into what could be.

"My artwork is inspired by robots," he says. "And it addresses issues like human greed and the behaviour of humans."

On a more literal level, Khuzairie talks about hunting and killing animals for their body parts, for profit. And then he shifts to talk of a future filled with mechanical animals (robots).

"I wonder whether our future generations will be able to see the animals we have around us now, or will they know only 'animals' created by humans," he says in reference to man-made ones.

"Humans are territorial creatures, like animals. It is the meeting points where we cross over into another animal's territory – and vice versa – that interests me. My work deals with our animal instinct to protect, to survive, and to tighten our grip on nature. My assemblages are therefore a reflection of us," he says.

As bleak as his sounds, Shukri goes down the opposite path, painting light, breezy works of happy, smiling people. It feels like consumerism pushed to its limit, an explosion of colours and manufactured happiness. It is a decadent and materialistic existence – and looks really fun ... at least on the surface.

"The concept of this exhibition tells the story of change and transition.

"Through my works, I reference the passage of time and examine how time changes us and the way we see things," Shukri explains.

"It is this uncertainty that is embedded into my paintings."

Yusof expresses that he loves the fact that each artist has approached the theme in a different way.

"These are artists with their own career paths, they are very strong-minded artists in their own right," he says.

And he is anything but uncertain when it comes to his thoughts on this exhibition.

"I find the show to be a well-thought out one because this is one studio that creates art with the gallery space in mind. The result? It looks absolutely incredible."

> Tomorrow's Land is showing at Pace Gallery, 64 Jalan Kemajuan, Section 12/18, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, till Feb 5. Opening hours: 11am to 7pm (Monday to Saturday); Sunday by appointment only. Call 03-7954 6069 or visit www.pacegallery.net for details.

Bunny alert on Mandela's statue

Posted: 25 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

South Africa orders removal of rabbit from Mandela statue's ear.

The South African government has ordered the removal of a rabbit that was secretly sculpted into a recently unveiled statue of Nelson Mandela, an official said on Wednesday.

The artists who built the nine-metre (30-foot), bronze colossus in Pretoria, added a rabbit into the ear of the statue, without clearance from government.

"We want to restore the integrity of the sculpture as soon as possible," Mogomotsi Mogodiri, spokesman for the ministry of arts and culture told AFP.

The sculpture of Nelson Mandela, with a  barely visible sculpted rabbit tucked inside one of the bronze ears. The statue is billed as the biggest statue of the South African leader. Officials want the miniature bunny removed from the statue, which was unveiled outside the government complex in Pretoria, the capital, on Dec. 16, a day after Mandela's funeral.

The sculpture of Nelson Mandela, with a barely visible sculpted rabbit tucked inside one of the bronze ears. The statue was unveiled outside the government complex in Pretoria, the capital, on Dec 16, a day after Mandela's funeral.

The government said it was unaware of the rabbit's existence until a local newspaper brought it to their attention.

The two bronze sculptors – Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren – who added the mammal as their "signature" of the work, have apologised for doing so without permission.

"We accepted their apology," said Mogodiri, adding it was unclear how long it would take to extract the rabbit from the statue's ear.

The boss of the company that was contracted by government to erect the statue, which in turn hired the two artists, said the artists' action was "regrettable" and akin to a "senseless prank".

Dali Tambo, chairman of Koketso Growth said it had from the beginning been decided against engraving the statue.

But the names of the artists were going to be installed at a plaque near the statue.

"It is regrettable that the artists chose this way of expressing their opinion about not signing the sculpture," said Tambo, who is also the son of one of the leading anti-apartheid politicians, Oliver Tambo.

Built at a cost of US$740,000 (RM2.5mil), the 4.5-tonne sculpture is the largest of Mandela statues erected around the world.

It was unveiled just a day after Mandela was buried.

Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after 27 years in apartheid prisons, died on Dec 5, 2013, at the age of 95. – AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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