Khamis, 10 April 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates


Australian PM says confident of position of MH370's black box

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 09:25 PM PDT

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday that searchers were confident they knew the position of the black box flight recorder from a missing Malaysian airliner, but cautioned this was not the same as recovering wreckage.

"We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometres (miles)," he said in a speech in the Chinese commercial capital Shanghai.

"Still, confidence in the approximate position of the black box is not the same as recovering wreckage from almost four and a half kilometres beneath the sea or finally determining all that happened on the flight."

Malaysia Airlines MASM.KL Flight MH370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, vanished on March 8 and is believed to have flown thousands of kilometres off its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route and into the Indian Ocean.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

Australian PM confident signals are from missing plane's black box

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 08:55 PM PDT

PERTH/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The international effort to find a missing Malaysian jetliner was zeroing on a small patch of the Indian Ocean on Friday, but Australia's prime minister warned the signal from what is believed to be the plane's black box was fading.

The Australian agency overseeing the search said it would use some of the most sophisticated resources at its disposal on the small search area after a new acoustic signal, that could be from the plane's black box recorders, was detected on Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that he was confident that the latest signal, which was captured by a listening device buoy, indicated that the search was focused on the correct area.

"We have very much narrowed down the search area and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH370," Abbott told reporters in Shanghai.

The latest ping seems to lend credence to four previous "pings" detected by a U.S. Navy "Towed Pinger Locator" (TPL) towed by Australia's Ocean Shield vessel.

The mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared more than a month ago, has sparked the most expensive search and rescue operation in aviation history.

The black boxes record cockpit data and may provide answers about what happened to the plane, which was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew when it vanished on March 8 and flew thousands of kilometres off its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route.

But the batteries in the black boxes have already reached the end of their 30-day expected life, making efforts to swiftly locate them on the murky ocean floor all the more critical, Abbott said.

"We are now getting to the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade and we are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires," he said.

Search efforts are now focused on three areas.

Aircraft and ships are combing over two large search zones, some 2,390 km (1,485 miles) northwest of Perth, for possible floating debris related to the crash.

But it is the much smaller search zone, just 600 sq km (232 sq miles, located about 1,670 km (1038 miles) northwest of Perth that has generated fresh optimism.

The smaller zone is near where the Ocean Shield picked up the acoustic signals and where dozens of sonobuoys capable of transmitting data to search aircraft via radio signals were dropped on Wednesday.

But experts say the process of teasing out the signals from the cacophony of background noise in the sea is a slow and exhausting process.

An autonomous underwater vehicle named Bluefin-21 is onboard the Ocean Shield and could be deployed to look for wreckage on the sea floor once a final search area has been identified.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

Venezuela's Maduro and opposition talk as death toll hits 40

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 08:25 PM PDT

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hosted opposition leaders on Thursday at the start of mediated talks intended to stem two months of political unrest that has killed dozens in the OPEC nation.

The meeting, brokered by foreign ministers from the Unasur bloc of South American governments, took place at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas and was broadcast live on TV.

"The road here was long and complicated, but it was worth it ... we are going to listen patiently, and with respect and tolerance, to the compatriots of the opposition," Maduro said in lengthy opening comments.

He cautioned against unrealistic expectations.

"There are no negotiations here. No pacts. All we're looking for is a model of peaceful coexistence, of mutual tolerance."

Some hardline opposition groups, including the party of jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, boycotted the talks while dozens of demonstrators remain in jail.

Pollsters say approval levels for both Maduro and the opposition have fallen during the crisis, while an already slowing economy has suffered a further drag from the impact of violent clashes on businesses and transport.

Authorities said on Thursday that a policeman was shot dead in western Barquisimeto city while dispersing a demonstration, bringing the official death toll to 40.

Since protests began in early February, about 650 people have been injured, officials say. More than 2,000 people have been detained, and 174 are still behind bars.

OPPOSITION SPEAKS OUT

Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, a top opposition leader, said the face-to-face discussions were long overdue.

"Something has gone very wrong for a meeting between the government and the opposition to be rare," he said, adding that they must find a way to stop the bloodshed.

"Violence must be eradicated at the roots," Aveledo said.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in last year's election to replace late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, attended the meeting and was due to speak later.

Eleven opposition delegates and 11 "Chavistas" were given 10 minutes each to speak after Maduro's opening remarks.

Both sides have called on the Roman Catholic Church to be a "good faith" witness. At the start of Thursday's discussions, the Vatican's envoy to Venezuela read a letter from the Pope, encouraging the efforts to find peace.

Maduro, who calls himself the "son" of Chavez and is seeking to preserve popular oil-funded welfare policies while tinkering with his predecessor's statist economic model, said ahead of the talks that he would talk but not negotiate.

Maduro had said before the talks he would be a "traitor" if he began negotiating away the gains of the revolution.

Hardline protesters have openly sought to provoke a "Venezuelan Spring" that would force him from office, but have failed to bring the millions onto the streets they hoped for. The demonstrators have proved persistent, however, with sporadic roadblocks, marches and other protest tactics in some cities.

Maduro says that if the opposition wants to get rid of him, it would have to be via the ballot only. His foes could force a presidential "recall referendum" in 2016 if they garner about 4 million signatures for it. Maduro's six-year term ends in 2019.

Venezuelans across the political spectrum are fed up with violent crime and economic problems including a 57 percent annual inflation rate and shortages of basic products from milk and flour to toilet-paper and car batteries.

Both sides said those issues would figure high in the talks.

Maduro said he had "positive surprises" for the opposition at the discussions, but gave no details. There have been calls for a goodwill release of former security official Ivan Simonovis, who is serving a 30-year sentence for some shootings during a brief coup against Chavez against 2002.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Eyanir Chinea and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by James Dalgleish and Ken Wills)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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Kris Jenner, mastermind of the Kardashian brand

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Despite the haters, Kris Jenner is having the last laugh as Keeping Up With The Kardashians enters its ninth season.

"I am wearing a dress that is way short to sit on this," Kris Jenner points to the high stool where she's supposed to sit for the interview.

We are at E! Channel's head office in Los Angeles where Jenner has agreed to speak to members of the international media to plug the latest season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

The matriarch of the (in)famous Kardashian clan is wearing a short dress by Valentino as she figures out how to get on the high stool.

Instead of asking for a height-appropriate chair, Jenner is determined to make this work. "No peeking. And that means you," she points to all of us on the floor as she gets on the stool.

That gesture by Jenner pretty much sums up her family's attitude: throw them a curveball, they will rise to the challenge.

For nine seasons, viewers have been transfixed with the lives of the Kardashian clan in Kardashians – one of the most popular reality shows on television.

Jenner, who manages the careers of her kids, is said to be worth US$20mil.

Jenner, who manages the careers of her kids, is said to be worth US$20mil (RM64mil).

While detractors are aplenty and criticise the family as fame seekers with no talent to offer, a scan of weekly tabloids and popular entertainment websites show that people just can't get enough them.

Kardashians follows the lives of Jenner and her family which includes husband Bruce Jenner, her kids from her first marriage – Kourtney, Kim, Khloe and Robert; two teenage daughters from her marriage to Bruce – Kendall and Kylie; and Kourtney's family – boyfriend Scott and son Mason.

Jenner's theory on why viewers tune in week after week to watch the show is because her family is fun.

"It is sort of the perfect storm," she says of the dynamics of her family.

"Anybody who started watching the show and is invested in the family has seen it grow and we just let it all hang out. People can relate to a big crazy family and although we bicker all the time, we are also always there for each other. There is just a lot of love in the family."

Pretty much nothing is staged or scripted on Kardashians according to Jenner.

"What you see on TV is what you get (in real life). My friends who come over would always tell me, 'It's wild here, you should have a reality show!'," remembers Jenner.

One night, many years ago, she threw a dinner party where a guest was thoroughly entertained by her family's antics. "This girl was watching this whole scene unfold in front of her and told me it's nuts in my household. She suggested I meet with Ryan Seacrest."

Never one to let a good opportunity slip pass her, Jenner set up a meeting with Seacrest (who later became the producer of Kardashians) and pitched the idea to him. He obviously loved the concept and took it to E!. "We started filming in a month and we have not stopped filming since," Jenner beams.

Lucky for her, there wasn't much resistance from her family when she told them that cameras would be tailing them ... well, everyone except one.

"The only person who really had an issue was Kourtney. She wasn't quite sure if she wanted her life out there all of the time."

So, Jenner made a deal with her family – anytime one of them is not having a good time filming the show, they can call it quits. "No one has ever said we are not having a good time. We really like what we are doing, honestly. I feel we are lucky to get up every single day and work with each other," she says.

Even when the going gets tough, the clan soldiers on in front of the camera.

Season Nine of Kardashians sees the family going through some tough times. Jenner, for one, has separated from her husband of 23 years, Bruce Jenner.

Khloe's marriage to Lamar Odom has been on the rocks for some time and after months of speculation, the couple has confirmed they are divorcing.

Jenner has taken all these heartaches and turned it into must-watch TV. "(For this season) the sad news is that Khloe has filed for divorce, so we see her going through that. Bruce and I have separated, so you kind of see the dynamics of how we are evolving. It's literally happening now as we speak. So, you are not getting a season that is stale even by a month or two. You are getting it on the fly."

If that sounds like a pitch for you to watch her show, it is! Don't forget, Jenner is the mastermind of the Kardashian brand. She is the manager of her children's career – from the Kardashian fashion line to Kylie's and Kendall's modelling careers, nothing gets pass her.

While some mothers have tried managing their children's career and failed (think Dina Lohan), Jenner has done a spectacular job. (Then again, she has experience having managed Bruce's career for the past two decades.)

Just a look at how much her kids have earned under her watchful eyes will be a good indication on what a great manager Jenner is. Kim is the top earner in the family, raking in US$40mil (RM128mil); Kourtney and Khloe are worth US$20mil (RM64mil) each; Rob's income is US$3.5mil (RM11.2mil); and Kendall and Kylie have earned US$3.5mil (RM11.2mil) collectively. Jenner herself is said to be worth about US$20mil.

"I am their manager because I have their best interest at heart. I am available to them 24/7 versus a manager that works in the office from nine to five.

"I come from a place where I want the best for them regardless. So, I think they win in the end. I think I am going to start charging more," she laughs.

>>Season Nine of Keeping Up With The Kardashians airs every Tuesday at 10pm on E! (Astro Ch 712).

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


Red Rising

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A reviewer who isn't a fan of young adult fiction is won over by this engaging novel.

If history shows us anything, it is that humanity will not remain repressed and enslaved for very long. The inevitable rebellion usually ends badly for everyone involved and all kinds of valuable lessons are learned. Such are the events that take place in Red Rising, unfolding quickly, with the author giving us no time to recover between blows.

This first book in the Red Rising trilogy is extremely well written and gave me an interesting set of themes to explore. The author has managed to weave together threads of love, loss, intrigue, excitement and action in amounts that are just right without the scenes becoming too contrived. The relationships formed between characters in the book are skilfully depicted and easily convinced me about either the depth or superficiality of feelings between characters.

Red Rising begins with an introduction to the life of the protagonist, Darrow, a Red living on Mars.In a society split into classes by genetics and named after colours, the Reds are on the bottom rung. Born and bred to mine the rare elements that are needed to terraform Mars and make it habitable, the Reds live in complete subjugation to the upper colours.

They live and die quickly in the mines, and are kept in check by sanctions on food and other necessities if they cause problems. The carrot comes in the form of hope, that one day, once they have mined enough of the elements required, they will be recognised and that their sacrifices over the years will make them heroes to the first generation on a habitable Mars.

What the Reds don't know, however, is that Mars was terraformed generations ago, together with a sizeable chunk of the solar system. The Golds at the top of the food chain keep up the pretence because, really, who doesn't like slave labour? They, together with the hulking Obsidians (bred for war) and the Grays (the society's bureaucrats and coppers), keep the Reds under their collective thumb.

Darrow, the narrative voice of the book, is recruited by a terrorist group, the Sons of Ares, and pulled into a lonely and terrifying mission that will ultimately bring down the ruling power of the Golds and their elite master class, the Peerless Scarred.

In turns ruthless, then frightened, the young Darrow must survive the training he is dropped into as well as the merciless political arena of the Gold hierarchy. Along the way we are introduced to the other colours as well, Greens and Browns and Pinks, who all serve, and are bred for, some specific function within society.

The book flows along well, with surprising twists in the plot every now and again. There are a lot of deaths, almost on the level of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Many likeable characters are killed off, but every loss has a deeper meaning and contributes to future events in some way. Because of the author's masterful skill at building character relationships, every death of a primary character tugged at my emotions, ranging from anger to sorrow.

One of the really interesting things about this book is the way Brown has managed to build not only the world of Mars, and to a lesser degree the rest of the solar system, but he has also built a complete society of humans from the ground up. The society is divided into factions based around early Greek and Roman mythology, with familiar names such as Ares, Persephone, Apollo, Jupiter and Minerva cropping up frequently.

The result is a very deep and rich story, so much so that the book feels much longer than its 382 pages. This does not take away from the flow of the story in any way, but rather enhances it, with the story never becoming too fast or too slow, always paced just right for the events that are happening. The concentrated richness of the story also allowed me to feel as though I was completely immersed in the narrative and gave me a very visual and visceral experience throughout.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-paced, immersive science fiction/fantasy. Be prepared to spend some time reading this book, it is best read in long pieces lest you lose yourself in the detailed tapestry of Pierce Brown's writing. I am not generally a fan of young adult fiction but I absolutely loved this book, and am eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

An Unnecessary Woman

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Rabih Alameddine's beautiful new novel is ostensibly about an elderly woman living alone in her Beirut apartment. Once married but quickly divorced, Aaliya appears to be, as the title says, An Unnecessary Woman. But Aaliya's solitude is filled with incident and wonder. She lives in a city whose very name is synonymous with conflict and disorder. In Beirut it's perfectly normal for a spinster to don a pink tracksuit and pick up an AK-47 in defence of her abode.

The wonder in An Unnecessary Woman comes courtesy of Aaliya's voracious reading habits. The imagined worlds of writers as diverse as WG Sebald, Marcel Proust and Roberto Bolano are Aaliya's constant (and unfailingly interesting) companions. She translates their books into Arabic, filling up her home with three dozen translations – which no one else has ever read.

"I imagine looking at this room through a stranger's eyes," Aaliya says of her apartment. "Books everywhere, stacks and stacks, shelves and bookcases, stacks atop each shelf, I in the creaky chair... I have been its only occupant."

Alameddine is the Lebanese-American author of four previous works of fiction (including the international bestseller The Hakawati). He is a resident of San Francisco and Beirut. The latter city and its violent recent history provide the setting for An Unnecessary Woman, as Aaliya witnesses a series of battles between militias and an invasion by the Israeli army. She suffers the indignities of endless power outages and shutdowns of the city's water supply. Through it all, she reads.

After the battles are over, Aaliya keeps a war "relic" on her desk: a copy of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (1978), its cover scorched in the lower right corner.

"I was reading the book by candlelight while people killed each other outside my window," Aaliya says. "I had an incendiary mishap, something that seems to have happened regularly to Joseph Conrad – the incendiary mishaps, not the burning cities."

Much of An Unnecessary Woman reads in this fashion, with Aaliya dialoguing with the lives and works of great writers while simultaneously recounting the events of her life, from girlhood to sunset years. Her reading varies from Jean-Paul Sartre and Virginia Woolf to Javier Marias and Fernando Pessoa. Aaliya's taste in literature is so wonderfully varied, and Alameddine writes with such lucid and swift-moving prose, that his novel never loses momentum, even though Aaliya herself is the most passive of protagonists.

An Unnecessary Woman is an allegory about how notions of beauty and civilisation can endure in a world that periodically descends into barbarism, and how women can persevere in a society that never ceases to devalue them in both war and peace.

In Alameddine's telling, Beirut is a city caught between the pull of the cosmopolitan (it is famous as "the Paris of the Middle East") and persistent traditional Muslim notions of what women's roles should be. At an early age, Aaliya is married off to an older man. But he's useless, stupid and impotent, and their marriage is never consummated. After he mercifully divorces her, Aaliya is left with their spacious apartment, much to the chagrin of her family, who thinks she should hand it over to one of her child-rearing siblings. She refuses, and her family hates her for it.

"I am my family's appendix, its unnecessary appendage," she says.

Besides her literary curiosity, Aaliya's stubbornness and independence are her defining characteristics. If there weren't bombs going off periodically, Aaliya might be, like her hero the Portuguese poet and critic Pessoa, a flรขneur – an idle wanderer about town.

Pessoa's words in his autobiographical The Book Of Disquiet (1982; first English translation, 1991) define Aaliya's personal philosophy: "The only attitude worthy of a superior man is to persist in an activity he recognises is useless, to observe a discipline he knows is sterile, and to apply certain norms of philosophical and metaphysical thought that he considers utterly inconsequential."

Absorbing the creative spirit of the great writers she admires by translating them allows Aaliya to live alone without feeling like a tragic figure. She's a thinker, a lover of life and ideas. She works for years at a Beirut bookstore, where the owner is a dilettante who doesn't appreciate her vast knowledge of literature. When the bookstore closes, she gets to keep the desk she had there; for Aaliya, this is enough. She moves the desk to her apartment and uses it to sit and work on her never-to-be-read translations.

As Aaliya reads and periodically observes the ageing of her family and neighbours, she cannot escape the pain of loss. Her most enduring friendship is with another unmarried woman, a doomed, kindred spirit. But not even the worst possible end to that friendship can strip Aaliya of the unique sense of belonging that books and reading give her. To read is to be alone – and also to be immersed deeply in the emotions and the ideas that make us human.

As Pessoa's alter ego, or "heteronym" Alvaro de Campos writes:

"I am nothing.

"I'll always be nothing.

"I can't even wish to be anything.

"Aside from that, within me I have all the dreams of the world."

An Unnecessary Woman is a unique love poem to the book and to the tenacity of the feminine spirit. And it's a triumph for Alameddine, who has created a book worthy of sitting on a shelf next to the great works whose beauty and power his novel celebrates. – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies


'Spider-Man' spin-off 'Sinister Six' gets a director

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 10:20 PM PDT

The movie featuring Spidey's villains is about to become a reality.

Drew Goddard is closing a deal to direct Sinister Six, the Spider-Man spin-off that he is writing for Sony Pictures.

Sony hired the co-writer and director of The Cabin In The Woods to write a script about the villains in Spidey's world last December when the studio announced the project.

At the same time, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Ed Solomon were named as the writing team on another Spider-Man spin-off, Venom, which Kurtzman will direct.

Goddard was at that time seen as having a shot at directing the film, and on Monday sources close to the project confirmed that he is the choice. His deal is not closed, however.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx, opens May 2. The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is scheduled for June 2016, with the fourth film in the franchise is due in May 2018.

Goddard, Orci, Kurtzman and Solomon will work with Spider-Man producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach – and Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb – to create and coordinate a pantheon of superheroes and villains that Sony hopes will populate the franchise with spin-off films for years. — Reuters

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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Dama in search of a star

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Dama Orchestra is holding auditions for singers and dancers.

IF you have always wanted to sing or dance in a musical, here's your chance – head on over to the Dama Orchestra auditions held at Dama Studio in Kuala Lumpur next week!

In conjunction with theatre institution Dama Orchestra's 20th anniversary celebration, it will be looking for singers and dancers between 17 and 35 years old, to be part of its production Larger Than Life: Broadway And West End Musicals at Pentas 1, KLPac in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 27 to Oct 12.

This call for open auditions for Larger Than Life will be held at Dama Studio, M-2-10 Plaza Damas, 60 Jalan Sri Hartamas in Kuala Lumpur.

Audition dates and times are as follows: April 16 (6pm to 9pm); April 19 (2pm to 5pm) and April 20 (10am to 1pm).

Checklist: Singers should come prepared with two English musical songs, one "lively" and the other "sentimental". You will be expected to sing these two songs from memory, with movements and/or dance elements included. For dancers, prepare two different dance routines of your choice.

Minus-one CDs are allowed for auditions for both singers and dancers. Bring a headshot and a completed application form (download the form at www.damaorchestra.com).

Auditions are by appointment only. Call 03-6201 9107/8 during office hours.

Elsewhere, there's also a call to young theatre enthusiasts (aged 18-30) to audition for a three-month musical theatre workshop programme, presented by Dama Music Theatre and Selangor Properties Bhd. It is called the SPB-Dama Young Artistes Programme. The workshops will culminate in the musical Hansel & Gretel at DPAC, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya in Selangor from Aug 1-3. The auditions will be held on April 19 (10.30am) and April 20 (10am) at Dama Studio in Kuala Lumpur. Course fee applies. Those interested, call 03-6201 9108.

More updates at: www.damaorchestra.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Metro: Central

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Japan kills 251 minke whales

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

TOKYO: Japan killed 251 minke whales during the 2014 Antarctic hunt, in what is expected to be the last "research whaling" mission in the Southern Ocean after an international court ruling.

According to data released by Japan's Fisheries Agency on Tuesday, the catch was more than double last year's tally of 103 minke whales, but much smaller than the target of 935.

The whalers caught no fin whales during the hunt, which ran between Jan 3 and March 13, the agency said.

Japan is a signatory to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which bans commercial hunting, but has insisted its operation was research – even though it acknowledged the meat from the animals ended up on dinner tables.

Militant environmentalist group Sea Shepherd has annually sent its vessels to the Southern Ocean to confront the whalers, and has in the past taken credit for the vastly-reduced catch.

The United Nations' International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled last week that the programme was a commercial hunt disguised as science, vindicating claims by opponents, notably Australia.

In the wake of the verdict, Japan said it was cancelling the annual Antarctic mission for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.

Japan has another research whaling programme that operates in the northwestern Pacific.

This hunt, which is not affected by the court ruling, operates two excursions a year, in coastal waters and offshore, from early summer through autumn.

Last year's whaling in the area netted 58 minke whales in coastal waters and 132 mammals – including minke, sei and sperm whales – offshore.

Analysts say Japan will likely have to review this programme in the Pacific in light of the UN court ruling.

Japanese fishermen also catch a small number of whales in coastal waters under an IWC provision allowing for small-scale "indigenous whaling". — AFP

Modi files nomination papers

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

VADODARA: Indian election front-runner Narendra Modi waved to thousands of cheering supporters as he filed his papers to stand in the country's mammoth six-week election which entered its second of nine phases.

Modi, a hardline Hindu nationalist widely tipped to emerge as prime minister when results are published on May 16, is standing from the Vadodara constituency in the western state of Gujarat.

Making a rare public outing in a jeep yesterday, Modi waved at crowds waving the saffron-coloured flag of his Bharatiya Janata Party, which is forecast to inflict a crushing defeat on the ruling Congress party.       In the remote northeast of the country meanwhile, voting began amid tight security in constituencies in four insurgency-wracked states close to the disputed border with China.

Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland are the second wave of voting in the election process which has been staggered to allow security forces to re-deploy in between stages.

Voters flocked early to polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh, an eastern stretch of the Himalayas that China claims as its own, despite pouring rain overnight, the Press Trust of India reported.

During campaigning in February in the area, the scene of a 1962 war between India and China, Modi had warned Beijing to shed its "expansionist mindset".

Hundreds of extra security forces have been deployed in neighbouring and under-developed Nagaland, where rebels from tribal groups have waged a decades-long campaign for more rights.

Security was also tight in nearby Meghalaya, where ethnic and separatist groups have also long fought against the state, and the border with Bangladesh has been closed, Press Trust of India news agency said.

Six seats were up for grabs yesterday ahead of the third phase of voting today which will be by far the biggest to date with constituencies in 14 states including the capital region heading to the ballot box.

The opposition BJP is expected to sweep to power in the world's biggest election at a time of low economic growth as well as anger over corruption and rising food prices.

As well as a Vadodara, Modi is also set to stand from a second seat in the northern holy Hindu city of Varanasi on the river Ganges in the battleground state of Uttar Pradesh. — AFP

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

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ABBA celebrates 40 years of global success since 'Waterloo' breakthrough

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 10:40 PM PDT

Within strolling distance of the train station bearing the name of their first global hit, Swedish band ABBA celebrated 40 years of pop success to mark their groundbreaking song Waterloo.

Two of the four members of the band that made spangled jumpsuits and big boots a trademark attended the bash at the trendy Tate Modern museum on Monday night, marking four decades since their catchy tune won the Eurovision song contest in April 1974 and launched them into international stardom.

Bjorn Ulvaeus, who wrote many of the group's songs with ABBA co-founder Benny Andersson, said he was stunned by the rise and rise of ABBA even after it effectively disbanded in 1983.

ABBA, from left: Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Anderson. 

The band not only lives on through its disco-friendly back catalogue, but also in the long-running hit show Mamma Mia, the film based on the musical, and in the latest offering, a new ABBA: The Official Photo Book launched last month.

"It happened over quite a long period of time," Ulvaeus said at the London event, noting that success had not come easily. "I mean, we didn't have hit after hit after hit. We had a hit and then we wrote another song, recorded it, released it and it was like that. It seems today like it was all happening at the same time but it wasn't."

He was joined at the party by Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, one of the band's two lead singers, who attributed ABBA's success to the right people getting together at the right time.

"We knew a bit about the business and the mix of the talents was probably a wonderful thing and also being couples, being together and exploring that world, it was a new kind of thing for all of us," she said.

Partygoers sang Happy Birthday to the two band members, to which Lyngstad responded: "We really feel privileged, you have to know that. We feel privileged to be able to survive for 40 years and to stand here today and celebrate it with you. It's pure happiness. Thank you so much."

The evening included a disco of ABBA songs, with various cardboard cut-outs of ABBA members for fans to pose with. 

The food served consisted mostly of hotdogs and beer, a tradition among ABBA fans, and the evening ended with a group called the ABBA Choir singing some of the group's greatest hits – including Waterloo. – Reuters

Shila Amzah is singing through the storm

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Shila Amzah will perform on the finals of I Am A Singer 2 tomorrow despite backlash from China's netizens.

IT is a trying time for Malaysian singer Shila Amzah.

Not only is the 23-year-old vocalist fighting to defend her spot in the reality singing competition, I Am A Singer 2, Shila and fellow Malaysian competitor Gary Chaw Ge are among the homegrown talents who have been lambasted by netizens in China in relation to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

"Both you (Chaw) and Shila are the enemies of our country now. Although you should not be held responsible, your country is ill-treating our countrymen. Don't you feel ashamed to stay on?" wrote a netizen.

Fish Leong, Datuk Michelle Yeoh, Ah Niu, Victor Wong and Lee Sin-jie are other Malaysian celebrities who have also become subjects of scorn.

"MH370 is not my fault … I'm really sorry ... please," Shila responded in an Instagram post that has garnered over 15,000 likes so far.

"Precious (fans), Thank you for the hugssss.. Im deeling (feeling) so much better today.. No matter what happened, I will remain strong and do all the best i can! I love Malaysia and china.. We will work this out.. Spread the love not hatred.. You are my forever love..:* #shilalashugs," she followed up with another.

Her posts have been met with largely encouraging comments on the photo- and video-sharing service.

Star2 reached out to her for further comments on this matter, but the Malaysian singer did not respond.

However, we spoke to her about the highs and lows of her journey on I Am A Singer 2 in an e-mail interview prior to the uproar by China's netizens.

"I love competitions because they drive me to work and push myself harder. Through competitions, I found that I can actually do things that I thought I can't, reach the high notes that I couldn't reach before," said Nur Shahila Amir Amzah or Shila when asked about being on a total of three reality singing competitions to date.

Before I Am A Singer 2, Shila – who is the daughter of popular 1980s singer ND Lala – has taken part inOne In A Million and Asian Wave, and mind you, coming in a close second on the former and emerging as champion on the latter. And from the looks of her performances since joining Season Two of I Am A Singer about a month-and-a-half ago, it's clear she loves a good competition.

The singer has been taking on one big, sweeping ballad after another such as Guan Zhe's Xiang Ni De Ye, Jay Chou's Zui Chang De Dian Ying and Beyonce's Listen to rave reviews.

And each time she takes the stage, her gait, her piercing eyes, her dramatic gestures speak of the eagerness of a woman who's knee-deep in the trenches in war – a musical one, that is.

"I felt like I've been too comfortable in the Malay market. So I decided to give myself a new challenge that can improve my singing and performance ability. I get bored easily when I'm stuck in only one place in my life.

"The Chinese market is bigger and there are more opportunities for me to develop my career," she recalled her decision to join Asian Wave in 2012, marking her foray into China's entertainment industry.

But I Am A Singer is a whole different ball game. Unlike her previous competitions, the singer is up against some of the region's most established artistes: Hong Kong's G.E.M, China's Han Lei, Zhang Jie, Zhou Bichang, Taiwan's Phil Chang Yu besides fellow Malaysian singer Gary Chaw Ge. "Getting all these experiences with these great and talented superstars, I feel honoured to be here," she said.

Shila also spoke affectionately about her countrymen Chaw: "He's not my competitor, he's like a big brother to me in this competition. We support each other."

  

Shila Amzah receiving the Anugerah Kembara at last year's AIM 20 awards. 

But a star-studded competition like this makes clinching the top spot week after week that much more difficult. Since entering the competition, Shila has found herself placed second or third consistently. Unfortunately, in a surprising result announcement last week, the singer fell to sixth place (out of seven contestants).

No doubt, part of the challenge lies in learning to sing in Mandarin. "I used to need more than a week to learn a new Chinese song. But being in a competition, I have time limitations. So I've trained myself to fully learn a new Chinese song in four days," she revealed.

Asked if the shock value of being a non-Chinese singer delivering Chinese songs works to her advantage, she replied: "Not really, I think the chances are fair and square."

However, she added that there is one thing that sets her apart: "They have no other singer to compare me with when it comes to my appearance." The Muslim singer was referring to her hijab.

Speaking of her appearance, the fresh-faced beauty has donned some glamorous outfits on the show including a shimmery black and gold ensemble as well as an arresting cape-like red sequined dress that added pomp and drama to her performance.

Shila shared that her decision on what to wear depends on the songs she will be delivering on the show; the singer works closely with Malaysian designer Raffiey Nasir throughout the competition.

She also spoke fondly about her most memorable moment on the competition so far: "I think the best moment was when I got to sing my very own rendition of (Adele's) Rolling In The Deep. The sight of the musicians and the audience on their feet singing with me … it was simply breathtaking." Like a surge of energy, the performance had audiences clapping and dancing along.

Tomorrow, Shila will step on the I Am A Singer stage for one last time on the series finale. "I do get nervous each time before I go on stage. I don't have any special rituals but I will usually warm myself up for around 15 minutes and pray," she said of her pre-show routine.

But as avid a competitor she is, Shila believes it is ultimately not about winning or losing.

"I don't give myself pressure to win this competition. Honestly, the most important thing for me is getting the experience and cherishing every moment in this competition.

"Being able to work with the great production team from Hunan TV, great musicians, great competitors, great audience is already more than enough for me," she said.

See how Malaysian contenders Shila Amzah and Gary Chaw Ge fare on the finals of I Am A Singer 2 at 8pm on April 4 on Now Mango (HyppTV Ch 205).

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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Lots of talks on healing through medical and alternative therapies at the Star Health Fair

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Doctors and experts to share their expertise at the Star Health Fair 2014.

Talks on healing through medical and alternative therapies will dominate presentations at The Star Health Fair 2014 in Kuala Lumpur starting Friday (April 11).

The three-day event will see doctors and experts in body, mind and spirit sharing their expertise on how people can live a healthier, happier and wholesome life.

International Cancer Therapy & Regenerative Medical Centre CEO Dr Lim Eng Huat will speak on the role of non-invasive immune therapy, natural supplements and a healthy diet and lifestyle in complementing mainstream cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

According to Dr Lim, statistics have shown that with these therapies, a cancer patient's survival rate increases, better life quality is experienced and the risk of cancer recurrence decreases.

He encourages all cancer patients to complement this practice together with the mainstream treatments of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in their long-term battle against cancer.

Dietitian Soh Hui Fang is convinced that knowing what you eat is essential to ensure general well-being.

"By understanding the basic food groups, their functions and effects on the body, we will be able to make the smart and right choice for the food we consume to optimise our health.

"A healthy lifestyle is not all about eating. It's crucial to engage in exercise, which benefits us physically and mentally, as well as reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases, improves stamina and flexibility and enhances well-being," said Soh.

Star2 Ancient Secrets columnist and Vasthu Sastra Guide author T. Selva will be on hand to show how people can rearrange their homes following the 5,000-year-old science of construction for health, peace and prosperity.

He said his presentation would also cover the use of pyramids to tap into subtle energy for healing.

Among the other speakers participating at the fair are founder and clinical director of Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy Dr Johnben Loy, who will share how we can improve our relationships through active listening; yoga teacher Soon Yoke Ngoh talking about breathing techniques; and Alvin Tan will show us how to take hold of our anxiety and find peace.

The Star Health Fair 2014 is organised by The Star, with Great Eastern Life as the event partner.

It will be held in Halls 1 to 3 of the Mid Valley Exhibition Centre from April 11 to 13.

The fair is open from 10am to 7pm and admission is free.

This year's theme 'Let's Live Great!' is to inspire Malaysians to lead a healthy living by being physically and mentally fit. For enquiries, call 03-7967 1388 (ext 1243/1475) or visit www.facebook.com/thestarhealthfair.

New ballet-inspired workouts keeps fitness buffs on their twinkly toes

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 12:15 AM PDT

Inspired by the rigorous training that ballerinas have to endure, a new wave of ballet fusion fitness programmes is keeping practitioners on their toes. 

Have you ever wished you had a ballerina's body – with those long, lean lines and gentle, graceful curves? Top professional dancers start at a very young age and spend countless hours training, working and stretching their muscles so they remain supple yet strong – and not bulk up like bodybuilders do. 

But while not everyone has the luxury nor talent to become a world-class ballerina, the training that ballerinas have to undergo has benefits for anyone looking to have a more limber and toned physique. Here's a quick glance at some of the more exciting ballet-inspired workouts that have recently hit the US fitness scene. 

Bungee Ballet

Bungee Ballet, created by former New York City Ballet dancer Rachel Piskin and her Pilates-trainer mum Lauren, is a group class at ChaiseFitness studio in New York City that puts a fitness spin on ballet moves. The classes, often paired with Pilates, aim to channel the inner ballerina, even in non-dancers.

Rachel and Lauren Piskin, the daughter and mother team who founded ChaiseFitness, have been developing their own brand of ballet-meets-Pilates using a newly designed Pilates chair and bungee straps to emulate the barre. 

Instead of the traditional ballet barre, the 45-minute class relies on an overhead bungee system that Piskin said sculpts the arms and challenges the core of her mostly female clientele.

"By holding on to the bungees, you can hold second position or first position," she said. "Coming from my background, it was important for me to really stay true to traditional ballet moves."

In both of these basic positions of ballet, the feet are aligned heel to heel, touching in first position, then spaced approximately 30cm apart in the second position.

Piskin said the class sculpts the upper body, challenges the core, and works the upper thighs. A series of bungee-assisted petit allegros, or small ballet jumps, keeps the heart rate up.

"The class moves fluidly between one exercise and another and the bungees assist you to jump higher," she said.

Booty Barre

California-based Tracey Mallett is the creator of Booty Barre, a fusion class that combines Pilates, dance and yoga techniques using the traditional ballet barre.

Along with cardio, strength, conditioning and flexibility components, the class, which is now available in over 20 countries, involves Pilates-inspired arm work with dumbbells and resistance bands.

Mallett, a former dancer and certified Pilates instructor, said teaching an arabesque to a non-dancer is not the same as teaching it to a dancer; even the barre serves a different purpose.

"(In class) the barre serves as something to hold on to for balance and ... to work on the muscles around the shoulder girdle," said Mallett. "In dance, we use the barre to practise and strengthen muscles for performance."

Ballet-inspired

The ballet-inspired classes at Equinox, the upscale chain of US fitness centres, come with and without the traditional wall-mounted barre.

Depending on the class, light weights, body bars and squishy balls are utilised, often in small, isometric movements, according to Layla Guest, group fitness manager in downtown Los Angeles.

"To work the upper body, we'll do functional arm movements such as bicep curls and tricep kickbacks, but in a small range of motion with two or three pound weights," she said. "Instead of just a muscular workout, we're looking at how the muscles move."

Lower bodywork also delves into ballet technique.

"With one hand on the barre and the other lengthening out to the side, you get that beautiful shape ballerinas have, (and) those ballet postures, plies, little leg lifts and big kicks," she said. "You really get that coordination."

A final segment of Pilates-based core work is designed to work supporting muscles. Guest said Pilates cultivates those dancer-defining long lean muscles, which lie under the larger muscles prized by bodybuilders.

"The joke is that if you measure yourself before and after ballet or Pilates, you'll grow taller," she said. "Actually, you haven't grown. You just stand taller." – Reuters

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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Japan kills 251 minke whales

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

TOKYO: Japan killed 251 minke whales during the 2014 Antarctic hunt, in what is expected to be the last "research whaling" mission in the Southern Ocean after an international court ruling.

According to data released by Japan's Fisheries Agency on Tuesday, the catch was more than double last year's tally of 103 minke whales, but much smaller than the target of 935.

The whalers caught no fin whales during the hunt, which ran between Jan 3 and March 13, the agency said.

Japan is a signatory to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which bans commercial hunting, but has insisted its operation was research – even though it acknowledged the meat from the animals ended up on dinner tables.

Militant environmentalist group Sea Shepherd has annually sent its vessels to the Southern Ocean to confront the whalers, and has in the past taken credit for the vastly-reduced catch.

The United Nations' International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled last week that the programme was a commercial hunt disguised as science, vindicating claims by opponents, notably Australia.

In the wake of the verdict, Japan said it was cancelling the annual Antarctic mission for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.

Japan has another research whaling programme that operates in the northwestern Pacific.

This hunt, which is not affected by the court ruling, operates two excursions a year, in coastal waters and offshore, from early summer through autumn.

Last year's whaling in the area netted 58 minke whales in coastal waters and 132 mammals – including minke, sei and sperm whales – offshore.

Analysts say Japan will likely have to review this programme in the Pacific in light of the UN court ruling.

Japanese fishermen also catch a small number of whales in coastal waters under an IWC provision allowing for small-scale "indigenous whaling". — AFP

Modi files nomination papers

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

VADODARA: Indian election front-runner Narendra Modi waved to thousands of cheering supporters as he filed his papers to stand in the country's mammoth six-week election which entered its second of nine phases.

Modi, a hardline Hindu nationalist widely tipped to emerge as prime minister when results are published on May 16, is standing from the Vadodara constituency in the western state of Gujarat.

Making a rare public outing in a jeep yesterday, Modi waved at crowds waving the saffron-coloured flag of his Bharatiya Janata Party, which is forecast to inflict a crushing defeat on the ruling Congress party.       In the remote northeast of the country meanwhile, voting began amid tight security in constituencies in four insurgency-wracked states close to the disputed border with China.

Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland are the second wave of voting in the election process which has been staggered to allow security forces to re-deploy in between stages.

Voters flocked early to polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh, an eastern stretch of the Himalayas that China claims as its own, despite pouring rain overnight, the Press Trust of India reported.

During campaigning in February in the area, the scene of a 1962 war between India and China, Modi had warned Beijing to shed its "expansionist mindset".

Hundreds of extra security forces have been deployed in neighbouring and under-developed Nagaland, where rebels from tribal groups have waged a decades-long campaign for more rights.

Security was also tight in nearby Meghalaya, where ethnic and separatist groups have also long fought against the state, and the border with Bangladesh has been closed, Press Trust of India news agency said.

Six seats were up for grabs yesterday ahead of the third phase of voting today which will be by far the biggest to date with constituencies in 14 states including the capital region heading to the ballot box.

The opposition BJP is expected to sweep to power in the world's biggest election at a time of low economic growth as well as anger over corruption and rising food prices.

As well as a Vadodara, Modi is also set to stand from a second seat in the northern holy Hindu city of Varanasi on the river Ganges in the battleground state of Uttar Pradesh. — AFP

Chinese man covered with 460,000 bees for honey stunt

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 07:32 AM PDT

BEIJING: A Chinese beekeeper covered his semi-naked body in more than 460,000 bees for a publicity stunt aimed at selling more of his honey, he told AFP Thursday, using a technique known as "bee bearding." 

She Ping, a 34-year-old honey merchant from the southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chongqing, covered himself in bees that collectively weighed more than 45kg (100 pounds) in a display for a group of French photographers on Wednesday. 

Bee bearding is a global pursuit, and Indian Vipin Seth holds the world record for wearing a mantle of bees weighing 61.4kg (135 lbs), according to Guinness World Records' official video channel. 

Participants generally attract the bees by placing a queen bee in a small cage hanging from their body. 

"To be honest I felt very nervous, but I do it to promote my honey," She said, adding: "I'm used to dealing with bees... and started these activities when I was about 22." 

Chongqing has emerged as a hotspot for bee bearders, with several other local honey merchants taking part, and honey shops with signs showing them covered in the insects visible in the city. 

She said he was stung more than 20 times during the 40-minute stunt. 

"The main preparation is avoiding taking a shower, especially avoiding using soap because it can excite the bees," he said. 

China is one of the world's major producers of honey, though its exports have been banned in several countries due to fears of counterfeiting. 

She admitted that his attempt fell short of a world record, but claims the record for carrying out the stunt without any clothes. 

"Of the people who do it naked, I'm probably the most awesome," he said. - AFP

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The Star eCentral: TV Tracks

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HBO renews 'Game Of Thrones' for two more seasons

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 04:32 AM PDT

The popular TV show premiered its fourth season earlier this week.

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K.I.T.T from 'Knight Rider' goes on sale

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 04:22 AM PDT

One of the most iconic cars on TV is looking for a new owner.

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Dress your kid like a Kardashian

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 04:52 PM PDT

Fashion-starved masses can't seem to get enough of the Kardashian clan's style. And now, their trendy tots can get in on the Hollywood celebutante look as well.

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WWE star The Ultimate Warrior dies

Posted: 09 Apr 2014 07:57 AM PDT

The wrestler began his career in the ring in 1987.

Peabody Awards: Excellence on TV

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 04:52 PM PDT

Obvious choices as well as newcomers recognised for good showing.

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