Ahad, 13 April 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

More U.S. sanctions likely if Russian actions in Ukraine continue

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 08:20 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States prepared to step up sanctions against Moscow if pro-Russian military actions in eastern Ukraine continue, a senior U.S. envoy said on Sunday, but it is unclear whether new measures will win European support or slow the Russian-backed separatist revolt.

The next round of U.S. sanctions, which would be the fourth imposed since the Ukraine crisis began, is likely to target Russians close to Putin as well as Russian entities, three sources familiar with the discussions said on Sunday.

However, they will not necessarily target entire Russian business sectors such as mining, banking and energy, the sources said, adding that the situation was fluid.

"Broad sectoral sanctions are probably not up for immediate action. What is up for immediate action is ... (Russian) individuals and entities," said one of the sources. "All of this is subject to what is happening on the ground."

Even if the United States were to target swathes of Russian industry, U.S. officials said it was uncertain whether Europe would go along with penalties that would affect Russia's economy and powerful energy sector.

The sanctions have been the most visible sign of U.S. anger at Russia's annexation of the Crimea region in southern Ukraine last month, reflecting the deepest plunge in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian activists seized government buildings on Saturday in the eastern town of Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border. Ukrainian security forces were trying to oust the activists, who set up barricades on the outskirts of the city.

The American ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said on ABC's "This Week" that the latest events in Ukraine bore "the telltale signs of Moscow's involvement."

"The president has made clear that, depending on Russian behaviour, sectoral sanctions in energy, banking, mining could be on the table, and there's a lot in between," Power said.

"I think we've seen that the sanctions can bite, and if actions like the kind we've seen over the last few days continue, you're going to see a ramping up of those sanctions."

Power said sanctions already imposed by Washington have had an impact: the Russian rouble has fallen to an all-time low, the country's stock market has depreciated by 20 percent and investors are fleeing the country.

But beyond declines in the rouble and Russian indexes, the impact has been modest. Most of those hit by U.S. and EU sanctions are not known to have extensive business interests.

One of those who does is billionaire oil and gas trader Gennady Timchenko. He told Russian television on Saturday his inclusion on the U.S. sanctions list had caused minor problems, mainly because some European banks had become wary of carrying out transactions with any entities linked to him.

But he said, for him personally, being on the list was "quite an honour.

A new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia is likely to target influential people or firms in its business sectors, such as energy, engineering and financial services, as spelled out in President Barack Obama's executive order last month.

The U.S. goal is to put more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin's business allies. When sanctions were announced in March, the U.S. Treasury said it would largely focus on people and their personal assets, not businesses they operate.

But U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no certainty European nations would be on board with sanctions that would cause real pain and be felt not only in Russia's economy but by U.S. and European interests too.

Broader sanctions could cause collateral damage to companies that would be forced to sever ties with blacklisted firms and could also affect Russian energy deliveries to western Europe.

It was also unclear whether Thursday's planned Geneva talks involving the United States, Russia and Ukraine would happen now, the U.S. officials said, as the Russians had begun setting preconditions, including that Ukraine could not use force to quell unrest in the east, and that all of Ukraine's regions, including pro-Russian areas, be included in the discussion.

The three sources said the Obama administration had been hesitant to impose the sectoral sanctions but that events over the weekend in eastern Ukraine had clearly tilted the debate in the direction of doing more, rather than less.

European Union foreign ministers are scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss further Ukraine sanctions. One source said the United States would likely hold off on deciding on further sanctions until it sees where the EU consensus emerges.

The three sources familiar with the debate said there were divergences within the European Union, with some advocating sectoral sanctions, others for targeting more individuals and entities, and others preferring to do nothing before Thursday's meeting of U.S., Russian, EU and Ukrainian officials in Geneva.

"I don't think we'll see tier-three tomorrow, but it's very difficult to envisage not seeing anything after the events of the weekend," said another of the three sources, referring to broad sectoral sanctions.


Ukraine now faces a rash of rebellions in the east it says are inspired and directed by the Kremlin.

Asked on ABC if Putin wants to seize eastern Ukraine, Power said his actions "give credence to the idea."

Though Russians are insisting that is not what Moscow wants, she said, "Everything they're doing suggests the opposite."

NATO described the appearance in eastern Ukraine of men with specialized Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia, as previously worn by Moscow's troops when they seized Crimea, as a "grave development."

Power said the rebellion has "all the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea: It's professional, it's coordinated, there's nothing grassroots-seeming about it. The forces are doing in each of the six or seven cities that they've been active in exactly the same thing."

However, the U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Russia's recent moves appeared to be less about grabbing territory than about destabilizing what Russia sees as an increasingly Western-centric government in Kiev.

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on a Crimea-based gas company, Chernomorneftegaz, effectively putting it off limits to Russia's state-controlled Gazprom, which was expected to bid for a stake in the company.

The move, along with penalties on six Crimean separatists and a former Ukrainian official, is the third round of U.S. sanctions since the Ukraine crisis erupted.

(Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Anna Yukhananov and Christian Lowe; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Jim Loney, Leslie Adler, Meredith Mazzilli and Clarence Fernandez)

U.N. Security Council meets over Ukraine hours before deadline

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 07:50 PM PDT

KIEV/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on Sunday night to discuss the escalating crisis in Ukraine, just hours before a deadline by Kiev for pro-Russian separatists to disarm by Monday morning or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" by its armed forces.

The Council began meeting at 8 p.m. (01.00 a.m. BST on Monday) at Russia's request after Moscow called Kiev's plans to mobilise the army to put down a rebellion by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine "criminal."

Britain's U.N. ambassador said Russia had massed tens of thousands of well-equipped troops near the Ukrainian border in addition to the 25,000 troops it recently moved into Crimea, which Moscow seized last month.

"Satellite images show that there are between 35,000 and 40,000 Russian troops in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine equipped with combat aircraft, tanks, artillery and logistical support units," Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.

"This is in addition to the 25,000 Russia troops based illegally in Crimea," Lyall Grant added in his speech during the U.N. emergency meeting.

Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two comrades near the flashpoint eastern city of Slaviansk, Ukrainian acting president Oleksander Turchinov gave rebels occupying state buildings until 0600 GMT to lay down their weapons.

"The National Security and Defence Council has decided to launch a full-scale anti-terrorist operation involving the armed forces of Ukraine," Turchinov said in an address to the nation.

He blamed Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region when Moscow-backed former president Viktor Yanukovich fled after months of pro-Western protests, for being behind the rash of rebellions across Russian-speaking towns in eastern Ukraine.

"We will not allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern regions of Ukraine," Turchinov said.

The deadline and the standoff with Russian troops at the border have raised fears of a military confrontation with Moscow.

The head of Ukraine's state security service (SBU) said government forces would respond ruthlessly if pro-Russian separatists opened fire.

"If they open fire, we will annihilate them. There should be no doubt about this," Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said in a televised interview.

Russia's Foreign Ministry called the planned military operation a "criminal order" and said the West should bring its allies in Ukraine's government under control.

"It is now the West's responsibility to prevent civil war in Ukraine," the ministry said in a statement.

The 15-nation council has held numerous emergency meetings on Ukraine but has been incapable of taking any concrete action because of Russia's sharp disagreements with the United States and Europe.

Earlier, the American ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said on ABC's "This Week" that the United States was prepared to step up sanctions against Moscow if pro-Russian military actions in eastern Ukraine continued.

"The president has made clear that, depending on Russian behaviour, sectoral sanctions in energy, banking, mining could be on the table, and there's a lot in between," she added.

Ukraine has repeatedly said the rebellions are inspired and directed by the Kremlin. But action to dislodge the armed militants risks tipping the stand-off into a new, dangerous phase as Moscow has warned it will protect the region's Russian-speakers if they come under attack.

One Ukrainian state security officer was killed and five were wounded on the government side in Sunday's operation in Slaviansk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. "There were dead and wounded on both sides," he wrote on his Facebook page.


The separatists are holed up in the local headquarters of the police and of the state security service, while others have erected road blocks around Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border.

Kiev accuses the Kremlin of trying to undermine the legitimacy of presidential elections on May 25 that aim to set Ukraine back on a normal path after months of turmoil.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Kiev was "demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country" and warned that any use of force against Russian speakers "would undermine the potential for cooperation", including talks due to be held on Thursday between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

Relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the Cold War, due to the crisis that began when Moscow-backed Yanukovich was pushed out by popular protests in February.

Moscow then annexed Crimea from Ukraine, saying the Russian population there was under threat. Some Western governments believe the Kremlin is preparing a similar scenario for eastern Ukraine, something Moscow has strenuously denied.

In Kramatorsk, about 15 km (9 miles) south of Slaviansk, gunmen seized the police headquarters after a shootout with police, a Reuters witness said.

The attackers were a well-organised unit of more than 20 men, wearing matching military fatigues and carrying automatic weapons, who had arrived by bus. Video footage showed the men taking orders from a commander. Their identity was unclear.

Their level of discipline and equipment was in contrast to the groups which have occupied buildings so far in Ukraine. They have been mostly civilians formed into informal militias with mismatched uniforms.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said pro-Russian militants seizing government buildings in six cities in eastern Ukraine on Saturday was an orchestrated operation reminiscent of those conducted in Crimea before it was annexed by Russia.

"Many of the militants were outfitted in bullet-proof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed and carrying Russian-origin weapons," it said in a note entitled "Evidence of Russian Support for Destabilization of Ukraine."

"These operations bear many similarities to those that were carried out in Crimea in late February and culminated in Russia's illegal military intervention and purported annexation of Crimea," the State Department note said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also expressed concern about similarities in the appearance of some rebels to that of the Russian troops who seized control in Crimea.

Calling on Russia to pull back its large number of troops, including special forces, from the area around Ukraine's border, he said in a statement: "Any further Russian military interference, under any pretext, will only deepen Russia's international isolation."

NATO has effectively ruled out military action over Ukraine, which lies outside the Western alliance. However, Washington and NATO leaders have made clear they would defend all 28 member states, including former Soviet republics in the Baltic that are seen as the most vulnerable to Russian pressure.

NATO allies have beefed up their air and sea firepower in eastern Europe. The alliance has also cut off cooperation with Russia and stepped up work with Ukraine, including advising its military on reforms and promising to increase joint exercises.

With EU foreign ministers due to discuss the crisis in Luxembourg on Monday, Britain called on Moscow to disown the rebels.

The crisis over Ukraine could trigger a "gas war", disrupting supplies of Russian natural gas to customers across Europe. Moscow has said it may be forced to sever deliveries to Ukraine - the transit route for much of Europe's gas - unless Kiev settles its debts.

For now, though, the focus of the crisis is in eastern Ukraine, the country's industrial heartland, where many people feel a close affinity with neighbouring Russia.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Slaviansk, Ukraine, Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Alessandra Prentice in Moscow, William James in London, Adrian Croft in Brussels and Lour Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Christian Lowe, Richard Balmforth, David Stamp and Sandra Maler; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Searchers consider undersea robot in hunt for MH370

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 07:35 PM PDT

SYDNEY/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Australian officials leading the search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the southern Indian Ocean are weighing when to deploy an underwater robot to aid in the hunt, now in its sixth fruitless week.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared soon after taking off on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, triggering a multinational search that is now focused on the Indian Ocean.

Searchers are confident they know the approximate position of wreckage of the Boeing 777, some 1,550 km (963 miles) northwest of Perth, after picking up several acoustic signals they believe are from its black box recorders.

With the batteries on the locators now two weeks past their 30-day expected life, the focus may soon shift to trying to find wreckage using sonar and cameras on a small unmanned "robot" known as an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV).

Australia's Ocean Shield, towing a sophisticated U.S. Navy "towed pinger locator", and Britain's HMS Echo are still criss-crossing the zone where four signals or pings were picked up, but the last was almost a week ago.

"This work continues in an effort to narrow the underwater search area for when the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is deployed," the Australian agency heading the search said in a statement on Sunday.

Up to a dozen planes and 15 ships will be searching in three separate areas on Monday, the furthest some 2,250 km (1,400 miles) from Perth, the agency added.

The AUV onboard the Ocean Shield, called a Blue-fin 21, could take months to scan and map the 600 sq km (230 sq miles) zone currently the focus of the acoustic search - an area the size of a medium city.

"Trying to locate anything 4.5 kilometres beneath the surface of the ocean about 1,000 kilometres from land is a massive, massive task and it is likely to continue for a long time to come," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at the weekend.


The mystery has sparked what is on track to be the most difficult and expensive search and recovery operation in aviation history.

An aircraft's black box records data from the cockpit and conversations among flight crew and may provide answers about what happened to the missing plane, which flew thousands of kilometres (miles) off course after taking off.

Malaysia is focusing its criminal investigation on the cabin crew and the pilots of the plane -- 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and 27-year old Fariq Abdul Hamid -- after clearing all 227 passengers of any involvement, police have said.

Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein appeared to hose down a weekend report that investigators suspect that the co-pilot tried to make a call with his cellphone after the plane was diverted from its scheduled route.

Malaysia's government has also begun investigating civil aviation and military authorities to determine why opportunities to identify and track the flight were missed in the chaotic hours after it vanished.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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Karen Gillan gets spooky on the big screen with 'Oculus'

Posted: 11 Apr 2014 07:50 PM PDT

The ghostly thriller is currently showing in cinemas nationwide.

A haunted mirror, a murderous father and two siblings seeking revenge form the plot for the new supernatural thriller Oculus, which blurs perceptions and reality with ghostly scares.

Oculus follows a young woman, Kaylie, who reunites with her brother Tim after his release from an institution where he was held for a decade for killing their father, who had murdered their mother.

Kaylie is convinced that a large ornate mirror in their home caused the mental instability and subsequent demise of her parents, and is determined to clear her father's name of murder by proving the mirror is haunted by a manipulative entity.

"Kaylie is not running from the entity, she's running to it, and the worse it gets, the more happy and excited she gets because it's verifying everything that she believed, so it's just counteracting everything that we're used to," said British actress Karen Gillan, discussing her character.

The film flits between past and present, and what is real is constantly called into question as the two siblings try to right a heinous wrong. In one particularly unsettling scene, Kaylie bites into an apple, only to find it's a light bulb.

Karen Gillan in 'Oculus'.

"To play with who's sane, who's insane, we start off thinking that Kaylie is completely together and then we gradually think that maybe she's totally unhinged," Gillan said.

"It's all about perception because that's what the mirror plays with," she added.

Oculus is the latest release from producer Jason Blum's Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the runaway success of Paranormal Activity, a film made for US$11,000 (RM35,200) that grossed US$193mil (RM617.6mil) at the worldwide box office, spawning a franchise for Paramount Pictures, which distributed the films.

The Paranormal franchise deals with a supernatural demonic entity that haunts the interconnected families featured in each film, and has set off a new wave of ghostly horror films.

"Horror movies have gotten much more supernatural-focused, and I think that's what the trend is at the moment, but I think at some point it'll swing back to more real, horrible events," Blum said.

Scotland native Gillan, 26, had her breakthrough role in 2010, playing Amy Pond on British time travel sci-fi television series Doctor Who, an experience that she called "my three years of drama school". Since then, she has been cast as the villain Nebula in the upcoming Marvel film Guardians Of The Galaxy, a role that she shaved her long red hair for.

"The female villain in the film, that is something I've never done before, it's brand-new territory, and I just thought I'm going to have some fun with this," the actress said.

In addition to shaving her head, Gillan trained for two months to get into the physical shape of Nebula, a sadistic assassin employed by super-villain Thanos. She said she is fascinated by human behaviour and psychology.

"Finding the motivation for her to be the baddie is quite interesting. It's like being a lawyer, finding the redeeming features so that she's not just bad for the sake of being bad," she said.

"And it's just fun to play the baddie," she added with a laugh. — Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Don’t allow yourself to be in a financially abusive relationship

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

HAVE you come across anyone who is in a financially abusive relationship?

We have often heard of a physically or emotionally abusive relationship but a financially abusive one is very rare. Perhaps it's because of the complicated matter involving money, relationships and sometimes shame.

And these people suffer in silence.

What is a financially abusive relationship?

It's a type of financial disorder that happens when one of the couple in a relationship solely controls the money and the other is left to be financially dependent on him or her.

Most financial dependents are still women whose husbands earn a regular income and manage the family finances. Even for women who do work and bring home the money,theytoo can be in a financially abusive situation if they are continuously expected to provide for a lazy spouse who refuses to find a job or one who has asked for financial aid from her every now and then.

Some signs of being in such a relationship are as follows:

You need to frequently ask for money from your partner

You are discouraged from earning an income

Your partner controls your bank account

Your name is used forloans which are not being serviced regularly

You need to keep on bailing yourspouse out from bad debts

Your stockbroking account is being used for bad trades

The important thing is to recognise it if you are in such a situation and handle it before it gets worse.

The first thing you can do isto learn to be financially literate. Understand how your home finances work
and where they go to. Always question why you are required to sign documents that involve money and 
ifin doubt,seek advice from a financial buddy.

Know where your partner's documents are kept- insurance policies, copy of the will, investment and banking accounts.

If you earn an income, accumulate your savings in your own investment account and be proactive to work out a family financial plan.

Share financial moments frequently with your partner and encourage an open financial communication channelfrom the start.

Don't allow yourself to be in a financially abusive relationship.

It's always better to take charge of your own financial life.

The writer can be contacted at info@successconcepts.biz

Stocks slip on Wall St gloom, yen holds firm

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 07:02 PM PDT

TOKYO: Asian share markets gave up more ground in early trade on Monday after a dismal week on Wall Street, helping underpin the safe-haven yen.

Ongoing tensions in Ukraine also sapped investors' appetite for risk. Ukraine gave pro-Russian separatists a Monday morning deadline to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" by its armed forces, raising the risk of a military confrontation with Moscow.

European Union foreign ministers will hold talks later on Monday about tougher sanctions against Russia.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 0.2 percent, pulling further away from five-month highs hit on Thursday.

But Japan's Nikkei stock average reversed initial losses and ticked up 0.3 percent, clawing its way off six-month lows after shedding 7.3 percent last week. That was their biggest weekly fall since devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Gains were likely to be tentative, though, as some investors braced for the possibility of further losses on Wall Street.

"Some are worried that a U.S. bubble in equities markets might be corrected, because of the ongoing tapering" of monetary stimulus by the U.S. Federal Reserve, said Kyoya Okazawa, head of global equities at BNP Paribas in Tokyo.

S&P 500 e-mini futures were down about 0.2 percent early on Monday. U.S. stocks slid in a volatile session on Friday, with the Nasdaq closing below the 4,000 mark for the first time since early February as investors bailed out of high-flying technology and biotech shares.

The low-yielding yen benefited from the heightened risk aversion. The dollar was down about 0.1 percent in early trading at 101.56 yen, after touching a 3-1/2 week low of 101.32 yen on Friday, a far cry from a 2-1/2 month high of 104.13 yen set on April 4.

The dollar index steadied, rising about 0.2 percent to 79.633, though April 4's seven-week high of 80.599 remained a distant memory after the greenback's battering last week as U.S. stocks tumbled.

"Given the technical damage inflicted on the dollar and the decline in U.S. interest rates, it is tempting to look for the greenback's losses to accelerate," said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.

"We are more inclined to think that rather than breaking out, the dollar simply moved to the lower end of its ranges. This means that the greenback may do a bit better in the days ahead as participants will likely be denied fresh incentives," he said in a note to clients.

The dollar got some help against the euro from European Central Bank officials, whose comments rekindled speculation about more easing in the euro zone.

The euro fell about 0.3 percent to 140.66 yen. Against the dollar, it shed about 0.2 percent to $1.3851, moving away from a 3 1/2 week peak of $1.3906 hit on Friday.

ECB President Mario Draghi on Saturday told a news conference that "a further strengthening of the exchange rate would require further stimulus."

The ECB is ready to make asset purchases if it deems them necessary to counter a prolonged period of low inflation, ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said on Sunday. ECB governing council member Christian Noyer said on Monday in an interview with daily newspaper Le Figaro that euro weakening was desirable.

Spot gold XAU= benefited from the move toward safe-haven assets, adding about 0.6 percent to $1,326.50 an ounce, after earlier marking a new three-week high.

U.S. crude for May delivery added 0.5 percent to $104.26 per barrel, bolstered by fears that the Ukraine situation could escalate. - Reuters

Singapore sticks to tight monetary policy, economy slows in Q1

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 06:40 PM PDT

SINGAPORE: Singapore's central bank stuck to its tight monetary policy stance on Monday despite weaker growth in the first quarter, saying core inflation will remain elevated as the economy grows at a moderate pace this year.

In a widely expected decision, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it will maintain its policy of allowing a "modest and gradual" appreciation of the Singapore dollar, with no changes to the slope, width or centre of the policy band.

The MAS trimmed its forecast for headline inflation in 2014 to 1.5-2.5 percent, down from 2-3 percent previously, but kept its forecast for core inflation, which excludes the changes in the prices of cars and accommodation, unchanged at 2-3 percent.

The Singapore dollar dipped briefly after the MAS statement, but much of the weakness appeared to be linked to a broadly stronger U.S. dollar. It was last trading down 0.3 percent to 1.2521.

"The fact that we've seen the headline inflation forecast come off, I don't think it's too much of a surprise. It's important to note that core inflation was kept the same," said Daniel Wilson, an economist for ANZ.

"The fact that core is still the same signals that inflation pressure is still on their mind," he added.

Commenting on its outlook for headline inflation, the MAS said imputed rentals on owner-occupied accommodation are expected to stabilise and the impact of car prices on inflation will be negligible for the whole of 2014.

Core inflation, meanwhile, is expected to pick up in coming months, the central bank said.

"Barring a significant shock in the external environment, the Singapore economy should expand at a moderate pace over the course of the year. Wage pressures will persist and firms are likely to pass on business costs to consumer prices. Consequently, MAS Core Inflation is expected to stay elevated," the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in its half-yearly statement.

"MAS will therefore maintain its policy of a modest and gradual appreciation of the S$NEER policy band," the MAS said, adding that it was keeping the slope, the width and the centre of the band unchanged.

The MAS had been widely expected to maintain its policy of allowing a "modest and gradual" appreciation of the Singapore dollar to guard against inflationary pressures, as core inflation was expected to rise later this year due to wage cost pressures from a tight labour market.

Singapore manages monetary policy by controlling the exchange rate, rather than borrowing costs, because trade dominates the economy. MAS lets its dollar rise or fall against the currencies of its main trading partners within an undisclosed trading band.

The central bank's latest statement on policy came as an advance estimate of first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) showed that Singapore's economy grew 0.1 percent in the first quarter from the previous quarter on a seasonally adjusted, annualised basis.

That matched the median forecast in a Reuters survey of 0.1 percent, and was a sharp slowdown form 6.1 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Growth in the latest three months was hit by an annualised 1.8 percent quarter-on-quarter contraction in the services sector, from 6.1 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Slowing momentum in wholesale and retail trade as well as finance and insurance sectors crimped activity in the service sector.

The economy expanded 5.1 percent from a year ago, the government said, matching market expectations and down slightly from a 5.5 percent growth in the fourth quarter.

Singapore's trade-dependent economy is seen likely to be underpinned this year by an expected pick-up in U.S. and European growth.

Still, the city-state's economy could face a bumpy road ahead, given concerns about a slowdown in China and possible spillover effects from the U.S. Federal Reserve's ongoing tapering of its monetary stimulus.  - Reuters
Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Sense & Sensibility

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 04:00 PM PDT

JOANNA Trollope's modern take on Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility is the first instalment of the Austen Project. With the tagline "Jane Austen Reimagined", the project by publishers HarperCollins has six contemporary authors re-imagining six of Austen's works: Sense & SensibilityNorthanger AbbeyPride & PrejudiceEmmaPersuasion and Mansfield Park (theaustenproject.com).

Honestly, as a teenager I struggled to understand all the hype over Austen's books and, quite frankly, had never been able to comprehend the Janeites' (a term used for Austen fans) fascination and devotion for the books.

Until Trollope's re-imagining of Sense & Sensibility.

She ingeniously skips the original's long and winding narration of the details of inheritance, which always irked me, and plunged right into the conflict that has the Dashwood ladies (mum Belle and daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret) expelled from their home of 20 years, Norland Park. The start of Trollope's version already earned a leg up in my book.

However, this expulsion is tricky to manoeuvre with the changing of times in mind. In the original, the Dashwood ladies could not inherit the estate after the passing of their father because they were not men. In this book, Trollope cleverly has Mr Dashwood leaving his first wife but never marrying the Dashwood girls' mother, Belle – thus making Norland Park's new inheritor the girls' half-brother, John Dashwood. Neat!

Although the book gives such modern spins to many events, Trollope stays true to Austen's characters and plot, so much so that many times I wondered where I was at. The re-imagining concept of this book does play against Trollope, though, as certain aspects like inheritance and mansions just do not gel in this era, in my opinion.

I can only imagine the tough battle Trollope had on hands in trying to merge a plot and characters that were valid some 200 years ago with the Internet-loving, gadget-addicted, informal people of today's world. Well, Trollope should be applauded for her ability to connect the two disparate worlds quite seamlessly in this book.

In Trollope's reimagining, the elder, responsible sister, Elinor, remains a strong character, though she is now an architecture student and the family's main breadwinner; high strung Marianne falls for John Willoughby (aka Will), a cad by nature who is also a very good guitarist; and little Margaret, well, she is indifferent and very attached to her gadgets.

Other modern aspects woven into the book are interesting to spot – horses are now Aston Martins, Marianne's love notes are sent via e-mail and her rejection by Will is uploaded on YouTube for public ridicule. However, not all of Trollope's attempts to modernise seem necessary, like the cringe-worthy "totes amazeballs" that Margaret uses.

A smart omission by Trollope is Colonel Brandon's age. I hadn't noticed it at first, but after some thought, it struck me that the colonel, who falls for Marianne, is much older than her – in fact, if I'm not mistaken, he's retired and she's a teenager in Austen's original! This would have been acceptable when the original was written, back in the 19th century, but times have changed, and that sort of an age gap is no longer acceptable. So leaving out the age was a good idea.

All in all, Trollope's update of a classic might not be perfect but it is an interesting read. She is an extraordinary writer who, I am quite certain, will introduce Austen's world to a new and younger audience.

Perhaps it was my tender age that left me unappreciative of Austen originally; while I shunned the thought of revisiting the novel, I was still eager to understand why these stories are so well-loved. So for a reader such as myself, the Austen Project promises to open a gateway to an Austen binge.

The Days Of Anna Madrigal

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 04:00 PM PDT

Armistead Maupin writes a love letter to his beloved San Francisco.

AFTER an absence of 18 years, author Armistead Maupin revived his six-volume, San Francisco-set Tales Of The City series in 2007 with Michael Tolliver Lives. Maupin followed this novel up with Mary-Ann In Autumn in 2010.

The third instalment in the revived Tales series focuses on another well-loved and central character, the former landlady of No. 28 Barbary Lane, Anna Madrigal.

Despite being one of the central characters in the series – as landlady to a group of 20somethings trying to find love, their place in the world and their understanding of the meaning of life – it is only now that Anna Madrigal has been granted a novel of her own.

The last time Anna made a significant appearance was in 1989's Sure Of You. In the last two novels, she is given a Godot-like presence: her name is mentioned, her whereabouts talked about and her health discussed (she suffered a mild stroke in Michael Tolliver Lives), but the grand dame never made an actual appearance.

As The Days Of Anna Madrigal opens, readers new and old alike are introduced to the benevolent, quirky and mysterious Anna.

As is typical with a Maupin story, the novel starts off slowly, with the author describing in almost minute detail the change of weather from late summer to early autumn, and the chills that Anna can feel in her bones. However, by the third chapter, the pace starts to pick up, and the novel becomes extremely engaging.

Despite the advancement of her age, Anna's mind remains as sharp and alert as ever, though her body is becoming frail and working against her. To ensure that nothing drastic happens to her, Anna lives with a housemate, Jake.

Perhaps it is the passing of the baton from a worldly individual to a young explorer just starting the journey, but the pairing of Anna and Jake can be seen as Maupin's take on the transgender issue, and transgenders' position in sexual and social hierarchy.

For those who don't know, Anna was born a male (and has the distinction of being one of literature and popular culture's first transgendered characters), while Jake, almost six decades younger than Anna, was born a female. Both went through the (literal) change at different points in time, but the outcome remains the same: just how accepted are transgendered people not only in society in general, but within gay circles themselves?

While it is admittedly a tad confusing to casual observers, Maupin does handle this issue with grace, without being overly preachy about accepting transgendered people.

Anna is now 92, and even at this advanced age, the former landlady has one last secret, which serves as the novel's plot.

Some 30 years ago, it was revealed that the name Anna Madrigal was an anagram for "a man and a girl". However, Maupin now makes it clear early on that there is more to Anna's name than she had originally let on.

To illustrate this, Maupin sheds more light onto Anna's past, going as far back as the days before Anna was born and to the time when Anna was actually Andy. This is as much information that Maupin has actually given on any of his characters.

Although it is her name in the title, The Days Of Anna Madrigal is not entirely devoted to Anna. The novel also explores the lives of other characters: the womaniser and former husband of Mary-Ann Singleton, Brian Hawkins's nuptials to Wren Douglas (she made a cameo appearance in 1986's Babycakes); Michael Tolliver's eight-year marriage to his much younger husband, Ben; and Brian and Mary-Ann's adopted daughter, Shawna's desire to have a baby.

While Brian and Wren's involvement in making Anna's final request come true, and Michael and Ben facing old age together (and the possible demise of Michael; he was declared HIV positive when Maupin rebooted the series in 2007) are handled with care, Shawna's desire to have a baby seems a tad crudely expressed. The way in which Shawna decides just who should impregnate her, and her final decision, seem a bit too fast and unrealistic, which brings the novel down.

Although The Days Of Anna Madrigal may lack a substantial plot of any kind, the fact that, like its predecessors, the novel is a social commentary on life in America in the new millennium makes it more than interesting enough.

Making peace with one's past, old age, death, open marriages, single parenting by choice, sexual hierarchies, and the power of friendship are, in Maupin's typical deadpan and in-your-face manner, explored via dialogue and through the characters' thoughts. The dialogue between characters is pure Maupin: sharp, clear and utterly witty, instantly drawing the reader into the novel.

As a standalone novel, The Days Of Anna Madrigal has all the ingredients for a good, laid-back read: it does not pretend to be deep or pretentious, it does not offer any earth-shattering solutions to the world's ills, and it does not force readers to instantly like or root for the titular character, who remains as ethereal and mysterious as when her creator first introduced her in the first Tales novel.

It is merely a novel about a woman (who was born a male) trying to make peace with one aspect of her past before time literally runs out for her.

However, for those who have read the Tales series, The Days Of Anna Madrigal is more than about just the protagonist: it is about watching a city and its population changing with the onset of every new decade that brings with it new fears, ideologies and attitudes.

Most of all, The Days Of Anna Madrigal is about celebrating life, with all the ups and downs that comes with living. Maupin has not only written a love letter to his beloved adopted hometown of San Francisco, he has also written an open letter to the world about celebrating life.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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'Star Wars VII' will be shot in Abu Dhabi next month

Posted: 11 Apr 2014 07:45 PM PDT

The highly-anticipated movie will be released in December 2015.

Abu Dhabi has been chosen as one of the shooting locations for Star Wars: Episode VII, the upcoming film in the series created by George Lucas, said Hollywood Reporter.

The cast and crew of Star Wars: Episode VII will head to the desert in May to film scenes set on Tatooine. The desert planet is home to Anakin and Luke Skywalker, the protagonists of the 1977 and 2005 films respectively.

Disney reportedly chose Abu Dhabi for security reasons, preferring to steer clear of possible political unrest in North Africa. In the past, scenes on the Skywalkers' home planet were filmed in Tunisia, specifically in the village of Tataouine, known for its distinctive underground dwellings.

The cast and crew are expected to spend four weeks in Abu Dhabi. The feature's primary shooting location is outside of London, on the premises of the famous Pinewood Studio.

Production is already underway on Star Wars: Episode VII, which will take place around 30 years after The Return Of The Jedi (1983). Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew will return in the roles of Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Adam Driver (Girls) is slated to play a villain. The rest of the cast remains a closely guarded secret.

Star Wars: Episode VII will arrive in theatres worldwide in December 2015. The release of the film will mark the first in a new series of projects based on the Star Wars franchise, which Disney acquired in fall 2012. — AFP Relaxnews

Penelope Cruz is now a Bond girl frontrunner

Posted: 11 Apr 2014 07:55 PM PDT

The Spanish actress' name is included in the latest James Bond film update.

The star of Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Volver, Penelope Cruz, could be in line for a prominent role in the 24th Bond film, due 2015, according to a schedule update issued by Sony Picture.

Named alongside Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris, Cruz was the surprise fourth headline star named as part of Sony's release calendar update, as spotted by French magazine Premiere.

With her husband Javier Bardem having taken part in Skyfall, there's already a family connection to the Bond franchise. Cruz also demonstrated that mainstream blockbuster success wasn't off her list, co-starring with Johnny Depp in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011; earlier, she had appeared alongside Ralph Fiennes in 2006 drama Chromophobia. — AFP Relaxnews

'Star Trek' concert tour pairs films with orchestra

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 07:55 PM PDT

Fans can watch J.J. Abrams' reboot of the films on the big screen accompanied by live music.

Fans of Star Trek will soon be able to follow the adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise in their favourite films as the popular franchise goes where it has never gone before, with       screenings accompanied by a symphony orchestra.

Director J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot of Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness will be shown on the big screen in high definition accompanied by live music.

"The events will celebrate the extraordinary collaboration between film and music as Michael Giacchino's scores are brought to life on stage," organisers said in a statement.

The Star Trek: Live In Concert tour will begin with two performances in Lucerne, Switzerland next month followed by three more in London before moving to Houston, San Diego and Philadelphia in the United States in July, and Toronto, Canada in March next year. No word on whether it will come to Asia yet.

Viacom's Paramount Pictures, CBS Consumer Products , 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and others are launching the tour. — Reuters

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The Star Online: Nation

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Chor hopes for lucky break to wear his dream uniform

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Storekeeper Chor Wui Loy is making his eighth attempt to fulfil his dream of becoming a policeman.

The 28-year-old, whose height is several centimetres below the required 163cm for men, is now hoping for a lucky break.

"This is my last chance because I have reached the maximum qualifying age. I hope the force is more lenient this time round. If I fail again, I have to re-plan my future," said the part-time magician and clown.

Chor submitted his form at a special recruitment drive for Chinese police constables, jointly organised by the Royal Malaysia Police and MCA Youth yesterday.

"It is my dream to become a cop since I finished secondary school but my applications have all been rejected," he said.

Chor said he had wanted to contribute to keeping society safe since he was eight.

"I was in a bus during Year Two and witnessed two policemen being shot at in Cheras.

"I do not know what happened after that but I told myself that I wanted to get all the bad guys."

Supermarket supervisor Woon Hui Yong jumped for joy when a police friend told her about the recruitment drive.

"I have prepared for this for almost two years. I love the challenging work of a cop," said the 19-year-old.

Woon said she wished to work at the Narcotics Investigation Depart­ment.

At yesterday's event at Wisma MCA here, some 50 young Malaysians were given a brief introduction to police life and training programmes.

Two senior officers – ASP Hew Kim Choy from the Special Branch and ASP Chang Sing Kong from the Crime Investigation Department – also shared their experiences with the group.

MCA Youth chief Chong Sin Woon has urged the Chinese to join the police force, saying he had once toyed with idea of having a career in the force.

"The people should change their perception of the police force," he said, adding that a police trainee can bring home a minimum monthly salary of RM1,700.

Crisis brings out the best in Hisham

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Sometimes it takes a crisis for someone to emerge as a leader. For Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, the MH370 crisis seems to have been his moment.

IN the early hours of March 8 when MAS flight MH370 went missing, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein was in Janda Baik with Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for an Umno function.

Both Umno vice-presidents were in a room they were sharing when they received the worrying news in the wee hours that flight MH370 from KL to Beijing had disappeared from radar without a distress call.

Once it was light, Hishammuddin, who is also acting Transport Minister, left Janda Baik and headed for the Air Traffic Control Tower at KLIA to see what was going on.

In the first four days, there was a lot of confusion with contradictory statements being made by different personalities to try to explain even the most basic of things about the disappearance of MH370.

These included the exact time the plane went missing, the last contact it had with Air Traffic Control (ATC), the number of passengers with stolen passports on the flight, and whether all those who had checked in had boarded.

With the eyes of the world watching, it was not only confusing but embarrassing for Malaysia.

That was when Hishammuddin took charge and things started coming together.

Eloquent and professional

Live press conferences were conducted at 5.30pm almost daily to deliver the latest updates. And it was here that Hishammuddin, 52, an LSE law graduate who is comfortable speaking both English and Bahasa Malaysia, shared information about the mystery of the missing plane that had caught the attention of a worldwide audience.

He was eloquent and professional. True, there were a few times when he bristled at some questions but to his credit he was still able to maintain his composure and answer calmly.

He was also not afraid to show emotion when dealing with grieving and angry family members demanding answers on the whereabouts of their loved ones.

He apologised when overzealous security members grabbed a distraught Chinese national who had gate-crashed the press conference at Sama Sama Hotel to get answers about her loved one on the flight.

At a recent TV3 interview, Hishammuddin wiped away a tear while he was connected with a father, Hamid Ramlan, a 56-year policeman whose daughter, Norliakmar, was on the ill-fated flight.

Hamid had thanked him for the search and rescue efforts, told him how the family is feeling and asked him not to stop looking for the plane.

"The one question that families want answered as to where their loved ones are and where the plane is, we simply do not have the answer," he has humbly said repeatedly over the weeks while promising that Malaysia will keep searching until MH370 is found.

His active engagement on Twitter and Facebook has also won him a huge number of fans.

Victor Lopez, a 15-year-old from France, even wrote in to tell Hishammuddin of his admiration and ask for his autograph – to which the minister obliged and then posted on twitter.

USM political scientist Assoc Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian says that when Hishammuddin took over the handling of the MH370 crisis, there were "huge winds of change" in the way he handled the media.

And that it actually allowed for Hishammuddin's personality and character to come out.

"He was patient in engaging people and showed a different level of confidence. He said all the right things that we wanted to hear and this was appreciated.

"He wasn't arrogant, didn't make uncalled for remarks and he was trying to see himself as the family of passengers and crew.

"He managed somehow to pull people together.

"Suddenly, he has become the spokesperson for the nation. And now you have people referring to him as the next PM in waiting," he says.

It was only a year ago when Hishammuddin, who was then Home Minister, got a lot of flak over how he dealt with the Sulu gunmen who had tortured and killed policemen in Semporna and the intrusion into Lahad Datu.

Many had criticised him for being "too soft", "too slow", or "too indecisive" and some were furious when Malaysia extended the deadline for the armed intruders to get out.

Dr Sivamurugan thinks Hishammuddin has learnt from that experience.

"He has become more open and more transparent. People want to look at facts and he is trying to give them that and restore confidence," he says.

He believes that coming in a close third in the Umno vice-presidency race and almost losing to Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir actually helped Hishammuddin.

"It boosted his strong determination."

For UKM's head of political science Dr Muhamad Takiyuddin Ismail, Hishammuddin comes across as "convincing and very cool" although there have been issues in the handling of the MH370 crisis.

"The way he has portrayed himself makes people confident of his handling of the crisis. It has also changed people's perception of him," he says.

Dr Takiyuddin points out that while Lahad Datu and the missing MH370 are both a first for Malaysia, "you can see there is a lot of improvement in how the MH370 crisis is being handled."

Hishammuddin has now become a "hot commodity", he feels.

On March 29, three weeks after MH370 disappeared, Hishammuddin went to Everly Hotel in Putrajaya with his wife, Tengku Marsilla Tengku Abdullah, to meet some of the Malaysian families who had loved ones on board the missing flight. He went to comfort them, give them strength, answer their questions and assure them that Malaysia is doing all it can to look for the plane and will keep looking.

He also brought along two of his children, Faris, 23 and Kyra Arianna, 21.

Dr Takiyuddin says this added a personal touch as people always want to know about the families of their leaders.

"Maybe he brought them to show that he too is a father and knows how a parent would feel if their child is missing."

He also points out that Hishammuddin and his wife have shown that they can mingle easily with the ordinary folk.

Universiti Malaya's International and Strategic Studies' senior lecturer Dr K. S. Balakrishnan feels Hishammuddin has "changed so much" compared to his Umno Youth Chief days when he unsheathed a keris and kissed it at the Youth assembly as part of Malay tradition. That gesture had caused much discomfort among the other races, the Chinese in particular, who saw it as a veiled threat.

Dr Sivamurugan believes this was not what Hishammuddin had meant or intended, but it was misinterpreted, backfired and cost him Chinese votes back then.

"I think what we are seeing today is the real Hishammuddin," he says.

Dr Balakrishnan feels there is now "a maturity and good showmanship on leadership" from Hishammuddin, and credits him for the multilateral defence co-operation.

Good job

He points out that it takes a lot of effort and work to get 26 countries to work together and send in assets to help locate the plane.

"That shows he has been doing an excellent job as far as that is concerned," he says.

Dr Balakrishnan says that while people and the media are emotional and desire quick information, this is not always possible because everything needs to be verified and cross-checked with other parties before it is released, which he describes as a "fair deal."

"A leader has to manage information responsibly and very carefully. He should not bow to pressure from the media and should only reveal when he is very sure of the information. A leader can't be playing the predictive game," he says, adding that some of the criticism levelled against Malaysia has been very unfair.

"This type of crisis would put anybody in a spot".

He adds that while it is true that Hishammuddin has shown competence in handling the MH370 crisis, he will not give him full credit.

"Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is the master craftsman commanding the whole thing from behind the scenes. I'd give Hishammuddin another three to five years to reach that level."

Asked if someone else in Malaysian politics would have handled the crisis better than Hishammuddin, Dr Balakrishan pauses for a while, thinks then says: "No, unless it is Najib himself."

This crisis is a test of leadership not just for Hishammuddin, Dr Sivamurugan says.

"It is also a test for Najib because whatever Hishammuddin says reflects on the government's position.

"If he fails, then the government might not be rated well.

"What is at stake is the government's credibility. If he handles it well, then the credit will also go to the government."

'Sometimes our thoughts are just in the mind, nothing more'

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Managing emotions and maintaining a balanced lifestyle are the keys to alleviate anxiety and help one to lead a healthier lifestyle.

"What you're worried about might not even happen, or might be blown out of proportion.

"We must realise that our thoughts and emotions are natural and harmless, and are only emotions, nothing more," said clinical psychologist Alvin Tan at a talk at The Star Health Fair in Mid Valley yesterday.

Tan also advised against prescribed drugs, insisting that natural remedies were readily available.

He called on Malaysians to invest more time in meaningful relationships, healthy dieting and exercising to rid themselves of stress and anxiety.

Tan was representing Great Eastern, a partner at the fair, which ends today.

The fair also features products and services by Nestlé, Guardian, Blackmores and Teik Senn.

Apart from participating in various activities, visitors also received samples of health products.

"The fair is a place to acquire knowledge on different health aspects and products many of us didn't know about," said business manager Chew Len Chet, 44.

Assistant manager Mira Shaneavan, 30, said the event helped to raise awareness as many were ignorant of the negative effects of unhealthy habits.

Visitors also participated in interactive games organised under the Live Great campaign by Great Eastern, which highlighted the importance of eating right, exercising and healthy relationships.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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Stolen or junked by cleaners? Fate of missing RM12mil Chinese painting unknown

Posted: 11 Apr 2014 11:50 PM PDT

A painting went missing a day after it was auctioned for HK$28.8mil (RM12mil), with media reports suggesting that cleaners may have inadvertently junked it.

The 2012 painting – Snowy Mountain by Chinese artist Cui Ruzhuo – was reported missing by Chinese auctioneers Poly Auction on Tuesday afternoon after the auction on Monday, police said.

Missing art: Snowy Mountain by Chinese artist Cui Ruzhuo (below), is nowhere to be found. Speculation in Hong Kong media suggests that it may have been thrown out with the garbage. 

Ming Pao newspaper reported that police had checked CCTV footage at the Grand Hyatt hotel, where the auction took place, which showed cleaners removing the painting. That raised fears that the painting had been sent out with the garbage to the city's landfill.

Poly Auction Hong Kong was not immediately available for comment. Police could not confirm the media report about the painting being thrown out.

Gladis Young, director of communications at the Grand Hyatt hotel, said hotel staff were not involved because organisers of events involving valuable items usually hired external staff to deal with security and handling of goods.

On Tuesday, a rare Ming Dynasty 'chicken cup' broke world auction records for Chinese porcelain after it sold for HK$281.2mil at a Sotheby's sale in Hong Kong, exceeding the US$32.4mil paid for a Qing double-gourd vase in 2010. – Reuters

Jersey Boys is as true to life as it gets

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Broadway musical Jersey Boys is as true to life as it gets.

Gambling, infidelity, punch-ups, drugs, mob connections – hardly the stuff you'd think of when mellowing out to the doo wop stylings of songs like Sherry, Bigs Girls Don't Cry and Walk Like A Man. Yet, these dark undercurrents permeated almost every aspect of 1960s pop group The Four Seasons.

Apart from a jukebox of hits, Jersey Boys is a musical tied to drama, friendship and personal redemption. Theatre-goers here will be in for quite a musical ride when Jersey Boys starts its run at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur next Tuesday.

The group's members Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi were, after all, New Jersey boys raised on the wrong side of the street, and for all their phenomenal success, they could not outrun the demons of their past.

Despite being one of the biggest musical acts of its era – they sold 175 million records worldwide – the band's journey was fraught with drama, from Valli's volatile relationships and DeVito's jealousy of Valli to DeVito's gambling addiction that eventually bankrupted the band.

The Four Seasons band member Tommy DeVito has a road named after him in his hometown of Belleville, New Jersey in the  United States. The musical Jersey Boys is based on the band's rise to fame.

The Four Seasons band member Tommy DeVito has a road named after him in his hometown of Belleville, New Jersey in the  United States. The musical Jersey Boys is based on the band's rise to fame.


But this is exactly what makes the smash Broadway musical Jersey Boys more than just a band biography – the fact that, when it comes to The Four Seasons' story, truth trumps fiction every time. And when the musical's writers Marshall Brickman (who co-wrote the films Annie Hall and Manhattan with Woody Allen) and Rick Elice heard Valli and Gaudio's stories, they knew they had hit upon stage gold.

The rest was Broadway history: in an astounding feat for a debut production, Jersey Boys scooped up four Tony Awards in 2006 (including Best Musical), and won Best Musical at the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards for its London premiere.

To think Clint Eastwood is also set to roll out the Jersey Boys movie, based on this musical, later this year.

The Belmont Tavern in Belleville, New Jersey,  where the band members of The Four Seasons used to frequent.

The Belmont Tavern in Belleville, New Jersey,  where the band members of The Four Seasons used to frequent.


A media trip in late 2011 to New Jersey gave me the rare opportunity to see for myself where The Four Seasons had come from. Having just caught the musical on Broadway, we were taken on a visit to Belleville, New Jersey, with a police escort, no less – some of the neighbourhoods we visited were less than savoury.

The band's history is practically inseparable from the predominantly Italian-American community of Belleville; from the run-down housing projects where Valli and DeVito grew up in, to the street lamp on a street corner where the band used to perform for the neighbourhood, this was indeed where The Four Seasons was conceived.

Stopping in to have dinner at the Belmont Tavern, where pictures of The Four Seasons covered the walls, we were regaled by stories from its regulars of the band in its early days, and of how the members used to come in for drinks even after becoming famous.

There is even a street in Belleville named after DeVito, who apparently still visits his old stomping grounds in town from time to time. Therein lies the real magic of Jersey Boys: for all its showbiz spectacle, it is, at its core, utterly real.

> Jersey Boys will be showing at Istana Budaya, Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur from April 15-27. Ticket prices range from RM200 to RM680, and are available through all TicketCharge channels. For more info, log on to www.ticketcharge.com.my

Hotline: 03-9222 8811. Show info: www.facebook.com/jerseyboys.malaysia

The show is organised by Milestone Production Sdn Bhd. The Star is the gold sponsor and Red FM the official radio station. The Star readers can enjoy a 20% discount on all ticket categories throughout the show's run here. Just key in the promo code: "STAR" when purchasing via www.ticketcharge.com.my, or at their outlets.

Malaysian Art Friends 2 exhibition: Sharing the hidden gems

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A spokesman for the Malaysian Art Friends group shares his thoughts on the Malaysian Art Friends 2: Selected Works From 10 Collectors exhibition.

Pakhruddin Sulaiman, a lawyer, veteran art collector and the spokesman for the Malaysian Art Friends group, tells us what the exhibition is all about. 

There is broad scope for personal tastes and passions when it comes to private collections. What was the curatorial brief given to each collector for this exhibition?

I need to clarify at the outset that the 30 Art Friends 2 project is primarily a project to produce a coffee table book featuring the selection of three art works from each of the 30 collectors who subscribed to the project (10 from Malaysia, 10 from Singapore and 10 from the Philippines) and their respective essays on those artworks. 

It's a sequel to the 30 Art Friends: Appreciating South-East Asian Art published in 2010, where the 30 collectors then comprised 15 from Malaysia and 15 from Singapore.

Hence the lack of any curatorial brief for this project as it is not envisaged to be accompanied by an exhibition. In fact for the first and second 30 Art Friends projects, no exhibition entailed the launching of both books in Singapore. 

But on the Malaysian end, we wanted to do something extra and hence the exhibition of Malaysian Art Friends: Highlights From 15 Private Collections accompanying the first book launch in 2010 and now Malaysian Art Friends 2: Selected Works From 10 Collectors accompanying the sequel's launch.

Far from being a mere speculative portfolio, this exhibition has a diverse and interesting range. How did things fall together?

Having said that, if the current Malaysian Art Friends 2 exhibition looks coherent despite the body of diverse works representing some of the best works from the country's modernist period till today (together with some interesting Indonesian, Filipino and Vietnamese works thrown in to spice it up), I would hasten to add that the ultimate aggregate and mix of works that we have, was not left entirely to pure chance.

What I did, as the one entrusted with leading the Malaysian collectors, was to choose carefully the right mix of collectors whom I know will yield the desired mix of interesting art works for the book and also the exhibition. 

That's why the choice of the Malaysian Art Friends ranges from veteran collectors like Tun Daim (Zainuddin) to younger collectors like Pital (Mohd Pital Maarof). Having some sense or indication of what works they collect is most definitely useful here. And we know that Dr Steve (Wong) and Datuk Sandra (Wong), for example, do not merely collect Malaysian artworks but also works from the region and so as the result shows, they indeed delivered the South-East Asia flavour to the show. 

And of course, when you choose a maverick collector like U-Wei (Haji Saari), obviously you would get some surprising and unexpected works thrown into the equation. This is the unwritten rule or criteria as you may put it, for the selection of Malaysian Art Friends.

Being a collector, do you need a good mix of hobby, patronage and professionalism to maintain a fresh approach when it comes to art collecting?

A good mix as you mentioned – of hobby, patronage and professionalism – is indeed very important to maintain not just the freshness but also the integrity of our collection. But it's a matter of degree which one of those you may want to emphasise more, but that mix you must have. And of course all these must be driven by one's own vision for one's art collection.

What would be the best and most effective way to acquire art? Is it mostly through the gallery scene, auction houses or straight from the artists?

Most of us seasoned collectors have hitherto acquired our artworks from the galleries. As we begin to know the artists and become close friends with them, we do indeed get the opportunity to acquire works directly from them but this mode of acquisition is still an exception rather than the norm.

As for the auction houses, they are still at a nascent stage and therefore do not really satisfy the voracious appetite of most collectors with their offerings, both in terms of the range and quality of artworks they offer and the regularity of their auctions. 

The pioneer and most seasoned of them, Henry Butcher Auctioneer, for example only conducted two auctions in a year and so I view the offerings at the auctions as something to complement – rather than replace – what are being offered throughout the year by the various commercial galleries. 

Related story:

Private treasures: Art collector group lines up amazing discoveries

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