Selasa, 22 April 2014

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Disputed islands 'within scope' of US-Japan alliance: Obama

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 10:57 PM PDT

Tokyo (AFP) - The islands at the centre of a corrosive row between Tokyo and Beijing are covered by the US-Japan defence alliance, Barack Obama told a newspaper ahead of his arrival in Tokyo Wednesday.

Obama, who begins a tour of Asia that will also take in South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia, is the first sitting US president to explicitly affirm that hostile action against the island chain would spark an American reaction.

"The policy of the United States is clear -- the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security," Obama said in a written interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.

"And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands," he said.

Several senior US figures, including former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have made similar statements, which Tokyo covets as a way to warn China away from territories it claims as the Diaoyus.

Obama's week-long tour of Asia is being dubbed a "rebalancing" eastward of US foreign policy by the White House.

Although China is not on his itinerary, its presence will be felt on every leg at a time of complex regional disputes and questions about US strategy.

Dissected skies, disputed islands. - AFP

The row over ownership of the Senkakus is not new, but has burst to the fore in the last two years, with paramilitary vessels from both sides jostling in nearby waters to assert control.

In November, China declared an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea, including the skies above the islands.

"I've also told (Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) that all our nations have an interest in dealing constructively with maritime issues, including in the East China Sea," Obama told the Yomiuri.

"Disputes need to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion," he said.

As well as a degree of hand-holding with Asian allies who feel a little neglected, Obama will be striving to show Beijing that the US poses no threat and does not intend to contain it.

"We welcome the continuing rise of a China that is stable, prosperous and peaceful and plays a responsible role in global affairs. And our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally," Obama said.

Obama also said Washington has "enthusiastically welcomed Japan's desire to play a greater role in upholding international security" in areas of disaster relief and UN peacekeeping operations.

"I commend Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe for his efforts... to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defence" which allow Tokyo to protect its ally Washington in Asian security, Obama said.

Obama and Abe are due to have an informal dinner late Wednesday, with local media speculating it will be at a tiny sushi bar that has three Michelin stars but only a handful of seats and featured in the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". - AFP

Grim ferry disaster search enters second week

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 10:18 PM PDT

JINDO , South Korea, April 23, 2014 (AFP) - The search for scores of passengers still missing from South Korea's ferry disaster entered a second week Wednesday, to the deepening distress of their grieving, angry and frustrated families.

The confirmed death toll stood at 146, but 156 were still unaccounted for, their bodies believed trapped in the inverted, submerged ship that sank a week ago in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.

As the relatives of the missing began their daily vigil at the harbour of Jindo island, where bodies recovered from the disaster site are brought, others converged on a temporary memorial to the victims in Ansan city, 200 miles (320 kilometres) to the north.

Ansan has become a focal point of national mourning. The city is home to the Danwon High School which had 352 students and a dozen teachers on the Sewol when it capsized.

Nearly 280 students are among the dead and missing.

The memorial, set up in an indoor sports stadium, was opened Wednesday and comprised a giant, staggered bank of flowers - white, yellow and green chrysanthemums - among which rested the framed pictures of 22 students whose funerals have already taken place.

Above the floral wall, a large banner carried the message: "We pray for the souls of the departed".

In Jindo harbour, the latest bodies recovered from the ferry were taken to a small tented village set up to manage the process of identifying the bodies.

"I'm here to help you recognise the dead," a forensic official told a group of relatives called to the site because ID documents or distinguishing features indicated their family member might be among those brought ashore.

"We have cleaned the bodies, but did not take their clothes and socks off so that you can recognise them more easily," the official said, before leading them into a separate, closed-off section.

Each positive identification was marked by a piercing cry of anguished recognition and an outpouring of grief from the family members - most of them middle-aged parents.

The disaster has stunned South Korea where there has been widespread public anger directed at the ferry company and crew, the rescue coordinators and the government in Seoul.

The Sewol's captain, Lee Joon-Seok, and six crew members are under arrest with two other crew taken into police custody on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, prosecutors raided a host of businesses affiliated with the ferry operator - the Chonghaejin Marine Company.

The raid was part of a probe into "overall corruption in management", Kim Hoe-Jong, a prosecutor on the case, told AFP.

More than 70 executives and other people connected with Chonghaejin and its affiliates have been issued 30-day travel bans while they are investigated on possible charges ranging from criminal negligence to embezzlement.

Captain Lee and his surviving crew members have been pilloried in the media for abandoning the ship while hundreds remained trapped inside.

President Park Geun-Hye has described their actions as being "tantamount to murder".

There has been particular criticism of Lee's decision to delay the evacuation order until the vessel was listing so sharply that escape had become almost impossible.

Australia to buy 58 US F-35s for $11.6bn

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 05:15 PM PDT

SYDNEY, April 22, 2014 (AFP) - Australia will purchase 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of Aus$12.4 billion ($11.6 billion, the government said.

The new aircraft will bring Australia's total JSF force to 72 aircraft, with the first due to arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service in 2020.

"The F-35 will provide a major boost to the Australian Defence Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement released late Tuesday.

The deal is in addition to 14 F-35s Australia already approved in 2009.

"The acquisition of F-35 aircraft will bring significant economic benefits to Australia, including regional areas and local defence industry," Abbott added.

The government, which was to make a formal announcement on the deal later Wednesday, will also consider an option to buy another squadron of F-35s to replace the air force's fleet of F/A-18 Super Hornets.

The JSF has been touted as a technological wonder but has suffered setback after setback with a budget blown out to US$390 billion and seven years behind schedule, making it the costliest weapons programme in US history.


The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

China manufacturing ticks up in April but still contracts

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 06:48 PM PDT

BEIJING: China's manufacturing downturn eased slightly in April as declines in new orders and output slowed, a preliminary survey showed on Wednesday, though factory activity showed an overall contraction for the fourth straight month.

The HSBC/Markit flash Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for April rose to 48.3 from March's final reading of 48.0, still below the 50 line separating expansion from contraction.

The survey showed contractions in new orders and output moderated somewhat, though new export orders slipped back below the 50 line after a pickup in March, suggesting that the external environment remains difficult for Chinese firms.

The survey indicated a weak start to the new quarter, and came after figures last week showed that China's economy expanded 7.4% between January and March from a year earlier, its slowest pace in 18 months.

"Domestic demand showed mild improvement and deflationary pressures eased, but downside risks to growth are still evident as both new export orders and employment contracted," said Qu Hongbin, chief economist for China at HSBC, in a statement accompanying the PMI.

He added that he expected more government support measures in coming months.

Signs of a slowdown in the first quarter had been evident in a series of economic indicators, prompting the government to unveil a series of measures to promote growth, although it has ruled out major stimulus.

It has also said that its main focus will be on job creation, and that it did not matter if growth in 2014 came in a little below the official target of 7.5%.

The final Markit/HSBC manufacturing PMI for April is due on May 5. – Reuters

Australia to buy 58 US F-35s for US$11.6bil

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 06:12 PM PDT

SYDNEY: Australia will purchase 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of Aus$12.4 billion ($11.6 billion) in a major upgrade to defence capabilities, the government said.

The new aircraft will bring Australia's total JSF force to 72 aircraft, with the first due to arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service in 2020.

"The F-35 will provide a major boost to the Australian Defence Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement released late Tuesday.

"The fifth generation F-35 is the most advanced fighter in production anywhere in the world and will make a vital contribution to our national security."

The deal with US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is in addition to 14 F-35s Australia already approved in 2009.

"The acquisition of F-35 aircraft will bring significant economic benefits to Australia, including regional areas and local defence industry," Abbott added.

The government, which was to make a detailed announcement on the deal later Wednesday, will also consider an option to buy another squadron of F-35s to replace the air force's fleet of ageing F/A-18 

Super Hornets which are due for retirement from 2022.

The overall price tag includes weapons, spare parts and maintenance facilities, with Australia's defence industry reportedly set to benefit by up to Aus$1.5 billion in flow-on business.

The fighter programme will see Aus$1.6 billion spent on upgrading air force bases at Williamtown in New South Wales and Tindal in the Northern Territory where the planes will be based.

Australia had originally indicated it would buy 100 of the jets, and that is still a target figure for air force chiefs, but budgetary constraints under the previous government saw it trim back and delay the order in 2012.

The JSF, costing US$160 million each on Pentagon figures and not due to enter service until 2016, has been touted as a technological wonder and the ultimate stealth attack plane able to evade radar detection.

However it has suffered setback after setback and is seven years behind schedule with a budget blow out of US$167 billion dollars to more than $390 billion, making it the costliest weapons programme in US history.

South Korea has plans to finalise the purchase of 40 F-35 jet fighters from Lockheed Martin later this year.

Australia is one of eight countries, apart from the United States, taking part in the JSF programme: Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. - AFP

Japan's Seibu Holdings valued at US$5.6bil on relisting

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 06:07 PM PDT

TOKYO: Japanese railway and hotels giant Seibu Holdings returned to the stock market Wednesday after aggressive restructuring following its delisting more than nine years ago, with early trade valuing the group at US$5.6 billion.

Seibu was changing hands at 1,685 yen after the first 30 minutes of trading, up 5.3 percent from its initial public offering (IPO) price.

The price put the total value of the company's shares at 576 billion yen ($5.6 billion).

The IPO price was the bottom end of the company's proposed range as the Tokyo stock market has lost momentum recently and global investors are becoming more selective about Japanese shares.

Because the price range Seibu had set was lower than expected, its top shareholder, Cerberus Capital Management, decided not to sell shares in the listing.

Cerberus will continue to hold its current 35.4 percent stake.

Despite Cerberus's decision, the company's other major shareholders, including Norinchukin Bank and Development Bank of Japan, intend to sell their shares.

Seibu was delisted more than nine years ago. The group returned to the stock market after aggressively shedding assets, cutting costs and receiving a private bailout.


The Star Online: Nation

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The Star Online: Nation

Japanese oil tanker robbed, three crew believed kidnapped in dramatic dawn raid

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 09:29 AM PDT

PETALING JAYA: A Japanese oil tanker carrying five million litres of diesel was allegedly robbed and three of its crew are believed kidnapped in the Straits of Malacca early Tuesday morning.

Port Klang Marine Police commander DSP Norzaid Muhammad Said said the ship was sailing 16 nautical miles off Pulau Ketam, on its way to Myanmar, when it was boarded by several armed thieves.

"The incident occurred at about 1am and it was only realised by the crew members when they saw about five or six men armed with a pistol and a parang aboard the ship.

"All of the victims were tied and locked in a room," he said.

Two tankers then approached the ship and three million litres of diesel were pumped out.

"They fled about five or six hours later," he said.

DSP Norzaid added that the crews managed to free themselves several hours after the incident and upon doing a headcount, they realised that three of their Indonesian crew were missing.

"The crew members comprised Indonesian, Thai, Myanmar and Indian nationals. But the Indonesians were nowhere in sight.

"We suspect that they have been kidnapped by the suspects.

"The ship has now has been anchored and we are investigating the case," he said.

Autism hub to be ready by May 2015

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

PUTRAJAYA: The first National Centre of Excellence for Autism, scheduled to be fully operational in Kuala Lumpur by May next year, is set to change the landscape of special education in Malaysia.

Also known as the Permata Kurnia project, the centre will provide early intervention and early childhood special education to 300 children with autism aged between two and six years old. This would be the first-ever project for children with disabilities to be fully funded by the Government, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"It will also be the first-ever project where a multidisciplinary team, consisting of early educators, speech therapists and occupational therapists, work together to provide a holistic service to children with autism.

"This project will serve as a benchmark in implementing autism service-provision best practices which we hope will be a model for future centres," Najib said in his opening speech at the International Seminar on Autism Malaysia 2014 here yesterday.

He said the profound impact of the developmental disorder on families and nations was great as the number of autism cases had been rising at an alarming rate.

From three to four cases for every 10,000 births, the prevalence of autism in advanced nations was now one for every 68 births, said Najib.

Various researches have also highlighted the importance of early intervention for children with autism, with one suggesting that the cost of providing lifelong support would triple for every child who has not learn to be independent during the formal schooling years.

"It is important to note that Malaysia aims to become a fully developed nation by the year 2020 and to achieve this aim, one of the objectives that we have agreed is to ensure inclusive education, whereby children with disabilities shall receive education in the same manner as their typically developing peers.

"With proper infrastructure, the right curriculum and trained teachers, children with autism along with their peers will be an asset to the nation and their families in the future," Najib said.

Inclusive education is also part of the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Children and Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both have been ratified by Malaysia.

The two-day international seminar on autism here was attended by more than 1,000 participants from over 30 countries, including dignitaries such as the first ladies from Sudan, Sri Lanka, Albania and Morocco.

Also present were Najib's wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, who is patron of both the seminar and the Permata programme, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his wife Puan Sri Noorainee Abdul Rahman.

Earlier in the opening ceremony, autistic pianist Clarence Kang wowed the crowd with his self-taught skills in playing the musical instrument.

According to a blog post written by his mother, Kang, 16, was already capable of reading difficult musical scores by the time he started formal musical training in 2008, a feat which a regular student may take years to achieve.

Kang's extraordinary talent attracted requests for his performances as well as media attention, including a feature article on his success published in The Star on July 27, 2011.

Rosmah: Sharing intervention approaches key to helping autistics

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

PUTRAJAYA: Educators and medical practitioners need to learn, understand, practise and share intervention approaches that will enable individuals with autism to best cope, thrive and excel in their lives.

The Prime Minister's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, added that parents of children with autism must be empowered to encourage them to achieve their fullest potential.

Delivering her welcome remarks at the International Seminar On Autism Malaysia 2014, Rosmah said low rates of prevalence of autism reported in the third and developing countries could be due to ignorance or lack of awareness.

"It is estimated that the prevalence rate of autism in Europe and the United States is currently 1% of the population.

"Researchers found that more than one in three adults having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have no opportunity to further their education or being employed for the first six years after high school," said Rosmah, who is the patron of the seminar.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak opened the two-day event. Also present were his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and wife Datin Seri Noorainee Abdul Rahman.

Rosmah said the seminar was designed to include topics ranging from the epidemiology of autism, service provision, early detection and diagnosis, state-of-the-art intervention as well as best practices in public health for ASD.

Rosmah expressed her gratitude to the First Ladies of Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyz Republic, Albania and Morocco for taking time to attend the seminar and share their experience on autism in a special slot called "Voices of First Ladies".


The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

'The Wind Rises' is an unusual choice of material for award-winning Hayao Miyazaki

Posted: 16 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The Wind Rises is an unusual departure for beloved Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, a self-identified pacifist.

In August last year, multitudes of Japanese users tweeted the word "balus" while watching a TV broadcast of director Hayao Miyazaki's 1986 animated movie, Castle In The Sky.

In an indicator of Miyazaki's cultural influence in his high-tech homeland, the made-up word, which translates roughly as "destruction," garnered more tweets per second (143,199) than such buzzed about events as the birth of Prince William's son.

Tellingly, the soft-spoken, white-haired grandfather whose work inspired this social media frenzy doesn't use a cellphone or the Internet – "It's jarring and interrupts," Miyazaki said – and he has practiced his craft for the last 50 years, wielding that most old-fashioned of tools, a pencil.

Now, as the world around him moves ever faster, Miyazaki has announced plans to slow down. The 72-year-old director says his latest film, The Wind Rises, will be his last.

"Everybody is younger than me," he said, speaking by phone recently from his Tokyo studio through a translator. "They don't understand what it's like to be old. I've learned a lot of things by being 72, and what I've learned is that I don't have a lot of time."

The Wind Rises is a departure for Hayao Miyazaki, as with the film, he steps away from fantasy and into telling the story during the pre-World War II.

The Wind Rises is a departure for Miyazaki. Normally, his family-friendly fantasies such as Howl's Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro and Oscar winner Spirited Away are set in magical realms populated by wizards, witches and sprites. They're often subtle paeans for pacifism and odes to nature built around strong and clever female characters.

The Wind Rises, by contrast, is set in pre-World War II Japan and tells the story of a real man, Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero fighter plane.

The film, which is based on a short story by Japanese poet Hori Tatsuo, depicts an era when Japan faced some of the same problems that have plagued the country in recent years, including a devastating earthquake and economic stagnation.

Miyazaki had just finished storyboarding a sequence of Japan's 1923 earthquake, which set Tokyo afire, when the powerful 2011 temblor hit.

"I worked on sci-fi material before, imagining what would happen in the future, but when the earthquake happened two years ago, I felt, 'Oh no, the actual reality of the world has caught up with me'," he said.

"When we could see the changes of the times, I didn't feel I could make some fun fantasy."

Miyazaki, whose father made rudders for the Zero planes, also shows the artistry that went into building the elegant but deadly aircraft, scores of which would ultimately end up attacking Pearl Harbor.

It's an unusual choice of material for a self-identified pacifist, who stayed home from the Oscars when he won for Spirited Away, because, as he later told a Los Angeles Times reporter, "I didn't want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq."

"Jiro Horikoshi is also a pacifist," Miyazaki said, explaining this seeming contradiction. "Because of the times he was living in, the only thing he was allowed to make was a fighter airplane. I can't accuse my father or Horikoshi of doing the wrong thing when they had to live in such dangerous times."

Hayao Miyazaki has a smile that lights up his whole face. - AFP

Hayao Miyazaki has a smile that lights up his whole face. – AFP

In Japan, Miyazaki has taken his anti-war stance beyond the cinema. In June last year, he penned an essay objecting to the new prime minister's plan to amend the country's constitution allowing for the building of a full-fledged military. Some conservatives labeled him "anti-Japanese" and a "traitor".

The sharp response surprised him. "I feel that there is something of a smell of war," Miyazaki said. "I'm appalled at the outdated nationalism."

The set-to is all the more remarkable given Miyazaki's revered stature in his home country.

Years ago, John Lasseter was walking with the director near his studio in Tokyo when a group of schoolgirls saw Miyazaki and approached him. With his shock of white hair and broad smile, Miyazaki is instantly recognised there – Lasseter likens the director to one of his best-known characters, a grinning, cat-shaped bus from My Neighbor Totoro.

"He's got the smile that is infectious. His cheeks rise up into his eyes," said Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and a longtime friend and admirer of Miyazaki's. "He's so unassuming."

Miyazaki drew little bunnies from Totoro on the schoolgirls' hands, Lasseter said. "What is amazing to see is what he means to the people of Japan," he said.

With his status also comes the burden of responsibility, particularly to the hundreds employed at his company, Studio Ghibli, including Miyazaki's son, Goro, who directed Ghibli's last film, From Up On Poppy Hill. The elder Miyazaki has said he hopes to leave some of that sense of duty behind in retirement, focusing instead on drawing his own manga (Japanese comic books) and producing short films for Studio Ghibli's museum.

"I'm just happy I don't have to think about my next movie," Miyazaki said. "I would rather go on my walks. There's a nursery next door to my studio and I can hear children, which I like very much."

Miyazaki is the best-known practitioner of the dwindling medium of hand-drawn animation, which seems likely to continue its long fade along with him.

He's also unusual for the gentle tone of his films. Even The Wind Rises, about the building of war machines, has placid sequences of young Horikoshi setting paper airplanes into flight.

Looking back, Miyazaki said he has some regrets. He wishes he'd drawn the character of Howl in Howl's Moving Castle more "sharp, pointed and devilish", for instance, but he wasn't willing to take the artistic risk at the time.

"I'm mad at myself," he said. "I did my best, given the circumstances. Even though I'm not satisfied with myself, I think I worked harder than others did." – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

> The Wind Rises opens in GSC International Screens today.


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


Posted: 21 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Are pharmaceuticals hiding the truth of the two "Berlin Patients" to capitalise on 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS?

When HIV/AIDS first came to public attention in the 1980s, several thousand people were diagnosed as infected with this "cancer". It was perceived as a medical mystery and it was a disease that carried a social stigma. It was prevalent among gay men at the time when the community wasn't accepted (as it is today). People were hesitant to talk about the disease, and funding research or finding a cure for it was low on the list of priorities for any pharmaceutical company or government.

According to Nathalia Holt, that's why a cure for HIV/AIDS came from elsewhere in the medical community. Cured tells the story of the "Berlin Patients" – the first two people to have been functionally cured of HIV/AIDS, one in 1996 and one in 2008. She offers fascinating medical insights into how the HIV/AIDS virus works and how it can be tackled. It's clearly presented in terms and analogies relatively easily understood by the motivated layperson. 

Sometimes it reads like a thriller, with backstabbing scientists and vials of blood being couriered around the world. We meet humanised mice that have been genetically modified to have human immune systems so that they can be used in experiments. Then there's also the predominant human interest of this book. It's the story of a few men and women, and how their relationships changed the way HIV/AIDS is treated today.

The most amazing and mystifying part of the story is that even though the Berlin Patients were cured of HIV/AIDS, and meticulous records were kept of their treatment, there has never been an attempt to repeat their treatments on a larger scale. Both men were cured by different means, and while elements of their cure have been replicated, there are many aspects that seem to be wilfully ignored, particularly what seems to be the proven effectiveness of early and aggressive treatment. 

The understated but important element of this book is the discussion of the relationship between big pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) and medical care. Though it only makes up a fraction of the book's content, it is important in understanding the present status quo. The main impetus of Holt's explanation can be summarised in one quote: "If no one can make money, even the best drug will fail."

As things stand, there are treatments available that help people with HIV/AIDS to live a regular lifespan. However, in some places these treatments are extremely costly, often reaching sums in excess of US$75,000 (RM243,600) a year. Wouldn't it be better to use what was learned from the Berlin Patients to develop a cure? But better for whom?

The stark reality is that Big Pharma doesn't exist for the benefit of mankind. Its raison d'etre is to produce profits for its shareholders, something that it succeeds at quite gloriously. If the needs of the general public and Big Pharma intersect, then well and good, but if they don't... Well, business is business, the bottom line is the bottom line.

If it's more profitable to keep people on expensive medication for the rest of their lives than offering them a cure, then there's little incentive for Big Pharma to invest in finding one. Follow the money. Not only does Big Pharma have little financial incentive to find a cure, they effectively have a financial disincentive. The end result of this is that millions of people living with HIV/AIDS who don't have access to expensive drugs won't get access to a cure either.

There is, however, hope on the horizon. Not everyone investing in HIV/AIDS research is motivated by financial gain. There are benevolent donors like Bill and Melissa Gates, who have donated significant sums that through the tireless work of dedicated researchers are translating into hopeful prospective treatments, and moving closer to effective functional cures for HIV/AIDS.

Thanks to these people there are many new clinical trials on-going in the fields of stem cell transplants and gene therapy. Both of these seem to be promising areas of research that are working to modify and create immune systems that the virus can't attack.

Cured is a must read for any medical practitioner, medical student, anyone with HIV/AIDS, anyone who knows someone who is, or any person who lives on a planet where millions of its people are living with the disease. 

Emperors Once More

Posted: 21 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Two ministers are murdered on the eve of a gathering of world powers and Senior Inspector Alex Soong takes on the case.

Emperors Once More is set in the Hong Kong of 2017. And moves at a gratifyingly brisk pace. When two Methodist ministers are murdered on the eve of a gathering of dignitaries and officials of world powers, Senior Inspector Alex Soong takes on the case.

He's a man of drive and East-meets-West eclecticism: keen on traditional martial arts and a Chinese history buff, who motors around in an imported Mustang, and loves jazz. Shockingly, Soong is invited by the killer to join him in a conspiracy to reassert China's global supremacy. After rebuffing this apparently crazy offer twice, Soong notices historical linkages, particularly to the Boxer Rebellion, concerning the case.

The relationship between East and West is central to this thriller, propelled by a disturbed individual's demons spawned by China's humiliations at the hands of the Western colonial powers in the 19th century. With Hong Kong about to host a summit between the Chinese and the faltering G8 powers – who are massively in debt to Asia's economic giant – the villain sees an opportunity for payback. 

Jepson's crisp prose, clever plotting and interweaving of Western and Eastern historical narratives all add up to a compelling read – albeit one that assumes some general knowledge on the reader's part. This reviewer is glad the author avoided the temptation of penning another sepia-tinted tome set in 20th century China, and took on the challenge of crafting a near-future crime-thriller. He's pulled it off well.

The Superior Spider-Man #31 (series finale)

Posted: 21 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Spoiler alert: Contains major spoilers for The Superior Spider-Man #30.

As the dust settled on Otto Octavius' 15-month reign as the Superior Spider-Man, I couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness. Over the 31-issue run of The Superior Spider-Man, what had started out as genuine outrage at what Dan Slott had done to Peter Parker had slowly grown into a reluctant acceptance that Doc Ock really was a superior Spider-Man.

By the time the series-ending Goblin Nation arc came around, I was already rooting for the one-time villain to redeem himself before the inevitable return of Peter Parker. And redeem himself he did, in The Superior Spider-Man #30. Realising that despite possessing the superior intellect, he lacked the instinct and reflexes required to be a true superhero. So Otto sacrificed his consciousness to allow Peter to take back control of his body, in order to save the love of his life, Anna Maria.

It was a "death" scene (for we have no doubt that he will be back one day) that was worthy of the greatest superheroes (and one rarely accorded to supervillains), and showed just how far Otto Octavius had redeemed himself through his stint as Spider-Man.

So, on now to this series finale, which sees Peter mopping up Otto's mess, first by taking out the Hobgoblin with a single blow, and then teaming up with Spider-Man 2099 (who is set for his own solo title in July) to lay siege on the Green Goblin's (or Goblin King, as he likes to be known these days) base at Osco... sorry, Alchemax's headquarters.

The moment when the Goblin realised that it wasn't Otto he was dealing with anymore (through a trademark Parker wisecrack, no less) was a real pleasure to read, as was the smackdown he subsequently received from Peter.

This was a real bittersweet issue. It's great to have Peter Parker, along with the banter and the old costume, back, but it's a testament to just how Otto had reinvigorated the character that this actually felt like a step back for the character. Somehow, I missed the complexity and the arrogant confidence of Otto's almost anti-hero-like Spidey, not to mention his frequent "Imbeciles!" admonishments. The Superior Spider-Man may not have been the nicest person around, but by Uncle Ben's ghost, he certainly could get the job done.

For me, the best part of this finale wasn't the action – it was Peter's final realisation that despite the mess Doc Ock had made in his life, his former nemesis still had to die in order for Peter to come back. The bonus Actions Have Consequences story at the end of the book also underlined the massive task Peter has of reintegrating himself back into "his" life, as well as how irreparably Otto messed up his relationships with the people he loves, as well as with the Avengers.

How Peter deals with these issues will undoubtedly be addressed in the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man title next month (also written by Slott with art by Humberto Ramos). For now, however, let us take a moment to mourn the demise of Doctor Otto Octavius, also known as Doctor Octopus, and the one and only Superior Spider-Man.


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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Medication and memories: Back From Planet Luvox exhibition

Posted: 19 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Malaysian artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris uses vivid larger-than-life images to explore mortality.

Several years ago, while on a flight from Malaysia to London to visit his sick mother, the artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris found himself contemplating the meaning of life and death.

Hasanul found himself reflecting on topics such as fate, sin, reward, life, death, memories and fantasies, in a manner he described as "a non-stop slideshow."

With his mother's death, the artist found himself moved to channel these thoughts into art. And these results can be seen in his latest exhibition, Back From Planet Luvox, currently showing at the Richard Koh Fine Art gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

Luvox is one of the brand names of Fluvoxamine, a legal anti-depressant drug the artist has been taking since late 2013 to help recover from a dark phase ignited by his mother's passing in 2011, a few days after his first solo art exhibition, Clash Of The Pigments.

"The drug is for developing my serotonin, or emotions in the brain, like happiness. But sometimes I feel that making artwork makes me feel better. It's meditative, therapeutic and spiritual," said Hasanul, 36.

Hasanul Isyraf Idris's Wiskey Selasih Invasion (2012), mixed media on paper, which a highlight at his Back From Planet Luvox exhibition at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur.

Hasanul Isyraf Idris' Wiskey Selasih Invasion (mixed media on paper, 2012), which a highlight at his Back From Planet Luvox exhibition at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur.

Hasanul was trained at Mara University of Technology, UiTM, in Perak. He is critically acclaimed, having won, among other awards, the Young Contemporary Arts Award in 2007 at the National Visual Arts Gallery and the Incentive Award at the Open Show held at the Shah Alam Gallery.

The works in Back From Planet Luvox display his search for balance between the two most important elements in his life's art practice; the physical and the spiritual.

The exhibition is more than a story of bouncing back to life; it also depicts the artist's attempts at understanding his past.

Despite the exhibition's cosmic title, Hasanul's art pieces are really an exploration of "inner space", namely his memories of his life in three different settings. These are of his time living in London, his experiences teaching secondary school in Borneo, and growing up with his mother.

The artist revealed that he found the preliminary stages of artistic creation to be more challenging than the actual process of creation.

"For me, the initial part of making art such as brainstorming ideas, making sketches, getting the right material and researching are the toughest parts," said Hasanul.

"For example, in my work Prozac, Luvox And Everything Nice, I thought the colour of the crab should be as if it had been cooked, but at the same time, I wanted it to still be alive. This was because its eyes weren't grey, but I wanted those parts to look like cataracts. I made several 'dummies' and repeated the tones and colours until I got what I really wanted, until it was perfect. It was finished after two years," he revealed. Much of his work is highly abstract, featuring surreal collections of items and creatures with vivid, almost psychedelic coloured backgrounds.

Hasanul Isyraf Idris, Summer Predator, 2014, enamel paint, rhinestones, glitter and aluminum bottle caps on paper.

Summer Predator (enamel paint, rhinestones, glitter and aluminum bottle caps on paper, 2014)

To create these visually-striking pieces, Hasanul used a variety of materials, such as enamel paint, acrylic, glitter and rhinestone. These included items collected during his stay in Borneo, including bottlecaps he gathered from the bar below his apartment!

Hasanul said some of his artwork centred on a recurring image in his head, which was a small flower garden found in front of his childhood home, where every late afternoon, he and his mother would look at birds bathing.

Another recurring image in Hasanul's work is that of crabs, which can be seen in works such as Incredible Fusion Party (2012) and Weaving Vomit (2014).

"I was from a village near the sea. The crab is one of the images which is familiar to me. It is a symbol of tides," he said. This crustacean motif is also prominent in Wisky Selasih Invasion (2012), which features a giant flower-covered crab in the centre of a spider web covered with various insects.

"Visually, the work has a varied tone; it's colourful, and very detailed. There are illusions of chaos, death, growth and intrusion all happening at the same time harmoniously. It was actually an early piece from this series and among the hardest to finish." In some of his other works, such as Peace In The Valley and While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks By Night, Hasanul warps classic LP covers, adding darkly humorous details and his trademark colours.

"I 'invade' the LP covers by trying to impose new meanings and images on them," he said.

Asked about the future, Hasanul said he was working on some ideas, including one art project that would incorporate some of his mother's old clothing.

So has creating and exhibiting art helped him to understand his memories better?

"Of course I have more understanding of my works now, although I feel my memories have become more complex and intricate. Sometimes I feel that I'm working on a 'puzzle', which will never be solved," concluded Hasanul.

Hasanul Isyraf Idris' Back From Planet Luvox is showing at Richard Koh Fine Art, Lot No. 2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village II, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru in Kuala Lumpur till April 30. Free admission. Opens daily: 10am to 10pm. Call 03-2283 3677 or visit for details.

Qatar unveils desert sculpture by US artist

Posted: 19 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

US artist Richard Serra, commissioned by Sheikha Mayassa, has created a sculpture in Qatar's desert.

Four steel plates rise out of Qatar's desert sands like behemoths, symbolising, according to US artist Richard Serra who created the sculpture, the connection between the wealthy Gulf state's two regions.

The sculpture, East-West/West-East, was unveiled earlier this month in a desert area around 60km from the capital Doha, by the sister of Qatar's emir, who has been named by Britain's ArtReview as the most influential figure in the art world.

The sculpture, which consists of four steel plates which rise to heights varying between 14.7m and 16.7m, was commissioned by Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad bint al-Thani.

The emir's sister was named the most influential figure in the art world in a "power list" published by Britain's ArtReview magazine in October.

She has around US$1bil (RM3.2mil) a year to spend on art as head of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), according to ArtReview – 30 times more than New York's Museum of Modern Art.

"Sheikha Mayassa asked me if I would build a piece in the desert. I went to several deserts with ... a Bedouin ... and I like this desert the most," said Serra, renowned for his metal sculptures.

"The pieces connect two regions of the landscapes ... it brings this peninsula together with the sea on one side and the sea on the other," the artist told reporters at the unveiling.

Qatar, which has just 1.5 million inhabitants, is trying to establish itself as the region's cultural hub.

The gas-rich Gulf state hosts several museums and galleries, including the Museum of Islamic Art, the largest of its kind in the region.

The Qatar Museums Authority bought French post-impressionist Paul Cezanne's masterpiece The Card Players for US$250mil (RM809mil) in 2012, making it the most expensive painting ever sold.

Qatar last year unveiled 14 massive bronze sculptures, the Miraculous Journey, by British artist Damien Hirst charting the gestation of a human being from conception to birth.

Also in October, Qatar displayed a statue immortalising French footballing legend Zinedine Zidane's headbutt on Italy's Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.

The display on the Doha corniche, removed less than a month later following an outcry by conservatives who slammed the art work as anti-Islam idolisation, came as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup. – AFP


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Tension at Everest base camp over sherpa strike threat

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 03:15 AM PDT

Kathmandu (AFP) - Tensions mounted Tuesday at Everest base camp as frustrated mountaineers who have paid tens of thousands of dollars to climb the world's highest peak faced disappointment due to a strike threat by guides.

Thirteen sherpa guides were killed and another three are presumed dead after a devastating avalanche last Friday in the most deadly accident ever on the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) mountain.

The guides have since asked for a pause in expeditions as a mark of respect for their fallen colleagues, and have threatened to cancel all climbing on Mount Everest from this month onwards unless the government revises their insurance limits and sets up a welfare fund.

Ed Marzec, a retired lawyer who had planned to become the oldest American to conquer Everest at the age of 67, said he had decided to abandon his mission after losing a member of his grief-stricken team.

Speaking from base camp, he said the atmosphere between some climbers and their guides was souring -- even as a memorial was set to take place for those lost in the accident, which occurred just ahead of the start of the summer climbing season.

"Things are getting pretty ugly and we have a lot of young climbers keen to summit going from tent to tent, trying to convince people to put pressure on the sherpas so they don't cancel," Marzec said.

His views were echoed in an online account by veteran mountaineer Tim Rippel, who leads expeditions with his company Peak Freaks.

"Sherpa guides are heating up, emotions are running wild," Rippel wrote on his blog. "Things are getting very complicated and there is a lot of tension here and it's growing," he wrote.

Relations between local guides and Western mountaineers hit a low last year when a brawl broke out between three European climbers and a group of sherpas.

The guides have given the government until Monday to respond to their demands, which include a request to pay $10,000 to families of the guides killed in the avalanche as well as those who were injured and are unable to resume work.

Sherpas have also asked the government to pay the medical expenses of the injured, many of whom are recovering in hospital.

The disaster has underscored the risks borne by sherpas who ascend the icy slopes, often before dawn and usually weighed down by tents, ropes and food for wealthy clients.

Sherpas earn between $3,000 to $6,000 a season, but their insurance cover is almost always inadequate when accidents happen.

More than 300 people, most of them local guides, have died on the peak since the first ascent by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. - AFP

India's Modi condemns 'evict Muslims' statement

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 03:05 AM PDT

New Delhi (AFP) - Indian election frontrunner Narendra Modi on Tuesday condemned virulent anti-Muslim remarks by a one-time associate as he sought to keep attention on his core message of development and corruption-free administration.

Praveen Togadia, head of the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), faces a police investigation after a video appeared to show him urging Hindus to evict Muslims from their neighbourhoods in western Gujarat state.

Speaking in Gujarat on Saturday, Togadia is heard saying: "We (Hindus) are in a majority -- we should have the courage to intimidate them by taking the law in our own hands."

A lawyer for Togadia said the clip was "false, malafide and mischievous".

Modi, a hardliner from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said he "disapproved" of the statement from Togadia, an associate when both men were in grassroots Hindu groups in the 1980s.

"Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP's well-wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development and good governance," he wrote on Twitter.

"I disapprove (of) any such irresponsible statement and appeal to those making them to kindly refrain from doing so," he added.

Religious tensions, an undercurrent for much of India's election campaign due to Modi's polarising past, have burst into the open in recent weeks following reported comments from hardliners.

Last week, Giriraj Singh, a BJP leader in eastern Bihar state, said critics of the 63-year-old leader "will have to go to Pakistan".

Modi's closest aide, Amit Shah, was temporarily banned from campaigning after he made inflammatory remarks in a constituency torn by anti-Muslim riots last September, urging supporters to seek "revenge" at the ballot box.

Modi remains a hate figure for many Indian Muslims, who make up 13 percent of India's 1.2 billion population and are the largest religious minority in the secular but Hindu-majority country.

In 2002, while he was chief minister of Gujarat state, at least 1,000 people -- mostly Muslims -- were killed in religious riots. Modi has never been found guilty but he later appointed an organiser of the violence to his cabinet.

The BJP, last in power from 1990 to 2004, is widely forecast to emerge as the biggest party in the next parliament, with results in India's staggered elections due on May 16.

Modi rose through the ranks of right-wing Hindu organisations but has been campaigning as a centrist economic reformer, promising clean government after a decade of rule by the scandal-plagued Congress party.

Azam Khan, a Muslim leader of the regional Samajwadi Party, has also been sanctioned during campaigning for stating that only Muslim soldiers had fought for India during a brief 1999 war with Pakistan atop the Kargil ridges in Kashmir. - AFP


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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Cutting back on salt saves lives

Posted: 20 Apr 2014 09:20 PM PDT

"Kurang manis" is a taste we're all after. But study shows that "kurang masin" is just as important for the reduction of heart attacks and stroke incidents.

Have nutritional awareness campaigns had an impact on the British population over the past decade? Absolutely, according to a recent study published in the medical journal BMJ Open.

A reduction in daily salt intake is thought to be linked to a 40% reduction in the rate of mortality by heart attack or stroke in Britain, according to a scientific analysis of health data collected between 2003 and 2011.

Carried out by researchers at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and the Queen Mary University of London, the study was based primarily on an analysis of data from the nationwide Health Survey for England and the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

The researchers looked at blood pressure and salt intake statistics from the two surveys between 2003, when a nationwide salt reduction program was initiated in Britain, and 2011. Their conclusions indicated that salt intake declined by 15% over the eight-year period, or by 1.4g per individual per day, on average, while blood pressure also decreased significantly.

Next, using data from the UK Office for National Statistics, the researchers concluded that the rate of mortality from stroke dropped from 134/100,000 in 2003 to just 78/100,000 in 2011, a decrease of 40%. Similarly, the rate of mortality from ischemic heart disease (IHD) dropped by 42% (from 232/100,000 to 139/100,000) over the same period.

For the authors of the study, the decreases in salt intake, blood pressure and mortality by stroke and IHD are very likely linked. However, there is still room for progress. According to the survey results, eight out of 10 men and six out of 10 women still consume too much salt.

WHO's maximum recommended salt intake is 5g per day, or around one teaspoon. To avoid going over the limit, it is best to avoid processed and prepackaged foods, which tend to be particularly high in salt. — AFP Relaxnews

Myths and misconceptions of aesthetic procedures

Posted: 19 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

There are many misconceptions about aesthetic procedures, thanks to pop culture and unfounded beliefs.

"Really? You look so... real!" 

That statement, coupled with incredulous looks, is the common reaction I get when I tell my friends and clients that I have had numerous aesthetic procedures performed on myself, including Botulinum toxin injections, fillers, various types of lasers, and an occasional skin peel or two.

As an aesthetic doctor whose job is to reduce physical flaws and enhance beauty, I have encountered numerous misconceptions that the general public has regarding aesthetic procedures, no doubt fuelled by Hollywood movies and Korean drama shows.

Many Malaysians believe that anyone who undergoes aesthetic procedures will get an unnatural, expressionless and tight appearance on their faces, but this is often untrue.

The wind-blown, robotic look sported by certain local celebrities (you know who they are!), help perpetuate the idea that you'll end up looking as "natural" as Dr Evil from the Austin Powers movies, once you decide to go under the knife.

That unflattering appearance on some people may be due to aggressive facelift surgeries of yesteryear. Modern facelifts aim to give a natural, subtle enhancement.

An experienced doctor can give you results that look and feel absolutely natural. You'll emerge from the doctor's office looking fresh and rejuvenated, but nobody would be able to tell that you had had a procedure done.

Another common wrong belief is that if you were to undergo an aesthetic procedure, you will need to continue doing so for eternity, or you'll end up looking much worse than before the treatment.

This, I assure you, is also untrue. If you decide not to continue with the maintenance sessions, you will look like your usual self prior to the treatment, and not turn into Frankenstein's monster, destined to hide in the forest shadows.

I've also had clients bringing in photos of their favourite celebrities and telling me their deep desire to have Justin Bieber's nosetip, Angelina Jolie's luscious lips and Cindy Crawford's pert bosom, among others.

As aesthetic professionals, we have to tell them that while we may be able to enhance their chosen bits and pieces, we are unable to promise that they will look exactly like their idol.

This is because each person has unique anatomical structures, genetics, skin and tissue characteristics, as well as lifestyles. For these reasons, different people respond differently to the same aesthetic procedure.

I also have had patients expecting perfection, or flawless results.

Unfortunately, this might not be achievable. Whilst I am able to greatly reduce the appearance of their acne scars or help lighten their pigmentation, in many cases, it is not possible to fully remove their imperfections.

It is imperative that patients get a proper consultation and advice from their doctor to tone down unrealistic expectations.

I've had to politely turn down clients who expected nothing less than perfection. I'm a physician, not a wizard capable of magic and miracles.

Some patients may think that only one treatment session will give the desired results, whereas in reality, multiple treatment sessions may be necessary.

I sometimes encounter patients who think their results will last them a lifetime.

The truth is that maintenance sessions are often needed. The longevity of the results differ from person to person based on their lifestyle and genes.

Lastly, I would like to impress upon you that aesthetics is not only the domain, or only within the reach, of Tan Sris, Datins, bored tai tais, local celebrities and model wannabes.

We see a myriad of clients, including college students, housewives, office workers and tourists, both male and female.

Our fellow Malaysians realise the importance and advantages of dashing good looks, and people will strive to look their best, whoever they may be.

Aesthetic procedures are also not as expensive as you think. There are numerous options for the budget-conscious and various easy payment options.

So, what are you waiting for? Head to your nearest aesthetic physician today for a consultation!

> Dr Chen Tai Ho is an experienced aesthetic doctor who chills by the pool sipping espresso latte when he's not attending to his patients. For further information, e-mail The information provided is for educational purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. 

The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.


The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

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Anything is possible: A homemaker joins Japan's biggest girl group, AKB48

Posted: 18 Apr 2014 11:50 PM PDT

A mother of two kids has been chosen from a pool of over 5,000 applicants to join the young musical group.

Japanese commercial music juggernaut AKB48 has added a 37-year-old mother of two to the wildly popular all-girl group as it looks to broaden the appeal of its teen-dominated line-up.

The collective, whose 90-plus singers and dancers are rotated in and out of the limelight according to their waxing and waning popularity, regularly pump out songs that sell more than a million copies.

But the management behind one of the most successful brands in showbiz put out advertisements last month seeking older members to branch out of its teen and early-20s demographic.

Enter homemaker Mariko Tsukamoto, a mother of two, who was picked from a pool of over 5,000 applicants including an 82-year-old lady, according to local media. Tsukamoto will take part in live concerts and promotional events through August.

"I want to cheer up all the mums out there who are busy raising kids, like me," she said in a statement Thursday.

AKB48, one of the most lucrative groups of all time, is part pop act, part talent show, where a member's time on the front line is determined by how much adoration they inspire from fans.

The most popular girls or young women remain a part of the core group that sings and dances their way through formulaic bubblegum tunes. Those who fall out of public favour are demoted to a sub-group in an organisation structured somewhat like a football league.

Much of the group's appeal lies in frequent opportunities for fans to meet them, chat with them or befriend them on social networking sites. — AFP Relaxnews

Back to the future: Celebrating Record Store Day in Malaysia

Posted: 18 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Need a vinyl-hunting adventure? Just swing over to these independent record stores in the Klang Valley.

New independent record stores opening up in Klang Valley suburbs. A new breed of vinyl-loving fans getting hooked on record-hunting. Young and old music fans crate-digging side-by-side at these stores. 

To round if off, there's the Record Store Day (RSD) 2014 celebrations, which takes place today, thrown into the mix.

It's not a dream. Don't rub your eyes. It's true. The Malaysian masses are waking up to vinyl. Here's a phenomenon that mirrors the current renaissance of vinyl abroad. Even closer to home, there has been a buzz of new record stores in Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok catering to this demand for vinyl.

In Malaysia, it looks like this niche market is finally starting to go places with the arrival of independent record stores, like Hard Graft Records, Teenage Head Records, Tandang Store and the recent Ruby Music Centre/Cool Record Shop collaboration. More new players are reportedly on the way with brick and mortar stores. The vinyl-hunting map now stretches from Subang Jaya to Petaling Jaya in Selangor and all the way to Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. 

There is also an imminent upgrade for one of the more established crate-digging haunts in the country.

"The noise you hear about vinyl is real, and the excitement for the format is contagious," said Joe Rozario, 65, the owner of the Joe's MAC (Music, Art & Collectible) store in Amcorp Mall in PJ. 

"I don't think you have to convince people about the romance of a physical product. People are in deep love with this format. This is a long-lasting relationship," he added.

Joe's MAC, which started as a flea market stall at Amcorp Mall back in 2003, has emerged as a recognised vinyl destination in Malaysia. A recent mention in British experimental music magazine Wire in March has upped its global profile as a record store boasting rare Asian LPs.

It is not an exaggeration that Joe's MAC, which is home to more than 11,000 pre-loved/new records, has become a first-stop for many newbie collectors as well as a meeting point for veteran vinyl enthusiasts. He expects a healthy record-hunting crowd today at his store to celebrate international Record Store Day 2014. There will be bargains galore (the 2-for-1 deals) through the weekend but Rozario reckons: "every day is a good day to buy records."

Rozario says it's great to have younger music fans on board, too. He put the whole trend into perspective: "We still have our regulars from the old days, but the walk-ins have increased, too. Now you find younger fans at Joe's MAC. They come in with their smartphones at the ready, as they check the LP pricings on (marketplace guide) Discogs. 

"Some just come to Instagram the vinyl. Hey, no problem! As long as people are talking and sharing the news about Joe's MAC."

Nick Mun, owner of Hard Graft Records, an independent vinyl store in Petaling Jaya in Selangor.

For the record: 'When the idea of opening an independent record store came about, I wanted it to only sell vinyl. Proper racks. Proper browsing. Something for music fans,' says Nick Mun, owner of Hard Graft Records in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

This business, or "labour of love" as Rozario claims, is about to get a bigger home soon.

"In August, we're moving to a bigger shoplot right across from where we are located right now. The floor space is huge (4,000 sq ft/371.6sq m) and that means more vinyl and more elbow room," said Rozario, who revealed that classic rock, pop and Chinese LPs have been regular sellers at his store.

Rozario added, his store, which mostly sells vintage LPs, shifts an estimated 12,000 pieces of vinyl a year. Rozario's vinyl selling philosophy is simple – just give the masses a comfortable space to browse for LPs and always be on hand to talk to them.

"A bit of knowledge-sharing goes a long way. I talk to vinyl collectors about rock music from my era and in return, I also get to learn about newer bands."

Rozario has also seen local music tastes getting more sophisticated and plans to ramp up the diversity at his new and improved store.

"No doubt, there is constant demand for classic artistes (Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix). But we're getting more requests. Some customers ask if we carry Serge Gainsbourg LPs, others come looking for classic soul LPs. Three months ago, we also received a shipment of 2,000 classical records. That supply has nearly finished.

"We've also sold a few Sonic Youth deluxe box set reissues ... well, you wouldn't think Joe's MAC is the kind of store to attract alternative music fans, would you? But we do!"

The jovial gentleman, while adjusting his trademark beret, definitely is looking forward to one of his biggest years in the vinyl selling business when his shop moves.

More than a decade ago, Rozario was a one-man-show business. Today, he hires runners in the United States, Australia, Britain, Singapore and Germany to supply LPs. There is also a Joe's MAC branch in Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. If Rozario is an established name in the homegrown vinyl community, then look out for the new players, too.

Hard Graft Records, which started from home two years ago in Kuala Lumpur, relied heavily on word-of-mouth to gain a following.

The crew - (from left) Wan Hazril, Alak Idle and Sanan Anuar - behind Tandang Store in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. Apart from DIY releases, punk LPs and underground titles, the record store has also begun to embrace reggae, dub and indie LPs.

The crew — (from left) Wan Hazril, Alak Idle and Sanan Anuar — behind Tandang Store in Kuala Lumpur. Apart from DIY releases, punk LPs and underground titles, the record store has also begun to embrace dub reggae and indie LPs.

"The main focus for Hard Graft is to bring in new LP releases that are not readily available here. I used to hand deliver the records to customers by meeting them in MidValley Megamall or the Bangsar area. It was a cash-on-delivery thing," said Nick Mun, the owner of Hard Graft Records, who finally realised his dream of running an independent store.

Hard Graft Records opened its doors in Petaling Jaya last December. Tucked on the first floor of an office building in the PJ New Town area (near Tong Woh Medical Hall), the store welcomes customers with rows of new releases on the racks and also classic rock reissues on the walls.

Now, with the store opened, Mun, in his early 40s, joked that he no longer has to deal with the back-breaking work of carting heavy vinyl boxes to gigs or vinyl-only parties, where he used to sell direct to music fans. A change in fortunes has bestowed him a comfortable couch and a sound system at his store for customers to take in the music.

"It's good to have a proper place, because with a store, I can put up more records and people can come over to browse and hang out," he added.

On the day of this interview, Mun received a steady stream of regulars who also brought their friends over to the store.

"They say that music fans don't bother about record stores any longer. I beg to differ. I think people still do care," he argued.

"The challenge is to let the masses know they can get new releases on vinyl here. That awareness needs to be heightened."

For this year's RSD, Hard Graft Records will be having a vinyl listening party and live in-store bands.

Cheah Mun Kit (right), the main man who operates the Cool Record Shop, which shares a shoplot with the neighbourhood vinyl haunt Ruby Music Centre, owned by Tham Peng Kee (left), in Petaling Jaya in Selangor.

Cheah Mun Kit (right), the main man behind the Cool Record Shop, which shares a shoplot with the neighbourhood vinyl haunt Ruby Music Centre, owned by Tham Peng Kee, in Petaling Jaya in Selangor

Mun has already stocked up well for his customers with classic rock, alternative music, punk, indie and metal LPs. Contemporary new releases from Mogwai, Arctic Monkeys, Ghost and Chvrches catch the eye at this store, while LP reissues from Ramones, Fugazi and Slayer provide finger-itching temptation for record-hunters out there.

For publicity, Hard Graft's Facebook page has more than 3,000 followers, which goes a long way in directing traffic to his store.

Over at the newly-opened Teenage Head Records in the SS14 neighbourhood of Subang Jaya, Selangor, the feelgood buzz for vinyl can already be felt before you enter the shop. A few tables are lined up outside the store, with vinyl hunters sipping coffee (available at the store), while chatting and unwrapping their newly-purchased records.

The store, which is operated by Mohd Radzi, 37, has a true "mom and pop" record store vibe. After quitting their day jobs, Radzi and his wife Linda decided to take the plunge and start a record store with a youthful exuberance. A giant Sonic Youth poster on the wall gives music fans a clue on the "indie/alternative" slant here.

The range of vinyl records – new releases and second-hand – reflects the owners' personal tastes. If anything, Teenage Head Records (named after Singapore indie band The Oddfellows' debut album) can easily be regarded as the local version of Championship Vinyl (the store from the cult movie High Fidelity).

"We're definitely looking to add to the vinyl fun. We only started this month, so, give us time to get the balance right. That said, I'm sure we can get some people excited over the vintage My Bloody Valentine EPs and Morrissey LPs," said the affable Radzi, who also goes the extra mile to clean each and every pre-loved record that can be purchased at Teenage Head Records.

"It's extra counter service! You always want to go home with a record that is ready rock. Actually, it also gives me time to have a conversation with the customer. That way, I can find out what else I can bring in to Teenage Head to improve the store," he added with a smile.

Radzi has fortunately gotten his RSD 2014 releases sorted out in time. He has also invited a bunch of local musicians to play an acoustic show (11am onwards, today) in his store.

For those seeking out underground metal, obscure punk and dub reggae LPs, then a dash to the Tandang Store in Kampung Baru Ampang, Kuala Lumpur is a must.

"Since we opened this trading space last October, we have been selling lots of hardcore/punk LPs as well as many different styles of metal music, be it doom, death metal or grindcore," said Wan Hazril, 32, who is one of the hands-on partners in the store's operations.

"We have also started to carry some dub reggae, pysch rock, blues, indie and jazz LPs. Many kids don't really associate these LPs with the punk/hardcore/metal stuff. But at Tandang, we are trying to change mindsets. You might like doom metal, but we can recommend some experimental jazz that is equally interesting. We think it's really important to introduce music when you have the opportunity, and with a record store, you can build a connection with the people who come through the door," he added.

Elsewhere, there's an inspired collaboration between Ruby Music Centre and Cool Record Shop in Petaling Jaya. Ruby Music Centre, which opened in 1972, is still being run by Tham Peng Kee, who has defied the odds and kept his neighbourhood store going with surplus vinyl stock from warehouses and closed down record stores nationwide.

"Maybe this is the oldest vinyl shop in the country. I don't know, I just enjoy doing what I do ... selling records," said Tham, 68, who proudly claims that his "new old stock" selections have attracted crate-diggers from Europe and South-East Asia.

"I have loads of Chinese records from the 1970s and there are many unopened boxes of disco-era LPs and pop/funk records. All unplayed. Where do I get my stock from, you ask? Of course, I can't tell you. It's a trade secret," he said with a laugh.

These days, Ruby Music Centre shares floor space with Cool Record Shop, which is run by Cheah Mun Kit, 55. This two-in-one shoplot arrangement works out to be a treat for record hunters. Ruby Music has the surplus LP bargains while Cool Record Shop, which opened last August, is slowly drawing the masses in with its range of mainstream jazz, pop, Chinese and audiophile quality LPs.

"The good news is, we also have a stash of limited edition Record Store Day titles. Some REM, The Doors, Green Day ... the list looks good. Just come over (today), we'll be more than happy to show you around both our 'stores'. This vinyl revival has also made it possible for music fans to shop in a real vintage record store like Ruby Music Centre. Who would have thought that this would be happening in 2014," declared an amused Cheah.

> More info on Joe's MAC (Music, Art & Collectibles), Hard Graft Records, Tandang Store and Teenage Head Records can be found on Facebook. Ruby Music Centre/Cool Record Shop is located at 26, Jalan 21/19, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Kawaii! Babymetal, teenage girls with a love for metal music

Posted: 18 Apr 2014 12:40 AM PDT

Warning: Japan's cutest girl band ever does not play music fit for your mother's ears.

Can a song about chocolate make your head explode? Why, yes, if you're not a fan of metal music, that is.

Babymetal is a Japanese metal band that comprises three innocent-looking teenagers – Suzuka Nakamoto (17), Moa Kikuchi and Yui Mizuno (both 15). The band, formed in 2010 when Moa and Yui were barely 11, released its self-titled debut album in February and is fast gaining international fame via its explosive music and videos.

The trio is led by Suzuka, who sings all the songs, while the two younger girls provide backing vocals aka "screams". All three of them perform carefully choreographed dances on stage and in their music videos. Really, the girls are Just.So.Darn.Cute. prancing around in their schoolgirl uniforms and ponytails to hardcore guitar riffs and drumming.

The "live" music video of Gimme Chocolate!!, one of Babymetal's numerous infectious tracks, has garnered more than six million views on YouTube, with tons of positive comments from users all over the globe. Other recommended tracks include Megitsune (the video for this is awesome), debut single Ijime Dame Zettai, Onedari Daisakusen, Iine and Head Bangya!!.

While metal music has been (unfairly) associated with bad behaviour, rebellion and even "devil worshipping", Babymetal does not embody any of that. Babymetal's music focuses on real-world issues that other teenagers face each day, encouraging everyone to stand up for themselves, to boldly accept who they are and simply, to love life.

Based on a fan website that provides English translations of Babymetal's songs, Suzuka, Moa and Yui mostly sing about "having good feelings" (Iine), the effects of bullying (Ijime Dame Zettai), going to school and coping with peer pressure (Doki Doki). In Gimme Chocolate!!, the girls confront body image worries that many women face today ... and their love of chocolate.

Babymetal has the distinction of being the youngest ever group to perform at two of Japan's biggest music festivals – Summer Sonic in 2012 and Loud Park Festival (2013). The group also staged another show at last year's Summer Sonic, and has announced that it will play at the Sonisphere Festival 2014 in Brtain this July.


The Star Online

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