Japan produces Japonica rice, a subspecies of Oryza Sativa (Asian rice). The Japonica is a short plant with narrow, dark green leaves and medium-height tillers. Japonica grains are short and round, do not shatter easily and have low amylose content, making them moist and sticky when cooked. It is found in the cooler zones of the subtropics and in the temperate zones of Japan, China and Korea.

Other subspecies of Oryza are Indica (grown in the tropics and subtropics, including the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Java, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and in some African countries) and Javanica (grown in the high-elevation rice terraces of the Cordillera Mountains of northern Luzon, Philippines).

Although there are examples of non-Japonica rice grown in Japan, almost all Japanese rice are Japonica rice. There are around 300 varieties of Japonica in Japan alone, and can be divided into two major categories – regular rice (uruchimai) and glutinous rice (mochigome). Uruchimai is consumed as a daily staple and is used to make sushi and sake. It can also be used to make dishes like risotto and paella. Mochigome is used to make mochi and sekihan.

The most common rice in circulation is the Koshi Hikari variety. Therefore, rice commonly eaten in Japanese households is Koshi Hikari. According to some sushi chefs, rice that is relatively less sticky with a lighter flavour like Sasa Nishiki and Tsugaru Roman are easier to use, but it also depends on the business’ decision.

“The making of sake also depends on the management’s decisions, but notable ones for making rice malt are Yamada Nishiki, Omachi, and Gohyakumangoku,” said Japan Rice and Rice Industry Export Promotion Association (JRE) managing director Minoru Yoneda. JRE is an association that promotes the exportation of Japanese rice, and is not involved in the production and distribution of rice.

Speaking at the Malaysia International Food and Beverage Trade Fair 2016, Yoneda explained that the current breeds of Japonica each have its own specialties as a result of multiple selective breeding processes.

“We have rice breeds that are resistant to cold temperatures, those with resistance to damage, those resistant to diseases, those with early or late growth stages, those with a high-yield, those that taste good, those with low allergen content and so on.

“Japonica rice is a Japanese staple which we feel does not get enough exposure globally. Therefore, we decided that the best way for people to learn about its qualities would be for them to experience it. Also, food is always a good way to promote cross-cultural understanding” he added.

The Calrose “Japanese rice” you find in supermarkets is a medium-grain Japonica cultivar developed in California in 1948. The name is a combination of “cal” for California and “rose” for the medium-grain shape. Calrose is now used as a generic term for California medium-grain Japonicas.

While not true Japanese rice, Calrose-type rice has been grown by Japanese American producers in California for many years, according to Wikipedia.

The makings of Japonica

Rice is grown in all prefectures of Japan, and the main paddy fields in Japan are on the plains of the major river basins.

In recent years, paddy fields have also spread to the hilly and mountainous areas. Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, is the country’s leading rice producer.

Also, the broad coastal plain of Shonai near the Sea of Japan has plenty of water and nutrient-rich soil and is considered to be one of Japan’s most fertile granaries.

Water affects the taste of rice, and “Iron Chef” trainee Hitoshi Sasagawa from Sasagawa Restaurant of Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur believes that it is the main factor of Japan’s unique Japonica rice taste.

“Environments and resources vary from country to country. It would only make sense that the same type of rice would taste different if it was grown in Japan, than say, in Thailand,” he said.

“Depending on the natural conditions like the water, the surrounding temperatures, weather, and cultivation technology, it is possible for the components of the rice to differ even though they are the same breed.” While sticky, Japonica rice also has a glossy sheen and has a slightly sweetish flavour profile.

“Rice cultivation in Japan is done in the form of individually managed fields, fields that are jointly managed, and corporations. The scales of the fields are also different, and as of 2010, the average surface area of each managed paddy field is 105 acres,” said Yoneda.

Japan is the ninth largest producer of rice in the world in rice production.

Total rice production in 2015 – including those not intended to be used as edible rice – was approximately 8mil tonnes. The amount of commercially exported rice for fiscal year 2015 was 7640 tonnes, roughly 1% of the production volume. The average retail price for Japonica rice is 379 yen (RM15) per kg.

Growing Japonica

The rice seasons in Northern Japan last from May to September. In central Japan, it is from April to August. In southern Japan the rice season is from April to August. About 85% of the 2.3 million farms in Japan plant rice yearly.

Top quality rice requires top quality soil. Farmers till the soil and layer in straw to “loosen” the soil for water to seep easily. It is said that almost two-thirds of Japan’s water goes to its paddy fields.

During spring time, farmers tend to their seedlings. They sow the unhulled grains of rice from the previous harvest in water until they sprout. While waiting for the sprouts, they disinfect and dry the paddy field.

Once it is ready, water is piped into the field and the land is fertilised. It is crucial that the water is kept at a consisted depth for the seedlings to be planted at the same level. Farmers then plant the 10cm seedlings in the field.

This process is done by hand in smaller fields, and rice planting machines are used in bigger ones.

The planted seedlings then take root and grow. A lot of water is needed to grow rice, and many farmers irrigate the fields with water drawn directly from nearby rivers. In the mountanious terrains, the paddies are arranged in terraced slopes for the water to flow from top to bottom.

An eye for shine

During the harvest, water is drained from the paddy fields for easier harvesting. Rice stalks are cut, and threshed. The rice is dried and hulled to make brown rice (genmai).

The Japanese take great pride in the quality, taste and stickiness of their rice. Gruff inspectors use magnifying glasses to check each grain and count the imperfect ones. Anything that falls below grade two is considered unfit for the table and the price plummets accordingly.

“In Japan, in order to retain its quality, rice is normally distributed in the form of brown rice and the rice is only polished whenever necessary,” said Yoneda.

Brown rice can be consumed in its unpolished state, and is considered a specialty in many restaurants and households.

However, most Japanese rice is sold as white rice. Rice is polished using a machine (seimaiki) and during the polishing process, its volume decreases by at least 10%. It is because of this polishing that Japanese rice can be considered to have lesser gluten count.

“We hope that Malaysians will understand how much effort goes into producing Japanese Japonica rice. It plays such an important role in perfecting Japanese cuisine. We hope that as more Malaysians become exposed to the qualities of Japanese Japonica, their expectations will heighten and more Japanese restaurants will feel the need to import Japonica directly from Japan,” said Yoneda.

The Star, Published: September 28, 2016

The truth about sticky Japanese rice

Among the many rice growing countries in the world, few are so steeped in tradition and yet as modern and efficient as Japan. Rice growing has been part of the Japanese identity for over 2,400 years and remains an important aspect in its diet and culture.

image: http://www.star2.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/str2_s6japonica_jg_3-770x470.jpg

photo :

Rice is grown in all prefectures of Japan, and the main paddy fields in Japan are on the plains of the major river basins. Here, a horse stands in a rice paddy before taking part in the Soma Nomaoi festival in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. Every July, hundreds of people in the district become samurai for three days as part of the Soma Nomaoi festival.


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 しかし梅雨時? と思わせるような陽気、肌に熱がねっとり纏わりついてマレーシアよりもじめじめしていてびっくり。





朝日新聞デジタル 9月30日(金)5時4分配信
盛り土の計画変更、責任者特定せず 都の報告書





2016年09月27日 09時26分 日刊ゲンダイDIGITAL










75歳以上、保険料上げ検討 後期高齢者医療の特例廃止 来年度から9百万人対象










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「憲法70年 未来へのメッセージ」 ニュースの職人 鳥越俊太郎氏
 記念講演の講師はジャーナリストの鳥越俊太郎氏で、テーマは「憲法70年 未来へのメッセージ」として行なわれました。
「日本人には風に吹かれやすい、同調しやすい文化があり、流されずに、正しいことは正しいと言えるようにしなければならない」と訴えました。 そして、選挙に立候補した経緯について、
「参議院選挙の結果を見て、このままでは大変なことになると思ったからだ。政党から要請されたからではない。戦後初めて、与党が衆参で3分の2以上の議席を取り、改憲発議が可能となった。国民の多数が憲法改正にはNOの意思を示しているが、日本人の中には 風が吹くと飛んで行ってしまう人たちがいるので、憲法改正の国民投票一歩手前だという情勢の中、ならば「ストップ・ザ・アベ」の旗を東京から掲げようと考え、自分から手を挙げた」と述べました。
 また、「南スーダンでは政府軍と反政府軍の戦闘が起こっている。改定PKO法で『駆けつけ警護』が可能となり、まもなく青森の第9梯団が派遣される。他国のPKO部隊や NGOが攻撃されていたら自衛隊が駆けつけて、応戦することになる。当然、銃を撃つことになり、双方に犠牲者、加害者が出ることになる。それが現実になりつつある」と述べました。
そして、安倍政権が戦後最悪の政権だということを、アベノミクスでは給与は上がっておらず、年金積立金がアベノミクスのための投資に回され、食いつぶされていることを、 数字をあげて説明し、
 そして、「安倍政権は『この道しかない』 と言うが、そんなことはない」と鳥越さんは断言しました。
違う道を取る心構えを持って次の衆議院選挙に臨もう! 野党4党がもう一度共闘して、安倍政権反対の一致点で手をつなぎ、自公に3分の2を取らせることがないようにしよう! 戦後民主主義の道を私たちが歩けるようにしよう!」と呼びかけました。


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2016.06.02 01:42












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 創立年代等不詳。「新編武蔵風土記稿」上石神井村の項に「弁天社 三宝寺池ノ中島ニアリ。神楽堂」「水天宮 池ノ側ニアリ」とある。弁天社は神仏分離後に厳島神社となる。水天宮は水神社である(当社から東へ50mほどの池畔にある小祠)。厳島神社は昭和56年から境内の護岸工事、57年には社殿の改築工事を始めて58年に鉄筋コンクリート造として竣工した。






















福永邦昭【今だから明かす あの映画のウラ舞台】豪華俳優陣で大成功「火宅の人」 不倫スキャンダルも 大作路線の始まり









2016年5月30日12時55分 スポーツ報知

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東京100景 石神井公園.・三宝寺池・長命寺



「東京都心でも9/2から16日まで15日連続で雨となっていました」… へえ〜

「25日(日)は秋雨前線の活動は一旦弱まりました。関東はここ1週間、極端に日照が少なく東京は24日までの1週間の日照はたったの6分でしたが、25日(日)は8日ぶりに日照時間3時間以上となりました。ただ、日差しは束の間。26日(月)は再び秋雨前線が停滞し、活動が活発になります」… へえ〜




















そして「ふるさと文化館」「「石神井文士の時代の店が残る町」を歩いて、打ち上げ会場の「やきとり屋すみれ」(練馬区石神井町3−25−5、1F、Tel 5923−7329)へ、へえ〜



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The Voice Of Asia

2010/01/27 にアップロード
Siti Nurhaliza - Seindah Biasa (live at MTVAA 2005)
By tigadara3

2010/03/09 にアップロード
Siti Nurhaliza is The Voice Of Asia. As a well known figure, Siti has performed in many countries and that's included Japan. Siti started to go to Japan in 2002 after knowing that her single, Percayalah and other songs from Safa's album were well accepted and famous there, that led her to make series of concert in Tokyo.

In 2003, Siti returned to Japan and performed a concert at Yokohama then. This video is actually part of her tour in Japan and she was invited to perform in Asia's Music and Film Festival 2003 as a special guest artist.

Siti Nurhaliza - Percayalah LIVE in JAPAN (2003)
By azharkent

2010/10/25 にアップロード
Siti Nurhaliza -[Balqis] on Japanese music TV program - Asia music festival 2001
By Remy Sone

2011/07/29 にアップロード
Siti Nurhaliza, which also known as The Voice of Asia, has once again performed in a big scale concert whereas she sang together with other ASEAN and Japanese singers for the 'Japan and ASEAN Pop Stars Dream Concert 2003 (J-Asean Pops 2003) in Yokohama, Japan. In that concert, she sang a song entitled Treasure The World which was composed by Japanese composers, Kazufumi Miyazawa and Dick Lee. She also sang the Malay version of the song, called Dunia.
By azharkent

2015/06/06 に公開
4 Jun 2015 - Siti Nurhaliza joins in the studio The 5 Show Mediacorp Singapore to share her personal stories, support for children charities and performs two songs.
Dato' Siti Nurhaliza - The 5 Show 2015
By MuRiey StoRy

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Long-lasting marriage

The one thing that is obvious about Collin Lazaroo and his wife Petrina De Silva is how much they still love each other.

They complete each other’s sentences, correct each other’s versions of events, tease each other about mishaps of the past and occasionally share glances that articulate the love that has kept them happy together for close to 40 years.

They met while they were still teenagers. Petrina had just completed her fifth form and had joined the church choir. Collin, a year older, was the youth leader and trying valiantly to teach the choir to sing a song even though he admittedly did not know much about music.

“He was teaching us the wrong thing! I knew the song he was trying to teach us and I could tell he was wrong. I couldn’t just keep quiet, so I corrected him,” shares Petrina, recalling the incident as if it happened just yesterday.

Colin remembers being annoyed by Petrina’s interference.

“I was annoyed. I was embarrassed also but more irritated. No one had ever questioned my authority,” recalls Collin with a laugh.

Jumping in, Petrina adds: “Ya lah. All the other dungus were just just keeping quiet! I didn’t mean to make him angry but I had to say something. As a leader, if Collin said jump, everyone would just ask how high. But I couldn’t.”

After his embarrassment and anger subsided however, Collin began to pay closer attention to the girl who’d dared challenge him.

“I found her interesting. And that spunk – no one had challenged me before. She had long, bouncy hair like Farah Fawcett, you know and that got me lah!” shares Collin, with a twinkle in his eye as he described the girl he fell in love with.

“I never had Farah Fawcett hair!” counters Petrina immediately, hinting of that sassy nature that brought them together.

And so the two began to hang out. They shared many mutual friends and would go out in groups to church dos and parties.

“Those days, we’d take every opportunity we could to throw house parties. Someone’s mother would cook chicken curry, we’d have the music on and dance and have a good time. There was a party for every occasion. Sometimes, we’d even throw a party to celebrate the success of the last party,” says Collin with a laugh, adding that in the 1970s, there wasn’t much else for young people to do socially, especially if they didn’t have money to spend.

“Because we were with our church friends, these parties were sanctioned … as long as we got home by midnight. It was at one party that he cornered me and asked me out. And he tried to kiss me,” recalls Petrina.

“Did I try to kiss you on the lips? Really,” asks Collin, amused.

He did, but she declined − the kiss, not the date.

Their relationship went on hiatus soon after that because Petrina left for the United States on a international youth exchange programme called the AFS Intercultural programme for a year.

Her beau was heartbroken, of course.

“I was happy for her but sad that I wouldn’t be able to see her,” he says.

Before she left, Petrina gave Collin a ring. He’s worn that ring since that day; he also regarded it as his wedding band.

Even though the two decided to put their relationshop on hold that year, they kept in touch -and he’d visit her parents to find out how she was doing in the US.

When she returned, the two found their way back together. After weathering a break-up a couple of years later, they decided to get married.

“It wasn’t like he got down on bended knee and proposed, mind you. He just asked me, ‘Do you want to get married, ah?’ And I said okay and told him he had to ask my father for permission,” laughs Petrina who is a part-time counsellor.

They got married in the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Brickfields where they first met years ago.

A couple of years into their marriage, the duo attended a programme organised by their church for couples who had been married for more than 10 years. The programme’s aim was to get couples to rekindle their romance, restore communication and renew their commitment to each other. Though they’d only been married a couple of years, Petrina felt it would be useful.

“It was really eye-opening. It gave us the tools we needed to communicate as a couple. It showed me how to talk about my feelings without judging anyone and that has really helped,” shares Petrina.

The programme also required couples to write love letters to each other daily and though they haven’t continued the practice, it was an exercise that made them appreciate each other more.

“It also taught us about a concept called ‘single mentality’. Most of us are programmed and trained to be the best we can in whatever we do. We are trained to be champions but as individuals. There is nothing wrong with this at all. But when we enter into marriage, we can’t be individuals anymore. If we do, we will remain single even in a marriage. We have to switch to a couple’s mentality,” explains Collin. “That was really eye-opening.”

The tools they picked up in that weekend programme have helped them in their marriage.

“I can easily see how I could have easily let my career take over my life. But I made sure that family came first. Saying it was easy but actually believing it and putting it into practice took a lot of commitment which I probably would not have had without the tools we got from the programme,” shares the retired banker, adding that they went on to facilitate the programme for young couples.

Collin and Petrina have three children – Peter, Daniel and Diane – who now all live abroad. Peter is married and has given them their first grandchild.

“They live in Thailand and though we don’t get to spend as much time as we would like with our granddaughter, we are enjoying the time we have together now. It’s like a second honeymoon,” says Collin with a smile.

The Star2, Published: September 23, 2016

Second honeymoon for this couple

One of the keys to a long-lasting marriage is other-centredness: to put the needs and feelings of your spouse ahead of your own. We spoke to three couples about their secret to maintaining happy, long-lasting unions. Collin Lazaroo, 63 and his wife Petrina De Silva, 62, learnt to think as a couple and not as individuals.


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Always count your blessings

ONE of my relatives who has been earning a steady income in the United States for almost 10 years in the same company just lost her job following a takeover and it was a bit of a shock because she did not see it coming.

Moreover, she recently divorced her husband and all the bills that used to be shared between them have now fallen squarely on her shoulders.

To make matters worse, five months went by without a job in sight.

Despite being highly qualified, and actively sending her resume out, nothing concrete seemed to be showing up.

When she was about to move into the sixth month of unemployment, (let’s call her Rachel), her pet suddenly sustained an injury at home requiring urgent surgery.

The operation ended up eating into whatever is left of her savings.

Rachel was starting to worry about how she would pay next month’s house instalment.

You know the English expression, “When it rains, it pours?”

Well, she was out for dinner with one of her girlfriends one night, and she was the victim of a hit-and-run incident that was triggered by a neighbourhood fight and the sidelight of her car was damaged and the bonnet was badly dented.

She really did not need this and her friend was lamenting that there was very little they could do, because there were no witnesses around (or so they thought).

As Rachel was about to leave, she noticed a few homeless people in the carpark who started to approach her.

The older lady said to her, “I am sorry about what happened to your car.

“I guess you were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“It had nothing to do with you, girl. We saw the guy who did this.

“He is a big troublemaker in this city, criminal record and everything.”

Rachel felt hopeful there were witnesses to what happened after all.

However, she needed their cooperation to agree to be her eyewitnesses.

She was most humbled by the fact that they not only decided to help her out, but they all waited patiently on the kerb with her until the police arrived, even offering words of encouragement that after such a run of bad luck; things would surely look up for her.

It was an evening she will never forget.

The support she was receiving out of nowhere on this unfortunate night made her count her blessings because no matter how terrible things got for her, she knew she would always have options in her life.

She was able to create a Plan B, though she had never wanted to contemplate it.

Whenever we have fears, we must look them in the face and ask ourselves, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

If she could not get a job in time to keep up with the mortgage, she would lose her home but there would always be family that could take her in and a job would surely show up eventually.

She would be able to rebuild her life.

So, it was on the kerb that night that Rachel snapped out of feeling sorry for herself because everything was relative.

The people she just met did not even have a roof over their heads.

She felt blessed to be able to return to a warm and beautiful home, she could still call her own.

She felt it was time to shift into “positive gear”.

She had never been a believer in the “law of attraction” but she could not deny the fact that the moment she lost her job, one negative thing after another seemed to be happening to her.

She was also in a state of constant stress because of her finances and lack of stability, which is a tense way to live day-to-day.

If she could just look at the glass half-full rather than half-empty, and start adopting a more positive attitude, she felt she would be in a much better position to attract positive outcomes, including a new job. It would certainly be a better way to live.

The turning point for her was meeting those amazing strangers who had virtually “nothing” yet they gave her so much, especially the light of clarity she needed to get her “mojo” back.

Somehow, after that car incident, she was no longer gripped by a state of stress or panic because she was mentally prepared to accept whatever the outcome.

There is a certain grace that comes from letting go of the things we cannot control, and an immeasurable positivity from always focusing on your many blessings.

The Star, Published: Friday, 23 September 2016
Always count your blessings
By Jojo Struys
Jojo Struys is a regional TV host, motivational speaker and HRDF accredited corporate trainer.

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Fukuhara marries Taiwan ping-pong player Chiang

Japan's Olympic medalist Ai Fukuhara and fellow table tennis player Chiang Hung-chieh of Taiwan announced their marriage on Wednesday.

Fukuhara, 27, began playing table tennis at the age of three and gained fame as a child prodigy in Japan, but her popularity extends far beyond her own country.

Her fluency in Mandarin and participation in China's Super League have won her numerous supporters there and in other parts of East Asia, where she is often referred to as the "Japanese Doll".

"I proposed to her after the Rio Olympics when I got a chance," the 27-year-old Chiang, who also competed in Rio, told reporters in Tokyo.

"With regards to the way I proposed, I actually gave her a key and hoped that she would be an owner of our home."

Fukuhara, now 27, competed in her first Olympics in 2004 when she was 15 years old.

At the Beijing Games in 2008, she carried the flag for the Japanese delegation and in London four years later was a member of the team who won their first silver in table tennis.

The pair showed off their custom-made wedding rings, engraved with table tennis balls, which were designed by Chiang.

"I was overwhelmed when he proposed, so I don't remember what I told him in response," said Fukuhara, who won a bronze medal in Rio.

Reuters, Published: Wed Sep 21, 2016, 8:40am EDT

Japan's Fukuhara announces marriage to fellow Olympian Chiang

photo :
Japan's table tennis Olympian Ai Fukuhara (R) has her wedding ring placed on her finger by her husband Taiwan's table tennis Olympian Chiang Hung-chieh at a news conference to announce their marriage in Tokyo, Japan, September 21, 2016.


TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Japanese table tennis star Ai Fukuhara and Taiwanese table tennis player Chiang Hung-chieh (江宏傑) recently tied the knot in Japan, a Japanese newspaper said on Thursday.

Fukuhara, an Olympic medalist, and Chiang, a member of Taiwan's 2016 Olympic table tennis team, were married earlier this month, Japanese newspaper Nikkan Sports reported on Thursday.

As of press time, the news had yet to be confirmed by either Fukuhara or Chiang, both 27.

Chen Ching-yeh (陳慶湮), secretary-general of Taiwan's Chinese Taipei Table Tennis Association, said the association was not aware of the reported marriage, adding that it is a private matter and not for the association to comment on.

Sources close to the matter told local Chinese-language Apple Daily that Chiang is planning to hold a wedding ceremony in Taipei or Hsinchu before the end of the year.

The reported marriage came five months after the Japan's No. 1 table tennis star announced on April 6 that she was officially dating Chiang. Soon after, a Japanese tabloid reported news of the relationship and said they would soon be married. They have reportedly been dating for a year.

Previous reports in August claimed that Japan's table tennis officials had ordered Fukuhara to delay the marriage, as they wanted her to concentrate on her training and to lead Japan's women's table tennis team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The reports said that Japanese officials also had objections over the marriage as it would be a "status-gap marriage," a Japanese term referring to a couple having a significant disparity between their incomes, social status and personal values.

Japan's table tennis association later refuted the reports about officials urging Fukuhara to delay the marriage as ungrounded.

Fukuhara is Japan's top female table tennis player and was at one point ranked No. 4 worldwide. She has an estimated annual income of 100 million Japanese yen, while Chiang only has a world ranking of 79 and was eliminated in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Child Prodigy

As the youngest player ever to become a member of the Japanese national team, she is known as "child prodigy" in table tennis and enjoys high level of popularity in Japan.

She is also famous in China and speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, as she has been playing table tennis in China from a young age.

Chiang, a Hsinchu native, now plays for a table tennis team under Taiwan Cooperative Bank Co. He won the men's doubles gold medal with his partner Huang Sheng-sheng at ITTF Kuwait Open in Feb. 2015.

The China Post, Published: September 9, 2016, 12:26 am TWN
Japan's Ai Fukuhara weds Taiwanese table tennis player
By Joseph Yeh

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UN chief rails against 'dirty hands'

UNITED NATIONS (AP) − U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon railed Tuesday against leaders who keep "feeding the war machine" in Syria as he bowed out of the world stage, while President Barack Obama said there was no military solution to the five-year conflict and described a globe in the throes of a contest between authoritarianism and democracy.

Both Ban and Obama were making their final speeches at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations. They did so against a backdrop of mounting bloodshed and a failing cease-fire in Syria, escalating attacks around the world by Islamic extremists, and millions of people fleeing fighting and poverty.

The U.N. chief, whose 10-year period at the helm of the unwieldy world body ends Dec. 31, vented his pent-up frustration with uncharacteristic candor, telling the opening of the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting that "powerful patrons" on both sides in the Syrian conflict − which he did not identify − "have blood on their hands."

"Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all sides of the Syria conflict against Syrian civilians," he said.

But Ban blamed the Syrian government for the most deaths. He said it was continuing to drop barrel bombs on neighborhoods and torture thousands of detainees. Syria's Foreign Ministry condemned Ban's address and contended that the U.N had failed to resolve any conflicts on his watch.

Ban spoke as the U.S., Russia and more than a dozen other countries attempted to resurrect a week-old truce, and Washington and Moscow argued over who was responsible for an attack Monday on an aid convoy that killed some 20 civilians that the U.N. chief denounced as a "sickening, savage and apparently deliberate attack." Ban called the bombers "cowards."

The Syrian conflict has killed as many as half-million people, contributed to Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State group to emerge as a global threat.

Obama, who stands down in January after eight years in office, acknowledged that the extremist and sectarian violence wreaking havoc in the Middle East and elsewhere "will not be quickly reversed." Still, he stuck faithfully to his insistence that diplomatic efforts and not military solutions are the key to resolving Syria's civil war and other conflicts.

He lamented that while the world has become a safer and more prosperous place by many measures, people have lost faith in public institutions amid frightening problems like terrorism and a devastating refugee crisis.

"It's no surprise that some argue the future favors the strongman," Obama said. "But I believe the road to true democracy remains the better path."

While there was no mention of the bitterly fought U.S. presidential contest, this year's General Assembly opens amid uncertainty over who will succeed Obama, and perhaps less crucially, who will succeed former South Korean diplomat Ban at the U.N.

In a less-than-subtle jab at Donald Trump, the Republican running to replace him, Obama said, "The world is too small for us to simply be able to build a wall and prevent (extremism) from affecting our own societies."

Jordan's King Abdullah II offered an impassioned defense of Islam while condemning extremists as outlaws who want to "drag us back to the dark ages." But he added that false perceptions of Islam in the West were breeding further intolerance.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that a global response was needed against terrorists who are exploiting banking networks, targeting airlines and using social media "to spread an ideology that is recruiting people to their cause all over the world."

Obama was unabashed in his critique of Russia as he laid out his diagnosis of the world's ills. Obama's longstanding differences with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his actions in Ukraine have accompanied intense disagreement over Syria's future and a series of failed attempts by Russia and the U.S. to resolve the civil war there together.

"In a world that left the age of empire behind, we see Russia attempting to recover lost glory through force," Obama said.

The tough talk about Russia illustrated how little progress has been made in reconciling the diverging interests among the two powers that has allowed the Syria crisis to continue to fester.

Ban also criticized authoritarian and undemocratic tendencies among world leaders bent on clinging to power. In addition to Syria, he listed a host of "grave security threats" − fighting in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sahel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where "the prospects for a two-state solution are being lowered by the day."

But he also noted positive global developments during his decade as the U.N. chief. He cited the rise of "people power" with mobile phones that now blanket the world, reductions in poverty, political transitions in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and the cease-fire agreement in Colombia.

Governments on Tuesday pledged about $4.5 billion more than 2015 levels in contributions to the U.N. and humanitarian organizations to address the global refugee crisis at a summit hosted by Obama at the U.N., a White House statement said. More than 65.3 million people are currently displaced worldwide.

Journal Star, Updated Sep 20, 2016
UN chief rails against leaders with 'bloody hands' in Syria

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Obama hits at populist strongmen in UN address

Washington: US President Barack Obama railed against political "strongmen", nationalism and isolation in a farewell address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, taking his campaign battle with Donald Trump to the podium of the world's foremost international institution.

Obama's speech in New York was a defence of globalism and an attack on authoritarians, tribalists​ and populists in which he never mentioned the Republican vying to succeed him in office. But the subtext was impossible to miss, and could also be interpreted as a criticism of the UK's decision this year to exit from the European Union.

After extolling the expansion of democracy across the globe and a reduction in extreme poverty, Obama warned of "a crude populism, sometimes from the far left but more often from the far right, which seeks to establish what they think was a better, simpler age free from outside contamination."

"A country ringed by walls would only imprison itself," Obama said.

The remarks were the latest attack on Trump by an incumbent president who is extraordinarily invested in electing Democrat Hillary Clinton as his successor. He has frequently employed high-profile moments in the final months of his administration as opportunities to criticise Trump and assist Clinton, his former secretary of state. But Tuesday's speech also revealed a president still grappling with an argument for a more interconnected world and robust international institutions at a time when many voters on both sides of the Atlantic reject that philosophy.

"This is the paradox that defines the world today," Obama said, adding that the world could not afford to "dismiss these visions."

"They are powerful," he said. "They reflect dissatisfaction among too many of our citizens."

Trump's Wall

Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" harks back to an unspecified period in American history when the Republican believes the US and its economy was stronger and more influential in the world. His core campaign promise is to build a wall on the southern border of the US to stop undocumented immigrants from entering from Mexico.

Obama acknowledged that leaders in capitals across the world had not done enough to account for people who feel their welfare and their traditional cultures are menaced by globalism. He argued, though, that retreating from international engagement would offer no defence against extremism or other threats.

"The world is too small for us to simply be able to build a wall and prevent it from affecting our society," he said.

Seven years after he first appeared before world leaders at the UN to call for a "new era of engagement with the world,'' Obama said that he had delivered on his pledge.

Last year's Paris agreement to combat climate change will help to reverse a rise in global temperatures, and the US deal with Iran to roll back the country's nuclear program has reduced the threat of another Middle East war, Obama said. He touted a rapprochement with Cuba, a shift toward democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and the stabilisation of the global economy as evidence of US leadership.

Trump has called for a drastic shift from what he has called Obama's "weak'' foreign policy, pledging to limit immigration to the US, torture terrorism suspects and reconsider US alliances.

"Weakness invites aggression,'' Trump said Monday at a rally in Florida. "We're weak.''

Bedevilled presidency

Events in the days leading up to Obama's speech shone a spotlight on the lengthy list of global problems that have bedevilled his presidency.

Bombings in New York and New Jersey and a stabbing attack in a Minnesota mall over the weekend showed the potential impact of lone-wolf terrorist attacks, many inspired by Islamic State extremists based in Syria and Iraq.

Obama conceded that "until basic questions are answered about how communities co-exist, the embers of extremism will continue to burn".

"Countless human beings will suffer," he said.

In Syria, a deal brokered by the US and Russia to institute a ceasefire has unravelled just a week after it began with the promise of allowing humanitarian aid to reach besieged parts of the country. On Monday, a humanitarian aid convoy was bombed in the city of Aleppo, casting further doubt about whether the pact with Russia would survive. Almost six years into a civil war that has killed at least 280,000 Syrians and displaced millions, US-led efforts to end the fighting have largely failed.

Obama did not address the impending collapse of the ceasefire in his remarks to the General Assembly, but he did offer a blunt criticism of Russian aggression.

'Lost Glory'

"In a world that left the age of empire behind, we see Russia attempting to recover lost glory through force," Obama said. He said that while Russian actions might stoke nationalist support for the government of its president, Vladimir Putin, leaders there risked long-term damage to their nation's stability and borders.

Obama also criticised China, both in a reference to "some countries which now recognise the power of free markets" yet "still reject the model of free societies" and in a more pointed jibe at the country's attempt to settle territorial disputes in the South China Sea by force. In July, an international arbitration court at the Hague invalidated Chinese claims to a wide swath of the region, although China has refused to recognise the ruling.

"A peaceful resolution of disputes offered by law will mean far greater stability then the militarisation of a few rocks and reefs," Obama said.

Obama later hosted a summit aimed at addressing the surge in global refugees. He has called on governments and companies to offer more assistance to the more than 21 million refugees fleeing violence in places like Syria and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, the White House announced it had recruited 51 companies to invest, donate, or raise $US650 million ($861 million) in support of 6.3 million refugees across more than 20 nations.

"I believe history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment," Obama said at the summit. "We all have to do more."

Obama praised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for welcoming refugees to their countries despite political opposition. The US will accept 110,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ends September 30, 2017, Obama said, though his successor will decide whether the nation stands by that goal.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Published: SEPTEMBER 21 2016
Barack Obama delivers attack on strongmen and nationalism (and Trump) at the UN
Toluse Olorunnipa and Justin Sink, Bloomberg

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Hospital Beyond Boundaries (HBB)

NEW YORK: A Malaysian who founded an organisation with a mission to build healthcare facilities serving underprivileged communities, was among 17 young people named as advocates of change for the United Nations.

Representing the Malaysian-registered Hospital Beyond Boundaries (HBB), government medical officer Dr Mohd Lutfi Fadil Lokman, 28, was selected as a United Nation Young Leader from a list of 18,000 nominations from 186 countries around the world.

HBB, a non governmental organisation Dr Lutfi co-founded and heads as its chief executive officer, was chosen to advocate Sustainable Development Goals for 2016-2017 in the ongoing 71st United Nations General Assembly here.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmed Alhendawi, officially handed the 17 UN Young Leaders their appointments in the inaugural reception here on Monday.

This was in recognition of their leadership and contribution to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Goals to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030 – adopted by world leaders in the UN General Assembly last year.

According to the UN, HBB was chosen to promote efforts to improve living standards in target communities with the Sustainable Development Goals concept as the core thrust of their activities that promote prosperity while protecting the planet.

In his message on his UN profile, Dr Lutfi said setting up HBB was a dream he envisioned after an accident which left him hospitalised.

The organisation he founded in 2012 with fellow student Dr Wan Abdul Hannan Wan Ibadullah, back when they were at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, is now committed to accessible healthcare through community-run clinics in Cambodia and Malaysia.

“I am most proud of our clinic in Cambodia because we focus specifically on maternal and child health,” he said.

Currently a group of 13 young professionals from diverse fields make up the core team of volunteers for HBB.

The healthcare facilities are uniquely run as social enterprises by the local youth population, trained and then employed as community health workers alongside doctors, nurses and health professionals.

Since its establishment, HBB has trained and served more than 3,000 people.

“We believe that empowerment of the community, rather than charity, is the key to sustainability. We work with local NGOs, the Ministry of Health and local leaders to ensure that we make as much impact as possible.”

Other than working directly with Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being), the clinic and hospital look at healthcare that lies beyond the hospital boundaries.

“When someone is started on antibiotics for pneumonia, we also start looking for holes on his house roof. We hope that by curing diseases, we can also help alleviate poverty,” Dr Lutfi added.

The New Straits Times, Published: 20 SEPTEMBER 2016 at 6:02 PM
Malaysian doctor named as United Nations Young Leader

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"coloured computers"

DURING the era of US racial segregation, a handful of black female mathematicians managed to break social barriers and propel the US space agency to new heights - and soon their story will be a major motion picture.

This remarkable story has been told in the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was published in September.

The movie comes out in January, starring Taraji P. Henson – known for her role in the TV series Empire and for her Oscar nomination in the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – and Octavia Spencer, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2011 film The Help.

Some of the female mathematicians worked with the author's father, an engineer at Nasa's Langley Research Centre in Virginia, a southern US state where racial segregation was the norm.

Shetterly, herself an African-American, was born in 1969, and remembers the women as "normal" middle-class types, the mothers of friends who serve peanut butter sandwiches to kids.

The mathematicians provided pivotal contributions to the US space program, starting in the 1940s through to the 1960s, when the nation first sent men to orbit and then walk on the Moon.

It was not until Shetterly's husband heard about the women, during a visit with Shetterly's father, that she realised their story could – and should – be written in book form.

"My husband was like, 'Wait a minute, I cannot believe this. How come nobody knows the story'?" she recalled in an interview with AFP.

Urgent need for mathematicians

The heroines of the story are Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson.

The US involvement in World War II in 1941 opened the door to them, Shetterly said.

The country needed engineers and scientists to come up with new technologies to help planes fly higher and faster.

But segregation was still a reality. There were dozens of African-Americans, both male and female, working as mathematicians and physicists for the US space program, even as they were forced to use separate bathrooms from whites, and were barred from the same restaurants and schools frequented by whites.

The black women mathematicians at the centre of Hidden Figures were nicknamed "coloured computers," working apart from the rest of the math unit in the west wing of the Langley Research Center.

By the end of the war, there were around 25 black women and two white managers in the unit.

Soon however there was a new war, as the Cold War broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The USSR launched its first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, raising the stakes for the United States in the space race.

By 1958 Nasa was formed, gathering all the nation's space activities, and the Langley Research Centre was in charge of the Mercury project, the first US manned space program.

It was then that the black mathematicians were integrated with the rest of NASA and tasked with making complex calculations about rocket launches.

In 1959, Katherine Johnson – played in the movie by Henson – and a white colleague were the first to calculate the parameters of the first suborbital flight in 1961 of astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space.

They also calculated John Glenn's course, as the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

According to the book, in 1962, Glenn asked that Johnson herself re-check the figures one last time before he embarked on the mission.

Johnson's math talents later helped determine the trajectory of the Apollo 11 flight that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in July 1969.

The women in the story are among about 80 black female mathematicians who worked for the US space program from 1943 to 1980 – a time period that saw about 1,000 women employed there, far fewer than the number of men.

Medal of Freedom

In November 2015, US President Barack Obama gave Johnson, who is now 98, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.

Dorothy Vaughan, played in the movie by Octavia Spencer, died in 2008.

Mary Jackson, who died in 2005, was an aeronautical engineer and is played by Janelle Monae.

"Talent is distributed among all populations, whatever the colour of their skin," said Shetterly.

"Given a chance, people can excel in these fields."

She described the story of these women as "powerful source of inspiration" that "we can learn from the past, in terms of opening the doors for people to excel today".

The Sun Daily, Posted on 21 September 2016 - 03:01pm
Nasa's black female mathematicians hit the big screen

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Japan's poor kids

Laughter and lively chatter filled a room at a modest apartment in Tokyo one recent Thursday night as more than two dozen kids and volunteers gathered around tables laden with curry, rice, salad and fruits.

Misako Omura’s weekly dinner is one of a growing number of “kodomo shokudo”, or “children’s cafeterias”, that are springing up across Japan. The mostly grassroots efforts seek to address a range of child-related issues, from poverty to ensuring that those with late-working parents get a proper dinner. A tally by the national Asahi newspaper found 319 such places serving free or low-cost meals across Japan as of May, up from 21 in 2013.

Over the past 70 years, Japan’s rising affluence has banished most of the penury of the lean years during and after the second world war, when children sometimes starved and many families went hungry. But despite its ultra-modern conveniences, Japan had the 10th-highest child poverty rate among 31 relatively well-off countries in a 2013 Unicef report.

Poverty in Japan is largely hidden, as it can lead to public shame and discrimination. Families often skimp on food and other necessities to ensure children are dressed well enough to avoid being seen as disadvantaged. Such children might have smartphones but not the money to buy a 100 yen (US$1) box of juice or participate in a school field trip, said Setsuko Ito, who heads the child-rearing-support division in Tokyo’s working-class Arakawa district.

Omura started her weekly dinner in Arakawa in 2014 to create a space to welcome area children who might not get enough support from their families, schools and communities. Her initiative, supported by donations and a grant from the district office, is meant to counter a void left as communities hollow out and family ties unravel, leaving many parents and children isolated and struggling to cope. The kids and volunteers pay 300 yen for dinner.

“I hope everyone can develop a sense that each child is our child and understand that we are raising the children who will be supporting us as the next generation,” she said.

Omura emphasised that the children who come to her weekly dinners are not necessarily living in poverty. In some cases, they just have to dine alone because their parents are working late.

Just over half of all Japanese single-parent households are considered to be under the poverty line. Single mothers, who make on average 150,000 yen a month, get limited support from welfare programmes.

Though a 2013 law aims to coordinate national and local government efforts to provide educational, living and economic support, many local officials are struggling with the issue, said Kaori Suetomi, a professor specialising in education administration and finance at Nihon University in Tokyo.

“Until now, Japan hasn’t really dealt with child poverty, and officials are not sure what to do,” said Suetomi, co-author of a recent report on policies devised by local governments across Japan to address the issue.

The problem, she said, is budgets for those programmes are not guaranteed, so some local governments have had to abandon programmes. In addition, Suetomi said that child poverty issues overlap between the education and welfare ministries. That makes securing funds difficult as the ministries shuffle the responsibility of which should bear the cost, she said.

The “children’s cafeterias” are an attempt to fill that void.

Kazuma Omoto, a former participant and aspiring teacher who volunteers at Omura’s dinners, said he
attends to find himself and learn how to interact with younger children.

“It’s a wonderful place for that,” the high school junior said. “I come here every week. Going forward I hope I can study and learn many different things myself.”

The New York Times, Published: SEPT. 19, 2016, 12:06 A.M. E.D.T.
'Children's Cafeterias' Combat Poverty, Neglect in Japan

While most know Japan for its natural beauty, its manga, and its anime, few outside the nation realize Japan suffers some of the highest rates of child poverty among the world’s developed nations.

A recent UNICEF report, “Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries,” points to the growing severity of child poverty in Japan. The country ranked 34th out of 41 developed nations evaluated; the U.S. was just above Japan at 30th. The bottom three nations were Mexico, Bulgaria and Romania.

Overall, Japan’s poverty rate among children stands at 16.3 percent, roughly every one out of six kids. ...

Also read more:
Once Super Wealthy, Japan Now Has A Massive Child Poverty Issue
Published by Peter Van Buren, September 7, 2016 9:58 am

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A deadly trade driven by poverty

For a hospital, this centre for kidney transplants appears to have a lot of secrets.

“No photography allowed”, reads a prominently displayed notice by the entrance.

In the waiting room, an employee curtly tells the people present to not take any photographs and to switch off their cell phones. To confirm compliance, he even walks around peering over people’s shoulders.

At least two security cameras are attached to the ceiling.

One of the doors leading from the room bears the sign “Society of transplant physician [sic] and surgeons (head office)”.

These are not regular OPD hours and there are only about a dozen people in the waiting room. Leaning back against a two-seater is a young woman accompanied by a little boy about six years old, solemnly eating a packet of crisps. Her hands are rough and calloused, and her complexion has the sunburnt look of someone who works outdoors all day. A plastic bag with documents lies next to her.

The hospital staff asks that cell phones be left outside with them before the patients and their attendants go in to see the doctor.

In his office, the transplant surgeon, sporting a thick, jet-black moustache and wearing a flashy, diamond-edged gold watch, is in the midst of a consultation. The patient, who has developed liver problems, is referred to another doctor, a retired colonel, who the surgeon says, “sees all our patients”.

Turning to this reporter, unaware he is actually speaking to an undercover journalist, the surgeon agrees that charges for transplants are high.

A seven-day package, he says, which includes medication, transplantation and hospital stay costs Rs1.8m, including Rs600,000 if a donor is arranged from outside.

“Unrelated donors becomes a complicated issue, there are lots of legal aspects which we have to cover. Because of all this, the cost has gone up.”


Organ trafficking is a practice that involves organs – almost always kidneys – purchased from living donors. It was criminalised in Pakistan when the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance was promulgated in 2007. That briefly led to a steep drop in transplants using vended kidneys, estimated at around 2,000 per year earlier.

Despite aggressive efforts mounted by the influential pro-organ trade lobby to derail the Ordinance before it could become law, the anti-organ trade campaigners won the day and in 2010, the National Assembly and Senate passed the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act.

The law lays emphasis on organ donation that is “voluntary, genuinely motivated, not under duress or coerced”. It says that if a donor is not available within a patient’s immediate family (parents, siblings, spouse and offspring), “a non-close living blood relative” willing to donate his organ can do so provided an evaluation committee of the transplantation facility concerned is satisfied that no financial consideration is involved. Only in very special circumstances − such as unavailability of a family donor − can a non-related person donate an organ, provided there is no financial compensation.

Under the 2007 ordinance, a national body − the Human Organ Transplantation Authority (HOTA) − was formed to register, regulate and monitor institutions offering transplants in the country. After devolution, provincial HOTAs were set up to discharge this regulatory function and the erstwhile federal HOTA assumed responsibility for Islamabad Capital Territory alone.

The 2010 law appeared to have brought down the number of illegal transplants − that is, until two or three years ago. Since then, say several leading urologists in the country, organ trafficking has once again become a flourishing racket.


The institution in Rawalpindi profiled above is far from the only offender. Multiple sources as well as kidney donors to whom Dawn spoke pointed to another hospital in the same city, as well as several in Lahore and Islamabad, and certain urologists and nephrologists affiliated with these institutions who carry out transplants using vended kidneys.

There are also a number of other medical facilities, some of them fly-by-night clinics in rented premises, involved in this illegal, unethical practice that preys upon the poorest of the poor.

Given the areas where such criminal activity is centred, Punjab HOTA and federal HOTA, as well as the evaluation committees giving the go-ahead for these illegal transplants, have much to answer for.

“In a country like Pakistan, where families tend to be large, suitable related donors should be easily available,” Dr Philip O’Connell, president of the Transplantation Society of Australia, told Dawn while on a working visit to Karachi.

“If you have siblings, there’s a 25pc chance you’ll have a perfect match among them, a 50pc chance there will be a 50pc match, and a 25pc chance there will be a zero match. But even with a zero match, transplants can be carried out in most cases, provided a few conditions are met, such as the same blood group. To say an organ will have to be purchased because there’s ‘no match’, it’s just a game.”

Another Australia-based kidney specialist accompanying him, Dr Jeremy Chapman, who is recognised as one of the foremost experts in the field of transplantation, added: “On the one hand, you have desperate, uninformed, wealthy patients who think they’ll die without a transplant; on the other, there are profit-driven doctors who will take those patients to the cleaners.”


An email dated Dec 9, 2014 from the Kuwait Transplant Society president, Dr Mustafa Al-Mousawi, and available with Dawn, reads:

“Was just talking to a… patient who came back yesterday from Pakistan. He is Saudi and was transplanted [along] with another Saudi and five Omanis in one week in Islamabad in villa which he described as clean and furnished like a hospital…He says surgeon performs two transplants daily for patients from the ME (Libya, KSA etc).”

Dr Mousawi told Dawn that no patient went to Pakistan for transplants from 2008 to 2011 (see graph), which he believes was because of international pressure and the legislation passed in 2007 and 2010.

Such ‘transplant tourism’, which refers to people coming to Pakistan to get transplants done with organs purchased on the black market, is the most lucrative sector of this racket with each transplant costing the patient around $100,000.

Because of the legal implications, particularly when such large sums of money are at stake, those involved go to great lengths to stay below the radar, including carrying out the transplants in temporary, rented premises.

An email dated Feb 14, 2016 from Dr Chapman about a transplant patient who visited Pakistan for the procedure, reads:

“[H]e was operated in a makeshift ‘house/hospital/clinic’ with an epidural anaesthetic. Conditions he … describes as terrible (“couldn’t wait to get out of there”). … Many similar recipients were being dealt with − US citizens etc.”

These cloak-and-dagger operations can be risky for patients in other ways too. In an email to Dawn, Dr Mousawi wrote:

“Most patients are told to return to Kuwait within few days after surgery, often with catheters and drains still in place. Once the patient is out of their sight they are not their responsibility anymore. This is very dangerous for transplanted patients with low immunity to infection.”

Other accounts mention patients as being taken from their hotel “through different routes every time”, “being instructed to wear Punjabi clothes” and that “the middlemen kept changing their mobile numbers”.

Meanwhile, a hospitality industry has been functioning for years at a stone’s throw from the abovementioned Rawalpindi hospital to accommodate transplant patients.

There are four hotels around the corner − Noor Mahal, New Noor Mahal, Decent and Royal Palace − and a number of houses for rent in the vicinity specifically catering to transplant patients.

According to the proprietor of the 20-room New Noor Mahal, each twin-bed room rents for Rs30,000 or Rs45,000 per month (without meals) depending on whether it is air-conditioned or not. “At the moment there are five or six families here,” said the proprietor. “Most stay for at least three weeks, sometimes longer.”

Transplant recipients are dependent on immuno-suppressant drugs for the rest of their lives to reduce the chances of organ rejection, so they need regular follow-up consultations and tests.

To that end, some commercial transplant patients from Karachi when they return after their operations, register with the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, the city’s leading public sector hospital in this field. According to records maintained by SIUT − which has been promoting ethical organ transplantation in the country − six commercial transplant recipients registered with the Institute in 2014; nine registered in 2015. These were the highest annual figures since 2007 when the transplant ordinance was promulgated.

And this is only a partial picture: these patients are mostly Karachi-based, and generally from the lower income segment of society. Those from more affluent backgrounds often opt for facilities in the private sector.


Dawn, UPDATED Sep 16, 2016 02:22pm

Of human organs, desperate poverty and greed

Fly-by-night clinics, shady middlemen, lawbreaking doctors − organ trafficking makes a comeback in Pakistan.


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A great amount of attention for special children

AFTER 27 years of seeing to the needs of special children, Persatuan Kebajikan Kanak-Kanak Istimewa (Perkis) in Nibong Tebal, Penang, may have to close its doors for good if funds do not pour in soon.

Its president Tan Cheng Liang said the home had been relying on public donations all these years but funds were running low now.

Currently, Perkis, which is the only non-governmental welfare organisation in south Seberang Prai, has 72 children, aged between four and 15.

“These special children, who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorders, need a great amount of attention.

“Here the children are taught basic living skills and there are workshops for them to expand their motor skills,” she added.

“Our yearly operation costs come up to almost RM150,000, including the salaries of our staff and maintenance of the place.

“We have nine staff members comprising six teachers, one driver, cook and supervisor,” she said.

“On top of that, we are maintaining three semi-detached houses and two vans used to ferry the children.”

Tan said the home relied on public funding and about RM500 monthly profit which it made from rental of night market lots to traders.

“Now that we have exhausted our reserves due to rising costs, it’s sad to say that we might face closure,” said the Nibong Tebal MCA division chief when met at the home in Taman Belatuk on Monday.

In its bid to solve its financial woes, the home will be organising a fundraising dinner on Oct 2.

MCA secretary-general Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan, who is also International Trade and Industry Minister II, is expected to open the centre’s newly completed workshop and grace the dinner, which will be held at SJK (C) Tai Teik at 7pm.

Ticket prices start from RM50.

Donations of RM300, RM500, RM1,000, RM5,000 and above will be entitled to more tickets and the privilege to participate in the ribbon-cutting as well as the hitting of drum and gong on stage.

The children from the centre will also sell handicraft items and perform songs and dances during the dinner.

All donations are tax exempted. For details, contact Chiam at 012-4869886 or Khor at 012-2134993.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Welfare home for kids needs a helping hand

photo :
Tan (standing, right) helping out with an activity for special children at the home in Taman Belatuk, Nibong Tebal.

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'White Rajah'

The New Sarawak Trubune, Published: Sep 10, 2016
'White Rajah' movie shooting in S'wak next year

Few things frightened the Dayak warriors of Borneo, who were infamous for the gruesome custom of head-hunting. But on a December day in 1912, a series of thunderous booms reverberated across the island’s misty swamps and sent them racing towards the shelter of their huts.

Many feared they were about to endure the wrath of the gods or at least a severe storm. But it was in fact a man-made cacophony, a 21-gun salute to announce the birth of a male heir to the throne of Sarawak, the small jungle kingdom on Borneo’s western coast.

The baby whose arrival was so celebrated that day was not, as might have been expected, one of the Dayaks, Malays or Chinese who made up Sarawak’s population of half a million.

Indeed, Anthony Brooke could hardly have been more British. Born thousands of miles away in England, he would later be educated at Eton and Oxford. Yet as far as the people of Sarawak were concerned, he was royalty.

Since 1841, his father’s family had taken it upon themselves to rule this remote region as their private empire. The White Rajahs, as they became known, had the power of life and death over their subjects, not to mention their own constabulary, flag and postage stamps.

Anthony, too, would go on to govern Sarawak. In fact, this bizarre and extraordinary dynasty − known as much for its eccentricity as for its benevolent rule − only came to an end this month when he died at the age of 98.

The family had come to power thanks to Anthony’s great-great-uncle James Brooke − a man so swashbucklingly adventurous that Errol Flynn once proposed to play him in a film about his life.
Born in Benares in 1803, he was the son of an English judge who worked for the East India Company.
As a young man he joined the Bengal Army, waging war against Burma as the British Empire sought to expand, but his dreams of glory ended abruptly when in 1825 he was shot in the most intimate part of the male anatomy.

During an understandably long convalescence, aided in true Empire fashion by daily cold baths, he began reading books about the Far East.

This later inspired him to lead the crew of a vast 142-ton sailing ship on a voyage to challenge Dutch control of southern Borneo.

His arrival in Sarawak in 1839 was timely. The region was controlled by the Sultan of neighbouring Brunei who was then facing a rag-tag uprising by local Malays.

He offered Brooke sovereignty over Sarawak if he could lead the Sultan’s army to victory against the rebels and the Englishman with a taste for lunatic danger quickly obliged.

As the newly-appointed Rajah, Brooke took charge of what amounted to 3,000 square miles of swamp, jungle and river, much of it populated by the Dayaks.

They marked important events in their lives by taking the heads of other people in the community. If a Dayak husband failed to present a human skull to his wife after the birth of a child then it was feared that the newborn would meet with illness or even death.

Likewise, no young Dayak warrior ever went courting without first donning an animal mask and skins and ambushing a fellow Dayak, often a woman or child from his own community.
He then made his intended a present of his victim’s skull.

Such acts were outlawed under the many new laws which James Brooke introduced to civilise Sarawak.
As self-appointed judge, he presided over court sessions in the front room of his own house, a hastily assembled plank-and-thatch affair in the capital Kuching.

With his pet orangutan, Betsy, scampering around in the background, the legal proceedings attracted much interest in Sarawak, although not for the reasons Brooke had intended.

For many, the main draw was the opportunity to place bets on the fate of those on trial including, in one most bizarre case, a man-eating crocodile.

This creature stood accused of killing a court translator who had toppled drunkenly into the river one night and, after much weighing of the arguments for and against its punishment, Brooke solemnly recorded the verdict in his journal.

‘I decided that he should be instantly killed without honours and he was dispatched accordingly; his head severed from his trunk and the body left exposed as a warning to all the other crocodiles that may inhabit these waters.’

Perhaps because of his delicate war injury, Brooke never married. Before his death in 1868, he nominated as heir his sister’s son Charles Johnson, a former sailor who changed his surname to Brooke upon becoming Rajah.

A beneficent and much-loved ruler who was 39 when he came to power, Charles extended the boundaries of the land under his control into the interior until it was the size of England, abolished slavery and built roads, waterworks and a even − in the style of a true Victorian − a railway.

He also encouraged his British officers to take native women as lovers in the hope that they would become ‘sleeping dictionaries’ who could teach them the local language. But at home he was somewhat less easy-going.

'Charles was something of a queer fish,’ his British wife, Margaret, once said. This was a somewhat understated description of a man who had lost his eye in a hunting accident and replaced it with a glass one, taken out of a stuffed albatross.

Charles forbade his sons to eat jam because he deemed it effeminate and his marriage became strained after he killed his wife’s pet doves and served them in a pie for her supper one night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she spent much of his 50-year period of rule back home in England. Seldom seen without a green parrot perched on her wrist, she lived in a house near Ascot called Greyfriars and became obsessed with finding wives for their three sons.

She did so by inviting eligible young women to join them in forming a musical ensemble known as the Greyfriars Orchestra. Among those attending the first rehearsal in 1902 was the Honourable Sylvia Brett − daughter of the 2nd Viscount Esher − later to become known by newspapers of the day as Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters.

Although she had no musical skills, Sylvia’s contribution to the Greyfriars Orchestra was as a percussionist.

She obviously performed with beguiling effect, because one day the Brookes’ eldest son Vyner, then 28, made his move, asking if he might tune her drum.

A subsequent courtship resulted in their marriage in February 1911, after which they set sail for Sarawak.

By then, the Rajah’s Palace was an imposing affair, perched on a hill overlooking the river and comprising three airy bungalows with wide verandahs.

The couple would sleep through the afternoon, then have tea and play tennis or golf in the cool of the evening. It might have been an idyllic existence had Sylvia produced a son to ensure the succession after Charles and Vyner.

She became pregnant almost immediately, but the child she gave birth to in November 1911 was a girl − to Rajah Charles’s disappointment.

The following year, however, he received news from England that filled him with joy.

His second son Bertram had married Gladys Palmer, an heiress to the Huntley & Palmers biscuit fortune, and she’d had a boy called Anthony who would serve as an heir if Sylvia failed to produce a son of her own.

In jubilation, the Rajah ordered the firing of the 21-gun salute, which so alarmed the Dayak warriors.

Sylvia, who went on to have two more daughters but no sons, never forgave little Anthony for his much-heralded arrival in the world.

She would divide the rest of her life between battling to ensure that her daughters succeeded to the throne instead of Anthony and bestowing her sexual favours upon anyone she happened to find attractive.

In this she was no worse than her husband, Vyner, who made no effort to conceal his liaisons with various Sarawakian mistresses. But in a European woman − and a Viscount’s daughter to boot − such behaviour was regarded as shocking. Not that this was likely to bother Sylvia.

By the time her father-in-law Rajah Charles Brooke died, in 1917, she was back in England, flaunting her exotic royal status. Sallying forth into London society in a Malay dress and yellow sarong, she topped her outfit off with a snakeskin headband and a tasselled red lacquer cane.

On her journey back to Sarawak to witness her husband Vyner’s oath of succession, she stopped in Cape Town for a few weeks. There she could not resist often disastrous dalliances with a series of South African men.

One came to her hotel room late at night and she discovered too late that, like her father-in-law, he had a glass eye.

‘He carefully took it out and placed it on the mantelpiece while I watched the performance quite speechless,’ she wrote in her memoirs. ‘Even had I been the most passionate woman in the world I could not have sinned before that baleful, glittering orb.’

She spent the night sleeping upright in a chair, while her intended paramour snored in her bed.

Perhaps her wantonness ran in her genes, because as her daughters reached an age where they were interested in men, she encouraged amorous escapades with young Government officers in Sarawak.

The antics of Princesses Gold, Pearl and Baba, as they were nicknamed by locals, fascinated the press in both Britain and America − and by the Thirties Sarawak had become something of a music-hall joke.

As he grew older, Vyner appeared to lose interest in the day-to-day business of government and considered abdicating. Since his brother Bertram had suffered a nervous breakdown and was incapable of rule, his natural successor was his nephew, Anthony.

In 1939, during one of Vyner’s annual pilgrimages to England for the flat-racing season, the 23-year-old heir apparent was left in charge of the country for six months.

He made a good impression on the British Colonial Office, despite his aunt Ranee Sylvia accusing him of inflated self-importance. She reported, among other things, that he had attached a gold cardboard crown to his car and ordered ox-carts and rickshaws to draw aside as he passed.

He denied these charges, but he was never allowed to inherit the rule of Sarawak because in 1946 Vyner agreed to cede it to the British Crown in return for a substantial financial settlement for him and his family. So it became Britain’s last colonial acquisition.

After failing in a long legal battle to have the sale of Sarawak reversed, Anthony began a second career as a self-styled ‘ambassador-at-large for the people of the world’, travelling the globe and campaigning for peace.

This put an increasing strain on his marriage to Kathleen Hudden, the sister of a Sarawak government official. They had three children but eventually separated, not least because of his increasingly bizarre beliefs.

At one point, he joined a New Age Commune in North-Eastern Scotland and adopted their belief that flying saucers would one day bring ‘peace on earth and to the brotherhood of man’.

He and Kathleen finally divorced in 1973 when he told her he was about to be contacted by extra-terrestrials and did not want her caught up in whatever dramas ensued.

He went on to marry a peace campaigner from Sweden who was 18 years his junior. Together they travelled the world, producing a newsletter which focused on issues, including environmental protection and the rights of indigenous people, before finally settling in New Zealand, 5,000 miles from the land he once dreamed of ruling.

We will never know how Sarawak would have fared if he had ruled for longer than those brief six months, but these details of his later life suggest one thing.

When it came to continuing his family’s tradition of idiosyncratic government, history would not have been disappointed in Anthony Brooke, the last of the White Rajahs.

Mail OnLine, UPDATED: 03:35 GMT, 17 March 2011
The last of the White Rajahs: The extraordinary story of the Victorian adventurer who subjugated a vast swathe of Borneo

THE year is 1838. A battle-scarred English soldier of fortune arrives on the exotic island of Borneo, fights off pirates and puts down a rebellion for the Sultan of Brunei and four years later is rewarded with his own kingdom.

That, of course, is the well-known story of James Brooke, founder of the White Rajah dynasty in Sarawak in 1842.

One would think such a swashbuckling real-life character would be great fodder for Hollywood treatment.

Indeed, two film producers, American Rob Allyn and Briton Simon Fawcett, have apparently teamed up with Sarawak’s Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry and the Brooke Heritage Trust to make such a movie.

It all sounds very good except these people aren’t the first to do so.

You see, Hollywood has been trying to make a movie on James Brooke since the 1930s.

And the person helming the project back then was none other than Hollywood legend Errol Flynn who wrote a film script called, yup, The White Rajah.

Just two years earlier, Flynn had won acclaim playing a fictional swashbuckling pirate in Captain Blood and considered himself the perfect actor to play Brooke.

With Warner Brothers buying the film rights, it should have been a breeze to produce it. That would probably have been so if not for Lady Sylvia, the wife of the third and last Rajah, Vyner Brooke.

Sylvia, who carried the title of Ranee, went to Hollywood to meet Flynn and strenuously objected to his script, which she called an “absurdity”.

Philip Eade, in his book, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters, has her describing the plot as a “ridiculous story about a girl who dressed up as a boy and chased James Brooke through the jungles of Sarawak.”

The Ranee insisted on historical accuracy and the biggest inaccuracy in the script was the portrayal of Brooke as a Casanova, which Sylvia deemed impossible because Brooke, while serving in the Bengal army of the British East India Company, had sustained a wound that “forever stilled his sexual passions.”

When Flynn protested, “You can’t have a motion picture without love”, Eade writes that Sylvia replied, “And you can’t have James Brooke with it.”

And this is probably why The White Rajah could never be made for the last 80 years.

According to historybuff.com, Warner Brothers tried numerous times to film it, only to run into all sorts of difficulties, including the Second World War and the implacable Ranee.

The studios finally gave up and sold the rights in 1968. Sylvia died in 1971. Historybuff calls The White Rajah the “most doomed movie in Hollywood history.”

And now Rob Allyn’s Margate House Films has been trying to bring James Brooke to the big screen since 2013.

The website calls it a “historical bio-epic” set in 1840s Borneo on “the life story of the Victorian British adventurer who became King of Sarawak and embarked on a lifelong crusade to end piracy and head-hunting – only to face charges of murder and piracy himself.”

That sure sounds exciting. But the movie was supposed to go into production in 2014. Is history repeating itself?

Margate House’s quick plot summary makes no mention of any romance or love interest. Does it mean it will dispense with the angle that Errol Flynn deemed crucial to the plot?

Perhaps that will be the wisest thing to do in our current conservative climate. After all, James Brooke’s sexuality has been much debated.

He was fighting the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1825 when he was shot in the testicles, hence Sylvia’s dramatic statement of stilled passions.

Ronald Hyam in his book, Empire and Sexuality, The British Experience, observes that Brooke devoted his life to Sarawak and its peoples but showed an “embarrassingly total lack of physical interest in women.”

Instead, he showed great affection for his nephews and chose his sister’s son, Charles, who had to change his name from Johnson to Brooke, as his successor.

Brooke befriended many boy proteges, especially 13-year-old midshipmen.

More telling is his well-documented attachment to a Sarawak prince by the name of Badrudin of whom Brooke wrote, “my love for him is deeper than anyone I knew.”

This remark and his subsequent close relationship with 16-year-old Charles Grant, the grandson of the seventh Earl of Elgin, have been pounced upon by those who believe Brooke was either homosexual or bisexual.

Others point out that such male relationships in the Victorian era were not that unusual and often platonic, meaning Brooke was a confirmed old bachelor or “homo-social”, simply preferring the company of men without any sexual connotation.

Towards the end of his life, Brooke shocked his family when he named a secret, illegitimate son in his will but the identity of the mother was never revealed.

It remains unknown if the child was really his offspring or a ‘beard’ for Brooke.

It will be interesting to see how Allyn and company will tackle this most delicate aspect of the first White Rajah. Will the Brooke family remain steadfast to Ranee Sylvia’s stand of “No sex please, he’s James Brooke” or allow the scriptwriters some latitude to hint at bromance?

But, seriously, even if 21st-century Brookes are broad-minded enough to allow such a historically correct inclusion to the storyline, I wouldn’t recommend it to the producers.

That is if they don’t want to incur the wrath of our anti-LGBT lobby and worse and most ironically, cause the movie to be banned from Malaysian cinemas!

Instead, I would suggest they introduce a healthy, heterosexual character, possibly Charles Brooke, who really had the most interesting story of all three rajahs and had plenty of romantic liaisons, including fathering a son with a local noble woman.

Charles spent years living with the Ibans and practically went native, preferring their lifestyle and culture over English society and mores.

Come to think of it, the producers might as well make a movie about Charles and avoid the White Rajah jinx. As historybuff.com concluded cynically: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 21 September 2016

No sex please, he’s...

There’s a reason why for decades filmmakers could not make a movie on Sarawak’s first White Rajah. Is the time finally right for it to happen?


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A dream for an inclusive Malaysia

ON the occasion and in the spirit of Merdeka and Malaysia Day, I spent time reminiscing how far we have come after the colonial masters bid us adieu. Does Malaysia have a dream and if there is a dream can we call it the Malaysian Dream, a dream where there is love and compassion and where money enables and not disables the righteousness in people.

In realising a dream that is one for all we need to shed the false sense of gains and pride and come together towards a single purpose. On this occasions I remember The American Dream which lifted the Americans from doldrums at a heavy price.

While dwelling on this the play, Death of a Salesman, came to my mind. It was written in 1949 by American playwright Arthur Miller and the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the year it was published.

This drama which consolidates the false myth constructed around capitalist materialism nurtured by post-war economy is after all a simple life story that details conflict within a family. However, on a deeper level, the play mirrors the average man's blind faith in The American Dream.

The term "American Dream" was first used by historian James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America published in 1931. At that time the US was suffering under the Great Depression.

The American Dream is a term used blatantly to describe the materialistic life of Americans post WW11, but then again it is a loosely accepted understanding and is by no way a fixed definition.

For a lot of people, The American Dream is connected to becoming wealthy and the ability to achieve everything if one only works hard enough for it. For yet others, it is much more and is beyond materialism. For them it is the dream of living a simple, happy and fulfilling life and the most important features being faith and equality. The American Dream is also about liberty to pursue and freedom to empower in a country of unlimited opportunities.

In the play The Death of a Salesman, we have the father Willy Loman, who is a travelling salesman, and his two sons Biff and Happy, who have come back from their postings elsewhere and are temporarily sharing their old room.

Willy has been plagued by daydreams and illusions and the play begins with him driving back prematurely from one of his New England business trips due to the fact that he cannot concentrate on the road.

Very much in line with the madness of The American Dream, we see Willy wallowing in obscured personal truth and lacking in moral vision. The play is a painful depiction of American life and consumerism in a broader sense.

There are many themes in the play that take prominence and of these the most conspicuous is about living in a false sense of reality. Willy, who is 61 years old, does not have a permanent job and works on commission. He is unable to sustain himself financially with his meagre collections.

Willy lives off borrowings and his pride does not allow him to accept a job offer that comes his way from a neighbour.

Willy wants to be rich and popular which make up his American Dream but the fact remains that Willy owns nothing and he makes nothing and so there is no real accomplishment.

With this he develops his over-zealous theory that if a person is well liked and had a great deal of personal achievements and attractiveness, this would automatically open up opportunities.

Willy drags his days around these dreams and to sustain these Willy has to tell lies. These lies are built into his mind and become his illusion, replacing reality.

The play is a sombre reflection of the capricious life we are leading with man amassing wealth in the spirit of achieving his own dream, the dream in which the people are unwittingly pitted against each other to see the survival of only the fittest.

For a leader of a nation, his dream should ideally be all-encompassing, beyond self, whose actions will speak louder than words.

Do read the play and assess for yourself if death must always be a tragedy.

The Sun Daily, Last updated on 19 September 2016 - 08:57pm
A dream for an inclusive Malaysia
By Bhavani Krishna Iyer
The writer believes that the Malaysian education system will reach greater heights with a strong antidote to revolutionise just about everything.

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Is ‘sustainable peace’ achievable?

AT an event in New York last Friday to commemorate the International Day of Peace tomorrow, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and UN messengers of peace Leonardo DiCaprio, Stevie Wonder, Michael Douglas and other stars pleaded for peace and the survival of the planet which is said to be "closer to conflict than we may like to think".

Wars and violent conflicts not only kill millions of people, they also destroy economies and the environment. They are responsible today for creating the world's 21.3 million refugees, a terrible indictment on humanity which has failed miserably to look after its own species.

Peace is a state of tranquillity, civility, calm and harmony and the freedom from war, violence and conflict in a society, country, region or the world. There has not been much written on the subject and the basis of "sustainable peace".

Sustainable peace is a prolonged and durable state of peace which can only be achieved by the application of the following seven principles:
≫ Practice and promotion of justice, fairness, moderation, liberalism and respect for other cultures, heritage, beliefs and non-intrusive ideologies.
≫ Addressing fairly the geo-political interests of the players involved.
≫ Opposition to all forms of extremism and discrimination.
≫ Support for self-determination and non-interference in the internal affairs of all countries.
≫ Acceptance that all humans are equal inhabitants of our small planet who have the right to harness its natural resources in an equitable and sustainable manner
≫ Recognition that humans from all corners of the world and of all ethnicities have much more in common than their differences.
≫ Acknowledgement that humans need each other to survive, conserve and protect our natural resources and we need an inclusive approach based on universal principles and rules to collaborate, co-operate and work together to share in the fruits of social, economic and technological development and progress for all.

It is difficult to have sustainable peace in any country if the country is in a region fraught with conflicts.

Achieving sustainable peace, especially in some regions of the world such as the Middle East, Korean Peninsula, Jammu and Kashmir and South China Sea, seems to be rather elusive. If one were to analyse any regional conflict, it is not hard to conclude that some of the above principles were missing.

The Nordic region (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Greenland) is perhaps the only region in the world which can be considered to be enjoying sustainable peace. You would find the seven principles thriving there.

The irony of our world is that to achieve sustainable peace, often non-peaceful means, such as waging a war of resistance or independence or against aggression, may be necessary. It is a case of taking one step back to move two steps forward.

It should be recognised that peace is the most important type of all charities. In a war-like situation, sponsoring and donating funds for poverty, education or housing may be meaningless. This is not to say that normal charities are wrong, in fact, any charitable act must be supported and commended.

It should also be recognised that promoting peace is practically non-existent in the corporate or private sector. It is assumed that such a role should be undertaken by the government, politicians and NGOs. Yet, business has a vested interest in peace as no business, except the arms producers, can survive or prosper in a war or armed conflict.

Therefore, peace philanthropy should be accorded greater urgency and priority.

There are many ways to promote sustainable peace for the public – via museums, galleries, sports, festivals, theatres, tourism, conferences, rallies, films, music, plays, joining peace NGOs and writing articles.

The promotion of the "culture of peace" has to be interesting and engaging, especially with the younger generations. If they find the content boring, dull or too academic, they will not be interested to learn about the evils of wars or the virtues of sustainable peace.

Children should be taught from young about the culture and principles of sustainable peace.

For peace to be effective and impactful, it also has to be global as far as possible, as most conflicts in this world have one or more super or regional powers involved.

It was the globalisation of the anti-war movement that forced the US government to end the Vietnam War (1955-1975).

Otherwise, Vietnam would have been bombed into oblivion. Much can be learnt from the peace movement against this terrible war which killed more than 1.3 million people. Popular anti-war music by legends such as John Lennon, played a major role here. So too, were demonstrations.

The Iraq War (2003-2011), its brutality and the global opposition to it, had similar characteristics.

Some of the biggest threats to world peace today are the IS "caliphate" and North Korea.Both are led by ideological lunatics and cold-blooded murderers, which may require a ruthless non-peaceful and resolute approach to achieve sustainable peace.

For years, I have written about the serious threat of IS. I have stressed that to eliminate the IS social cancer, besides the intelligence and co-ordinated military approach, is to use education and psychological warfare to win back the hearts and minds of disenchanted pro-IS Muslim youths.

An idea is to use pilotless aircraft or drones to drop well-written and "shock and awe" leaflets in the local languages in the areas controlled by IS in Syria, Iraq and Libya (and other regions of the world) about the evils, hypocrisy and anti-Islamic nature about the IS in simple words and images. The same approach and messages but via the internet and social media can also be used, to those targeted by the IS for its recruitment and financial support.

Some superpowers and several regimes are also responsible for stirring conflicts and wars and for inciting the culture of terrorism. Their leaders should be exposed and held to account by their own people.

More leaders and regimes, which are flouting UN rules against wars, should be referred to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and any judgments should be enforced resolutely.

The Sun Daily, Last updated on 19 September 2016 - 08:52pm
Is ‘sustainable peace’ achievable?
By K. K. Tan

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International Day of Peace

"The people of the world have asked us to shine a light on a future of promise and opportunity. Member States have responded with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development... It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms. An agenda for the planet, our common home. An agenda for shared prosperity, peace and partnership."
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

Each year since 1981, the United Nations (UN) recognizes an International Day of Peace on September 21. The day is intended to strengthen peace both within and among nations.

As an environmental advocate, I can’t help but think about the effects of climate change on the current state of global peace. And while there are a few climate deniers out there, those who have looked at the science are saying climate change poses a serious threat to global security and peace.

Fortunately, the UN agrees - which is why they chose to focus this year’s International Peace Day on Sustainable Development Goals. Unanimously adopted by all 193 UN member states, the Sustainable Development Goals are broken down into 17 focus areas and are part of a broader agenda to fight inequality, injustice, and climate change by 2030.

Goal 7 - “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” - is a hugely important part of fostering global peace. The world needs affordable, reliable electricity to heat, cool, and power our homes, and to encourage economic growth. But we also need this electricity to be clean, modern, and efficient, so it doesn’t pollute our communities and exacerbate climate change.

Here are four ways the U.S. is doing our part to achieve an affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy system for all:

* Affordability: In rural, poverty-persistent parts of the country, energy efficiency is the most direct way to save people money and reduce energy use, but it is often overlooked when families face hard choices about where to spend their money. On-bill financing is one solution that’s helping Americans finance energy efficiency upgrades without the burden of upfront costs. Upgrades are paid for over time (via utility bills) from the resulting energy savings of efficiency improvements. The program reduces energy use and saves people money, which is especially important in rural communities where median household incomes are shrinking compared to their urban and suburban counterparts. In North Carolina, non-profits like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and electric cooperatives (or “co-ops,” which supply power to 42 million Americans in rural areas) are partnering to expand on-bill financing.

* Reliability: Electricity touches everything we do. So when the grid goes down, the effects can range anywhere from inconvenient to life-threatening. With the help of smart meters, which now exist in nearly half of U.S. households and deliver detailed energy-use data to utilities, we can begin to identify outages faster and with great precision (meaning shorter outages). Smart meters can also enable energy management tools like demand response - which pays people to reduce energy when the electric grid is stressed - that can help improve reliability and reduce outages. New York recently approved an historic plan by its largest utility to distribute smart meters to millions of homes. This move will help increase efficiency, improve reliability, and lower pollution.

* Sustainability: An estimated 12.6% of U.S. energy use is water-related. That’s equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 40 million Americans. Ensuring a sustainable future means addressing the way we manage our electricity and our water - part of what’s known as the “energy-water nexus.” Based in Austin, Texas, Pecan Street, Inc., the nation’s largest energy research network and an EDF partner, is studying and piloting some of the same strategies that are helping the energy sector get smart. Just like smart energy meters, smart water meters can help residents conserve resources by giving them access to meaningful data about when and how they use water. By saving water, we can save energy, too, which means fewer polluting power plants.

* Modernity: A key aspect of modern energy is that it should be accessible to all. While the price of solar panels has fallen 80 percent since 2008, many Americans reside in multi-unit buildings, or don’t own a home on which to install solar panels. But the solar game is changing and new models are emerging. Community solar, defined as “a solar-electric system that provides power and/or financial benefit to, or is owned by, multiple community members,” presents a unique opportunity to bring solar access to the masses. Cities like Los Angeles, California and San Antonio, Texas are actively working to expand community solar. And nationally, community solar is predicted to more than double between 2015 and 2016.

Global consensus

These examples reveal the new look of energy in America. Other nations are making clean energy progress, too, though their circumstances vary. For example, in Lesotho, Southern Africa, clean energy sometimes looks like solar panels on homes in rural areas that can’t be reached by vehicles. In Chennai, India, clean energy can be seen in the solar steam cooking system in a home-school for 650 orphans.

Yet, despite regional differences, this International Day of Peace - with Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy at center stage - reminds us that around the world, efforts to nurture a safer, more prosperous future are cut from the same cloth. It’s also a reminder that the world agrees with Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s message: “Affordable, clean energy is the golden thread that links economic growth, increased social equity, and a healthy environment.”

The Huffington Post, Updated 8 hours ago
Why Clean Energy Is Center Stage on International Day of Peace

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Kim's latest big bang

North Korea’s fifth nuclear test produced an explosion fury and hysteria around the world, more empty threats against the Hermit Kingdom, and a giant sell-off in stock markets by foolish investors.

No wonder gleeful North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was having such a big laugh. It’s not often that a small nation of only 24.8 million can defy the mighty United States, Japan, South Korea and even its sole ally, China. But Kim did, and survived the experience.

North Korea fired off its fifth underground nuclear device estimated at 15-20 kilotons. The detonation was estimated at around the same size as the US nuclear devices that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

What made this test different was the announcement by Pyongyang that it had ‘standardized’ production of nuclear warheads and, even more important, reduced their size and weight so they could be fitted atop medium and long-ranged missiles. Previous North Korean nuclear devices were believed too heavy and bulky to be delivered by missiles.

Western experts believe North Korea will have 20 nuclear warheads by the end of this year, though how many of them can be delivered by missile is not known.
The North has no long-ranged missiles that can hit North America, contrary to this week’s hysteria. Its new submarine-launched missile, a real potential threat to the US mainland, is still many years away from deployment. No one seems to care that India has ICBM’s and sea-launched SLBM’s that can hit the US today.

North Korea’s missile force is not designed to attack the United States but rather to deter any invasion or nuclear strike by US forces. The US Air Force underlined this potential threat by flying two nuclear-capable B-1 heavy bombers near the border with North Korea.

For North Korea, most of South Korea is too close for potential nuclear attack. Radiation would blow back over North Korea. Only the South’s most important southern port, Busan, through which any invading US forces would pass, might be a viable target.

Even if North Korean missiles could strike the mainland United States, there would be an immediate US nuclear riposte from Guam, Japan and the powerful 7th Fleet that would turn North Korea to radioactive dust. Kim Jong-un is neither mad nor suicidal.

But the North’s growing force of medium-ranged missiles could hit Japan’s home islands, Okinawa, and Guam, America’s primary Asian military bases. Three or four N Korean nuclear weapons could cripple Japan.

In effect, North Korea holds Japan a nuclear hostage. Japan has no leak-proof defense against nuclear missiles. Its lack of nuclear weapons means that Japan is naked before the North Korean threat and must rely on the uncertain US nuclear umbrella and unproven anti-missile systems.

That’s why presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed that Japan be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s unacceptable for the world’s third largest economy to be held in thrall by pipsqueak but nasty North Korea.

Japan has considered developing nuclear weapons for decades but US pressure and anti-militarist public opinion have prevented Tokyo from doing so.

Japan could produce a nuclear weapon in three months if it so decided. But it won’t, and so remains vulnerable to North Korea and to nuclear-armed China with which Japan is in a serious confrontation in the South China Sea and off the Ryuku Islands.

The US and South Korea have staged their annual Fall military exercises that mimic an invasion of North Korea. Each year, North Korea blows its top when this provocation occurs. There’s no military need – it’s merely primitive chest-thumping by Washington and Seoul and tantrum-time for the North. Call it North Asian Primeval Scream Therapy.

Interestingly, this time South Korea’s conservative government led by PM Park Geun-hye joined the all-Korean threat-a-thon by vowing to turn Pyongyang ‘to ashes’ if it was seen preparing a nuclear attack on the South. In fact, South Korea lacks this military capability in spite of recent additions of new artillery missiles. Seoul’s threats were more designed to placate angry right-wing South Korean Christian voters than to intimidate the North.

But it’s also worth recalling that in the late 1970’s, the US forced the current prime minister’s father, President Park Chung-he, to halt his secret nuclear weapons program. Today, South Korea still has good reasons to develop a few nukes, though much of North Korea is too close for retaliatory strikes. Both sides in Korea would be better off with small, tactical nuclear weapons.

It’s always fun watching the hot-tempered Koreans hurl threats at one another and the US. Yet one of these days, threats could turn to real shooting on the Peninsula. Think of the Japanese nuclear melt-down at Fukushima…and then multiply by 150.

17 Sept 2016
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

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Japan has too many virgins

In Japan, 42 percent of men and 44.2 percent of women between the ages 18 and 34 are virgins. Just six years ago, those numbers stood at 36.2 and 38.7 percent respectively, indicating a significant increase in the number of young Japanese people who have never had sex.

This information comes from Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), which has conducted the same survey about every five years for three decades. The first study, in 1987, found 48.6 percent of unmarried men and 39.5 percent of unmarried women in that age range were not in a relationship. Today, 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women aren't dating − and more than a quarter of singletons of each sex say they are not interested in meeting a partner right now.

"They want to tie the knot eventually. But they tend to put it off as they have gaps between their ideals and the reality," said Futoshi Ishii of the NIPSSR. "That's why people marry later or stay single for life, contributing to the nation's low birthrate." Japan's birthrate is currently 1.4 percent, nearly a full point below the global average replacement rate of 2.3 children per woman. Japan also has the oldest population in the world, leading its government to promote fertility among young people − with apparently dismal results.

The Week, Published: September 17, 2016
Japan has too many virgins and not enough babies
By Bonnie Kristian

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Alzheimer's rates stemmed

According to today's Star 2 Wellness, "It is estimated that about 50, 000 Malaysians suffer from Alzheimer Disease (AD) - most of them undiagnosed" (p.11). And then the following is the news through AFP:

Soaring rates of population growth and ageing have long been seen as portending a global explosion of Alzheimer's, the debilitating disease that robs older people of their memory and independence.

But an unexpected, and hopeful, trend may be emerging.

In rich countries at least, recent data suggests the rate of new cases has slowed or even reversed -- a tantalising hint that quality-of-life improvements may protect against dementia.

"These findings are promising, and suggest that identifying and reducing risk factors for Alzheimer's and other dementias may be effective," Keith Fargo, scientific director at the American Alzheimer's Association, told AFP.

Overall numbers will keep growing for now -- albeit at a slower rate -- as more and more people live ever longer, he noted.

"We have stemmed the flow, but we haven't stopped it," added David Reynolds of Alzheimer's Research UK.

According to the World Health Organization, dementia affects some 47.5 million people worldwide -- with 7.7 million new cases every year.

Alzheimer's is the most common cause, responsible for 60-70 percent of dementia cases.

The disease, which claimed actor Gene Wilder last month, typically progresses from forgetfulness and absent-mindedness to major memory loss and near total dependence as sufferers become unaware of time and place.

Towards the end, those afflicted can forget how to eat.

Alzheimer's was first identified more than 100 years ago, but there is still no effective treatment or cure, and scientists disagree on its causes.

A main culprit is thought to be the buildup of protein plaques on the brain, though one can have Alzheimer's without it.

Some recent studies have linked the condition to air pollution, fungus or even accidental transmission during a medical procedure.

- Use it or lose it -

New studies pointing to an Alzheimer's slowdown in rich countries, especially among men, imply that a healthy lifestyle -- and plenty of brain exercise -- may slow or stave off dementia.

Such trends have been observed in the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain.

Britain had the biggest reversal -- Alzheimer's incidence there dropped 20 percent in as many years.

A study in the journal Nature Communications in April reported 209,000 new cases in Britain in 2015 -- far fewer than the 251,000 forecast in 1991 based on population growth and ageing trends.

This meant the likelihood for British over-65s of developing dementia was "lower than it was for the previous generation", the authors concluded.

The reasons are not clear.

Some researchers point to improved cardiovascular health stemming from a growing awareness of the dangers of smoking, obesity and a lack of exercise.

Better high blood pressure and cholesterol drugs may also play a role.

Several studies have linked brain stimulation to lower dementia risk -- whether in the form of high-level schooling, a cerebrally-challenging job, or simply filling out a crossword or Sudoku.

"It's the old adage of use it or lose it," Reynolds said.

Further research is needed to prove that these factors act as dementia shields.

In the meantime, public health policy should encourage "better environments and healthier societies", said Carol Brayne of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health.

This is no time for complacency, she and other experts said ahead of World Alzheimer's Day.

In developing countries, incidence rates may be underestimated and are likely to rise as medical care improves and more people make it to their 80s.

"There are other things that have changed that may push it (the trend) in the wrong direction," said Reynolds.

"Diabetes and obesity have been rising rapidly over the last 20 years," he added.

"So it is possible that whilst we are in many ways healthier, for other reasons we have made ourselves less healthy... and that may then either reduce the decline or even push up the rates of dementia."

Yahoo News, Published: 19 September 2016
Alzheimer's stemmed but not stopped, say experts
By Mariëtte Le Roux

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"Timeless" by 12-year-old Emma Yang

IT’S not every day you read about a 12-year-old who has created something that could change lives. So when news about American tween Emma Yang started popping up on newsfeeds recently, we sat up and took notice.

Yang is a regular 8th grader from the Brearley School in New York, United States, who would like to study computer science, artificial intelligence and machine learning. She is especially interested in the intersection between health care, biology and computer science and hopes to someday pursue a career through which she can apply that interest to solve real world problems.

But why wait for someday? She’s already doing that right now.

Yang is in the midst of finalising her work on an app that will assist people stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The app, called Timeless, is arguably the first of its kind; it addresses problems of memory loss and confusion, and enables users to keep track of things (such as phone calls made); prompts users with questions and uses tools such as facial recognition to help users identify people around them. The user can call and text through the app and will be notified if they repeatedly contact a person with the same message.

The AI-based facial recognition platform in Timeless allows the user to take a photo of a person – the app then compares it with a database of stored photos and identifies who the person is. Using this method, a user can almost immediately recognise someone in front of them. Yang said: “This solves a common problem among Alzheimer’s patients – forgetting who their family and friends are, or not being able to recognise them.”

The concept behind Yang’s idea is to allow technology to solve problems that we cannot solve ourselves.

Her tools may have been technology, but Yang’s vision to create came from her own concern and love for her grandmother who lives in Hong Kong.

“My grandmother is in her 80s. I call her every so often and we send her photos,” says Yang, via an email interview, which she promptly and courteously offered to do when contacted via her website, -emmayang.com.

“I came up with the features on the app based on my personal experience with my grandma. Knowing personally how difficult it was for her and my family gave me a unique perspective on the problem and let me come up features that I hope can be a comprehensive solution to those suffering from Alzheimer’s.”

Yang is an only child, her dad is a software engineer and her mum, a trained mathematician, works in Marketing and Innovation. She was born and lived in Hong Kong for 10 years, and has mixed parentage from China, Vietnam, Indonesia. She moved to New York City in 2014.

In June this year, during CE Week, she was named one of New York’s 10 Under 20 Young Innovators to Watch.

Yang began coding at the age of eight.

“I started with Scratch, a block-based programming language for kids, then learned HTML/CSS web development, Java, and MIT App Inventor, and iOS mobile development in Swift. Timeless is the first mobile app I built from the ground up,” Yang shared. It was developed using Swift, Xcode, Sketch, Flinto and UI Kits from UI8.net.

Yang says it was her dad who introduced her to coding.

“He also helped me with some of the technical sides of the Timeless project,” she said. “I am fortunate to also have a team of mentors at Kairos, a startup in Miami that developed the platform that I’m using to implement the facial recognition aspect of the app. Kairos also kindly gave me a -premium version of their platform.”

For the project, Yang also received funding from the Michael Perelstein Memorial Discover Your Passion Scholarship Fund.

Currently, she has a prototype of the app, and is actively working on a functioning version so that she will be able to release it and start soliciting feedback from real patients.

While engineering the app, she consulted with Dr. Melissa Kramps, a specialist in the Alzheimer’s Disease & Memory Disorders Program at the New York- Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Once it’s good to go, Yang hopes to put the app on the App Store and make it -available for Alzheimer’s patients.

She is surprised and grateful for the -attention that Timeless has been getting. “I definitely knew that I was creating -something that hadn’t been done before, but I didn’t think it would get so much -attention,” she said, adding that both her parents are very proud of the app and -really hope that it will help many people with dementia.

How does one so young like Yang become so formidable and fearless when it comes to technology?

Yang says she is truly passionate about how impactful technology can be on other people’s lives.

“Knowing that my work can change -people’s lives is what gives me the confidence to take on my project. I want to use my passion to help Alzheimer’s patients like my grandmother live better daily lives.”

The Star, Published: Monday, 19 September 2016

A Timeless solution

Emma Yang’s app hopes to solve problems for people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

photo :

Revolutionary: Twelve-year-old Emma Yang has created an app called Timeless which assists people with Alzheimer’s Disease.


Read more:
This 12-year-old girl has created an app that changes lives :

CTYer’s app connects Alzheimer’s patients with their loved ones :

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Malaysian PhD student

PETALING JAYA: A Malaysian doctorate student is causing a buzz in the medical research field.

Lam Shu Jie (pic), 25, and her team of researchers may have found a solution to the antibiotic-resistant bacteria commonly known as “superbugs”.

The team from Melbourne School of Engineering published a paper on Monday on a new treatment method.

The method uses star-shaped structures called structurally nano-engineered anti-microbial peptide polymers (SNAPPs).

SNAPPs are found to be highly effective in killing Gram-negative bacteria – a class of bacteria which is antibiotic resistant – without hurting healthy cells, according to the team’s article in Nature Microbiology.

Unlike antibiotics which attempt to kill the bugs chemically, the star-shaped protein molecules defeat them by “ripping apart their cell walls”.

The scientific breakthrough was picked up by many news portals including Science Daily, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the South China Morning Post.

Lam told South China Morning Post that she spent the past three and a half years researching polymers and how they can be used to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Batu Pahat lass, who is to submit her PhD thesis in two months, admitted that she hoped to continue to work in research, rather than opt for medical training like her father who is a paediatrician.

“I think my career will be mainly focused on research in the medical field,” said Lam.

Her supervisor Prof Greg Qiao, who is also one of the 10 co-authors of the scientific journal, said the research was still in its early stages.

He told South China Morning Post that more work was needed to verify the best formula and structure, as well as determine dosage and test for toxicity, before the substance could be deemed safe for human use.

“Even with all the money in the world, it would take at least five years to get to the first human-test stage because many resources and much work are needed before commercialisation,” he said.

Superbugs stem from misuse or overuse of antibiotics, according to the World Health Organisation.

It lists anti-microbial resistance as a global concern that threatens our ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability and death.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 18 September 2016
Malaysian PhD student and team find possible solution

She is all of 25 and may have already made one of the most significant discoveries of our time.

Scientists in Australia this week took a quantum leap in the war on superbugs, developing a chain of star-shaped polymer molecules that can destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria without hurting healthy cells. And the star of the show is 25-year-old Shu Lam, a Malaysian-Chinese PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, who has developed the polymer chain in the course of her thesis research in antimicrobials and superbugs.

A polymer is a large molecule composed of several similar subunits bonded together. Polymers can be used to attack superbugs physically, unlike antibiotics that attempt to kill these bugs chemically and killing nearby healthy cells in the process.

“I’ve spent the past three and a half years researching polymers and looking at how they can be used to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria,” or superbugs, she told This Week in Asia, adding the star-shaped polymers work by tearing into the surface membrane of the bacteria, triggering the cell to kill itself.

Using the polymer, bacteria doesn’t exhibit the same resistance as it does to antibiotics and can still be killed after multiple generations of mutations, Lam’s PhD supervisor Professor Greg Qiao said.

“The components of the polymer can also be tweaked differently depending on the application,” said Qiao, who also leads the Polymer Science Group and is a professor of macromolecular chemistry and engineering at the university’s School of Engineering.

The World Health Organisation lists superbugs as a key threat to human health, having adapted to become resistant to all forms of antibiotics. The UN General Assembly has called a meeting this month to address the superbug explosion.

“We think superbugs will cause around 10 million deaths per year by 2050,” Lam said.
Lam’s breakthrough with Qiao on polymers has been published in the research journal Nature Microbiology.

However, Lam’s research is still in early stages, according to Qiao, and much more work needs to be done to verify the best formula and structure, as well as to reduce the dosage and further test toxicity before the substance is completely safe for the human cell.

“Even with all the money in the world, it would take at least five years to go to the first human test, because many resources and work are needed for its commercialisation,” he said.

Lam is to submit her PhD thesis in two months and says she hopes to continue to work in research, rather than opt for medical training like her father, who is a paediatrician.

“I think my career will be mainly focused on research in the medical field,” said Lam, who has already begun pursuing her passion in polymer research during her four-year undergraduate degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“As an undergraduate, she would come to our group for summer work when she had time,” Qiao recalled of Lam.

These days when Lam finds the rare downtime between researching polymers, she likes to watch TV and explore the city. “Being in Melbourne, I have developed an interest in food and really like exploring new cafes and brunch places, so I spend a lot of time trying new food and walking around when I’m not working,” Lam said.

Lam moved to Australia for her foundation studies after finishing primary and secondary school in Malaysia, and is likely stay on in Australia after graduating at the end of the year.

“My main preference would be to continue to stay in research, but I am also looking at career fields outside of polymer research,” she said. “This research is going in different directions,” said Qiao. “One is killing the bug, the other is treating cancer.”

Her group is also examining the use of polymers as a drug carrier for cancer patients as well as the treatment of other diseases.

A key project at the moment is the synthetic transplant of cornea in the eye, which involves the use of polymers grown from the patient’s own cells in the lab to replace the damaged cornea.

The operation has already been tested multiple times successfully on sheep, and Qiao hopes to begin the first human trials in Melbourne within two years, working with the Melbourne Eye and Ear Hospital.

South China Morning Post, UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 10:41pm
The 25-year-old Malaysian Chinese who may have just solved the superbug problem

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Singaporean author

Chick lit with substance is how Singaporean author Imran Hashim describes his debut novel, the cheekily titled Annabelle Thong, which made last year's Epigram Books Fiction Prize longlist.

The 41-year-old drew on his years studying in France to spin a zippy page-turner set in the City of Lights that sparkles with sass and wit.

In the book, Annabelle Thong, a Catholic Chinese-Singaporean tea- cher, enrols in a master's programme at the Universite Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne and finds her world view upended by the people she meets.

Among them are Gula, the daughter of a Uzbekistani politician; Didi, a flamboyant gay Arab; Thierry, a communist plumber with fiery ideals; and the suave Patrick Dudoigt, a French professor she becomes enamoured with.

Imran tells The Sunday Times that some of the characters, such as Gula and Ursula, a svelte Scandinavian bombshell who is the perfect student and Annabelle's nemesis, are based on people he met while studying in France.

The senior liaison manager at Warwick University in England says: "My book is about race, privilege and culture shock, with humour and romance wrapped around it.

"I wanted to explore what happens when Annabelle's privilege is stripped away and to see how she is thrown somewhere where her ideas of right and wrong, good and bad do not gel with the French majority, and how she deals with that."

Much of the book's comedy arises from Annabelle's cultural dislocation, especially when she encounters the French way of thinking.

At a dinner party, she unleashes an ill-timed tirade about illegal migrants, which is met with stunned silence from her peers.

"Is it my fault that French politics is so unnaturally skewed to the left that it makes anything I say sound like Mussolini?" she thinks to herself.

While Imran maintains he did not base Annabelle's character on himself, he did weave in observations of how different the French are from Singaporeans into his novel, like how the French do not collect public data on religion and race.

The bachelor says: "Everyone is just French - that's an egalitarian ideal that is very appealing, but racism still happens. My book is not a rose-tinted view of either country. I believe each society has its good and bad, and we can learn from each other."

Imran first arrived in France in 1998, where he spent an immersion year at the prestigious Sciences Po Paris university, before doing two master's degrees in political science - one at the Pantheon- Sorbonne and another at Sciences Po later on.

He says: "I wanted to escape from Singapore to see if I could try and build a life somewhere else. So I decided to do a master's in France."

His friends back home, tickled by his e-mail updates on life in Paris, encouraged him to write a book about it - a suggestion he gamely took up.

He was also inspired by works such as Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice ("She turns a critical eye to social mores, in a funny way"), Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones series and Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic books.

He recalls: "I tried cutting and pasting my e-mail together and got about a chapter and a half of material. Then I realised I had to put in real work to write the novel."

He started work on the book in late 2007 and paid about $1,000 to have it reviewed by a British literary consultancy. The positive feedback spurred him on and he finished editing the second draft in late 2013.

"You can't imagine how many times I fell asleep while writing the book. It was so draining and hard to write. It takes a lot of effort to be funny," he says.

He submitted it to Epigram Books to consider for publication early last year and did not get any response. He then re-submitted it for the prize when it was announced.

"I just wanted to know whether they would publish my novel. If I'd won the prize, that would have been a giant cherry on the cake. I didn't win, but I still got the cake. And that's pretty sweet."

The Straits Times, PUBLISHED: SEP 11, 2016, 5:00 AM SGT

Singaporean draws on experience studying in France to write a novel

Imran Hashim's sassy page-turner about a Catholic teacher who finds her world views upended made last year's Epigram Books Fiction Prize longlist

Imran Hashim's (above) friends, tickled by his e-mail updates on life in Paris, encouraged him to write a book about it. The result is his debut novel, Annabelle Thong.

By Lee Jian Xuan

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Let moviegoers be the judge

BEN-HUR Trailer (2016) - Paramount Pictures

MY plan on Sunday was to watch the movie Ben Hur. However, after reading a report that parts of the movie had been cut, I lost interest in watching the movie.

On the other hand, there may be people who will be happy to hear that censorship has been applied, and will thus decide that they will go and watch the movie.

In my opinion, censorship deprives the public of the true product and value of the artists, while both the artists and the movie theatre may see their income reduced as a direct consequence of the censorship.

It would be better if the censor board were to label the movie with a cautionary note such as: "Some viewers may find some scenes unsuitable or offensive", rather than take the liberty to apply cuts.

Censoring a movie also diminishes the trust in the audience. If violent video games do not instigate people to violence, than why would a movie with Jesus in it make converts to Christianity?

A well-educated, knowledgeable, and progressive country trusts that the people are mature enough to judge for themselves. Equally so, a truly developed country allows for the artists to express themselves. The box office will give the results. Movies, like all art forms, are valued for the entertainment they offer. A moment of true greatness can compensate for 120 minutes of mediocrity. The audience should be given the right and the privilege to learn to understand and judge for themselves.

Respecting the rights of both the audience and the artists will also increase the profits of the theatre owners.

Letter to the Sun Daily, Posted on 18 September 2016 - 07:36pm
Let moviegoers be the judge
By Marisa Demori, Kuala Lumpur

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 ― The Film Censorship Board (LPF) today said it did not censor scenes involving Jesus Christ from the Hollywood remake of Ben-Hur that was released locally on Thursday.

LPF chairman Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid further said he did not recall seeing such scenes from the movie submitted, adding that it was possible the Malaysian version is a “different” version from those shown elsewhere.

“Maybe, but not by us, probably by producers when they sent the film to Malaysia, they already cut the scenes, they know (there's) some sensitivities,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted today.

Abdul Halim said that filmmakers sometimes have different versions of their movies when exporting it to different regions.

Asked if the LPF made any cuts to the movie, Abdul Halim said he could not recall due to the number of submissions the board must approve, adding that he would have to refer to the official records on Monday.

But Abdul Halim was certain that the board did not remove the scenes that included Jesus, which were pivotal to the plot of the story.

“That one is for sure, I can’t remember about Jesus in that film,” he said.

Local viewers had taken to Facebook to complain of censorship of Ben-Hur, with scenes of Jesus forming key plot points allegedly taken out.

One Facebook user, Jasmine Sia, who watched the film on Friday night, said no scenes involving Jesus was shown at all.

“I felt cheated. The novel from which this movie is adapted is Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ. It means Jesus is central to the plot. It was censored so much the storyline made no sense! How did Judah's mother and sister get cured from leprosy?” she told Malay Mail Online when contacted today.

“No, they did not show anything with regards to healing. They just appeared at the end of the movie healed. That's why it made no sense. The original story was that when Jesus died, they got healed,” she added, estimating that about 20 minutes was cut out since the local screening for the two-hour film lasted 100 minutes.

She also confirmed that she did not see Rodrigo Santoro, the actor who played Jesus in the movie, at all in the local screening.

The local distributor of the film, United International Pictures (UIP) Malaysia, acknowledged on its official Facebook page that the local edition was not identical to that shown elsewhere, after one user named Jerry Terry Derulo pointed out that the runtime here was 11 minutes shorter than listed on movie database IMDB.

Checks online showed conflicting information on the movie’s runtime, however, ranging from 125 minutes to 150 minutes.

Derulo also complained that all scenes with Jesus Christ were missing from the movie.

“Hi Jerry Terry Derulo, thank you for attending the movie premiere last night. UIP Malaysia has to oblige local legal requirements and guidelines for the movie to be released. Nonetheless, we hope the movie was enjoyable and that you had fun. Thank you once again,” the film distributor wrote in response on Wednesday in the same comments thread on its official Facebook page.

More Facebook users have since been spotted making similar complaints, with one Christine Ooi Wai Ching saying that scenes on the crucifixion of Jesus were cut out.

Ben-Hur, a Hollywood remake of the award-winning 1959 epic, stars Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer and Morgan Freeman.

Ben-Hur depicts the fictional story of the titular character Judah Ben-Hur set against the time of events involving Jesus ― who is worshipped by Christians as the Son of God.

Yahoo News, Published: 17 September 2016

Censorship board: We didn’t cut Jesus scenes from Ben-Hur

photo :
'Ben-Hur', a Hollywood remake of the award-winning 1959 epic, stars Jack Huston (pic), Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer and Morgan Freeman.
By Ida Lim

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Gary Webb, journalist

Kill the Messenger Official Trailer

In 1996, journalist Gary Webb wrote a series of articles under the title “Dark Alliance” for the San Jose Mercury News suggesting a CIA connection between anti-government contras in Nicaragua and monies raised from the sale of crack cocaine in the impoverished districts of South Central LA. Feeling scooped by a lowly regional (and arguably ignoring the bigger picture), publications such as the Washington Post and LA Times turned on Webb, accusing him of bad journalism with career-wrecking results.

This dramatisation portrays Webb (whom a former editor described as “a relentless reporter [with] an inability to question himself”) as a wronged hero with a troubled past but impeccable journalistic credentials. It’s sporadically gripping but ultimately rather frustrating fare, leaving us intrigued enough by the conspiracy-theory backstory to want hard documentary evidence rather than mere dramatic licence. Jeremy Renner is convincingly tortured and conflicted as the beleaguered lead, but top marks go to Rosemarie DeWitt and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Webb’s long-suffering wife and editor respectively.

The Guardian, Last modified on Thursday 11 August 2016 11.38 BST

Kill the Messenger review – what really happened to Gary Webb

Jeremy Renner stars in this true-life tale of Gary Webb, a US reporter who broke a story linking the CIA to a drugs conspiracy and the Nicaraguan contras

Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

I RECENTLY watched Kill The Messenger (2014), a true story based on the life of an investigative journalist, Gary Webb.

His three-part series, Dark Alliance, published by San Jose Mercury News in 1996, made waves as he drew a link between crack cocaine, the Contras and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Because of its intricacy and my lack of knowledge about the case, I chose to view it through the lens of journalism and the ethics attached to it.

Journalists should vow to speak the truth. In unravelling the drug ring, Webb put his career and life at stake when he decided to research the case and finally come out with Dark Alliance. Through the series, Webb opened people's eyes to what was happening to their society, why it was happening and who should be held answerable.

Being among the first to know of a particular issue, journalists shoulder the responsibility to inform the public of the truth. Although many attempted to stymie his investigation even to the extent of using personal attacks, Webb remained focused on his task to deliver the truth.

In the context where the notion of free media is barely translated, journalists, collectively, should strive to tell the truth despite being restricted by the powers that be. I believe that if everyone, including the public, can come together in seeking the truth, any issue can be untangled.

Notice the number of times the word "truth" has been used; it is to show how publishing the truth should be the essence of journalism.

Nevertheless, presenting the truth, especially that which involves controversial national matters is not easy. Exposing the truth may pose risks to journalists and news organisations.

Giants in the US news industry reported on the case in a way that undermined Webb's series which was published by the San Jose Mercury News. This showed the hypocrisy of renowned news corporations.

But laying the blame on journalists for the doings of corporations is not fair. To deliver the truth requires effort and willingness from all parties; depending on journalists alone is not enough. If their hands are tied and mouths shut, how can they be blamed for not telling the truth?

Webb ended his career as a journalist because of his commitment to tell the truth. It is not expected that every journalist should follow his example because the root of the problem is not the journalist. More than that, if journalists give up their jobs, perpetrators will only grow more powerful.

All of us need to respond to the issues that affect society. As citizens, we need to wisely use all available mediums to demand the truth. We will only be taken more seriously when we exert our power through proper channels.

When it dawned on the African-American community – which was hit the most by the crack cocaine epidemic – that the scourge was allowed to happen, they were enraged. Due to the mounting pressure, the director of the CIA, John Deutch, in 1996, met the citizens of South Central Los Angeles. A month later, he left office.

What was reported by Webb in 1996 proved to be true. In 1998, the CIA published a 400-page report acknowledging the association of the CIA with the Contras who were involved in drug trafficking.

The revelation and the conclusion of the case teach us that every individual is a component of change, that everyone, in a sense, is a messenger. So let us call a spade a spade – that is our obligation.

The SunDaily, Posted on 18 September 2016 - 07:36pm
Citizens’ duty to respond to issues
By Nur Adilah Ramli
Nur Adilah Ramli is studying English Linguistics and Literature at the International Islamic University Malaysia.

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One Day, Thai movie

Mr Yahho went to the moviehouse nearby but he could not buy the ticket of the progrma "After The Storm" (Japanese movie and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda) due to the full seats sold out. So he changed the program to the Thai movie:

One Day Official Trailer - Thai Movie Subtitle Indo - Eng

Geeky IT officer Denchai is an outcast in his company as his existence is only acknowledged when his colleagues need tech support, and sometimes they don`t even remember his name. His everyday mundane world is turned upside down when he helps a new girl from the marketing department named Nui, who happens to get his name right, and makes him feel valuable once again. From that moment on, Denchai falls head over heels for Nui, but only admires her secretly from afar as he knows that Nui is completely out of his league. One day, their company arranges a company trip to a ski resort in Hokkaido but Nui gets into a minor accident and is diagnosed with TGA - a rare but temporary memory loss disorder, which lasts for just one day. Denchai decides to take advantage of the situation by telling Nui that he is her boyfriend.
Year: 2016
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Actors: Chantavit Dhanasevi, Nittha Jirayungyurn


It's a known fact that more than half of Thai films being produced each year made a loss -- whether due to bad plot, rigid acting, limited PR, etc. And each time, we would often hear cast and crew making...

Please credit and share this article with others using this link:http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/film/1076540/fan-day-marks-a-new-day.

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An attitude of gratitude

LAST Thursday was the Mid-Autumn Festival and children in the neighbourhood enjoyed impromptu lantern parades under a picturesque moon.

I set up my tripod and camera to capture some lunar images and with my modest 50x zoom lens, managed to get shots that garnered a fair number of likes on Facebook.

The following morning, on Malaysia Day, I awoke to a refreshing downpour that washed away dust and grime that collected over a long stretch of dry, muggy days.

After the rain stopped, there was fine weather with bright sunshine and wispy clouds scattered across blue skies. My flag was fluttering in the sun.

I am sure Malaysians across the nation are thankful for the restful week of school holidays that ends today.

In contrast, at this time a year ago, we were choking from a shroud of haze and undoubtedly in no mood for celebration.

The recent kind weather has helped me to remember that it is our Maker who is truly in charge – whether of my personal circumstances, or national and international events.

Malaysian Olympians and Paralympians did us proud and their outstanding achievements enabled us to hold our heads up high again, after a period of being in the news for the wrong reasons.

That made me reflect on the many blessings we enjoy in this beautiful land, which may have been obscured of late by some events that dampened spirits.

We are endowed with abundant natural resources, and forests and beaches that are unparalleled in beauty. We have systems that work and serve us well enough.

We live in peace and have not had to deal with the ravages of natural disasters or war.

Counting my blessings helps me to put things in perspective. There is an online post making its rounds on being thankful. Part of it goes:

“If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world’s population.

“If you have a little money in the bank or spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

“If you can drink from your kitchen faucet whenever you want, you are more fortunate by far than 1.5 billion people who have no access to clean water at all.”

Some have noted that these figures are not justified or proven, but that’s missing the point. The point is, are we grateful for what we have?

Only when we stop griping and adopt an attitude of gratitude, can we begin to see beyond ourselves and do our part to lend a hand, put injustices right, and ultimately tip the balance to the positive side.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 18 September 2016
An attitude of gratitude
By Soo Ewe Jin

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Our diversity, our asset

THERE was a time when to brand a fellow Malaysian as a communist would mean a kiss of death. There were some Malay politicians and journalists who were given this label, and it ruined their political career and probably their lives.

The late Samad Said, a veteran journalist, was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, together with Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, allegedly, without proof, to be either ‘communists’ or ‘communist sympathisers’.

The late Abdullah Ahmad, former political secretary of Tun Razak, was then said to be “very close to the Soviet Union”.

They had to confess for their purported crimes over RTM in a manner that Pyongyang would be proud of even to this day.

Later on, in the early 1980s, Sidiq Ghouse, a political secretary of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was also detained under the ISA for allegedly being ‘a Soviet spy’.

To many political observers, they were victims of a political play, with the late Tun Muhammad Ghazali Shafie, whom, to many, was a ruthless Home Minister, being the one to blame.

Fast forward to 2016. Communism is as good as dead. China is only a communist state by name as it is more capitalist than many countries which advocate free trade.

Communism icons like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels remain mere dead philosophers, who got their theories awfully wrong, as they didn’t see the emergence of the middle class.

They wrongly believed the world was divided between the “exploitative capitalists and the oppressed working class.”

Mao Zedong also could not imagine that human beings, by nature, wanted to be recognised, rewarded and praised, and that collective rewards did not promote initiative and only helped the lazy ones.

Like most political science students in the 1980s, I was required to study communism but I cannot imagine why anyone would want to learn or teach this totally irrelevant subject today. Maybe in the history department.

This was the pre-Internet age and the “Communist Manifesto” was kept under lock and key in the university library.

The curious young mind of mine wanted to read it badly, like the lure of all forbidden fruits, but only to find it was the ideal cure for insomnia after just a few chapters.

Fast forward – the present relevant subjects revolve around religious radicalism, especially politics and in particular, the Islamic State. Nobody cares about communism as they belong to a long lost era. Even al-Qaeda is regarded as irrele-vant now.

So in the year 2016, it was mind boggling, if not laughable, when a newspaper accused communists of being involved in the Bersih 2.0 rally in November, alleging links between the organisers, Filipino armed terrorists and an American pro-democracy NGO.

Again, no evidence is needed. Malaysian politicians and the public, after all, like conspiracy theories, rumours and they see shadows everywhere.

The Jews and Christians are often blamed for many things, and it doesn’t help that many Malaysians cannot differentiate between Zionist Jews and secular Jews, or Protestants and Catholics.

Anyone circulating copies of the printed Bible in Bahasa Malaysia run the risk of setting off a riot but in the same breath, anyone can just download the same Bible, with a click of the mouse. That’s the irony.

Among Muslims, to be labelled murtad or person born to a Muslim parent, who later rejects Islam and a person who converted to Islam and later rejects the religion, is a very serious and sensitive matter.

In Malaysia, non-Muslims have often being called kafir – an Arabic term for an unbeliever or disbeliever. Umno members used to be called that term in the 1980s and 1990s, until now, with the new political understanding between PAS and Umno.

Suddenly, Ummo leaders are no longer kafir. In fact, just before the 2013 general election, DAP leaders were also suddenly not kafir. It depends entirely on the whims and fancies of PAS.

That is why PAS is not an Islamic party but an Islamist party which interprets religious laws and practices according to the belief of its politician leaders.

And now, non-Malays are learning another term – dhimm – which is a historical term referring to non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state, which is the ultimate goal of PAS.

It seems that the most dangerous political label to be associated with in Malaysia now is LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

It has to be discussed in hushed tones. We are supposed to pretend that these people do not exist in conservative Malaysia.

They are supposed to only exist in “immoral, hedonistic and decaying western countries” – and anyone with non-conformist preferences must be shunned and punished.

There are not many Siti Kasim, the fiery orange-haired lawyer, who dared to stop moral guardians from stopping a private function, claiming that it was a beauty pageant. The intruders obviously couldn’t tell the difference between a show and a beauty contest.

Not many dare to lecture our moral policemen that compassion, tolerance and understanding are more important values than humiliating, embarrassing and intimating fellow human beings. LGBT is almost regarded as hysterical in Malaysia.

And of course, the latest undesirables are liberals and secular. Malaysians who uphold these principles are treated with contempt now, especially Muslims who dare to declare themselves as such. The advice from the Government is this – you can be “slightly liberal but not overly liberal.”

Even a few Cabinet ministers, who want to play the religious card, are openly offended by the stand taken by liberals. At the rate we are going, we hope Malaysians do not have to become closet liberals.

Not to forget, the remark of Pahang mufti Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Rahman Osman that non-Muslims who disagreed with PAS’ Private Member’s Bill on Syariah court amendments were classified as kafir harbi (those at war with Islam). He later clarified that he never called on Muslims in Malaysia to go to war with those who opposed Islam.

The rise of supremacist non-govern-mental organisations, mostly with questionable membership, which accuse others who do not share their mono-ethnic and mono-religious stand, as anti-Islam, anti-Malay and anti-monarchy, is most disturbing.

These individuals and groups intentionally appear irrational, racist and worse, the perception is that they appear to be “untouchable”.

As the Group of 25 rightly puts it, “these developments undermine Malaysia’s commitment to democratic principles and rule of law, breed intolerance and bigotry, and have heightened anxieties over national peace and stability.”

It makes some of us wonder if some of these political-religious figures are aware that the Rukun Negara is still in existence.

I have learned by heart the five principles – belief in God, loyalty to King and country, upholding the Constitution, rule of law and good behaviour and morality.

There are also the objectives of the Rukun Negara – to achieve a greater unity of all her peoples, maintain a democratic way of life, create a just society where the nation’s wealth shall be equitably shared, to ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions and building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

The key words are democratic, just, liberal, progressive and diverse cultural traditions – that’s the value and vision that Malaysia has all along.

We don’t have to listen nor oblige the religious and racial bigots, who want to impose their mono-ethnic and mono-religious agenda on us, and to violate these values.

We have just celebrated Malaysia Day but let us not forget the lyrics of the patriotic song, Malaysia Berjaya, which was first played in the 1960s after the Confrontation era with Indonesia (see box below).

We celebrated 53 years of nationhood on Friday and we are reminded that there are still those who seek to tear this nation apart with their divisive moves. We must be careful that their tactics do not take root.

For us to progress as a nation, we must share in a single purpose.

And we cannot allow, in particular, religious and racial disruptions to derail our country’s economic growth in these challenging times. Yes, Malaysia Berjaya, because we are in one accord to succeed. Our diversity is our strength.

Together, let us build bridges that unite, not walls that divide.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 18 September 2016
Our diversity, our asset
By Wong Chun Wai

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Pakistanis in Mecca's "Hill of Light"

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) − Just outside the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia lies one of Islam's most important historical sites − a cave where, according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad spent time in seclusion, contemplation and self-reflection.

It was here, inside Hira Cave located near the top of a steep hill called Noor Mountain, where Muslims believe God revealed to the prophet the first verses of the Quran through the angel Jebril, or Gabriel as he is named in English.

Today, the site is among few still preserved from the prophet's time − with help from Pakistani workers in the kingdom.

Each year, observant Muslims deepen their prayers and supplication in the final 10 nights of the Islamic month of Ramadan, believing that it was during this time some 1,400 years ago that the miraculous revelation took place on Noor Mountain, also known as the "Hill of Light."

The hill itself is not part of the annual hajj pilgrimage, but its location so close to the holy city of Mecca and its significance as a place of enlightenment draws thousands of pilgrims here every year.

But present-day visitors encounter a markedly different summit from the one the prophet experienced.

For starters, there are now more than 1,000 steps that guide pilgrims up the rocky hill to the secluded cave. Along the way, entrepreneurial Pakistanis sell bottled water, snacks and tea to pilgrims exhausted by the climb.

Unlike the quiet and seemingly endless stretch of nature the prophet would have seen from the cave, massive high-rises housing five-star hotels jut into the distant skyline just steps away from the cube-shaped Kaaba, Islam's holiest site.

The Pakistani workers and beggars who live off the mountain's draw say they play a key role in helping to preserve it.

Nizam Din, from the Pakistani city of Quetta, spends his days begging and fixing broken cement steps along the path up Noor Mountain. Jamal Khan, from Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and main port, also earns a living by serving the pilgrims who make their way to the cave.

"Our lives here are better because we do not have jobs back home," he said. "What is a better place to be than here where the Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God?"

Mecca's mayor, Osama al-Bar, says the municipality ensures the area's cleanliness. There are also plans, he said, for the development of a visitors' center near the hill to explain to people its significance and history.

He said the area is watched over by the kingdom's religious police, known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who ensure visitors do not turn it into a place of worship that venerates anything other than God.

Here is a selection of images by Associated Press photographer Nariman El-Mofty showing the Pakistanis who work on Noor Mountain.

Associated Press, Published: Sep. 16, 2016 2:04 AM ET
Islamic site near Mecca among few still preserved

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Eid-ul-Azha festivities in Pakistan

The number of Pakistani families participating in Eid-ul-Azha festivities by sacrificing cattle individually or collectively has continuously been increasing, ballooning the size of the country’s Eid economy.

The demand for sacrificial animals has largely been inelastic to prices.

Some attributed the curve to increasing religiosity in society while others consider it to be an indicator of a growing middle class that is conservative or affluent and likes to compete in displaying its rising economic prowess in order to scale the social ladder.

“It would be incorrect to attribute the width and depth of the sacrificial animals market in Pakistan exclusively to the religious inclination of people. The socio-cultural pressures in a Muslim society also play a part.

“The economic opportunities that the occasion throws up generate a commercial interest and lead to innovative arrangements. These are set up to capitalise on the phenomenon with the aim of squeezing the maximum from aspirants by enticing them to spend many times more than what they can comfortably afford”, said a student of behavioural economics arguing that the trend has a direct relationship with relative prosperity and the perception of economic turnaround.

“The Eid-i-Qurban market has expanded. Yes a lot of money flows in from overseas Pakistanis who prefer to fulfill their religious obligation back home, probably to maintain connection with their roots.

“There is no denying the fact though that a greater number of locals are inclined to spend more liberally and the overall price movement fails to deter them”, a market watcher observed.

According to reports based on the Pakistan Tanners Association, over 10m cattle heads (2.5m cows, bulls, buffaloes, 7.3m goats, 80,000 sheep, 30,000 camels) worth Rs250bn will be offered for sacrifice during the three day festival.

What the nation spends on shoes, clothing, accessories, grooming, transport, hospitality, fridge and freezers, etc. is in addition to this.

The current Pakistan Economic Survey confirms that the total production of cattle has been increasing in the country, with growth rates varying for cow, goat, camel and sheep.

There is a moderate increase in prices, close to the average inflation rate of under five per cent.

The average countrywide price for a cow this year is projected to be Rs60,000, goat Rs15,000 and camel Rs70,000.

“The grumbling of buyers is misplaced. I don’t think prices have hiked much. The profit margin of breeders is about the same as last year as the price increase is proportional to increase in the cost of investment”, Riaz Rind, a commercial cattle farmer from interior Sindh, who considered returns unfairly low, told Dawn in Karachi.

Among the services offered on the occasion, butchers take a lead with scores of untrained or semi trained people entering the market to match the steep spike in demand. Over time their price for services has increased manifold.

To deal with cartels of trained butchers, in many localities residents or municipal committees arrange service camps for better bargains.

A lot of make-shift sale points to sell cattle feed and accessories required for qurbani prop up at every other street corner, manned by people not necessarily related to the business.

In apartment complexes and in areas where households lack space or support staff to keep and care for animals, empty plots are used to establish make shift care centres equipped with guards, caretakers and veterinary services for safe keeping of private animals. The beneficiaries share the cost of camp maintenance.

Eid special bazaars are set up all over the country where many brands introduce special schemes and sales.

The retail sale of meat remains depressed during the Eid week and many butcher shops close for a long annual holiday.

“The cattle business is central but the occasion spikes demand for all kinds of goods and services as people loosen their purse strings during long Eid holidays. The total Eid market is estimated to be worth several hundred billions with the cattle business claiming a high 85pc share of the total spending on the occasion”, said a businessman.

Beside regular cattle breeders and big businesses operating in the field, the ballooning Eid economy in Pakistan generates opportunities for retail investors wanting to roll their capital in short term avenues. No firmed up data is available in support but people say scores of young professionals form small groups, pool in capital and directly, or indirectly through agents, partake in the cattle business by investing for a month or two.

The returns are said to be 50pc and above though the risk is high. “I lost all my money in 2012 as the animal farm was devastated by floods. Last year I chipped in Rs200,000 with a group of nine other friends to back a cattle breeder in Bhawalpur who needed liquidity to organise the marketing of his herd. I was aware of the risk but the amount was not big and expected returns high. It turned out great as besides a 50pc profit I was able to strike a good deal for goats for myself and my extended family. What I earned covered my total Eid spend”, a young banker told Dawn.

Dawn, Updated Sep 12, 2016 08:57am
Eid-ul-Azha: affluence on display
By Afshan Subohi

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Japan Pom Pom

Strutting her stuff in a gold-hemmed mini-skirt, white leather boots and shaking silver pom-poms, octogenarian Fumie Takino has discovered her elixir of youth – cheerleading.

Takino and her troupe of spirited grannies tweak the nose of old age, even if their rambunctious routine to the song Dreamgirls leaves them painfully out of breath and their pink tank tops dripping with sweat.

Takino, 84, has spearheaded the group of more than 20 bubbly se-niors for some two decades, founding the “Japan Pom-Pom” squad after being bitten by the cheerleading bug, despite it traditionally being the preserve of teenage girls, in her sixties.

“You have to be 55 or older,” said Takino, referring to the qualification for joining her team, the average age of which is 70.

“Once you hit the age of 70, you have to admit it’s downhill,” she said with a smile, before adding: “We’ve come a long way in 20 years.”

Japan is renowned for its sprightly pensioners: women live for an average of 87 years and men to 80. But the average “healthy” lifespan is 10 years less for both sexes, meaning many suffer physical and mental ailments in the final decade of life.

Takino, however, insists that her glamorous hobby has helped mitigate the effects of ageing – making her feel mentally and physically more agile.

Takino added that she would not have had the confidence to pick up the pom-poms in her youth, explaining that she became emboldened by changes she made in middle age.

After completing a master’s degree in gerontology at age 53 at the University of North Texas and a work placement in New York, she returned home with a new-found sense of freedom.

But it was actually in Japan that she encountered cheerleading with its eye-popping array of moves, from human towers, somersaults and back flips.

Takino immediately rounded up five friends to start her own troupe after first hearing about cheerleading. Two decades later, the grannies gather each week for intense training – and while they don’t overdo the acrobatics, they take practice seriously, even analysing videos of themselves to improve.

Given their age, some members have to drop out for health issues or to care for ageing spouses, but new recruits are easy to find.

Shinko Kusajima says forging new personal bonds is a huge attraction.

“When you get old, you keep lo--sing friends. But you always have mates here to share a good time,” she said.

The Star, Publihed: Saturday, 17 September 2016

Japan’s grannies bitten by cheerleading bug

Sprightly women: Takino (centre) and members of Japan Pom Pom performing during the national cheerleading and dance championship 2016 of the United Spirit Association Japan in Chiba, a Tokyo suburb.


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It’s called the U.S. Open, and the crowd is definitely from New York, but the clothing on the court is decidedly Japanese.

Stan Wawrinka, wearing Yonex, thrilled fans with a four-set victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, sponsored by Uniqlo. The semifinals featured another Uniqlo athlete, Kei Nishikori, and Gael Monfils, who is backed by Asics.

As the 2016 Grand Slam draws to a close, Japanese brands have far outpaced their Western competition. Led by Djokovic and Uniqlo, Japan’s apparel makers have turned up in seven men’s Grand Slam semifinal this year -- more than Nike, Adidas and New Balance combined.

The marketing is part of a broader push to strengthen international sales and offset the effects of Japan’s aging, shrinking population and stagnant economy. Uniqlo now has more stores outside of Japan, and Yonex Co., the racket and clothing maker backing Switzerland’s Wawrinka, earned more than half its profit overseas last year for the first time.

The exposure won by Japanese brands on the tour this year comes at Nike’s expense. Until this year, Nike stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominated men’s tennis, bringing the swoosh to all but eight of the 40 Grand Slam finals since 2005. Neither is invincible anymore: Federer, 35, canceled the remainder of his season after losing in a Wimbledon semifinal, and Nadal, 30, was upset in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.

Tennis players tend to rise and fade in cohorts, and the ascension of Djokovic and, more recently, Nishikori has been a boon for Uniqlo. The company signed a five-year deal with world Djokovic in 2012, after taking on Nishikori in the previous year.

“Nishikori raises our brand image and he also gives feedback on the clothes he wears and and we implement it in our general product development,” said Naoto Miyazawa, a spokesman for Fast Retailing Co., which owns Uniqlo.

The company narrowly missed out on an all-Uniqlo final. Nishikori was a slight favorite to beat Wawrinka in the semifinal round, which would have given the retailer a monopoly on the last game of the tournament, plus an (outside) chance the winning player would be Japanese.

The exposure would have been significant, said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. “As a relative newcomer to the tennis apparel market, it would certainly help legitimize the brand among casual fans who only watch the big events.’’

Both Yonex and Wawrinka have found a rhythm in the last three years. The Swiss player lost to Djokovic in a 2013 U.S. Open semifinal, then won the Australian Open in 2014. The next year he won the French Open.

Meanwhile, Yonex sales in Japan have risen every year since 2012, reversing a three-year decline, and revenue from outside the country doubled in the period to about 23.5 billion yen ($230 million).

Bloomberg, Updated on September 12, 2016 − 8:26 AM HKT
At U.S. Open, Japanese Companies Leave Nike, Adidas in the Dust
By Dave McCombs

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The myth of the ethical consumer

A RECENT report from Kano, Nigeria shows how a leather tannery has been supplying products to some of the largest retailers for years. At the tannery, workers dip animal hide into vats of chemicals wearing plastic bags as aprons. It is not clear if any health and safety or environmental standards were adopted.

The impact of the tanning industry is multi-fold. National Geographic did an in-depth study in Kanpur, India where leather tanneries are ubiquitous. Tanneries have been severely criticised for polluting water supplies with heavy metals like chromium, a hardening agent in leather production. Improperly handled, chromium is said to be linked to lung cancer, liver failure, kidney damage, and premature dementia. Similarly, in Kentucky, United States, residents living near a leather tannery were found to have incidence of leukaemia five times above the national average in a study by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leather tanneries such as these are at the back end of the global supply chain of the largest fashion brands and retailers of clothes, furniture and other lifestyle products.

The consumer only sees the brand and not the input.

Most of us are vaguely aware that products and services that we buy in retail stores have a wide and meandering supply chain. The above example is another case of "out of sight, out of mind". Similar opaque supply chains abound in industries ranging from agriculture, electronics, textiles and all manner of manufacturing.

There is now a prevailing myth that the ethical consumer will be able to drive change for good in all industries. Such a theory holds that consumers, through their purchasing decisions, oblige corporations to produce the goods they require in the largest quantities at the lowest possible price which at the same time, is ethically sourced and made.

What is scary is how the CR (corporate responsibility) movement uses consumer power in an all-or-nothing manner.

As well as making claims about the efficiency of supplies and demands, such an idea subscribes to the idea that consumer needs drive the market. The argument is to simply let the marketplace decide what is right. Corporate behaviour is thus believed to be no more than a reflection of popular will, expressed via individual and group purchase decisions.

This perspective is too simplistic and also places the burden of power in the hands of consumers. The power argument perpetuates the notion that consumers are not only aware but are also strategic about their purchasing decisions. At some level, this is true. Consumers have become more savvy and aware of their decisions, aided largely by information and ideas available online, particularly via social media.

The notion, which can be called a "marketplace of ideas", finds its classic expression in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. Mill argues that the most effective way to achieve truth is to allow competing ideas and theories to struggle in the court of public opinion. The CR movement basically tells companies to be responsible because consumers will reward you. Consumers will vote through their wallets.

Such a broad perspective is however misleading and downright dangerous. There is no "equality" in consumer votes. Consumer wallets may gravitate towards ethical consumerism but the reality is that ethical buying is a relative thing. Consumer interests tend to be topical and dependent on popular culture. So, going down the supermarket supply chain, Kiko the "cute" dolphin is an easier target to save under the label of "sustainable fishing". Try then to tell a moneyed consumer that the branded handbag that they fancy was made by exploiting child labour in leather tanneries in Third World countries. There are no cute and furry stories to tell here about a vast and almost hidden supply chain.

Even when well-informed, for most consumers, marketers sell us many ideas, however incredulous. One notorious example where marketing went very wrong surely must be the case of "Little Mr Pluto". In the 1990s, the Japanese Power Reactor and Nuclear Development Corporation created a cartoon called "Little Mr Pluto" whose job it is to teach children that nuclear power is safe. "If everybody treats me with a peaceful and warm heart, I'll never be scary or dangerous", says the Smurf-like creature who was discontinued very quickly following an uproar and ultimately died following the shutdown of the parent company.

Although there is a small market that proactively rewards ethical business, this is not enough to outweigh the price advantage. The majority of consumers still gravitate towards cheaper products and not the fair trade, organic or locally produced products. All this boils down inevitably to the essential commercial driver, dollars and cents.

Ethical consumerism data shows some growth over the past five years. The 2015 Nielsen's Global Corporate Sustainability online survey finds that when it comes to sales, commitment to the environment has the power to sway product purchase for 45% of consumers surveyed. Commitment to social value (43%) and the consumer's community (41%) are also seen as purchase drivers. Brands that actively reinforce societal commitment must amplify and socialise their message using multiple sources and distribution channels.

The problem starts when companies use such data to push their brands as "doing good". How brands amplify and socialise their CR message can be seen in the case of Volkswagen and BP. Volkswagen has been engineering the truth about its green credentials for many years, as seen last year. When BP was involved in a series of health and safety offences including an explosion in its Texas City oil refinery in 2005 and oil leaks in its Alaskan pipeline in 2006, the CEO of BP was touring the globe as a leading voice of CR.

We need to resist the idea that ethical business is "good business". For example, when a company says that human rights is "good for business", it commodifies basic principles of human dignity. Beyond that and more dangerously, it becomes a line of argument with a double-edged sword simply because it reduces human dignity into monetary terms. This is particularly so when it becomes more profitable to just cut down rainforests, displace indigenous people and use cheap child labour instead.

In the infamous Ford Pinto case, a compact car produced in the 1970s, it was discovered to have a tendency to leak fuel and explode into flames in rear-end collisions. More than two dozen people were killed or injured in Pinto fires before the company issued a recall to correct the problem. Why did it take them so long to do a recall?

Simply because a formal cost-benefit analysis – involving putting dollar amounts on a redesign, potential lawsuits, and even lives – showed that it was cheaper to pay off lawsuits than to make the repair.

The basis of responsibility should not come from external demands. It needs to be an internally driven mechanism that supports the fundamentals of a company. The internal driver is a combination of leadership and culture that must be institutionalised into sustainability processes and practices.

The SunDaily, Posted on 14 September 2016 - 07:10pm
The myth of the ethical consumer
By Jayanthi Desan

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Silence is not an option for moderates

HISTORIANS have noted that it took only a few evil men to use the ideology of hate and the promise of eternal glory to justify the atrocities that killed millions of people in Europe and in Asia during the last world war. The majority of the population were good people and totally innocent of the crimes but by their silence, they allowed the atrocities to happen on such an unprecedented scale.

Years after the war, and even today, people are still asking how such state-sponsored terror could have happened in the 20th century. The young of today feel ashamed and disgusted that the previous generation did not do anything to stop the madness before their countries were plunged into war, with disastrous consequences. The lesson learned from what happened not so long ago is that it takes only a few to do terrible damage to the country if the majority who are good people are complacent and do not care about defending the values that make us a united Malaysian nation.

Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and in this region are seeing the same ambivalence among the moderate majority in the population, allowing the few who claim they know about religion to use it as an ideology in their violent crusade to change the society and eventually the country, from secularism and democracy to Islamism and theocracy. In many of these countries, the poor, the angry unemployed youths and the social misfits are easily attracted to the call for jihad, especially those who have been indoctrinated from young in their religious education to hate everything that originates from the West, like human rights, constitutional freedoms, music, pop culture, art exhibitions, statues and sculptures, St Valentine's Day, Christmas celebration, yoga etc. These values and artistic pleasures are denounced by extremists as liberal ideas and alien cultures which have no place in the Islamic state. The chaos and internal instability which follow the rise of religious extremism to change the value system towards religiosity create so much gloom and despair that many of the best people in Muslim countries simply give up and migrate to western countries.

In Malaysia, we have a relatively socially advanced society as a result of the country's economic modernisation and its exposure to external influences. Further, its racial and cultural diversity, the higher level of urbanisation and the bigger size of the middle class compared to other Muslim countries make Malaysians feel at ease with modern lifestyles and social interactions among the races. Its education system is basically secular in content and there is no hate ideology in it. The young can find jobs and absolute poverty is practically non-existent. The government's caring policies have shielded the poorer population from the difficulties of daily life. All these factors help to insulate the country from extremism.

Nevertheless, the growing tide of religious excesses and intolerance for diversity is a cause for worry especially with the close alliance between race, religion and politics, which is creating suspicion that the national leaders are knowingly allowing the conservative ulama to dictate their strict interpretation of Islam and their social values on us Muslims. The silent majority among Malaysians are watching with concern at the Arabisation of Malay-Muslim society because if this trend accelerates, it will create divisions among the Malays, with the extremists calling themselves true followers of Islam and labelling others as infidels. When Muslims are divided along sectarian lines, the potential for conflict is very great.

As we are seeing in the Middle East today, when Muslims fight each other in their sectarian wars, they will find somebody to be the scapegoats for their failures. Usually, it's the Jews and the Christians who get blamed. We are seeing that in Malaysia too. When a Muslim is seen in the compound of a church, the whole Christian community is accused of conspiring to subvert Islam. States compete with each other to issue fatwas to ban everything that is associated with western values, not realising that Christianity or imperialism has nothing to do with these values. Those who criticise the religious bullying are threatened with the Sedition Act. If the critics are Chinese or Indians, they are called ungrateful pendatang as an insult.

We must not allow sectarianism and intolerance to grow their tentacles in our country and we must speak up for moderation in Islam and mutual respect in our race relations, as loudly as we can. We the moderates must speak up now before it's too late. Let it not be said by the future generation that the majority who are moderates and liberal have allowed the few who are extremists and narrow-minded to destroy the country.

The SunDaily, Posted on 14 September 2016 - 07:14pm
Silence is not an option for moderates
By Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim (*), Kuala Lumpur

(*) Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim
PETALING JAYA: One of the 25 Malay personalities, who have urged the Government to start a rational dialogue on the position of Islam in Malaysia’s constitutional democracy, says the call reflects what the group believes is the view of the silent majority.

“What we want is to make Malaysians aware that this is a serious issue in the hope that they, too, will speak up and channel the view of the silent majority very clearly to our leaders,” said former Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim.

Sheriff said several of the mostly ex-senior civil servants who co-signed the letter published in The Star had since received expressions of support from friends and strangers via telephone calls and e-mails.

“To me, the response has been encouraging, reflecting that many people feel we are raising the right issues,” he said.

In their letter, the group said they were disturbed and deeply dismayed over the continuing dispute on the position and application of Islamic laws in the country.

“We are a group of senior Malays and most of us have served the Government for 30 years through the most challenging times in our country’s history.

“What we want is stability and prosperity to be maintained by ensuring that what we do remains within the context of the Federal Constitution,” said Sheriff.

Asked whose idea it was to come up with the statement, Sheriff said it was a spontaneous decision by some members of the group.

“We have been exchanging opinions among us in an e-mail group and one day, we decided that it would be a good idea to come out with an open letter,” he said.

Sheriff said he had written a number of articles that were published in the media, including The Star, over the years on the subject of individual and human rights.

“In my writing, I have also raised my concern about legislation such as hudud law which I believe are topics that need to be thoroughly discussed,” he said.

On the group’s next course of action, Sheriff said it was up to the individual members to decide what to do.

“I am sure that some of us will want to individually write and express further our views,” he said.

Sheriff said he was also aware that some people did not agree with the group’s views.

“I have read a statement by another group who is critical of our stand but that is all right because it is a democracy and everyone has a right to their opinion.”

The Star, Published: Thursday, 11 December 2014
Call for dialogue is to make Malaysians see its seriousness, says Sheriff

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Forest-burning is a sin

The highest Islamic authority in Indonesia has declared it a sin, or haram, for Muslims to intentionally burn a forest or plantation.

Dr Chuzaimah T. Yanggo from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) told reporters yesterday that a fatwa, or Islamic ruling, has been issued by the council in relation to the burning of land in the country.

"The fatwa specifically addresses the intentional burning of forest and plantation land, we are not referring to accidental fires," she said.

Citing a Quran verse, Dr Chuzaimah added that facilitating, neglecting or taking advantage of the burning of forest or plantation land is haram. Dr Chuzaimah, a senior member of the fatwa committee in the MUI, was speaking at a press conference that the council jointly held with the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, particularly in the rural areas of the country.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar hopes the move by MUI will help drive home the message in rural Indonesia that it is morally wrong to use fire to clear land.

"We understand that applying the law in its material form would not suffice," said Ms Siti. "But there is something more important, which is moral (values)."

Indonesia has been grappling with the issue of illegal forest fires - a lead cause of the annual transboundary haze crisis - for years.

To prevent a repeat of last year's record air pollution levels, Jakarta has been coming down hard on culprits who use fire to clear land, mainly in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Despite the recent crackdown on individuals and companies that use the slash-and-burn method to clear land, such fires still occur.

This latest action by MUI and the ministry comes after two recent incidents in Riau province, where locals prevented government officials from investigating farming violations, allegedly at the behest of errant plantation companies.

Ms Siti said her ministry is now in discussion with MUI on how the fatwa can be enforced.

The announcement by MUI was welcomed by observers such as Dr Badrus Sholeh, a senior lecturer at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

"It is very clear in the Quran that man shall not damage the earth... including by way of burning the forest," said Dr Badrus.

He added that the religious approach supports the government's efforts to eradicate illegal burning and called for local clerics to help to communicate the fatwa.

Satellite data from the Global Forest Watch website showed 295 fire alerts over Kalimantan on Sunday, while Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) recorded 351 hot spots on the same day. Those figures, however, were nowhere near the 668 fires reported this time last year in Kalimantan.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said some regencies, such as Ketapang and Sambas, have yet to raise their emergency status so that national firefighting resources can be deployed to help.

The Straits Times, PUBLISHED: SEP 14, 2016, 5:00 AM SGT

Burning forest is a sin, rules Indonesian Islamic council

Scholars cite Quran verse as justification for fatwa against intentional burning of land

photo :
A burnt-out plantation in Riau province. The fatwa against forest burning comes after officials in Riau were prevented by local residents from investigating farming violations.

By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau, Chief In Jakarta

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The fairer fat

Frances Traphagan has been battling weight issues her whole life.

For years, the south Minneapolis mom struggled to balance work demands and motherhood. After every pregnancy, her weight problem grew. Her habit of eating on the run also tipped the scales in the wrong direction.

Finally, at 240 pounds, the 5-foot-3 Traphagan chose to have bariatric surgery at the Hennepin Bariatric Center and Obesity Program at Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis.

“It was my very last effort to try to lose weight,” she said.

She’d tried everything before that − from Weight Watchers to the Atkins diet to the grapefruit diet.
“I did have some success, but nothing was ever permanent,” she said.

After a national report this summer showed that women have surpassed men in obesity rates, doctors and obesity researchers are searching for answers to why women are struggling more than men.

For the first time, more than 40 percent of U.S. women are obese, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The nation as a whole continues to struggle with obesity, with 35 percent of men considered obese. But while men’s obesity rates appear to have stabilized, women’s are still rising, the CDC report shows.

Dr. Maria Collazo-Clavell, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic who works with overweight and obese patients, has been working in the obesity research field for 20 years. She said the recent findings give her pause about whether public health officials are taking the right approach to tackling obesity.

“All of that makes you question: Are you on the right track?” she said. “The data would say no.”

That so many women are obese is cause for alarm not only because of the increased health risks for them but also for those around them, Collazo-Clavell said.

“That’s kind of the tip of the iceberg,” she said. Women are often the primary caregivers in a family, and their eating and activity habits can influence their children and others in their family.

An example of that ripple effect: Collazo-Clavell is starting to see some of her previous patients’ children and is working with them to help manage their obesity.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what is causing women to struggle more with obesity than men, but doctors say there likely are many factors at play.

Women typically have two times in their lives when they are at risk of gaining significant amounts of weight: childbearing (during pregnancy and after giving birth) and menopause.

Collazo-Clavell hears from many new mothers that they find meal planning and preparation tough after giving birth. Also of concern, she notes that women as a group are going into pregnancy heavier than they were 20 years ago.

It makes it harder to manage a healthy pregnancy weight if they’re already overweight, she said.

An epidemic

One of the country’s leading health problems, obesity can lead to serious diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

Body mass index (BMI) is calculated by dividing weight (in kilograms) by height squared (in centimeters). Anyone with a BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight, while those with a BMI of 30 or more are obese. (Find a calculator here.)

For example, a woman of average height in the U.S. (5 feet 4) would be classified as obese if she weighs at least 175 pounds. An average height American man (5 feet 9) who weighs 203 pounds or more would be considered obese.

Dr. Guilford Hartley is medical director of the Hennepin Bariatric Center and Obesity Program, where 100 surgeries for weight management are performed each year.
He sees many more female patients than men. Part of the reason, he said, is that women are more likely to seek medical treatment for a weight issue than men.

“In our culture, when a man’s overweight, nobody pays too much attention,” he said. “But we have such an emphasis on being thin for women that we’re culturally forcing women to be more concerned about their weight than men. The social pressure if you’re overweight and a woman is higher.”

Those seeking surgery often have struggled with a weight problem for a long time.

“Usually by the time I see them, most of them get here saying, ‘I’ve done this all my life. This is my sixth yo-yo,’ ” he said.

He found the recent CDC report on obesity rates concerning. “Up until these reports, it was looking as if the so-called obesity epidemic was kind of plateauing.”

In analyzing the new data, Hartley and Collazo-Clavell point to societal changes that have led people to become more sedentary.

“If you were a clerical person, 20 years ago you’d have to get up and put the piece of paper in the file cabinet. Now you never have to get up off your chair,” Hartley said. “We have engineered … physical activity out of our workplace and out of our home place.”

The prescription of “eat less and exercise more” does not address the kind of vigorous activity needed to tip the scales.

“When we tell them to exercise more, we mean get on a treadmill for an hour, three days a week,” he said. “And the kind of exercise that it takes to have a significant impact on weight is more like if you’re a hardscrabble farmer and you’re working up a sweat for eight hours a day just to put food on the table.”

Constant fight

It’s been 10 years since Traphagan had a surgical band wrapped around her stomach to make it smaller. The band makes it possible to consume only 1.5 cups of food at a time. But it’s still possible to overeat, she said, which is why she had to learn how to eat healthfully to control her weight.

Today, she has poached eggs instead of doughnuts for breakfast and drinks plenty of ice water throughout the day. She has maintained a healthy weight.

“It’s been real hard, though. It’s not easy,” she said.

“I got down to 155 pounds. My goal weight is 124. I’m still working on that, and I hope to achieve that this year.”

The Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Published:

Why are women losing the battle of the bulge?

Rising obesity rates for women weigh on doctors' minds.

By Allie Shah

By the numbers :
40 percent: Portion of women in a 2013-14 study who would be considered obese.

175 pounds: Weight at which a woman of average height in the U.S. (5 feet 4) would be considered obese.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, JAMA

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World-class barista

AFTER a mere two years in the Malaysian coffee scene, Keith Koay, 24, is already sipping the heady brew of success.

At the recent World Barista Championship in Dublin, Ireland, Koay came in at a very respectable 16th place, even though he was up against a highly-competitive field of barista champions from 61 countries.

It was Malaysia’s best-ever finish at the championship, and it came from someone who only started his coffee journey a few years ago, when he was an accounting and finance student.

“My parents weren’t very happy because they had spent so much money on my studies, and in the end I just wanted to make coffee,” said the soft-spoken Koay with a laugh.

In university, he became so obsessed with coffee, he once failed an exam because he had spent the hours leading up to the paper researching coffee. Naturally, his parents weren’t very keen on his coffee career.

“I told my parents, ‘please, just give me two years to do something I love and prove to you I can make a career from coffee’,” he said.

And what a career it has been, even after just two years. In January, he won the 2016 Malaysia Barista Championship (his ticket to the World Championship), and he recently opened his very own cafe One Half, in Petaling Jaya.


Competing at the World Barista Championship was a completely new challenge for Koay.

Not only would he have to prepare three coffee-based beverages – an espresso, a milk drink and a signature drink, once for each of the four judges – he would also have to narrate the process.

“We had to explain to the judges what we wanted to showcase to the world, our knowledge and passion,” explained Koay.

And Koay made sure to showcase Malaysia in both his signature drink and presentation. He incorporated pandan leaves into his drink, giving it a uniquely Malaysian twist.

The mixture was then blended with agave syrup, orange juice and cacao tea, roasted and brewed in-house from cacao nibs sourced from Papua New Guinea.

“It’s a really perfect match,” said Koay with pride.

While Koay is undoubtedly a talented barista armed with a strong signature drink, having to “perform” in front of an audience of coffee connoisseurs was not something that came naturally to him.

Luckily for him, he had found a coach in coffee entrepreneur Joey Mah, one of the more colourful and outspoken characters on the local specialty coffee scene.

Mah, who co-owns Three Little Birds Coffee and Artisan Roastery, coached Koay ahead of the championship, giving him access to a competition-style counter set-up where he could practice.

“He even made a cardboard cutout of the judges, and I drew faces on it so I could practice making eye contact!” he said with a laugh.

But still, the key ingredient (pun intended) to any barista’s success is his/her coffee beans. And on that front, Mah was also able to help.

The two went to Taiwan to source for the best beans and to learn more about the coffee sourcing process.

“Taiwan is not a source country, but we have some contacts there who are buyers. They have some of the best coffee in the world,” said Koay.

It might seem like an awfully convoluted process, having to fly to Taiwan to bring in coffee which had been brought in from a third country, but that’s the reality for most Malaysian baristas, and it makes Koay’s performance at the World Championship all the more impressive.

In fact, Koay and Mah’s used the story of Malaysia’s fledgling specialty coffee industry to their advantage. They incorporated it into Koay’s presentation, where he spoke about the challenges of making good coffee in such an environment.

“I wanted to be really honest and share the issues that the Malaysian coffee industry is facing,” he said.

“We are a very small player so it’s a problem trying to source high quality coffee because of currency fluctuations and the low volume of orders.”


About a decade ago, the specialty coffee industry in Taiwan was pretty much where Malaysia is at right now. There was not much appreciation for Western-style coffee, especially in a country famed for its tea.

According to Saveur.com, things started to change in 2007 when the National Coffee Association started organising the Taiwan Barista Championship.

Today, the World Barista Champion is Berg Wu from Taiwan, and Taipei is considered one of the most vibrant coffee destinations in the world.

Even though he finished a full 15 places below Wu, Koay can take a lot of encouragement from Wu’s win not only for his personal journey as a competitive barista, but for the Malaysian coffee industry as a whole.

Post-competition, Koay is full of plans. For starters, he is about to fully delve into his quest for the perfect coffee.

“I’ve never been to a source country, like Guatemala or Indonesia, where you have to go deep into the jungle or the hills to meet the growers. Hopefully this year though!” he said with a glint in his eye.

Ever ambitious, Koay is also planning his next cafe, which he hopes to launch at the end of the year, something with a “totally different concept”.

“I want to showcase what I love and my passion, which is to serve speciality coffee to people,” he said.

With an empire in the making and evidence that Koay is finally putting his studies to use as a business owner, surely his parents have come around?

“My parents are really proud of me! They seem happy, while I get to pursue my dreams. So that’s good news for me!”

Good news for all Malaysian coffee lovers, too.

R.AGE, Published: September 13, 2016
By Claire Rachael Gaunt

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Cuba's culinary revolution

HAVANA ; At 65, Ramon Alfonso has seen a lot of history in his native Cuba, but this was his first time eating a vegan salad.

After decades of communist rule and centuries of eating meat and beans, the island is opening up − and so are its taste buds.

Sitting at Cafe Bohemia in Havana’s Old Square, Alfonso gobbles lettuce, eggplant and cabbage.
There is not an ounce of pork or rice in sight, but in the searing heat, that suits him just fine.

“I don’t know if I’ll be eating this every day, because I’m not used to it, but it is tasty,” he said. “And it’s better for the health and for the weather in a tropical country like this.”

Under the communist regime, the few diners who could afford to step out for dinner faced dreary state-run eateries with stodgy food and bad service.

Now those state-run restaurants are empty.

The government authorized privately run restaurants five years ago, and the change was slow to take effect. However, with more tourists coming to Cuba in the past year, its impact is clear to see now on the terraces of Havana.

At one state-run joint in Havana’s old quarter, four waiters sit chatting with not a single one of the tables occupied.

A few dozen meters away, the privately run Cafe de las Letras is crammed with diners munching its trademark moussaka.

With eggplant smothered in meat and cheese, it is a novel dish for Cubans who were used to eating the vegetable fried in breadcrumbs.

At another of Havana’s new wave of trendy restaurants, Versus 1900, the smell of rosemary fills the kitchen.

Chef Alain Prieto is seasoning mutton in a Peruvian-inspired fusion creation. Beside him, a colleague is cooking crispy vegetable tempura.

“International dishes have been added to the traditional creole cuisine,” Prieto said.

“People are starting to eat differently,” he added. “More refined.”

In a kitchen workshop run by Cuba’s Culinary Federation, its president Eddy Fernandez chucks a spot of oil in the pan and adds peppers, onion and garlic.

The shredded beef is precooked and goes into the pan to sizzle briefly.

A splash of white wine and it is ready: his modern take on the Cuban classic vaca frita, or fried cow.

Fernandez is helping train a new generation of Cuban chefs.

Demand for their services has surged in the past two years and standards have risen, he said.
The Cuban Ministry of Public Health said 45 percent of adults in Cuba are overweight and 12 percent are obese.

Chefs are wanted who can cook classic Cuban dishes, but “with less fat and sugar, little salt and more fruit and vegetables,” Fernandez said.

When Italian chef Annalisa Gallina arrived in Cuba three years ago, salad was something stuck on the side of the plate as a decoration, Gallina said.

The country’s cooking was still emerging from the economic crisis that followed the collapse of its ally, the former Soviet Union.

That crisis limited eating options in a country that imports most of its ingredients.
For many Cubans, “if it doesn’t have rice, beans and meat, it isn’t food,” said Gallina, 37, who works at Cafe Bohemia.

“The Cubans who are most open to vegetarian cooking are the ones who have had the chance to travel abroad,” she added.

Cuban President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel, leader of the 1959 revolution, in 2008.

He has since loosened travel restrictions for Cubans.

The government’s migration department said hundreds of thousands of Cubans have traveled abroad since 2013.

Raul Castro has also authorized some private businesses and has transferred state eateries to private hands.

“That is a good thing,” Fernandez said. “State gastronomy was not working.”

The new generation of restaurateurs faces the challenge of pleasing the 4 million tourists now traveling to Cuba every year − including a growing number of US visitors.

In the kitchen at Versus 1900, Prieto and colleague Omar Gil show off their organic goods: cherry tomatoes, raisins and strawberries.

They have grown the ingredients in their own garden.

“There is lots of produce to make the most of in Cuba,” Gallina said.

Cubans are used to fruit juice, but not like the exotic mixes she serves: guava with pepper and basil, carrot with ginger or pineapple with mint.

Cooking programs on Cuban TV have multiplied.

“You sit down in a park with Wi-Fi and download a recipe. That is how we have learned,” Prieto said. “We want to go on like that and improve Cuban cooking.”

Taipei Times, Published: Sun, Jul 03, 2016

Change brings culinary revolution to Cuba

From its slow beginnings after the government allowed privately run restaurants five years ago, the Caribbean nation’s food industry is booming thanks to creative chefs and 4 million tourists per year

By Carlos Batista, AFP, HAVANA

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Baguette in Vietnam

HANOI: It has been more than six decades since the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam, but when President Francois Hollande arrives this week he'll struggle to avoid a quintessential legacy of his country's rule: the baguette.

Smeared with pate and loaded with fresh coriander and cucumber, or just enjoyed with a pat of fresh butter, "banh mi" are a delicious symbol of Vietnam's lasting links with its former occupiers.

"The French were very proud of banh mi. I think French cuisine has had a lot of influence on Vietnamese cuisine," baker Nguyen Ngoc Hoan told AFP from his busy boulangerie in Hanoi's French Quarter.

Hoan started baking banh mi -- which refers to plain bread or the popular "petit pain" loaded with meat, vegetables or fried egg -- in 1987 and five years later got a stint at the bakery in the storied Metropole hotel, built by the French at the turn of the 20th century.

The sandwich has become a foodie favourite in hipster enclaves around the globe, sold from food trucks and sipped with craft beer in both its classic form and a flurry of new varieties.

Hoan's father was also a baker but discouraged his son from following in his floured footsteps.

"The baking profession chose me, it was not my decision," Hoan said, speaking in front of a wall of ovens as his workers tirelessly knead dough nearby.

He started his career baking what he called Vietnamese bread -- airy on the inside, crusty on the outside -- but after training with a French baker in Shanghai decided to switch to the denser French-style.

Now, he churns out thousands of warm baguettes daily, along with croissants, creme caramel and homemade pate.

French bread was first made in Vietnam to feed hungry soldiers in Indochina, France's empire which spanned much of Southeast Asia from 1858 to its crushing defeat in the Dien Bien Phu battle in Vietnam in 1954.

But the French became known for more than food, gaining a brutal reputation for crushing anti-imperialist movements and putting Vietnamese laborers to work in gruelling conditions on rubber plantations, while heavily taxing citizens during periods of drought and famine.

Most French who came to Vietnam weren't interested in low-level jobs like baking.

To fill the gap, Chinese and Vietnamese worked in boulangeries -- often hidden away in the back so customers wouldn't know who was baking their bread.

"By 1910, little baguettes or 'petit pain' were sold in the street to (Vietnamese) people who were on their way to work," according to Erica Peters, food historian and author of "Appetites and Aspirations in Vietnam".

In the years that followed, meat, vegetables or fish appeared in the bread -- precursors to the modern-day banh mi sold all over Hanoi, a city rife with French colonial architecture, bistros and cafes.

Other culinary influences leaked in too.

Local cooks used meat scraps and unused bones from French butchers to create pho -- the national dish of beef or chicken noodle soup, according to Peters. Coffee and creme caramel are some of the other French culinary leftovers.

The ubiquity of those influences will not be lost on President Hollande, who arrives late Monday for talks with Vietnam's leadership and French businessmen.

Today, Vietnam's commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City is dotted with chic cafes serving croque monsieur and macarons at Paris prices.

But the $1 banh mi still rules Hanoi's street food scene.

It is so engrained in Vietnam's culinary culture that few draw its lineage back to France.

"I don't know and don't care whether it's French, I just serve it like this," said Nguyen Thi Duc Hanh, sitting in front of her shop as the lunchtime rush begins.

She sells hundreds per day and keeps her menu simple: banh mi served with pate and a fried egg, beef steak or her very own version of "boeuf au vin" made with local spices.

One of her regulars, Nguyen Van Binh, said he has been eating banh mi for 50 years, and unlike Hanh, thinks of it as a hybrid dish.

"Banh mi came from France but it was changed and adapted to suit Vietnamese tastes," said Binh, before digging into his fried egg and pate served with a crusty roll.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore, Updated 04 Sep 2016 13:27
Beyond the baguette: France's food legacy in Vietnam

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Obama to veto 9/11 Bill

WASHINGTON − The Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate said on Tuesday they expected the chamber would vote to override President Barack Obama's promised veto of a bill allowing relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.

It would be the first override of an Obama veto since he took office in January 2009.

The "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act," known as JASTA, would remove sovereign immunity, preventing lawsuits against governments, for countries found to be involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Fifteen of the Sept. 11 hijackers who crashed airliners in the 2001 attacks were Saudi nationals. The Saudi government, which strongly denies responsibility, has lobbied against the bill.

But some members of Congress have become increasingly restive about relations with Saudi Arabia, long an important player in U.S. Middle East policy.

Harry Reid, the Senate's Democratic leader, said he supported the measure. "They're not one of my favorite countries," he said of the Saudis.

Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said, "We're all on the record supporting it, so at this point I think it's a heavy lift for the president to have his veto sustained."

A White House spokesman said in a briefing on Tuesday it had received the bill, but did not offer updates about timing of a veto. The Constitution gives the president 10 days after receiving a bill to veto it before it automatically becomes law.

The New York Times, Published: SEPT. 13, 2016, 4:18 P.M. E.D.T.
Democrats Expect Senate Will Oppose Obama on Saudi 9/11 Bill

WASHINGTON − The White House said on Monday that President Obama would veto legislation approved by Congress that would allow the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot, escalating a bipartisan dispute with lawmakers over the measure.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Obama “does intend to veto this legislation,” and would work to persuade lawmakers in both parties to change course. If he cannot, the measure could lead to the first veto override of his presidency, as the legislation drew the backing of lopsided majorities in both the House and Senate.

“The president feels quite strongly about this,” Mr. Earnest said of the legislation, which Mr. Obama has said could dangerously undermine the United States’ interests globally, opening the country to a raft of lawsuits by private citizens overseas.

“The concept of sovereign immunity is one that protects the United States as much as any other country in the world,” Mr. Earnest said, referring to the rationale behind a 1976 law that gives other countries broad immunity from American lawsuits. “It’s not hard to imagine other countries using this law as an excuse to haul U.S. diplomats or U.S. service members, or even U.S. companies, into courts around the world.”

The bill has placed Mr. Obama in an awkward position, pitting him against the grieving families of victims of terrorism and many of his strongest Democratic allies, including in New York’s congressional delegation.

“The families of the 9/11 victims have suffered so much and fought so hard for justice,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. “I hope for their sake that the administration will rethink vetoing this bill.”

The legislation would alter that 1976 statute to allow nations to be sued in federal courts if they are found to have played any role in terrorist attacks that killed Americans on United States soil. It also allows Americans to file financial claims against those who funded the attacks.

Supported by the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, the measure also reflects a broader re-evaluation in Washington of the alliance with Saudi Arabia, once an unquestioned partner.

The measure passed the Senate in May without opposition, and sailed through the House by a large margin on Friday. It takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to override a veto.

The president will lobby lawmakers to change their votes, Mr. Earnest said, including many members he said had privately agreed with Mr. Obama’s position on the bill, but felt that voting against it would harm their political prospects.

“In many cases, we had members of Congress who were sympathetic to our concerns, but I think those same members of Congress were concerned about the impact this might have on their political standing, to oppose this bill,” Mr. Earnest said.

The New York Times, Published: SEPT. 12, 2016
Obama to Veto Bill Allowing 9/11 Lawsuits Against Saudi Arabia

Related coverage in The New York Times:
* U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels (JAN. 23, 2016)
* Senator Says He May Back Bill Exposing Saudis to 9/11 Lawsuits (APRIL 19, 2016)
* Senate Passes Bill Exposing Saudi Arabia to 9/11 Legal Claims (MAY 17, 2016)

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Mom or dad?

IN July 2013, a controversial amendment to the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act was withdrawn after objections from all sections of society.

The amendment would mean granting either parent of a child below the age of 18 the right to convert the child to Islam.

The front-page headline said it succinctly: Mom or dad? Since both parents gave life to the child and are responsible for his or her growth, why should it be that only one is enough to decide?

In the aftermath, I pieced the events that preceded that historic withdrawal and asked some noteworthy questions: "For the deputy prime minister (DPM) to come down from the pedestal and make a U-turn, is indeed noteworthy and a humbling experience. Earlier in supporting its tabling, the DPM said it had been discussed at length in the cabinet, that it was based on a Federal Court decision and constitutional provisions. Now in withdrawing the Bill, he says the Cabinet has decided to withdraw it due to various views from component parties.

"It is an anomaly of sorts. If it was discussed at length in the Cabinet, we can only assume that none of the ministers from component parties objected. If there had been objections, are we to assume that such objections were over-ruled? Did we have to go through all these verbal skirmishes and ugly arguments if some serious thought had been put into it or if there was consultation in the first place?"

Now, we are finding ourselves in the same sticky situation with the pronouncement by the urban wellbeing, housing and local government minister, Tan Sri Noh Omar, that housing developers could start lending money to house buyers.

When ministers make policy statements, the public assumes that he is the voice of the government and his take is that of a collective Cabinet decision.

Now, after all the brouhaha and tonnes of newsprint and several hours of airtime, we are told by no less than the deputy prime minister that Noh shot his mouth and in the process, his foot, without fellow ministers knowing a word about his preposterous proposal.

In short, this man whose propensity to open his mouth without engaging his brains in gear, has been chronicled and archived in several major publications.

But the issue is not about an individual and it should apply to all Cabinet ministers.

Shouldn't there be a consultation paper when the government makes new policies or changes to major policies.

I have said it before and it's worth repeating.

We take pride in practising the Westminster system but why isn't the government consulting stakeholders before making decisions?

In the prelude to the last general election, the prime minister admitted that the "days of the government knows best were over".

He gave an assurance that the rakyat would be consulted.

That was in March 2013. Four months later, the amendments were prepared and tabled with no consultation whatsoever.

This whole page will be needed to list out other issues which were either presented or forced down the throat of citizens.

The decision by the Human Resource Development Fund to use employers' money to congratulate the minister for being bestowed a Datukship is one.

To take away 30% of employers' contributions into a common pool is another. Yes, there were consultations AFTER the decision was made.

The minister of integrity, Datuk Paul Low announced that there will be "strict liability" clauses and proper accommodation for foreign workers.

That was more than a year ago. Drive around the city and you will see the shanty sheds which these souls call "home".

That's because employers cannot absorb the increased costs but were their views sought?

When the UK wanted to introduce laws to make it compulsory for landlords to conduct immigration checks on tenants, the people were consulted.

The ministerial statement said: "The consultation seeks views on the creation of a duty to require landlords to conduct immigration status checks on tenants before providing residential accommodation, with financial penalties for those landlords who let property to illegal migrants having failed to conduct the necessary checks."

Similarly, our minister could have put out a simple note: "The consultation seeks views from interested parties on a proposal to allow housing developers to give loans under the Money Lenders Act to prospective buyers. This proposal is to enable those who are not eligible for loans from the banks to own house …"

I am not asking for everyone to be consulted but invite responses from stakeholders and organisations with specialist knowledge in that area.

Responses from Joe Public who is a specialist or well-versed in a particular area could also be called to give his expert views.

To the government and its ministers, please accept the PM's view that the days of you know what's best for the people are gone. Treat the rakyat as intelligent human beings who can no longer be convinced with just promises.

The SunDaily, Posted on 13 September 2016 - 08:27pm
Let stakeholders have a say
By R. Nadeswaran
R. Nadeswaran is tempted to compile a book of bird-brained ideas from politicians. It could lighten up someone's day.

Cf : In a democracy, everyone should be allowed to speak freely.

And then, naturally, the inanity starts. She’s a Muslim but she doesn’t wear a tudung, they gasp. How can a woman go around bare headed and say she is a Muslim, they tut.

Dear oh dear. That’s what it boils down to in this country, doesn’t it?

There are so many reasons why people oppose the introduction of hudud in this country.

There are theological reasons (where Muslims doubt the theological foundations espoused by the supporters of hudud), there are constitutional reasons, there are human rights reasons and there are reasons based simply on the fact that brutal punishments are ineffective and amount to torture and are thus pointless and wrong.

In a democracy, all these points must be openly discussed. Shouting down those who disagree with you is not right. Patronising people who disagree with you by falsely saying they don’t understand or are phobic is not right. Demonising people based on inane things like dress, just because they disagree with you, is not right.

When faced with so many wrongs, I think one little birdy flashed for a few seconds is probably the most reasonable emotional reaction possible...

"News stories that caught my eye" by AZMI SHAROM,
Published: Wednesday, 14 September 2016 in The Star

Read more:

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Greenery policy lacks direction

AS a nature lover who likes trekking in the jungle, I can testify to the unique heritage of Malaysia’s ancient and richly bio-diverse natural forests and complex ecosystems of flora and fauna which are in desperate need of protection and conservation.

Thus it was with alarm that I read of the plan to create Taman Tugu in the heart of Kuala Lumpur with transplanted flora and fauna and other “tourist attractions” at a cost of more than RM600mil.

I just don’t get it; nature has granted us the priceless gift of tropical jungles only 20 minutes from the city centre so why even try to reinvent the wheel here? Even suggesting that such a park project should be a priority reflects a terrible tendency among town and city planners for grandiosity and tokenism.

If the proposed park is intended to serve a similar purpose to that of London’s Hyde Park or New York’s Central Park, then surely another park like Lake Gardens with minimal maintenance requirements would serve just as well and at a fraction of the cost.

The fact is that outside of the capital city, developers with the collusion of the municipal councils have built on any green spaces they can lay their hands on.

More than 10 years ago, a vast tract of the Bukit Sungai Putih Permanent Forest Reserve (gazetted in 1932) just 20 minutes from the city centre was secretly degazetted to make way for housing projects.

More recently, the remaining green lung in our residential estate, a forested hill with 45° gradient, is being developed into a housing estate and Bukit Apek nearby is now threatened with “development” despite the fact that hundreds of Malaysian city folk flock there every weekend to enjoy its pristine natural surroundings.

Besides this destruction of green lungs in and near our housing area, we have observed the felling of so many large old trees by our local authorities that we suspect it to be a tree cutting scam.

One of the most beautiful and cooling features of Malaysian towns and villages is our heritage of banyan tress and even these are not being spared. Just recently, three huge healthy looking banyan trees were hacked down near our local market.

One excuse for this tree cutting spree is that they are diseased and cutting them down prevents contamination. Some time ago, our residents association asked the local council to prune the trees around the only playground in our area.

The council responded by suggesting that all the trees be cut down instead. And although we strongly opposed the plan, a short time later workers from the council came and felled ALL the trees around the playground that were at least 40 years old. Their excuse was that the trees were diseased.

How are these decisions being made? It is vital that the Forest Research institute of Malaysia steps in to investigate whether trees cut by local councils in Malaysia have indeed been stricken by some form of disease.

State governments throughout Malaysia should be accountable for the numbers of trees cut and the amount spent by municipal councils on such contracts. The MACC must investigate if there are favoured contractors who are given the bulk of these contracts.

A socially responsible urban policy aimed at ensuring the overall physical and mental health of all our people and especially our children would provide a park near every housing estate in the country. A sound urban tree policy would protect and sustain existing green lungs and ensure that all new development includes a green lung/ park.

I would emphasise that this need is even more urgent around low-cost, high-rise housing throughout the country.

Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has seen this need with a policy of “providing 0.8ha of green park space for EVERY 1,000 persons and increasing greenery in EVERY high rise buildings to 50ha by 2030”. Do our leaders have such a policy in place in Malaysia?

Letter to the Star, Published: Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Greenery policy lacks direction
By ANNE MUNRO-KUA PhD, Kuala Lumpur

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More urgent threat than global warming

WHILE world attention in the last few decades has been more focused on implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, other international laws governing the efficient and harmonious use of existing resources have been neglected.

One such law, the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, has been ratified by just 36 countries. Vietnam is the only South-East Asian country that has ratified the convention.

The document requires participatory UN member states to consider the impact of their actions on other states with an interest in a water resource (like the Mekong River, for instance), and to equitably share the resource.

Member states are required to provide information to other states about the condition of their shared watercourse and about their planned uses for it, allowing sufficient time for consideration and objection if the use is perceived to be harmful.

The convention also requires member states to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution if a use is perceived to be harmful, or seek arbitration at international organisations.

There are also provisions on reasonable damage control, with states obligated to take remedial steps and/or compensate for losses caused to other states..

The threat of vulnerable fresh water resources being overexploited, polluted or depleted is even more imminent than global warming.

Reports presented last month at the Global Water Conference 2016 said 780 million people in developing countries lack access to clean water and 3.4 million people die each year from water-related diseases. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.

It is also projected that by 2025, the proportion of the world’s population living in water-stressed countries will increase by two thirds.

A World Bank report, “High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy,” concludes that limited and erratic water availability reduces economic growth, induces migration, and ignites civil conflict.

In South-East Asia, drought and salination caused by harsh weather and alleged water storage at dozens of upstream dams on the Mekong River bankrupted about 1.5 million farmers in Vietnam.

For five years now, Mekong Delta farmers have suffered from the absence of regular flooding that helps fertilise the delta, killing pests and bringing an abundance of seafood.

Increasing seawater intrusion as an effect of climate change has destroyed millions of hectares of crops and permanently altered the nature of many land areas.

Experts worry that the diversion of Mekong waters by Thailand and Cambodia to other regions is also changing the ecosystem in the delta.

They also say that the development or diversion of major trans-boundary rivers originating in Tibet, China, can cause tensions in relations with China’s neighbours.

Forest destruction in catchment areas and uncontrolled and overexploitation of groundwater for cash-crop cultivation, domestic and industrial use have also caused ground water levels to fall dramatically. Deforestation also results in more flash floods in lower regions.

Last month, the chairman of Lao Cai, a province on the Vietnam - China border, reported increasing levels of pollution in the Red River waters flowing in from China.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC), that works with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, and engages Myanmar and China as dialogue partners, has tried to facilitate joint management of shared water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River.

However, emerging controversial issues such as dam building or river water diversion seem to have gone beyond its capacity.

The MRC has adopted a series of procedures for water quality, data and information exchange and sharing, water use monitoring, consultation and for maintenance of flows on the mainstream, but it lacks an effective dispute settling mechanism. Furthermore, the procedures do not cover partners.

To cope with fresh water shortage, a series of measures have been applied recently by the Lower Mekong countries, including water diversion, building reservoirs, drip irrigation and digging wells to collect water at hill foot or sandy areas. However all these investments can go to waste if the downstream nations have no control over the source of water supply.

Apart from revisiting the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, concerned nations could discuss several measures including a sustainable regime for shared water resources, an agreement on what is a fair share of the water resources, sanitary/water quality standards of cross-border sources, and codes of conduct and other means of settling disputes.

Riparian nations can even consider compensating people in catchment areas to ensure they benefit from the preservation of forest and water sources.

An interesting example is the compromise reached by Russia, China and Mongolia for preserving the ecosystem of Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world.

Russia had been protesting this issue since 2014, when China pledged US$1bil (RM4.11bil) in credit to the Mongolian Government for building a hydropower plant on Selenga, one of the 300 rivers flowing into Baikal.

It feared the project would negatively affect the lake’s ecosystem, a view supported by Unesco, which said a number of rare species of birds and fish could disappear.

Last June the three countries agreed to temporarily freeze the project to build an eco-corridor in the area. Earlier this year, President Putin wrote off Mongolia’s US$174mil (RM715.5mil) debt and promised to consider reducing future tariffs charged on power sold to Mongolia, which amounts to US$25mil (RM102.8mil) a year.

The Paris agreement has shown that world nations can reach consensus on common threats to humanity. It also shows that major powers wield decisive influence. They should, therefore, take the initiative on preserving and sustainably using one of our most valuable and vital natural resources, fresh water.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 14 September 2016
More urgent threat than global warming
Trinh Thanh Thuy is Editor-in-Chief of Vietnam News. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Kirin Kiki

The legendary Japanese actress is perfectly content to live a low-key life.

THREE-TIME Japan Academy Prize-winner Kirin Kiki is dubbed the Japanese Meryl Streep. At 73, she has had a long and prosperous career in acting since 1961, but she remains ever so grounded and humble.

“In Japan, the common understanding is that beautiful women become actresses,” she says at a Press conference. “I’m not conventional in that sense and never had a lack of roles to play.

“Some actresses tend to refuse the role of grandmothers even though they’re much older than I am. They say ‘oh I’m still too young to play a grandmother’. That’s why all the jobs keep coming to me,” she jokes, letting out an infectious chuckle.

The actress adds that she usually has a hard time turning these offers down since she doesn’t have a manager.

“I work on my own. I don’t have an office or an assistant. I carry my own bags around. Still, there is a silver lining to all this because the fees from my acting jobs go into my own pocket,” she says with a laugh.

Kirin began her career as part of a theatre group where she gained recognition for playing quirky roles.

Battling several illnesses, she kept on acting and has bagged a number of awards, including Best Actress for Tokyo Tower: Mom And Me, And Sometimes Dad.

Her other award-winning roles are for the films Kamikaze Girls, Half A Confession and Still Walking.

Kirin explains: “After World War 2, the acting scene still hadn’t gotten established yet in Japan. It was more traditional in nature. Now finally, we have acting in the modern sense of the word that puts us on par with the rest of the world.

“It’s embarrassing to admit but generally, actors in Japan are still lacking depth. That’s why even actors like myself can still be hired,” she jokes.

One of her latest works is the family drama After The Storm, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, and which also stars Hiroshi Abe and Yoko Maki.

Dwelling on his past glory as a prize-winning author, Ryota (Abe) wastes the money he makes as a private detective on gambling and can barely pay child support.

Renewing contact with his initially distrusting family, Ryota struggles to take back control of his existence.

Kirin plays Ryota’s mother Yoshiko, who doesn’t blame him for his failure but the world for not recognising his potential.

“I hope you will be able to understand my role as a person blinded by love.”

She explains that After The Storm, which was screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, centres more on the characters’ daily lives. “It’s set in a large apartment complex, where people who aren’t particularly prosperous in Japan live.”

The film’s producer Kaoru Matsuzaki adds: “We wondered if foreign audiences would be able to understand the nuances and the meaning behind that particular setting. I hope it’ll be well-received everywhere.”

Kirin says Yoshiko is a demanding role, but the film’s unique storyline allows her to explore the character on her own. “I believe this work will resonate well into the future.”

The family drama is one of 13 titles featured in this year’s Japanese Film Festival Kuala Lumpur that takes place from now till Oct 2.

Cutting across a variety of genres, the other films are An (also starring Kirin), Bakuman, The Boy And The Beast, Creepy, Chihayafuru Part 1 and 2, Desperate Sunflowers, Flying Colours, The Magnificent Nine, The Mohican Comes Home, My Love Story!! and What A Wonderful Family!.

Kirin was invited to Malaysia to be part of the opening ceremony for the 13th edition of the festival. “In Japan, there aren’t that many opportunities for older actresses like myself to be invited overseas. So I really do feel lucky to be here.”

Kirin has been to Malaysia but she can’t remember exactly when. “I remember that the airport wasn’t this big before.”

Japanese film offerings
Japan Film Festival KL 2016, organised by The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur, takes place from now to Sept 14 (GSC Mid Valley, GSC Pavilion KL, GSC 1 Utama and GSC NU Sentral); Sept 15-18 (GSC Gurney Plaza, Penang), Sept 22-25 (GSC CityONE Megamall, Kuching); and Sept 29-Oct 2 (GSC Suria Sabah, Kota Kinabalu).

Golden Screen Cinemas chief executive officer Koh Mei Lee says: “We have seen admissions climbing steadily to 5,600 with an occupancy rate of 51 per cent in 2015,” she said.

“This year, we are working towards admissions of 10,000, which we expect thanks to the support and loyalty of the festival’s fans, many of whom plan movie marathons with family and friends.”

The Japanese ambassador to Malaysia Makio Miyagawa, expressed his desire that the festival extends its prominence as a cultural gateway to his homeland.

“The Japanese film industry is one of the oldest in the world. The first film was released in Kyoto in 1897, making Japan’s film history more than a century old. In general, films present the passage of culture and tradition of the country and nation it’s based on.”

Still, the Japanese film industry has experienced some downs over the past century. “I hope it will revive and continue to represent the heart, soul, mind and spirit of the Japanese.”

Also in attendance that night were National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) Director-General Datuk Kamil Othman and The Japan Foundation Director Koichi Horikawa.

All JFFKL2016 films are presented in Japanese with English subtitles.

Visit www.jfkl.org.my or www.gsc.com.my for details.

The New Straits Times, Published: 13 SEPTEMBER 2016 at 3:15 PM
Kirin Kiki stays humble
Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/09/172814/kirin-kiki-stays-humble

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Preserved bodies of political leaders

The embalmed body of Mao Zedong lies at the symbolic centre of the Chinese Communist Party, an object of veneration for loyal cadres, and of fascination for foreign tourists.

As China marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the Great Helmsman, here are some of the world's most famous preserved cadavers.

Egyptian mummies

Say "Ancient Egypt" to any schoolchild and the first thing they'll think of is the mummies -- preserved remains of important figures.

The British Museum in London houses a collection of 120 human mummies from Egypt and Sudan, which count as one of its biggest draws for thousands of visitors.

The collection includes "Tayesmutengebtiu", or "Tamut", a high-ranking priest's daughter who lived around 900 BC, and "Tjayasetimu", a child temple singer whose mummy dates to about 800 BC.

The museum also has 300 mummified animals, including dogs, cats and even a crocodile.

None of the mummies has been unwrapped since the 1790s and museum experts have used x-rays and CT scans to carry out their research

Papuan smoked mummies

The Dani people in the highlands of Indonesia's remote, easternmost region of Papua used smoke and animal oil to preserve important elders and local heroes.

The desiccated, blackened figure of Agat Mamete Mabel, a chieftain who ruled over Wogi village some 250 years ago is one of the most notable -- decorated with pig tusks slung around the torso, a feathered headpiece, and a traditional penis gourd.

The corpse is kept in a thatch-roofed hut, where it is tended by a select few villagers.

Vladimir Lenin

Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin was the original communist leader to be embalmed, starting a trend among hard-left regimes around the world.

His corpse is permanently on display in a Moscow mausoleum, attracting visitors curious to see the Bolshevik founder of the Soviet Union.

Lenin died in 1924 aged 53, and had wanted to be buried with his mother in the former imperial capital of Saint Petersburg, but was instead preserved to lie in Red Square.

Debates on whether to remove the body started after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and increasing numbers of Russians are calling for him to be laid to rest.

Russia's Communist party has vehemently lobbied to keep Lenin in situ while the Kremlin has shown it is in no hurry to settle the debate.

Eva Peron

Eva Peron, Argentina's emblematic first lady of the 1940s and 50s, was embalmed when she died of cancer in 1952 at age 33.

"Evita" was as adored by her husband's poor and working-class base as she was reviled by the military and elite.

After Juan Peron was toppled in a 1955 coup, army officers secretly removed Evita's corpse from its resting place at a pro-Peron trade union headquarters and hid it.

Worried Peronist militants would find it, then-dictator Pedro Aramburu had the body taken to Italy and buried in Milan under a false name.

Peron's third wife and successor, Isabel, finally struck a deal: Evita's body was returned to Argentina in 1974 and she has rested ever since in her family mausoleum in Buenos Aires, a place of pilgrimage for her admirers and fans of the musical and movie about her life.

Ho Chi Minh

Although he wanted his ashes to be scattered over the country, the father of modern Vietnam was embalmed upon his death on September 2, 1969.

His body, preserved in the cold under a glass sarcophagus, has been on show since 1975 in a mausoleum dedicated to him in Hanoi.

The country has regularly called in help from Moscow in preserving the body, reflecting Soviet-era ties.

Mao Zedong

The Chinese revolutionary leader, who died on September 9, 1976, has been embalmed and on show since 1977 in a glass cubicle in the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Mao's body was placed in formaldehyde and other preserving fluids, according to an account in the People's Daily newspaper, and today the parts of Mao's body which cannot be seen are bathed in liquid.

When the mausoleum is closed, the body is lowered into a container maintained at a low temperature, it said.

Ferdinand Marcos

Ferdinand Marcos, Philippine president for 20 years, died aged 72 in US exile in 1989, three years after he and his family fled the presidential palace in a bloodless "People Power" revolt against corruption and human rights abuses.

With periodic chemical injections to preserve it, the Marcos corpse was flown to his northern home town of Batac in 1993 to be placed in a mausoleum on public display.

Nearly three decades after his death, the corpse is both a tourist draw and political football, with the mausoleum-museum closed last month until further notice.

That was soon after new President Rodrigo Duterte granted the family's longstanding demand that Marcos be interred at Manila's National Heroes' Cemetery.

The Supreme Court blocked government preparations to hear petitions by human rights victims seeking to have the burial declared illegal.

Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il

The bodies of North Korea's founding president Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il are on permanent display at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun mausoleum in Pyongyang.

When Kim Il-Sung died of a heart attack in 1994, Russian scientists helped preserve the body of North Korea's "eternal president", who now lies in a glass coffin with filtered lights to keep his face looking rosy.

The Russian team assisted with the embalming of Kim Jong-Il's body when he passed away in December 2011 -- also from a heart attack -- and is believed to be in charge of the maintenance of the bodies.

Present-day leader Kim Jong-Un and his close aides visit the mausoleum on key national holidays -- such as Kim Il-Sung's birthday -- to pay respects to his late grandfather and father.

Foreign visitors are allowed in the cavernous mausoleum twice a week -- Thursdays and Sundays -- but must dress according to a strict code and must bow before the bodies.

AFP•September 11, 2016

Body politics: famous preserved corpses

photo :
The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il lies in state in a glass coffin at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang


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Kyoto-Asean forum 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: A more rewarding pathway should be created for young Malaysians who are interested in research and science, said Khairy Jamaluddin.

“We should strive to produce a generation of youths who not only innovate collectively, but choose research and development as their career,” said the Youth and Sports Minister.

Khairy said innovation changed the world for the better and at breakneck speed.

“Every second wasted is a job lost, investment missed and productivity squandered,” he said.

He said Malaysia was ranked 39th in the number of researches per population on the Global Innovation Index 2016.

“We are the sixth-best country in the number of graduates in science and engineering, hence the question is what prevented them from being researchers?” Khairy asked in his keynote address at the Kyoto-Asean forum 2016 here on Thurs-day.

The two-day forum, which was hosted by the University of Kyoto, ended yesterday.

Speaking to the press later, Khairy said it was time for this career pathway to be given emphasis not just in universities, but in the private sector as well.

“There has been a lot of emphasis on professions in law, engineering and medicine, but I think we need to devote resources, especially in creating pathways, for young Malaysians involved in science and research,” he said.

In his speech, Khairy suggested that Malaysia learn from Japan not just in terms of innovation, but in sports technology as well.

He said Japan had advanced more than Malaysia in sports despite the fact that it had sought Malaysia’s help in two prominent sports – football and badminton.

“Japan has qualified for the World Cup... and got better at badminton too as the team won the Thomas Cup against Malaysia two years ago,” he said.

Khairy added that Japan could help Malaysia in terms of sports innovation apart from work ethics and culture.

The Star, Published: Saturday, 10 September 2016
Khairy: Focus on science and research for innovative generation

The Kyoto University ASEAN Center which is based in Bangkok, Thailand recently visited the offices of ICSU ROAP for discussions to support its work in ASEAN.

Led by Professor Mamoru Shibayama the Center is exploring ways of enhancing Kyoto University’s global collaborative networks and promoting the advancement of research and education in Asia.

The Center established in June 2014 aims to effectively strengthen existing research and educational collaboration and networks in the ASEAN region by expanding its joint activities with ASEAN universities and research institutions.

The ASEAN Center has also established the Japan-ASEAN Science, Technology and Innovation Platform (JASTIP) to help achieve its three pronged mission of implementing advanced international joint research, promoting societal implementation of research results and cultivating the next generation of human resources for innovation.

Thus far JASTIP has established joint laboratories on energy and environment with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) of Thailand, on bioresources and biodiversity with the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) and on Disaster Prevention with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) .

The Center will organise the Kyoto-ASEAN Forum 2016 in Kuala Lumpur on 8 and 9 September 2016 with the theme Window to ASEAN International and Innovative – Exploring New Horizons in Collaboration between ASEAN and Kyoto University

Visit from Kyoto University ASEAN Center

(*) The Kyoto University ASEAN Center

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