Comfort woman statue in Busan

SEOUL, South Korea − Bowing to public pressure, an official in South Korea’s second-largest city said on Friday that activists could put up a statue representing Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II, a year after the two countries said they had put that emotional issue behind them.

The bronze, life-size statue, of a girl in traditional Korean dress sitting in a chair, had been raised without permission on Wednesday on a sidewalk near the Japanese Consulate in Busan. The police removed the statue, dispersing activists who tried to stop them, but on Friday an official said it could be reinstated.

“I apologize to many citizens,” Park Sam-seok, mayor of the ward in Busan where the consulate sits, said at a news conference as he announced the statue’s return. “This is an issue between the two nations, and I realize it’s too much for a local office like mine to handle.” Activists quickly put the statue back in place.

Since the statue’s removal on Wednesday, the ward’s office had been overwhelmed with angry phone calls, and its website temporarily froze because so many people were visiting to leave hostile comments. Some called Mr. Park a “pro-Japanese collaborator,” a grave insult in South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan’s colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century still run deep.

The consulate had strongly objected to the presence of the statue, which the activists installed near one of its gates, where diplomats would see it as they left their offices. On Friday, the consulate lodged a protest and request to Busan city to remove the statue..

Japan registered complaints with the governments of South Korea and Busan. Shinsuke Sugiyama, Japan’s vice minister for foreign affairs, told the South Korean ambassador in Japan that the statue “went against the spirit of the Japan-South Korea agreement concluded at the end of last year and is extremely regrettable,” adding that it would have an “unfavorable impact on the relationship between Japan and South Korea, as well as disturb the security of the consulate.”

Mr. Sugiyama said the Japanese government would continue to strongly request that South Korea remove the statue.

Dozens of identical statues have been put up in South Korea since 2011, when the first one, placed near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, caused a diplomatic uproar. But the statue in Busan was only the second to be installed near a Japanese diplomatic mission.

Wednesday was the first anniversary of a landmark agreement between South Korea and Japan to resolve their dispute over the extent of Tokyo’s responsibility for what happened to the wartime sex slaves, or “comfort women,” as they were euphemistically known.

Both sides called that deal − in which Japan apologized and promised $8.3 million to care for the surviving women, in return for South Korea’s promise not to press any future claims − a “final and irreversible resolution” to the dispute, which had become a serious obstacle in their relations.

But the deal fell short of the survivors’ demand that Japan pay formal reparations and accept legal responsibility for what they endured. And it proved to be one of the most unpopular decisions made by President Park Geun-hye, whose powers have been suspended since the National Assembly voted for her impeachment this month over a corruption scandal.

In the year since the agreement was reached, students have been camping out by the statue near the Japanese Embassy to ensure it is not removed, and five more statues have been installed around the country, with money raised through donations.

Opposition parties have long denounced the deal, and since Ms. Park’s powers were suspended, they have increased pressure on the government to reconsider it, along with some of her other key policy decisions.

If the Constitutional Court ratifies Ms. Park’s impeachment in the coming months, formally removing her from office, a presidential election will be held. Two leading contenders to succeed her have said that they will seek changes to the deal with Japan if elected.

Japan’s defense minister, Tomomi Inada, stirred bitter wartime memories in South Korea on Thursday by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates Japan’s war dead, including a number of officers convicted of war crimes during World War II.

The New York Times, Published: DEC. 30, 2016
‘Comfort Woman’ Statue Reinstated Near Japan Consulate in South Korea

(note 1)
Korea and China feel uneasy about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor Tuesday.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described the visit as one of his "smart shows," urging Japan's sincere apology for the "war of aggression" against China and other Asian neighbors. This is how many Koreans also feel. Prime Minister Abe must realize that true reconciliation is impossible without the aggressor's wholehearted reflection and apology.

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed Abe's visit as a "historic gesture that speaks to the power of reconciliation and the alliance between the American and Japanese peoples." While showing sympathy to the victims, however, Abe offered no apology for his country's wartime aggression during his visit to the site of Japan's surprise bombing 75 years ago that killed more than 2,300 Americans.

It is also highly regrettable that a member of Abe's Cabinet visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which worships Class A war criminals from World War II and glorifies its wartime aggression, on the same day of Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's visit to the shrine and summoned Kohei Maruyama, a minister at the Japanese Embassy, to lodge a protest.

Abe's Pearl Harbor visit came on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Korea-Japan comfort women deal made between President Park Geun-hye and her Japanese counterpart on Dec. 28, 2015, which many Koreans still protest. For countries that suffered under Japanese occupation and aggression, Japan must admit its wrongdoings and offer a sincere apology and compensation.

Abe's visit is also seen as an attempt to solidify U.S.-Japan relations ahead of a power change in the U.S. During a speech at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese leader stressed that the two countries which had fought a fierce war have become "allies with deep and strong ties rarely found anywhere in history," and that the two countries were bound by an "alliance of hope." Abe was the first head of state to meet with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Korea's foreign ministry should swiftly prepare measures to reaffirm Korea-U.S. ties in a Trump White House.

The Korea Times, Updated : 2016-12-29 17:01
Abe's 'smart show'

(note 2)
The Dong Ward municipality in South Korea's largest port city of Busan on Friday handed over a confiscated statue symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery to a civic group, paving the way for it to be installed in front of the ward's Japanese Consulate.

Two days before the handover, the civic group attempted to install the statute on the sidewalk in front of the back door of the consulate but was stopped due to opposition from ward officials and police.

Members of the group seek to install the 1-ton statue, similar to another set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, as part of their protest against a Seoul-Tokyo deal made in December last year. Under the landmark deal, Tokyo apologized for its colonial-era atrocities and agreed to provide 1 billion yen (US$9.61 million) to a foundation aimed at supporting the victims, euphemistically called comfort women.

Citing that the statue's installation obstructed a road, the ward office prevented the group from erecting it and seized it.

Following the seizure, the ward office was swamped with calls and messages critical of the office which shutdown its website as sentiment against the move ran high. The office then apparently agreed to return the figure to the group as it has no legal grounds for the seizure.

Later in the day, the ward office and the group will hold talks to agree on the location of for the statue, mediated by the Busan city assembly. The civic group earlier planned to hold a ceremony at 9:00 p.m. Saturday in front of the consulate to unveil the statue.

South Korean victims, liberal civic groups and opposition parties have accused the South Korean government of striking the December 2015 deal hastily without obtaining Japan's acknowledgment of legal responsibility. They also said the agreement was reached without prior consultation with the victims.

Korea Times, Updated : 2016-12-30 15:39
'Comfort woman' statue to be erected in Busan

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strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Tomomi Inada

Beijing: China has denounced as “greatly ironic” the Japanese defence chief’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which came shortly after she returned from accompanying Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on his visit to Pearl Harbor.

“This not only reflects some Japanese people’s obstinately wrong view of history, it is also greatly ironic given the Pearl Harbor reconciliation trip,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chun-ying said at a news conference.

Hua was asked about Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada’s visit on Thursday to the shrine, which honours Japan’s 2.5 million dead during World War II as well as 14 Class-A war criminals convicted of plotting and carrying out the war.

She said that Beijing would lodge a protest with Tokyo.

The visit came right after Inada returned from the trip with Abe to Hawaii.

The two joined US President Barack Obama on Tuesday for the first visit by a Japanese leader and a US president to Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, to commemorate the victims of the Japanese attack in 1941.

The Chinese Defence Ministry also voiced “strong dissatisfaction and opposition” to the shrine visit.

“Prime Minister Abe’s speech in Hawaii bore no sense of guilt, but publicly called Japanese military officers ‘brave’,” spokesman Yang Yujun said at the ministry’s news briefing.

South Korea’s foreign and defence ministries also deplored Inada’s visit to the shrine, summoning Tokyo’s diplomats in Seoul on Thursday.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of international relations at China Foreign Affairs University, said Inada’s visit to the shrine right after she returned to Japan is “apparently a deliberate plan” to clarify the Japanese government’s real attitude toward history.

The Star, Published: Saturday, 31 December 2016
Japan slammed for ‘ironic’ visit
China Daily

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Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

Two days. Two deaths of iconic Hollywood actresses who were also mother and daughter.

Debbie Reynolds died Wednesday at 84, one day after daughter Carrie Fisher's death.

It's unclear why Reynolds died -- she had complained of breathing problems, an unnamed sourced told the Los Angeles Times -- but she was reeling emotionally from losing her daughter, who was 60.

"She spoke to me this morning and said she missed Carrie," said Reynolds' son Todd Fisher. "She's with Carrie now.

Reynolds' long career in entertainment

In late November in an interview on WHYY's "Fresh Air," host Terry Gross spoke with Fisher about her mother.

Though famous, the two went through the same evolution that many moms and daughters experience -- it can be feisty during the teenage years, and maybe into a daughter's early 20s, but as the child ages, she begins to appreciate the wisdom, power and experience of the woman who, despite obstacles, raised her, lived as an example to her, loved her without condition.

"I could appreciate -- she's an immensely powerful woman. And I just admire my mother very much. She also annoys me sometimes when she's, you know, mad at the nurses," Fisher said, referring to a time years ago when Reynolds was ill. "But, you know, she's an extraordinary woman, extraordinary.
"There are very few women from her generation who worked like that, who just kept a career going all her life and raised children and had horrible relationships and lost all her money and got it back again. I mean, she's had an amazing life, and she's someone to admire."

Gross asked if Fisher admired her mother's strength and accomplishments as Fisher got older.

"Oh, God, yeah. No, when I was a kid, I just thought she was someone who was telling me what to do. And I didn't want to do it."

A Hollywood triple threat

Reynolds was one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 1950s and 1960s. Born Mary Frances Reynolds, she was a bubbly singer, dancer and actress who starred in "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."

Gross asked Fisher in November what it was like being raised by a famous mother.

"Well, I had to share her, and I didn't like that. When we went out, people sort of walked over me to get her. And, no, I didn't like it. I didn't like it. And I -- you know, people thought that -- I overheard someone saying, well, she thinks she's so great because she's Debbie Reynolds' daughter," Fisher answered. "And I didn't like it. It made me different from other people, and I wanted to be the same. I wanted to be, you know, just no different than anybody else."

About "Singin' in the Rain," Fisher said she "always liked it."

"It's brilliant," she told Gross. "I mean, to do the transition from sound -- from silent to sound is a brilliant, brilliant time to focus on. And what was interesting to me is that there's three people acting in the movie then. It's two men and a female. And it's the same with 'Star Wars.' And both movies were sort of, you know, iconic at the -- well, they did the AFI 10 top films, and one was 'Singing In The Rain' and one was 'Star Wars.'"

Fisher, whose grit and wit made "Star Wars'" Princess Leia an iconic and beloved figure to millions of moviegoers suffered a cardiac event on a flight from London to Los Angeles and died days later.
'She was so respectful and caring'

Reynolds' publicist Ed Lozzi spoke lovingly of her this week, saying that despite her star power, she treated everyone with respect.

"The people that worked for her ... she was just so respectful and caring and thoughtful to her publicists and her agents," Lozzi told CNN. "A lot of stars we worked for were not. She was special that way."

Reynolds' film career began after being spotted in a beauty pageant at age 16. She became famous when she was picked to co-star with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in "Singin' in the Rain," one of Hollywood's best-known musicals.

Fans go online to pay tribute to Debbie Reynolds

She married, then famously divorced, singing sensation Eddie Fisher, who left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in 1959.

Share your memories of Debbie Reynolds by tagging #cnnireport on social media

"I have no regrets about my career. I'm just thrilled I've had it," she told CNN's Larry King in 1990. "You know, it stood by me. Marriages failed; my career always stayed. It gave me the fun of life, you know. It allowed me to travel and meet wonderful, funny people."

On Wednesday, King tweeted: "Debbie Reynolds was pure class. She was loving, talented, beautiful, unsinkable. I feel sorry for anyone who never got a chance to meet her."

Though she stepped away from film for much of her career, Reynolds continued to entertain on Broadway stages and in Las Vegas nightclubs. She also appeared on many television shows, including one of her own -- "The Debbie Reynolds Show" -- that lasted just one season.

Actress Ruta Lee, a longtime friend of Reynolds, told CNN affiliate KABC that Reynolds used her celebrity to help others.

"I was blessed by the almighty in having this wonderful sister who taught me so much in life," she said. "Debbie was without a doubt one of the most generous, wonderful, loving human beings that God put on this Earth."

CNN, Updated 1606 GMT (0006 HKT) December 29, 2016
Debbie Reynolds dies one day after daughter Carrie Fisher passes
By Steve Almasy and Azadeh Ansari, CNN

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Happy new year, everyone!

LIKE many other years, 2016 was personally a year of ups and downs. The highlight of my year was secu-ring this column; allowing me to continue writing following the closure of an online portal back in March that used to feature my articles.

There are many things to be grateful for, yet there are also many sad occasions. The loss of The Star’s Executive Editor, Soo Ewe Jin, after barely six months of my working with him, made me feel robbed of time and opportunity to know good people, good Malaysians (note).

2016 was dubbed “the year the 80s died”.

As I write this column, my newsfeed is filled with condolences for Carrie Fisher, most famous for her role as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars.

I was quite impacted by this, seeing as Princess Leia was a role model in what was a boys-only movie franchise in my childhood.

Fisher’s passing came barely two days after the world learnt of George Michael’s death on Christmas Day. It is bittersweet to imagine there’s an afterlife superstar-studded concert featuring Michael, Bowie, Prince, and many other greats the world lost this year.

What I consider a new low for this year was Donald Trump being democratically elected as the next President of the United States. From my own experience as a US State Department Fellow in 2015, I am fearful, anxious, and still uncomfortable that Trump will follow President Barack Obama.

Then there is the news from Aleppo, Palestine, and Rakhine state. It somehow seems hypocritical of us Malaysians, who are willing to rally and demonstrate for these causes, but are not willing to learn from the lessons of such wars.

While solving wars or genocides seems complex, there is no denying that those affected are human lives and those of us with power to make things better or with potential solutions, should strive to do so. While those of us whose actions potentially hinder progress should learn to sit quietly.

2016 also saw a few frustrating news items doing their rounds on local media. The exposé of online paedophilia by The Star’s R.AGE team should not just increase public awareness, but also push the public to demand action, either through pushing for comprehensive sex education at an early age or for implementation of anti-grooming laws.

The law on child marriage in Malaysia needs to be revisited. While there has been a push from women’s rights groups over the years, there still exists the loophole for child marriage under syariah law (where a child under the age of 16 can be legally married with permission from State authorities) that unfortunately, more often than not, is abused.

2016 also proved a confusing time for most Muslims in Malaysia. In addition to the tabling of the 355 Act – now to be tabled as a Government Bill in the next parliamentary sitting after being originally a Private Member’s Bill by an opposition party, Muslim Malay-sians saw our intelligence challenged over the use of the word “pretzel dog”. That is, after we had fought over which chocolates are halal.

We also saw a widowed mother of three being detained with no clear charge for her offence(s). Meanwhile, a tweet stating one’s opinion could result in a police raid at our private residence in the wee morning hours.

In her commencement speech at Monash University’s recent convocation ceremony, Jo Kukathas broke down the reality for the graduands in two simple words: “Be afraid.” While I agree that we all need to be pragmatic when it comes to living our lives, being afraid should not make us ignorant, uncaring or vengeful.

After all the lows that 2016 brought, we should take Michelle Obama’s advice to go high. If Trump indeed goes on with his plans to have Muslims “registered” or build his wall around the US, we should respond by showing to him and the world that a moderate Muslim-majority country can be great and inclusive.

We must begin at home. The central teaching of all religions, to be good and do good on this earth, must be prioritised over prejudice and hatred (I am sure atheists and agnostics would agree on this, too).

As clichéd as it is, compassion is the balm that would heal the world of its wounds. I think we all need these good values in liberal amounts in closing this long, great sigh of a year.

I also now have a strengthened resolve to be more critical of what I read on social media. I will make time to read more books, and encourage discourse in any way I can.

This coming new year, instead of the usual resolutions of losing weight, why don’t we all strive to increase our good deeds, be pre-sent, and be more learned about issues around us. Why don’t we try to be the good the world truly needs, beginning at home.

Happy new year, everyone!

The Star, Published: Saturday, 31 December 2016
Farewell to one long sigh of a year.

WONG Chun Wai’s heartfelt article “Farewell, my dear friend Ewe Jin” (Sunday Star, Nov 20) has moved many readers to pay their own tribute to Soo Ewe Jin.

> WE often hear of a great man but when we read about the great man through another man’s sharing, we would come to know that great man even better.

Wong Chun Wai shared with us the inside story of Soo Ewe Jin in his column. That made me, a stranger to Ewe Jin, come to appreciate the great man (Ewe Jin) better.

I always agree with what Wong shares with us in his regular Sunday column. This time, I came to know about his relationship with Ewe Jin better. Wong wrote that Ewe Jin edited his articles, which was why I, an English language teacher for three decades, found Wong’s expressions excellent and flawless. I always thought Wong wrote everything on his own without getting a second opinion. Surely two minds always work better than one.

In his column, Wong once or twice mentioned that he is a Christian. Now I know that Ewe Jin was the dear brother who helped him on the difficult way to become a believer.

What impressed me deeply was the fact that Ewe Jin always brought his colleagues together for fellowship and prayers; a great Christian for all believers to emulate indeed.

And despite his illness, he went out of his way to help those in need and in pain and suffering. He faithfully believed that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” He practised his faith in his daily life.

Ewe Jin left a valuable reminder to all of us: “When you visit hospitals, you will discover that everyone is the same. The colour of your skin no longer matters, we are one and the same.” (Sadly, when we are healthy, we forget that life is only temporary, and we keep on attacking one another as if life is everlasting!)

My uncle, Wan Hong Fee, a veteran journalist with Sin Chew Daily, passed away due to lung cancer in the mid-80s. He was not as great as Ewe Jin but Wong’s article reminded me of my dear late uncle too. What and how my dear uncle suffered before his death was very similar to the difficult journey Ewe Jin endured.

It is my fervent prayer that Ewe Jin and my dear uncle are now resting in peace in a better world prepared by our loving creator, God.

They were both great journalists and they travelled their journey in a very loving and worthwhile way.
A. Y. Yong, Ipoh

> YOUR column today brought tears to my eyes and in my heart.

I enjoyed reading both Mr Soo’s and your column during the weekends; it has become as habitual as my weekend morning practice of sipping from a steaming mug of coffee, munching butter pancakes, slowly enjoying my morning while reading both columns, then flipping to the weekend comics section.

Yes, he will be dearly missed and if I can make a humble request, please honour his legacy. Do not let it fade into the unknown.
Chooi Yew Tzen, Seremban

> MY condolences on the passing of Ewe Jin. I will miss his weekly column which I look forward to every Sunday.

Please convey my condolences to his wife and sons. May he continue to bring joy to those in need from where he is now, a better place for him.
Loyal reader Stephanie

> I HAVE just read your article on Ewe Jin and am sad to hear of his passing. I have only met Ewe Jin a few times and that was 30 years ago through his wife Angeline.

Although it was a fleeting acquaintance (we have not met since I moved to Singapore), I know Ewe Jin as a good and friendly person as you so aptly described him today.

We need more people like Ewe Jin in this world.

Please convey my condolences to Angeline.
Michael Huang

> PLEASE convey my deepest condolences to Soo Ewe Jin’s family. I love to read his column; makes me reassess my own values and human weaknesses.

He is really the icon for the man on the street.
Doreen Loke

> AS I read your article, I cried as though I have known Ewe Jin personally as my friend. But, as you said, as readers of The Star, we all feel as though he was also our friend. His articles are so digestible and refreshing, always tugging at the heartstrings. Yes, we will all miss him so much as he was such a part of The Star newspaper.

Thanks for your fitting tribute to this “giant of a man”. I agree that every time I was done reading his column, I came away extremely grateful for our lot, as there are so many out there who don’t have what we take for granted.
Cat, a fan

I AM an Australian currently living in Australia. However, I like to think of Malaysia as my second home every year when revisiting the country. I buy The Star for the variety of articles which I love to read. As a result, I am so very saddened to hear of the passing of Soo Ewe Jin who, to me, was such an inspiring man whose columns I just loved to read. I wish I could have had the pleasure of meeting him in person. I know his column will be dearly missed by not only myself but many others as well. I would like to further emphasise that he is, or perhaps I should say with a heavy heart, was, a truly inspirational and uplifting man.

May I express my deepest sympathy to his wife and children. From one who loves Penang to a great Penang boy, rest in peace, Soo Ewe Jin.
Barrie Payne

The Star, Published: Monday, 21 November 2016
Tears and cheers for selfless journalist

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Happy New Year, folks

SINCE my early days as a houseman and medical officer serving in the Government, I noticed one glaring weakness within our healthcare system. And when I left to continue my career in private medical care as well as healthcare administration, this issue of lack of accountability became even more obvious, and is threatening to blow the budgets of most corporate companies.

Today, employers are forced to make their employment benefits as attractive as possible. It is not only the basic salary which entices potential candidates anymore but the complete package.

As companies try to attract and retain the best talent with their employee medical benefits, this has unfortunately created a paradigm shift, placing the individuals’ accountability to their own health into the hands of their employers.

The situation has caused multiple effects. First and foremost, employees now have the perception that their employers must pay for their healthcare requirements.

Since most, if not all, such company medical benefits are structured based on disease occurren-ces, I find that it has incentivised employees to fall sick. Or worse, various stakeholders have devised ways to manipulate the wordings of policies set by employers and insurers.

We cannot deny instances where doctors and patients corroborate to ensure that services and medications not covered by the company policies are paid for. For instance, aesthetic and cosmetic surgery being masked as something more valid, vitamins, supplements, contraception and pre-existing or congenital conditions being described differently in the reports to ensure full coverage.

As much as I am ashamed to expose this, an element of fraud does exist in the industry, which only serves to drive the cost for companies to provide healthcare to their employees to rise sharply.

Apart from that, other factors also influence the medical inflation rate. Rising cost of medications, newer but more expensive diagnostic and therapeutic methods, increased access to the best medical practitioners, specialisation and sub-specialisation of doctors, are just some of the contributing factors.

And for years, the “buyers” of healthcare have merely focused on trying to control any abuse and manipulation of the system. Companies have been trying all sorts of measures to negotiate prices with hospitals and doctors, solely blaming the providers for the uncontrollable cost of healthcare.

I would like to point to such parties that the solution is simple. As the adage goes, “prevention is better cure”. One does not incur a hefty medical bill, if one is healthy. One does not need monthly medications, or hospitalisation, if one does not suffer from chronic, long-standing but very preventable diseases.

This is where the system has failed. This is where corporate policy makers and human resource (HR) practitioners have failed to identify alternate, feasible and sustainable alternatives.

Some HR practitioners argue that the onus is on the individual employee to keep healthy. Why spend on these employees when they could leave one day? But aren’t companies sending their employees for training and courses in hopes of investing in their workforce? Isn’t re-allocating the current curative healthcare benefits into a preventive one also a simple and most possibly a more effective investment too?

I strongly believe it is.

Of course, there is always the question of return on investment (ROI). Very often, finance directors and HR practitioners are hard pressed to provide ROI justification as soon as a corporate wellness or screening programme is conclu-ded.

Unfortunately, health does not work overnight. Diseases, especially the non-communicable kind, do not strike an individual because of that one high-fat meal or that one cigarette that they took. It is a culmination over years.

Companies need to understand that wellness and preventive mea-sures yield results only after seve-ral years of conducting them on a regular basis. Just like business plans which have short, medium and long-term plans, similar plans must be developed and embraced by companies providing healthcare benefits.

Right now, it is all about firefighting, which is not sustainable in the long run. This is akin to companies trying to fix the problem by installing more “extinguishers” to deal with “fires” when in fact, they should be building better fire-resistant buildings and structures. Prevention is not only better than cure, it also costs less than trying to cure.

It is obvious that by shifting the focus from curative to preventive, we will also be shifting some of the accountability of the individuals’ health back into the rightful hands of the individuals themselves.

There are many examples of companies and even governments which have recognised and firmly committed to this concept, and are now reaping the rewards of a more sustainable and manageable healthcare ecosystem.

Malaysia is known to emulate successful programmes and models. So, what’s stopping us from adopting good lessons and examples of healthcare?

Letter to The Star, Published: Thursday, 22 December 2016
Getting staff to be healthy

I STRONGLY agree with Dr Junaidi Ismail (“Getting staff to be healthy”; The Star, Dec 22) that each of us has to take responsibility for our own health. By this, I mean practise preventive health rather than burden our healthcare system or depend on our employers or insurance companies to bear the costs for curative treatment.

How do we do this? Simply by eating and drinking right, exercising, getting enough sleep, staying away from alcohol and cigarettes, and generally trying not to be overwhelmed by stress.

I am a retired civil servant and every time I go to the the Universiti Hospital to replenish my medicine following my thyroid surgery, I will notice many patients happily taking home bagfuls of assorted medicines, as though reassured by them.

Many of these patients suffer from lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and so on, all of which could have been prevented.

With a new year coming, let us resolve to act responsibly and live healthily. Let us not burden our government with such exorbitant healthcare costs. Savings in this sector can be used for other more deserving needs.

Letter to The Star, Published: Thursday, 29 December 2016
Act responsibly, live healthily

I AGREE with Vijayalakshmi Govindasamy (“Act responsibly, live healthily”, The Star, Dec 29) that we should not burden our Government with increasing healthcare costs.

I believe that the healthcare costs, spent especially on treating lifestyle diseases, could be curtailed extensively. These diseases are preventable and our Government has taken ample initiatives to guide people from all walks of life in maintaining healthy lifestyles.

Elderly people in our country often suffer from chronic lifestyle-related disorders such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, stroke and so on. In contrast, the younger ones tend to suffer from obesity and addiction to tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

These are scenarios that could be avoided because the Government has provided knowledge, opportunities for rehabilitation and awareness of practising healthy lifestyles via seminars, advertisements and campaigns.

In addition, with the abundance of medical centres in Malaysia, people could easily consult the health experts or clarify their doubts on health issues.

For those who are struggling financially, no excuses could be given since the Government has set up the 1Malaysia Clinics. People should stop giving excuses and start to understand that it is just a matter of implementing the know-ledge gained on healthy lifestyles in a positive and consistent manner to see fruitful results.

Since the New Year is soon upon us, maintaining a healthier lifestyle should be listed as the prime target in everyone’s life. Let’s consume nutritious food, exercise frequently and get regular check-ups in order to stay fit as a fiddle. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.

Happy New Year, folks.

Letter to The Star, Published: Saturday, 31 December 2016
No more excuses! Let’s get healthy
By VISHIN NAIR, Tangkak, Johor

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China-Japan Tensions

Tensions in North Asia are again heating up with less than a month to go before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

A day after joining Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a bridge-building trip to Pearl Harbor, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Thursday visited a Tokyo shrine seen by China and South Korea in particular as a symbol of her nation’s wartime atrocities. Separately, Japan drew a rebuke from China on Wednesday after adding the name Taiwan to its de facto embassy in Taipei.

Recent developments will “increase China’s suspicions toward Japan, toward the United States and toward Taiwan,” said Arthur Ding, director of the Institute of International Relations in Taipei. “China is quite worried these days because Taiwan has formed kind of a coalition with Japan, with Abe, with Donald Trump against China.”

The symbolic moves ahead of Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20 add to signals that tensions between some of Asia’s biggest economies -- and trading partners -- are set to rise in 2017. A history of war and territorial disputes in the region hinder increased economic ties and fuel a rise in defense spending.

Last week Japan approved a fifth straight rise in its annual military budget in the face of a more assertive China. Japan’s military said Sunday it spotted a Chinese aircraft carrier sailing into the Western Pacific near Okinawa, and last week a Japanese government agency said Chinese universities and think tanks were forming ties with Okinawan independence groups.

Taiwan Policy

On Wednesday, China criticized Japan’s decision to add the word Taiwan to the name of its de facto embassy in Taipei. Friction over the self-governed island has escalated after Trump accepted a phone call earlier this month from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and indicated he could be willing to reconsider his country’s stance on the One-China policy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday that Beijing is “strongly unhappy with Japan’s negative moves concerning the Taiwan issue.” A statement on the ministry’s website urged Japan to "stick to the One-China principle, properly deal with Taiwan-related issues, and refrain from sending wrong signals to the Taiwan administration and the international community or causing new disruptions to China-Japan relations."

Many countries including Japan do not formally recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, a condition of maintaining diplomatic ties with Beijing. Relations between Taipei and Beijing have soured since Tsai took office in May as she has declined to endorse the One-China framework, a long-standing acknowledgment that the two are part of the same China, even if they disagree on what that means. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province.

War Criminals

Visits to the Yasukuni Shrine also regularly disturb relations. The place of worship honors millions of Japanese war dead, including 14 wartime leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals.

At a briefing in Beijing on Thursday, China Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun expresses "strong discontent and objection" over Inada’s visit. South Korea’s defense ministry said the move “embellishes” Japan’s aggression in the past and its colonization of Korea.

Inada played down criticism that her action would antagonize Japan’s neighbors.

“I offered prayers with the wish to firmly build peace for Japan and the world from a future-oriented perspective,” Inada told reporters. “I expressed my gratitude, respect and mourned for those who gave their lives for their country. I think people in any country can understand that.”

Abe himself has kept away from the shrine since a December 2013 visit led to a deterioration in relations with China and South Korea and prompted a rebuke from the U.S.

Looking ahead, 2017 may hold more challenges than opportunities for the geopolitical environment in Northeast Asia, according to Liu Jiangyong, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing who specializes in Japan studies.

“Amid uncertainty from the incoming U.S. presidency, Japan, and also Taiwan, would tend to capitalize on a potentially more confrontational US-China ties in order to maximize their own interests,” Liu said. “The regional situation largely boils down to how Trump makes his choices.”

Bloomberg News, Updated: December 29, 2016, 4:09 PM GMT+8
China-Japan Tensions Simmer Weeks Before Trump Takes Office

Japan’s defence minister, Tomomi Inada, has provoked anger in South Korea following a visit to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, a day after she accompanied the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on his reconciliatory trip to Pearl Harbor.

South Korea’s foreign ministry denounced as “deplorable” Inada’s visit to Yasukuni, a site it said “beautifies past colonial invasions and invasive war and honours war criminals”.

The defence ministry in Seoul said: “We express deep concern and regret over Japan’s defence minister visiting Yasukuni shrine, even as our government has been emphasising the need to create a new, forward-looking South Korea-Japan relationship.”

Inada, a prominent rightwinger who has been tipped as a future prime minister, made the pilgrimage to the contentious shrine on Thursday morning – her first since becoming defence minister in August. As an MP she had made the trip every 15 August – the anniversary of Japan’s wartime defeat – between 2006 and 2015.

Television footage showed a smiling Inada arriving at the shrine, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including several leaders executed for war crimes.

She told reporters that her visit was intended to “create peace for Japan and the world”.

“This year the president of the country that dropped the atomic bomb visited Hiroshima and yesterday the prime minister made remarks of consolation at Pearl Harbor,” Inada said, in a reference to Barack Obama’s highly symbolic trip to Hiroshima in May.

“I visited the shrine wishing to firmly create peace for Japan and the world from a future-oriented perspective.”

Asked if she risked prompting a diplomatic backlash from South Korea and China, she said: “I think that no matter what their historical views are and whether they were friends or foes, they understand my paying respects to those who dedicated their lives to their country.”

There was no immediate reaction from China, where Yasukuni visits by politicians are viewed as evidence that Japan has yet to atone for atrocities committed in parts of China and on the Korean peninsula before and during the second world war.

On Wednesday Inada watched as Abe and Obama talked about the power of reconciliation at the USS Arizona memorial, which has come to symbolise the December 1941 attack in which 2,400 US service personnel were killed.

Abe offered his “sincere and everlasting condolences” for the attack and vowed that Japan “must never repeat the horrors of war again”.

Abe, who shares many of Inada’s hawkish views, sparked anger in China and South Korea when he visited Yasukuni in December 2013, a year after he became prime minister for a second time.

That pilgrimage prompted an unusually critical response from the US, which said it was “disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbours”.

He has not been to Yasukuni since – in an apparent effort not to provoke Japan’s wartime victims – but sends cash offerings and gifts to mark significant dates in the shrine’s calendar.

Inada’s visit comes a day after Masahiro Imamura, who oversees the reconstruction of regions hit by the March 2011 triple disaster, went to Yasukuni. Speaking just hours after Abe had paid tribute to fallen US service personnel in Hawaii, Imamura claimed the timing of his visit was a coincidence, adding that he had prayed for Japan’s peace and prosperity.

Some observers expected Inada to pay her respects at Yasukuni this August on the 71st anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the war. But she was unable to do so after being sent to Djibouti to meet Japanese troops taking part in an anti-piracy mission.

The Guardian, Last modified on Thursday 29 December 2016 16.19 GMT

Anger as Japanese minister visits 'war crimes' shrine after Pearl Harbor trip

South Korea protests as Tomomi Inada, Japan’s defence minister, pays homage at Yasukuni memorial where those honoured include leaders of wartime atrocities

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

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Taiwan and China

China has criticized Japan’s decision to add the word Taiwan to the name of its de facto embassy in Taipei, risking fresh tensions over the self-governing island after a recent spat between China and the U.S.

The Interchange Association, Japan said on its website Wednesday that starting next year it will become the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association. It said the office "will continue to act as a bridge between Japan and Taiwan and is determined to further advance relations."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing that Beijing is "strongly unhappy with Japan’s negative moves concerning the Taiwan issue." A statement on the ministry’s website urged Japan to "stick to the One-China principle, properly deal with Taiwan-related issues, and refrain from sending wrong signals to the Taiwan administration and the international community or causing new disruptions to China-Japan relations."

The naming spat adds to simmering tensions in East Asia. Tomomi Inada, Japan’s defense minister, on Thursday visited a Tokyo shrine seen in neighboring countries as a symbol of her country’s wartime aggression; Japan’s military said Sunday it spotted a Chinese aircraft carrier sailing into the Western Pacific near Okinawa; and last week a Japanese government agency said Chinese universities and think tanks were forming ties with Okinawan independence groups.

Trump Friction

Many countries including Japan do not formally recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, a condition of maintaining diplomatic ties with Beijing. China works to ensure that Taiwan uses other names when it participates in international organizations or events, such as "Chinese Taipei" during the Olympics.

Relations between Taiwan and China have soured since Tsai Ing-wen became the island’s president in May. Tsai has declined to endorse the One-China policy, a long-standing acknowledgment that the two are part of the same China, even if they disagree on what that means. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province.

Friction over Taiwan escalated after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump accepted a phone call earlier this month from Tsai -- whom he referred to on Twitter as Taiwanese president -- and indicated he could be willing to reconsider his country’s stance on the One-China policy. Japan has also angered China by supporting nations engaged in a dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed Japan’s move, saying the new title reflected its work in Taiwan and confirmed the development of ties with Japan.

"In recent years, Taiwan and Japan have grown close," the ministry said in an e-mailed statement. "Taiwan and Japan both enjoy the universal values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. Opinion polls show the feeling of the two peoples are close and friendly."

Bloomberg News, Updated: December 29, 2016, 8:25 AM GMT+8
China Slams Japan Over Name Change of De Facto Taipei Embassy
With assistance by Keith Zhai, and Debra Mao

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Abe's Pearl Harbor visit

Japanese prime minister only trying to strengthen US alliance to curb rise of China, analysts say

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor, criticized by China as lacking in sincerity, was quickly followed by one of his Cabinet ministers visiting a Tokyo war shrine on Wednesday.

According to analysts, Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor, the target of the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Hawaii, had hawkish intentions at heart, not pursuing peace and reconciliation. The purpose, they said, was to broaden Japan's military capabilities and curb the rise of China by strengthening the alliance with the United States.

On Tuesday, Abe and US President Barack Obama laid wreaths at the USS Arizona Memorial.

Afterward, in a speech, Abe said that Japan would never again wage war. On Dec 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor killed more than 2,400 US citizens and drew the US into World War II.

Not long after Abe spoke, Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of reconstruction of northern Japan after the 2011 tsunami, offered prayers at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II. Class-A convicts were found guilty of plotting and carrying out the war.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japan should reflect upon its war crimes in a sincere manner rather than "make political shows repeatedly". She spoke at a regular news conference on Wednesday.

The reconciliation between Japan and victimized Asian countries, including China, must be based on Tokyo's sincere reflection on the suffering it caused, she said, adding that some Western media have used words like "shrewd" to describe Abe's visit.

In the Financial Times, writer Joji Sakurai called Abe's visit "a dovish act that masks a hawkish intent". The visit is "shrewd politics", through which Abe could defuse fears about militarism reawakening in Japan, Sakurai wrote.

"Mr. Abe's dream is to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution, drawn up by the US under postwar occupation, to allow the country to have a real army," he wrote.

On Tuesday, the Association for Inheriting and Propagating the Murayama Statement, a Japanese civic group, issued a statement urging Abe to visit Nanjing and other locations of Japanese atrocities before and during World War II.

"The Japanese Imperial Army killed far more civilians in the Nanjing Massacre, the germ warfare in Harbin and in some other places in Asia, and it is intolerable just to memorialize the US dead while ignoring the victims in Asian countries," said Takakage Fujita, director general of the association.

The group aims to uphold the 1995 statement issued by then Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama apologizing for damage and suffering caused by Japan.

Nell Calloway, director of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe, Louisiana, said, "I feel the visit by Japanese Prime Minister Abe to Pearl Harbor ... was meaningless and he was nothing more than a tourist." Calloway is the granddaughter of the famed Flying Tigers' Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault, who commanded US pilots who fought the Japanese in China.

Zhang Jingquan, a professor of Japanese studies at Jilin University, said that Abe's visit was a way to strengthen the Japan-US alliance and jointly curb the rise of China.

On Wednesday, more protesters than usual showed up for the weekly demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. South Korean "comfort women" meet there to denounce being forced into sexual slavery during the war, Xinhua News Agency reported.

It marked the anniversary of what protesters called a "humiliating" agreement last year between South Korea and Japan meant to be a final settlement of the issue in exchange for $8.3 million for a foundation for the victims, Xinhua reported. Protesters called for annulment of the agreement, and the group also held a remembrance for seven of the women who died this year.

The Japanese military coerced as many as 200,000 women from the Asian countries into sexual slavery during the war, historians say.

China Daily USA, Updated: 2016-12-29 08:08
Abe's Pearl Harbor visit masks 'hawkish' intent
By An Baijie and Mo Jingxi

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Time to look back and reflect

I WAS watching the debate on Syria in British Parliament via Sky News on Astro recently, in awe.

Everyone, both the ruling and opposition were in serious debate mode and some very relevant points were raised and discussed.

The government ministers admitted their past mistakes in handling foreign crises, which may have contributed to the massive refugee crisis in Europe and the current bloodbath that is taking place in Aleppo. There was no name-calling, racist remarks, sexual innuendoes or just plain shouting. Everyone talked when the speaker allowed their turn and all was conducted in such a civilised manner.

May I urge our MPs to watch the proceedings live on TV and learn a thing or two on how to represent their constituencies in Parliament effectively, civilly and with dignity. There won't be any need for a "lawatan sambil belajar" as one can just watch television in a cheaper way.

What is more glaring is that the British parliament chambers does not have the modern conveniences that the Malaysian Parliament has; they all sit very cramped together and there are no tables to put your belongings and documents.

MPs just have to hold their documents in hand and refer to it as and when they need to. It is also difficult to fall asleep as you are being squeezed in your seat like in low-cost airlines and there is no chance for you to take a quick nap.

Letter to the Sun Daily, Last updated on 28 December 2016 - 08:20pm
A civil, dignified parliament
R. Krishnan, Kuala Lumpur

WHILE December is significantly associated with Christmas, school holidays and the monsoon season, it is also the time when people look back and ask themselves whether the previous months of the year have taught them something or nothing.

People are born with intelligence, skills, emotions, desires, strengths and weaknesses. These gifts may be useful for them to enjoy life to the fullest, but some may have subconsciously misused the privileges.

Intelligent individuals will hope to fully develop a country and share ideas to solve issues. Unfortunately, there are hopeless ones using their intelligence to manipulate others or carry out evil plans.

Skills and talents are important to help people feel special, enjoy hobbies and be excellent workers. However, arrogant people feel so proud of what they can do that they look down on others who can’t.

Worse, they use their skills for the wrong reasons. In fact, we have heard of criminal cases such as gang robberies, terrorism, smuggling and trafficking activities that involve experts in various fields, including information and communication technology and martial arts. They could have contributed to the country and benefited the society but greed, obsession, power and wealth caused them to take the wrong way.

Emotions may help us react to situations or express ourselves, but there may be times when we are too carried away by our emotions. This will affect our relationship with other people, our well-being, health and professional values.

It is normal for people to be happy, angry, sad, worried or scared when dealing with different situations or problems in life, but they need to control their emotions and learn to stay calm, rational and patient. Their failure to do so may lead to fights, misunderstandings, communication breakdown, break-ups and depression.

When people get their desires fulfilled, they feel happy and satisfied. People should yearn for something positive, instead of trying to accomplish negative goals.

Mature and wise people desire knowledge, peace, good health, justice and freedom, but insensible individuals may focus on taking revenge, earning easy money by cheating innocent victims on social media, or seeking cheap publicity by behaving badly or spreading false information.

No matter how educated, focused, professional or careful we think we are, we are flawed individuals who may make mistakes, be tempted by the forbidden fruit or indulge in guilty pleasures.

Self-reflection helps people admit and learn from mistakes for a better quality of life. It makes them realise the importance of forgiveness, kindness, patience, honesty, humanity, love and tolerance. It also teaches them about self-confidence, self-awareness, self-control, self-esteem and selflessness.

Gratefulness and gratitude help us to become changed people who believe in silver linings even on the darkest days.

As American author Melody Beattie said: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Letter to The Star, Published: Thursday, 29 December 2016
Time to look back and reflect

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Santa's helpers under threat?

Reindeer are shrinking on an Arctic island near the north pole as a result of climate change that has curbed the amount of winter food available to the animals, scientists said on Monday.

The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, fell from 55kg (121lb) to 48kg (106lb) in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life while temperatures rose, they said.

“Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough,” Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland who led the study with Norwegian researchers, said.

Less-chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food. Some reindeer starve and females often give birth to stunted young.

In summer, however, plants flourish in a food bonanza that ensures healthy females more likely to conceive in autumn. The wild herd studied had expanded to about 1,400 animals from 800 since the 1990s.

“So far we have more but smaller reindeer,” Albon said of the animals on Svalbard, about 1,300km (800 miles) from the north pole. The rising population also means more competition for scarce food in winter.

Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average amid a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Most studies of global warming around Svalbard have focused on polar bears that hunt seals at sea, rather than year-round land residents such as reindeer, Arctic foxes and Svalbard rock ptarmigan birds.

Arctic fox numbers have risen slightly because they thrive in severe ice winters by scavenging dead reindeer, said Eva Fuglei, a researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Fram Centre who was not involved in the reindeer study.

“All the weak reindeer die – the sick, the elderly and calves,” she said. But that meant foxes struggled to feed the next winter because only the fittest adult reindeer have survived.

The Guardian, Last modified on Monday 12 December 2016 22.00 GMT

Reindeer shrink as climate change in Arctic puts their food on ice

Warmer summers boost numbers but average weight falls by 7kg because winter snow turns to rain, which then freezes and locks away its food


Read more;
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Less meat, less heat, more life

Merry Christmas folks, to all who are celebrating!

Now, how you celebrate Christmas is an interesting question. I’ve discovered lately how Christmas festivities vary considerably around the world, and are tied to local traditions and culture. What you might assume as a universal Christmas tradition may actually be far from that.

This very day, Dec 25, is not always the most important for Christmas celebrations in some countries. In the Netherlands for example, it is Dec 5 that is important because that’s when children receive gifts from “Sinterklaas”, whose origins are tied to Saint Nicholas. Germans also put up a boot for Saint Nicholas on Dec 5, although they celebrate primarily on Christmas Eve, when the Christ child brings presents.

In Spain, children await Jan 5, the eve of Epiphany, when the three kings bring gifts and sweets. Many towns have parades with the kings Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, who throw sweets to children.

In Russia, celebrations are held on Jan 7. And in Italy, Christmas really begins on Dec 8, the Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

“Santa Claus”, the popular pot-bellied figure bearing gifts that so often depicts Christmas in popular culture is a relatively modern American creation. He was brought to life by the writer Washington Irving and illustrator Thomas Nast, and later popularised by the Coca-Cola company – no kidding!

Some Christmas traditions are country-specific. An Italian friend told me about her country’s artisanal tradition of presepe, a depiction of a Nativity scene. In many Italian homes, you may not find a tree but you might find a presepe with ornately handcrafted figures. There is a whole street in Naples (the via San Gregorio Armeno) dedicated to this craft. Many churches will also have their own presepe.

Another Italian tradition is to avoid eating meat on la Vigilia, Christmas Eve. The idea, apparently, is to purify one’s body on this holy day. Fish is often eaten instead. In fact, it was common for Christians to abstain from meat on Friday, an observance to mark the death of Jesus on this day. Even now, in Britain, fish and chips is commonly served on Fridays. The idea of temperance in diet is, of course, a feature of many religions.

Now that I’m on this subject, allow me to switch topics. I promised early this year to write about meat in my column, so excuse me while I squeeze this in before the year ends.

If you’re worried about catastrophic climate change in the upcoming “Trumpocene” age, the so-called “age of ignorance”, the simplest single action to take would probably be to eat less meat.

The toll from meat production is staggering – far worse than vehicles, contrary to popular belief. The US Worldwatch Institute says: “The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future – deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilisation of communities, and the spread of disease.”

Then there are the serious health effects of a high-meat diet plus the appalling conditions that factory-farmed animals are often kept in.

Beef is particularly detrimental to the planet. Pasture, or crops, has to be grown to feed cows. Beef production requires 160 times more land and releases 11 times more greenhouse gases compared with staple crops such as wheat and rice, according to a 2014 US Academy of Science study. As a CNN presenter says, meat is “the new SUV” (four-wheel drive, referring to such vehicles’ fuel-guzzling and polluting ways).

Unfortunately, governments are failing to act on the issue, in part to avoid potential controversy with a meat-loving public, and also because of a powerful meat industry.

But a growing tide of people are now moving towards eating less meat. In Britain, singer Paul McCartney has led a “Meat-Free Monday” campaign that is backed by many celebrities and that has spread to more than 40 countries.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is also advocating one or two meat-free days a week. The body-builder and Hollywood star disputes the belief that muscle needs meat. “I feel fantastic,” he has said of his new diet.

With movie director James Cameron and NGO WildAid, Schwarzenegger has lent support to the Chinese government in its campaign to reduce meat consumption. His translated campaign videos are being aired in China with the message: “Less meat, less heat, more life.”

So if you’re looking to make a difference in 2017, consider this issue. The personal choice to eat less meat can be so far-reaching – helping control planetary climate change, no less! I’ll leave you with that formidable thought for the year.

See you in 2017, and Happy New Year!

The Star 2, Published: December 25, 2016
Arnold Schwarzenegger says: ‘Less meat, less heat, more life’
She writes mostly on health, but also delves into anything on being human. She has worked with international public health bodies and has a Masters in public health.

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Father Teresa

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan − Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Pakistani philanthropist whose name became synonymous with charitable causes and who achieved an almost saintly status in Pakistan, died on Friday in the southern port city of Karachi. He was 88.

His son Faisal said Mr. Edhi had been undergoing treatment for renal failure at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation when he died.

The death was widely mourned in a country that is hungry for role models and heroes. To many, Mr. Edhi was known as the “Father Teresa” of Pakistan.

“We have lost a great servant of humanity,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement. “Abdul Sattar Edhi was the real manifestation of love for those who are socially vulnerable, impoverished, helpless and poor. If anyone deserves to be wrapped in the flag of the nation he served, it is him.”

Mr. Edhi was known throughout Pakistan for his Edhi Foundation, which he single-handedly set up almost 60 years ago, starting with meager resources and then expanding through private donations. Today, it operates nursing homes, orphanages, soup kitchens and family planning centers − all free of charge − as well as Pakistan’s largest ambulance service. With his lush white beard, Mr. Edhi was known in the orphanages as Nana, or grandfather.

In a country where government-run services have been glaringly ill equipped to deal with humanitarian crises, Mr. Edhi’s social welfare system has become a trusted household name.

The ambulance service, with at least 1,500 vehicles, has become grimly familiar in Pakistan, whether ferrying people maimed in terrorist attacks or carrying those injured in natural disasters.

Mr. Edhi maintained an austere lifestyle. He dressed simply and lived with his family in a sparsely furnished apartment adjacent to his foundation’s headquarters, always spurning attention from the news media. He was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

His wife, Bilquis, a nurse by training whom he married in 1965, worked closely with him in the foundation. The couple received no salary for their work and lived off government securities. Mr. Edhi’s wife, two sons and two daughters survive him.

Though a revered figure, Mr. Edhi was once the target of an armed robbery, in 2014. Thieves entered his headquarters, an office building in the Mithadar neighborhood of Karachi, and held him at gunpoint, taking more than $1 million and more than 10 pounds of gold jewelry that had been donated to his foundation.

The robbery left Mr. Edhi bitter. “I had never imagined that this could happen to me,” he was quoted as saying then.

Mr. Edhi was born in Gujarat, India, in 1928 and moved to Pakistan in 1947 after the country gained independence from the British Empire. Mr. Edhi initially sold cloth in Karachi’s wholesale market, but he soon gave up the trade to start a free medical dispensary.

The seeds of his devotion to social work were sown in his teenage years, when his mother became paralyzed and mentally ill. Mr. Edhi tended to her every need until she died when he was 19. He never completed his high school education.

Mr. Edhi said he believed in humanity and was wary of people who used religion for their vested interests. He was criticized by the country’s religious right for not offering Islamic prayers.

He also worried that social progress had not matched the world’s material and technological advances.

“People have become educated,” Mr. Edhi said, “but have yet to become human.”

The New York Times, Published: JULY 8, 2016
Abdul Sattar Edhi, Pakistan’s ‘Father Teresa,’ Dies at 88

In a country increasingly riven by extremism, Abdul Sattar Edhi, the founder of a vast public welfare organisation that spans Pakistan, was a symbol of the country’s shrivelled secular tradition. Edhi, who has died aged around 90, never turned anyone away from his hospitals, homeless shelters, rehab centres and orphanages. His determination to ignore considerations of creed, cast or sect earned him the hatred of some on the country’s religious right, who accused him of being an atheist. But the public revered him for his lifelong commitment to humanity.

Edhi was born in British India but moved to Pakistan six days after it was formed in August 1947. He attended some of the public speeches made by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the anglicised lawyer who led the movement for a Muslim majority state. Like many others hailing from Gujarat, Edhi found himself in Karachi, arriving by boat in the Arabian Sea entrepot that would grow into a megacity of more than 20 million people, racked by ethnic strife.

Always hazy about the precise year of his birth, Edhi reckoned he was about 20 when he landed at Karachi’s stinking harbour. He initially worked as a street pedlar, hawking pencils, matches that he would hold on a tray and towels. Later he sold paan, the betel leaf and nut mixture chewed by many in the subcontinent, and then worked for his father who was a trader. But he found his time doing this unsatisfying.

He said he felt an urge to do welfare work after “observing the environment I was living in, where injustice, bribery and robbery were common”. He set up his first simple pharmacy offering drugs and basic medical care, regardless of people’s ability to pay, in a tent next to his family home in Jodia bazaar.

The area, now a teeming slum, is still the headquarters of the Edhi Foundation, which is run out of a ramshackle building where he lived to the end of his days in a tiny backroom. Doctors were persuaded to offer their services free and he raised the money to pay for medicines. Even in old age, he could still be seen on the streets stopping passers-by and cars for cash donations, with no one asking for receipts.

Edhi’s charitable activities expanded in 1957 when an Asian flu epidemic swept through Karachi. He borrowed money for tents to treat people who were only asked to contribute financially if they could afford it. “It was the first mass recognition of my work,” Edhi later told the journalist Steve Inskeep. A single generous donation from a businessman, a fellow member of the Memon community, allowed Edhi to buy his first ambulance, which he drove himself around the city. Once asked why he was prepared to help Christians and Hindus alike, Edhi replied, “because my ambulance is more Muslim than you”. A women’s dispensary would later open and then a maternity clinic.

Through his work, Edhi met Bilquis Bano, who became his wife and a key figure in the burgeoning charity empire. They worked together during one of the toughest periods of Edhi’s life, the 1965 war between India and Pakistan which saw Karachi bombed. The couple cared for the civilian victims and organised 45 funerals, with Bilquis cleaning the bodies of women and Edhi preparing the men for burial. It was said he washed thousands of dead bodies during his life, with his foundation finding space in its graveyards for anyone who needed it. In his memoir, A Mirror to the Blind, he made clear his distaste for anyone who thought themselves too grand to touch the dead.

The Edhi Foundation ultimately became a multimillion-dollar enterprise run directly by Edhi, his wife and their four children. It is most famous for its fleet of 1,500 minivan ambulances that are always first on the scene of an accident or, more frequently, in the last decade terrorist attack. The foundation estimates it transports a million people to hospital each year, charging a tiny fee for the ride. In Karachi, rival gangs have been known to call temporary ceasefires to their gun battles to allow Edhi’s minimally trained ambulance staff to collect the dead and wounded.

In a country with a negligible public welfare system Edhi offered cradle-to-grave services. Some 20,000 people have Edhi registered as a parent or guardian after he and his wife began taking in abandoned babies. They started to place cribs outside their offices where unwanted infants could be left. It was a court case filed by Edhi that ultimately won the right for abandoned children with unknown parents to get the vital national identity card.

“I have never been a very religious person,” he told the Daily Times newspaper in 2009. “I am neither against religion nor for it.” He found inspiration in socialist writers who lambasted the ruling capitalist class whom he thought were responsible for poverty in the world. And he did not see why work to alleviate suffering should be restricted to Pakistan. In 2005 the Edhi Foundation donated $100,000 to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US.

“My religion is serving humanity and I believe that all the religions of the world have their basis in humanity,” he said.

Edhi is survived by Bilquis and their two daughters and two sons.

• Abdul Sattar Edhi, social campaigner, born c1926; died 8 July 2016

The Guardian, Last modified on Wednesday 13 July 2016 22.00 BST

Abdul Sattar Edhi obituary

Humanitarian whose foundation provided health and social care for the poor and destitute of Pakistan

By Jon Boone

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Hafdan Mahler

MY awakening as to how “mean” and “unjust” the world is, ironically, came about during my early university days. I was proud to be enrolled in the country’s first school of pharmaceutical sciences, only to realise that the pharmaceutical world is perhaps one of the most devious. Exposure to incidents involving one Stanley Adams, a top executive of a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, who turned corporate whistleblower when he discovered some unethical practices in 1973 “educated” me as to what healthcare businesses are basically in for: maximise profit not health.

This case involved the dubious practice of “price-fixing” to artificially inflate the price of vitamins that Adams was determined to expose. But it backfired when the European agency to which he passed on the detailed documentation “failed” to protect his anonymity leading to his arrest for “industrial espionage and theft”.

He was made to serve six months in a Swiss prison after being held in solitary confinement for three months. Upon his release in 1985, the European Union agreed to pay Adams £200,000, said to be short of 60% of his total costs, notwithstanding he lost his wife (she committed suicide). For the next three years, he was elected rector of St Andrews University in Scotland. The saga is now captured in a must-read, Roche versus Adams (1984)

Like in many corrupt practices, change seems insurmountable. In fact, the UK Guardian reported in its Nov 25, 2001 issue that 13 drug companies colluded illegally to raise the price of vitamin pills and vitamins added to foodstuff through a cartel dubbed “Vitamin Inc”.

According to Mario Monti, the European Commission’s competition director-general, this was the most damaging case the commission had ever investigated, as it continued throughout the entire 1990s and involved substances that are purported as vital for healthy living. Such cases are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Fortunately, another person caught my attention in the early 1970s. He was Dr Hafdan Mahler, a Danish physician, who impressively led the World Health Organisation from 1973 to 1988 as its third director-general.

He was largely recognised for shifting its focus to primary care and “to search for a balance between the vertical (single disease) programmes and the horizontal (health systems) approach.” The shift is crafted in the famous Declaration of Alma Ata, named after the host city (now called Almaty) for the International Conference on Primary Healthcare, Sept 6-12, 1978 located in the former USSR, now Kazakhstan. Indeed, a year before that he boldly announced that smallpox had been largely eradicated.

The declaration affirms that “health, which is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, is a fundamental human right”. It became a major milestone of the 20th century in the field of public health, and it identified primary health care as the key to the attainment of the goal of Health for All by 2000.

In addition Mahler used to warn about many health-related issues affecting public interest ranging from the casual to the critical including lax hygiene in airline food, fad diets, misleading drug labelling and also excessive reliance “on unproven, unsophisticated and overcostly health technology”. Many of them are still relevant which would have been left to the mercy of the unscrupulous industry otherwise. He even pressured infant-formula manufacturers not to discourage mothers from breast-feeding, and banned smoking at the organisation’s headquarters – allegedly smashing an ashtray to make his point.

The likes of Mahler and Adams are the conscience of the people who know no better given the level of complexity involved in delivering health to the community. As students too they would be equally vulnerable because the universities by and large take little interest in such issues. Universities, more so today, are more preoccupied in the welfare of the industry rather than the well-being of the people or citizens. It goes without saying the tendency is to gloss over inherent unethical and corrupt practices putting constraints on the “ethos of (health) education”.

Thus the announcement of the demise of Mahler (1923-2016) last week at the age of 93 in Geneva when he slipped into a coma comes as a big loss to many health activists in particular. No doubt, however, his courageous legacies will continue to shine on the lives of many more generations to come though it will remain a challenge to weed out the pharmaceutical world of unhealthy practices unless the Declaration of Alma Ata is reaffirmed as part of growing interest in sustainable health in the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030. We owe much to him, may he rest in peace.

The SunDaily, Posted on 27 December 2016 - 08:24pm
Weeding out unhealthy practices
By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

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Festive traditions

It’s two days before Christmas and the Smith family home at the Portuguese Settlement in Ujong Pasir, Malacca is bustling with activity.

Christmas carols linger in the air as young children busily wrap presents to place beneath the Christmas tree.

The house is welcoming, with the porch and garden all decked in festive paraphernalia. Amidst the fervour, family matriarch Freda Spykerman, 91, is busy preparing her signature chilli pickle.

It takes Spykerman about two days to prepare her much-talked about preserved delicacy – green chillies stuffed with young papayas and flavoured with shallots, vinegar, onions and turmeric.

On the table sits four earthen jars where the grandmother of 20 stores the prized pickle which will be distributed among her children and grandchildren.

The aroma of the mouth-watering pickle is heavenly, infused with freshly grounded turmeric, deep fried shallots and garlic and toasted mustard seeds.

“Besides giving it to family members, the pickle is served during Christmas lunch and dinner. One bite into it will tell you why it sells like hot cakes,” joked Spykerman.

Preparing the pickle is a painstaking task. The young papaya has to be shredded and dried under the hot sun for one or two days.

Mustard seeds are also dried in the sun before being toasted on a slow fire.

Spykerman needs to use about 2kg of shallots for the amount of pickles she makes and it’s literally a crying matter to peel and wipe each bulb.

“Only young papaya is used, when it is slightly yellow on the outside with creamy pinkish whitish flesh on the inside. Green chillies are used instead of red chillies as they are much crunchier. My grandchild take me to the market to select the freshest ingredients for the dish.”

Each ingredient is wiped with a damp cloth instead of rinsing under running water. According to Spykerman, vinegar is the only form of liquid used in the pickle.

“Items aren’t rinsed in water as that could lead to spoilage. If done properly, this pickle can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks.

The chillies are deseeded before being stuffed with young dried papaya strips. It is a tiring task to prepare the pickle but the great-grandmother takes pride in being custodian as a family recipe that has been passed down through generations.

“I learnt the recipe from my grandmother. Although this is one of the Malacca Portuguese speciality dishes, sadly not many from the young generation can prepare it. Luckily, I have taught my daughters and granddaughters how to make it,” said the friendly nonagenarian who has lived in the Portuguese Settlement for over eight decades.

The pickle-making session takes a whole day, but Spykerman does not mind as her family will gather around her.

“It’s nice being able to see many of my grandkids and children. It adds to the Christmas feel and that’s really important as this is what the festive season is all about,” said Spykerman, whose grandchildren are between 25 and 60 years of age.

These days, her children and grandchildren help her prepare the pickle.

“When I was younger, I used to do it all by myself. But now, my granddaughters have to help out,” said Spykerman who lives with her daughter’s family in the settlement.

Granddaughter Carryann Smith, 43, said her grandmother is meticulous in preparing her chilli pickle and adheres strictly to the rules that she has been taught.

“Although grandma wears thick spectacles, she watches us like a hawk when we’re preparing her prized pickle. Everything needs to be done precisely – be it wiping the chillies, toasting the mustard seeds or shaving the young papaya,” said Smith who has helped and learnt how to make the pickle since she was a teenager.

Spykerman has a good memory, especially when it comes to Eurasian dishes.

“Although I can’t do as much as in the past, cooking and cutting vegetables keep my mind active and busy. Plus, I also get to share my knowledge on Portuguese cooking with anyone who is interested.”

At Christmas, Spykerman will prepare her much sought-after chicken pie.

Her daughters and granddaugthers prepare other signature Portuguese Eurasian food such as curry debal, curry ambila (prepared with luncheon meat, vegetables and spices), curry seku (dry mutton curry), seybak (braised pork), beef smore (stew) and roast turkey.

Cheerful crafts
In Dr Karen Sharmini Joseph’s household, their yuletide tradition is making Christmas crafts.

For the past three years, the mother-of-two from Puchong, Selangor has been making crafts to decorate her home during the festive season.

Her family has created decorative items such as nativity set, Christmas cards and Christmas wreath.

This year, Dr Karen and her family have made pine cone decorations for their Christmas tree.

“The pine cones were handpicked by my former college mate who lives in Manchester, Britain. We jazzed them up with paint, glitter and stardust,” said Dr Karen. A fortnight ago, Dr Karen roped in her mother Jennifer Agnes Thomas, 67, husband Xavier Vincent, 44, sister Kathleen Sharmila Joseph, 39 and daughters Anna Marissa Xavier, nine, and Avvaa Marrina, five, to work on the decorations. For the project, pine cones, glitter paint, glue gun, ribbons and poster colour were used.

The children look forward to the session as it enables them to play around with colours with the family. Anna does the painting while Avvaa is tasked with sticking on glitter paint. Everything is done under the watchful eye of their parents and grandmother.

“Mummy allows us to use any colour that we like. My favourite colours are pink and orange while Avvaa likes purple and pink. It’s so much fun,” said Anna.

Dr Karen say the materials they use are affordable and easily available at any stationery shop.

“These are easy to make crafts and most of the items are readily available at DIY shops and stationery shops. Anyone can do it without much effort. It took us less than two hours to complete about 50 pine cones,” said Dr Karen who spent less than RM20 on the items.

On average, she spends about RM200-RM500 on festive decorative items, including Christmas plates, cookies, curtains and ornaments.

By making her own decorations, she has been able to save some money.

“These handmade items cost a fraction of the price of store bought items. Plus, they are unique and become the topic of conversation among guests,” she said.

Making Christmas crafts can get a little messy and dusty but Dr Karen has no complaints.

“The kids look forward to the yearly creative sessions. It enables them to explore their creativity while having fun with the family.

“Most importantly, the family gets together and has fun, and this is the true essence of Christmas.”

The Star 2, Published: DECEMBER 23, 2016
These families have created their own Christmas traditions

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Christmas in North Korea

If Santa Claus stops in North Korea this year, he’ll find some trees and lights and might even hear a Christmas song or two. But he won’t encounter even a hint of what Christmas actually means – not under a government that sees foreign religion as a very real threat.

There are almost no practising Christians in North Korea. But there used to be. And while the trappings of the festive season they once celebrated haven’t been completely expunged, any connections they had to the birth of Jesus have been thoroughly erased.

Take Christmas trees, for example.

They aren’t especially hard to find in Pyongyang, especially in upscale restaurants or shops that cater to the local elite and the small community of resident foreigners. A waist-high tree was long a feature at the offices of the Koryolink mobile phone provider.

The trees are often decorated with colourful lights and shiny baubles, but none of the displays have explicitly religious associations. Many are up all year, further diluting their Christmas connotation.

Instrumental versions of White Christmas and Let It Snow have been in the rotation of mood music piped into the dining room of one of Pyongyang’s ritziest hotels since at least last August. In the countryside, where such pockets of affluence are rare to non-existent, so too, presumably, are any of these sorts of glitzy decorations.

This wasn’t always the case.

Before the advent of ruling Kim regime, North Korea was fertile ground for missionaries and Pyongyang had more Christians than any other city in Korea.

It even had a seated Catholic bishop. Most of that presence was erased by the early 1950s, and the North has kept a tight lid on all Christian activities in the country since.Article 68 of the North Korean constitution does give a nod to the freedom of religion – with the rather significant proviso that “religion must not be used as a pretext for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order”. A handful of Christian churches and other religious facilities are allowed to operate, but under tightly restricted conditions.

There are four state-approved Christian churches in Pyongyang – one Russian Orthodox, two Protestant and one Catholic.

Inside the Catholic cathedral are crosses, but no crucifixes. Weekly services feature hymns and prayers offered in a highly formalised manner, but there are no sacraments.

State-appointed laymen lead the services, which are not sanctioned by the Vatican. The Protestant churches are reportedly largely unused.

The fact that Christmas-themed music and decorations are allowed at all and, in fact, generally taken for granted almost certainly signals how little association they evoke with the officially frowned-upon and subversive religion that spawned them.

Overt, unsanctioned religious activities are a very different matter.

As one American tourist found out not too long ago, merely leaving a Bible in a public space is enough to land you in jail for a potentially very long time: Jeffrey Fowle was sentenced to 15 years but ended up being released after six months. And Canadian Hyeon Soo Lim, a Christian pastor, was sentenced last year to life in prison with hard labour for alleged anti-state crimes inside the country.

South China Morning Post, UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 12:01am
Christmas in North Korea: plenty of lights and trees, but no sign of Jesus

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Consumers' movement in Penang

GEORGE TOWN: The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) wants a ban on the use of liquid nitrogen in food as it was harmful to consumers.

CAP research officer Hatijah Hassim said liquid nitrogen was a cryogenic liquid which could cause freeze burn if not handled properly, especially in its condensed state.

[READ: Two 'Dragon Breath' cookies outlets in Kedah close shop]

"It should not be allowed to be used freely by food vendors who do not know how to handle this cryogenic liquid," she told a press conference here today.

Hatijah said CAP had received several complaints on the use of liquid nitrogen in cookies and urged the government to quickly withdraw the product (cookies) from the market before it caused harm.

"People, especially children will be drawn to try this new food trend. Therefore, the sale of this food item should be stopped, especially, since liquid nitrogen is not suitable for consumption," she said.

It was reported last week that Mohd Aiman Mohd Ridwan, 15, from Kedah had suffered burns and blisters on his palms after holding a batch of Dragon Breath cookies which contained liquid nitrogen.

Astro Awani Network, Posted: December 20, 2016 19:03 MYT
Cap calls for ban on liquid nitrogen in food

MANGROVE trees were hailed as life-saving barrier when the tsunami hit several parts of the world in 2004.

With this in mind, some 50volunteers planted 250 mangrove saplings at the Byram forest reserve near Changkat in Nibong Tebal.

Members of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Sahabat Alam Activist Association (Kuasa) and students of Universiti Sains Malaysia unwrapped thesaplings from the black polybags before placing each of them one metre apart along Sungai Tengah in the forest reserve.

Assisted by local fishermen, the saplings are expected to grow and emerge inches above the water within three to four months’ time.

SAM president S.M. Mohamed Idris said the annual effort began in 2005 to recognise the importance of mangrove forests.

He said the programme was also in remembrance of the deadlytsunami which killed 52 people in Penang on Dec 26, 2004.

“Thanks to the mangrove forests, many people living by the shore worldwide were saved from the big waves at that time.

“Climate change is also another issue for human beings, as the rise in sea level is expected to see more floods, storms and soil erosion. These will threaten naturalresources, infrastructure and the community along coastal areas.

“But with mangrove forests, it is capable of providing the first line of defence to withstand strong waves.

“At the same time, it can store carbon dioxide which contributes towards the mitigation of climate change,” he said in his speech which was read out by SAM research officer S. Mageswari.

Mohamed Idris said an estimated 400,000 mangrove plants had been planted in Penang by the group and Penang Inshore Fishermen Association since 1997.

Participants carrying mangroves saplings during the planting programme at Hutan Simpan Byram near Jetty Nelayan Sungai Tengah Changkat in Nibong Tebal yesterday.

The Star, Published: Saturday, 24 December 2016
A lesson on nature’s life-saving barrier

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Trump’s victory and/or Our crisis

Trump’s victory is one of the biggest calamities to befall the west and the effect is that every racist, woman-hater, homophobe and rightwing authoritarian feels vindicated. This rightwing populism can no longer be dismissed as a blip. Indeed, without an urgent change in strategy, the left – perhaps all progressive opinion – will be marginalised to the point of irrelevance. Our crisis is existential.

Multiple factors explain this calamity. First: racism. The legacy of slavery means racism is written into the DNA of US society. The determined efforts by African Americans to claim their civil rights has been met with a vicious backlash. The exit polls suggest that Trump won a landslide among both male and female white non-graduates: only white women with degrees produced a majority for Hillary Clinton.

Second: misogyny. Trump – who brags of sexually assaulting his victims – ran a campaign defined by hatred of women. Clinton was self-evidently an establishment candidate, but a male candidate of the establishment would have been treated differently. Some American men feel emasculated by two factors: the demise of skilled secure jobs that gave them a sense of pride and status, and the rise of women’s and LGBT movements, which some men feel undermine their rightful dominance.

But there is a factor that cannot be ignored. Centrism, the ideology of self-styled moderates, is in a state of collapse. In the 1990s, the third way project championed by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair could claim political dominance in much of the US and Europe. It has shrivelled in the face of challenges from the resurgent populist right and new movements of the left.

Younger citizens feel aggrieved at being condemned to a life less affluent than that of their parents; older working-class voters feel economically and socially dislocated. Whether it be the dramatic surge of the leftist Podemos in Spain, the popularity of the far-right Front National in France, or Brexit – it’s all interlinked. The aftermath of financial crisis left centrism with ever fewer answers, and yet its advocates continue to attack the political hopelessness and failures of their leftwing opponents. Lashing out is easier than addressing their own lack of clear vision or strategy at a time of crisis.

Whenever the economic insecurities that fuelled Trumpism are mentioned, several objections are raised. It’s an explanation, some say, that fails to account for the large majority of working-class Americans from minority backgrounds who vote Democrat. Then there is the issue of culpability. Many insist that working-class Republican voters must take responsibility for electing a racist, misogynist candidate. True, some will be racists and misogynists beyond redemption but others have the potential to be peeled away if the lure is attractive enough.

Early evidence suggests depressed Democratic turnout, indicative of a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton’s campaign. But Trump appears to have done best among middle-income Americans, and narrowly beat Clinton among the affluent. But the biggest shift to Trump – a 16-point swing– came from those earning less than $30,000 a year, even though he still lags behind Clinton among this group. Last time they voted for the country’s first black president. This time they shifted to a candidate backed by avowed racists, and ensured he won.

Centrism has failed these and many other voters. Clinton was not handpicked by the Democratic party’s elite: she defeated an unexpectedly successful challenge by self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, partly because of his failure to inspire African Americans. But her political machine did make it virtually impossible for other candidates – say, Elizabeth Warren – to stand.

At a time of anti-establishment sentiment sweeping the west, a dynastic establishment candidate – close to Wall Street, close to foreign despots, the backer of calamitous foreign wars – was a disastrous choice.

Centrists have an easy retort. OK, smug radical, if we’re not the answer, let’s hear you list the flourishing leftwing governments, describe how the left bridges its divide? And, of course, they have a point. The style and culture of the radical left is often shaped by university-educated young people (a group that includes me). They are a growing and diverse group; often they hail from modest backgrounds. But their priorities, their rhetoric and their outlook is often radically different to older working-class voters in small town England, France or the US. Both groups are critical to building a victorious electoral coalition, and yet they are, indeed, divided.

That must change. Unless the left is rooted in working-class communities – from the diverse boroughs of London to the ex-mill towns of the north, unless it speaks a language that resonates with those it once saw as its natural constituency, shorn of contempt for working-class values or priorities, then it has no political future. In Britain, Theresa May understands where history is heading, hence her clumsy, partisan, attempt to pit a supposedly unpatriotic liberal elite against a working-class for whom patriotism is a priority.

In his seminal book, Don’t Think of an Elephant!, the US political linguist George Lakoff said voters were motivated above all else by “moral identity and values”, even if that meant voting against economic self-interest. Progressives, by contrast, believed that yelling the facts would somehow bring people round.

But human beings are emotional creatures. We want emotionally compelling stories. Clinton’s pitch was that of someone applying to be a bank’s chief executive. She was paraded as the most experienced presidential candidate in history, but that hardly mattered. She was beaten by Obama, then a junior senator; bested again by a political novice.

So what next for the left? It clearly cannot compromise in the fight against racism, misogyny and homophobia but it must urgently work out how to do that in a way that connects with the unreached. The working class is increasingly diverse and the left must have a message that resonates with all constituencies. It cannot allow the populist right to portray it as a hater of working-class values.

We need to project an emotionally compelling vision. Because now we know that stating the facts and hoping for the best will not blunt the right or build a progressive alliance. There is a common thread, but centrists and radicals have failed to find it. We must redouble our efforts. From the US, we see what tragedy occurs in a vacuum.

The Guardian, Last modified on Saturday 19 November 2016 20.08 GMT
The left needs a new populism fast. It’s clear what happens if we fail
Owen Jones

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The dangers of Donald Trump

WASHINGTON: President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday named billionaire Carl Icahn, a vocal critic of what he calls government overregulation, to serve as a special advisor to overhaul "strangling regulations."

He also tapped Peter Navarro, an outspoken China critic, to head the White House National Trade Council, a new office that will oversee trade and industrial policy, in the latest sign he is moving ahead with plans to overhaul US economic policy.

The 80-year-old Icahn, known as an aggressive, activist investor, will not serve as a government employee, will receive no salary and will not be bound by ethics rules requiring him to divest his investments.

He said President Obama had crippled America's business owners with what he says is more than $1 trillion in new regulations and over 750 billion hours dealing with paperwork. "It's time to break free of excessive regulation and let our entrepreneurs do what they do best: create jobs and support communities," he said.

Icahn is already reported to have helped Trump pick candidates to fill his cabinet, including a climate-change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Carl was with me from the beginning and with his being one of the world's great businessmen, that was something I truly appreciated," Trump said in a statement.

"He is not only a brilliant negotiator, but also someone who is innately able to predict the future especially having to do with finances and economies," the real estate billionaire added. "His help on the strangling regulations that our country is faced with will be invaluable."

Trump's appointment of Narvarro signals he is also moving to reshape relations with China after having heightened rising tensions between the world's two largest economies with a series of snubs and criticisms.

A professor at the University of California, Irvine, Navarro's books include "Death by China," in which he criticizes Beijing for waging economic war by subsidizing its manufacturing industry and blocking American imports.

No government experience

Trump's promise to return US manufacturing jobs that have moved abroad by cutting federal regulation and attacking what describes as unfair competition from China provided a central pillar of his campaign platform.

He described Navarro as "a visionary economist" in a statement, saying the brash investor would "develop trade policies that shrink our trade deficit, expand our growth and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores."

Like many of Trump's picks for his future administration, both Navarro and Icahn are staunch loyalists of the divisive president-elect who have no experience in government.

Icahn is a New York City native like Trump. He began his career on Wall Street in 1961, and has held substantial or controlling stakes in numerous American companies over the years, including RJR Nabisco, Texaco, Philips Petroleum, Western Union, Gulf & Western, Viacom, Revlon, Time Warner, Motorola, Chesapeake Energy, Dell, Netflix, Apple and eBay.

He also owned the last glitzy Trump casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Trump Taj Mahal, until it finally failed and closed last month after going through two bankruptcy reorganizations since it opened in 1990.

Icahn took over the casino in 2014, but said it had lost US$350 million (RM1.56 billion ) over just a few short years.

The Sun, Last updated on 22 December 2016 - 08:27pm
Trump names critics of China, regulation for economic posts

WASHINGTON − President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change − and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged − in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

A meeting on Monday between the president-elect and former Vice President Al Gore may have given environmental activists a glimmer of hope that Mr. Trump was moderating his campaign stance. Mr. Trump told New York Times editors and reporters that he does “think there is some connectivity” between human activity and a warming planet.

With the choice of Mr. Pruitt, that hope will have faded.

“During the campaign, Mr. Trump regularly threatened to dismantle the E.P.A. and roll back many of the gains made to reduce Americans’ exposures to industrial pollution, and with Pruitt, the president-elect would make good on those threats,” said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research and advocacy organization.

“It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile E.P.A. administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history,” he added.

Mr. Pruitt, 48, is a hero to conservative activists, one of a group of Republican attorneys general who formed an alliance with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda. Fossil fuel interests greeted Mr. Trump’s selection with elation.

“Attorney General Scott Pruitt has long been a defender of states’ rights and a vocal opponent of the current administration’s overreaching E.P.A.,” said Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which works on behalf of the coal industry. “Mr. Pruitt will be a significant voice of reason when it comes to energy and environmental regulations.”

At the heart of Mr. Obama’s efforts to tackle climate change are a collection of E.P.A. regulations aimed at forcing power plants to significantly reduce their emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution. Mr. Trump cannot unilaterally cancel the rules, which were released under the 1970 Clean Air Act. But a legally experienced E.P.A. chief could substantially weaken, delay or slowly take them apart.

Beyond climate change, the E.P.A. itself may be endangered. Mr. Trump campaigned on a pledge to greatly shrink − or even dismantle − it. “We are going to get rid of it in almost every form,” he once pledged.

Mr. Pruitt may be the right man to do that. As attorney general, Mr. Pruitt created a “federalism unit” in his office, explicitly designed to fight President Obama’s health care law and environmental regulations.

“You could see from him an increasing effort to delegate environmental regulations away from the federal government and towards the states,” said Ronald Keith Gaddie, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.

Although Mr. Obama’s climate rules were not completed until 2015, Mr. Pruitt and a handful of other attorneys general began planning as early as 2014 for a coordinated legal effort to fight them. That resulted in a 28-state lawsuit against the administration’s rules. A decision on the case is pending in a federal court, but it is widely expected to advance to the Supreme Court.

As Mr. Pruitt has sought to use legal tools to fight environmental regulations on the oil and gas companies that are a major part of his state’s economy, he has also worked with those companies. A 2014 investigation by The Times found that energy lobbyists drafted letters for Mr. Pruitt to send, on state stationery, to the E.P.A., the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget and even President Obama, outlining the economic hardship of the environmental rules.

The close ties have paid off for Mr. Pruitt politically: Harold G. Hamm, the chief executive of Continental Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, was a co-chairman of Mr. Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign.

Mr. Pruitt, who grew up in Kentucky, moved to Oklahoma to go to law school. An avid baseball fan, for eight years he co-owned and managed the Oklahoma City Redhawks, a minor league team. He won a seat in the Oklahoma Legislature and opened a small legal office, which he called Christian Legal Services, to challenge government actions that he saw as compromising individual rights.

As he ran for attorney general of Oklahoma in 2010, he made clear that he intended to use his power as the state’s top law enforcement official to attempt to force the E.P.A. to back down, convinced that it was wrongly stepping on state government powers.

“There’s a mentality emanating from Washington today that says, ‘We know best.’ It’s a one-size-fits-all strategy, a command-and-control kind of approach, and we’ve got to make sure we know how to respond to that,” Mr. Pruitt was quoted as saying during his election campaign in 2010.

But that campaign, once Mr. Pruitt was sworn in, quickly became an opportunity to work secretly with some of the largest oil and gas companies, and the state’s coal-burning electric utility, to try to overturn a large part of the Obama administration’s regulations on air emissions, water pollution and endangered animals, documents obtained by The Times show.

As attorney general, Mr. Pruitt took the unusual step of jointly filing an antiregulatory lawsuit with industry players, such as Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the coal-burning electric utility, and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, a nonprofit group backed by major oil and gas executives, including Mr. Hamm.

Behind the scenes, he was taking campaign contributions from many of the industry players on his team, or helping deliver even larger sums of money to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which he became the chairman of.

Mr. Pruitt’s office also began to send letters to federal regulators − including the E.P.A. and even President Obama − that documents obtained through open records requests show were written by energy industry lobbyists from companies including Devon Energy. Mr. Pruitt’s staff put these ghostwritten letters on state government stationery and then sent them to Washington, moves that the companies often then praised in their own news releases, without noting that they had actually drafted the letters in the first place.

Mr. Pruitt understood that he was being painted as a tool of industry, but in interviews and his own writing, he rejected that analysis, saying that he at times formed alliances with private sector players that shared his views − and was determined to help the energy industry and individual citizens in his home state.

“It is the job of the attorney general to defend the interests and well-being of the citizens and state of Oklahoma,” Mr. Pruitt’s office said in a statement in 2014 to The Times. “This includes protecting Oklahoma’s economy from the perilous effects of federal overreach by agencies like the E.P.A. The energy sector is a major driver of the Oklahoma economy.”

Mr. Pruitt repeatedly explained that he thought states themselves were in the best position to regulate local industries, be it oil and gas companies, or other players that might affect the local environment, such as Devon Energy, which has been a contributor to his political causes, and which he has helped push back against federal regulations.

With so much at stake, Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation hearings promise to be heated.

“At a time when climate change is the great environmental threat to the entire planet, it is sad and dangerous that Mr. Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the E.P.A.,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, who sits on the committee that must confirm him. “The American people must demand leaders who are willing to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. I will vigorously oppose this nomination.”

The New York Times, DEC. 7, 2016
Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.

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78 Orang Asli win suit

IPOH: The High Court today awarded a group of orang asli from Johor RM37 million after ruling in their favour in a suit against their former lawyers.

It was the culmination of a 13-year fight by the 78 plaintiffs from Kampung Sayong Pinang, Kota Tinggi, against former lawyer S. Kanawagi, his law firm Khana and Co, and two trustees of Linggui Valley Orang Asli Trust "Tok Batin" (headmen) Adong bin Kuwau and Daud bin Kadir (since deceased) for misappropriating funds belonging to the community and the trust.

Judge Datuk Samsudin Hassan also awarded RM5 million for aggravated and exemplary damages in addition to RM1 million for costs to be paid by the defendants to the court-appointed receiver and manager.

The judge found all the defendants, as well as Kanawagi's son K. Dinesh, equally liable.

"The defendants were dishonest, delayed the matter and refused to cooperate in providing documents and information related to compensation for the beneficiaries and their lawyers," the judge ruled.

Detailed investigations found the defendants had used part of the trust money to buy 27 apartments under Kanawagi's name in Kuala Lumpur.

The rental from the apartments was used to purchase another 30 apartments under Dinesh's name.

Samsudin ordered the 57 units of housing to be handed back to the Linggui Valley Orang Asli Trust.

The case was originally heard by Samsudin in Johor Baru but the judgment was delivered in Ipoh as he had been transferred there.

The plaintiffs were represented by G. Ragumaren, while Shopna Rani Malakjr appeared for the defendants.

Earlier in June 2000, Samsudin had ordered the Johor government to pay RM38,554,111.92 (including interest) to 52 orang asli as compensation for their lands in Kampung Sayong Pinang, Kampung Semangar and Kampung Pasir Intan in Kota Tinggi, Johor, which were acquired by the state government for the construction of the Linggui Dam.

He had then ordered that RM22 million of the award money be held in a trust, with the remaining be held by Khana and Co, to be paid to the orang asli after the deduction of legal fees, costs and expenses incurred.

However, the community was not aware of the details of the judgment initially, and lodged a complaint with the Bar Council when they learnt about it.

A representative of the community, Saling Lau Been Chiang then engaged Ragumaren to file an application in 2006 against the trustees for the audited accounts and the details pertaining to the compensation paid out in 2000 by the Johor government.

Based on the financial statements it was evident that money was not properly accounted for and the community filed the suit.

"We are happy with the decision and this is a lesson for us to be cautious when engaging lawyers," said Saling, when met outside the court.

The Sun, Posted on 22 December 2016 - 11:46pm

RM37 million award

78 Orang Asli from the Jakun tribe of Kampung Sayong Pinang, Kota Tinggi, Johor, were overjoyed after the Ipoh High Court on Dec 22, 2016 ruled in their favour in a suit against their former lawyers for misappropriating funds belonging to the community and Linggui Valley Orang Asli trust.

P. Chandra Sagaran

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the Sami people

A decision in Gällivare district court on Wednesday granted the Sami village of Girjas exclusive rights to control fishing and hunting in the area, restoring powers that were stripped from the Sami people by Sweden’s Parliament in 1993.

Girjas, a village of reindeer herders whose territory covers some 5,500 square kilometers in Lapland, filed legal action in 2009, supported by the Swedish Sami Federation.

The court in its decision emphasized that the Sami population had used the land much longer than the Swedish state. “The main reason for our decision is that the Sami have been using this area since 500 A.D.” judge Niklas Lind said to SVT, adding that the Swedish state only became owners of the land in 1887 in connection with the first law on reindeer husbandry.

“This truly is a historic day. We Sami are not used to winning cases like this”, President of the Sami Council Aile Javo says to SVT.

Even if the court decision only concerns a small area of land, she believes it can be of big importance for the whole of Sapmi, the cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people. “Girjas has paved the way for other Sami villages in Sweden, and I believe we will see more such court cases. Sami all over the north can now see that it is possible to win”.

Sapmi stretches over four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The Sami Council is the cooperation organization of Sami in all four countries.

Lawyers for the state claimed that the indigenous status of the Samis was irrelevant to the case. “Sweden has in this matter no international obligations to recognize special rights of the Sami people, whether they are indigenous or not,” they said.

In an open letter in Dagens Nyheter last summer, 59 academic researchers from different Swedish universities condemned the lawyers for using “rhetoric of race biology” and said that the state’s use of research in the trial “posed a threat towards Sweden as a constitutional state and nation built on knowledge”.

Some locals of the non-Sami population in the area are suspicious and fear that the court decision can lead to restrictions on snowmobiling and moose hunting, SVT reports.

The Swedish state has three weeks to decide if it will appeal the court decision. The state is also imposed to pay the costs of the trial of nearly SEK 14 million (nearly €1,5 million).

The Independent Barents Observe, Published: February 03, 2016

Sami win historic land use case over Sweden

The Sami population of the village of Girjas in Northern Sweden has won a historic case against the state in a long-running battle over land rights.

By Trude Pettersen

The Sami position on the climate agreement was heard by the world leaders earlier this week as Aili Keskitalo, President of the Sami Parliament in Norway, held a speech at the high-level segment of the COP. She emphasised the intensive warming in the Arctic and the impact on Sami livelihoods and also summed up the parliament’s key priorities for the agreement: respecting indigenous rights, recognising indigenous people’s traditional knowledge and ensuring access to climate funding for indigenous peoples world-wide. However, the negotiations have so far been critisised both for limited representation of the Sami people and for not addressing indigenous issues in the agreement text.

Last week, Swedish Radio reported that Sweden has no representatives from the Sami Parliament in its delegation for the COP21 negotiations. Katja Awiti at Ministry for Environment and Energy claims that the selection of the delegation members is based on expert merit. “We don’t negotiate on behalf of different regions in Sweden, but rather we represent Swedish interests that are important for all of Sweden, it’s not regionally divided”, she says.

Aile Javo, president of the interregional Sami Council, acknowledges that the representation of Sami people has been problematic at the COP21. “Also the Norwegian Sami Parliament had some problems to start with and weren’t included in their full right. But as I understand it, this has now been solved”, she says.

In response to the criticism, the Swedish government announced that a process to develop closer cooperation with the Sami Parliament on climate change has been initiated, seeking to achieve a similar agreement as in Norway where the Sami Parliament is entitled to participate in the negotiations. The need for better communication between the governments and the Sami parliaments is also highlighted by Javo. “The Sami Parliaments and the government must have a much better dialogue. In order for the Sami Parliaments to have the opportunity to influence the national position in these negotiations, one must start well in advance and bring forward one’s contributions early on. And the government must consult the Sami people at an early stage”, she says. “This dialogue must go both ways. It’s not only the Sami Parliament that shall push forward and come with demands, the government must also consult the Sami people and ask what our position is on this.”

However, it is not only the representation in itself which is problematic. Also the content of the treaty has gone from explicitly mentioning indigenous rights to having it removed from the draft text. “For us, the most important is to ensure that indigenous rights are included in the agreement”, says Javo. Yet, the Norwegian delegation has actively supported the exclusion of both human rights and indigenous rights from the draft text, for which Norway gained the satirical Fossil of the Day Award during the first week of negotiations. “Norway’s argument is only that it isn’t technically suitable to mention it [indigenous rights] in that specific paragraph. The problem is that this is the only paragraph in the entire 100-page long document where it is mentioned”, says Javo who is disappointed. While Norway claims they can support indigenous rights somewhere else in the text, such a commitment has not yet been seen.

In addition to the lack of indigenous rights in the climate agreement, the reference to indigenous knowledge has also been criticised by indigenous people representatives. The importance of indigenous knowledge has earlier been highlighted in the IPCC report, which provides the scientific basis for much of the UN climate talks. Despite this, the indigenous knowledge is not given enough weight in the negotiations. “I have learnt how to use the land, not abuse it. It’s time that the world leaders learn the same”, says the Sami artist Sofia Jannok during a speech at the COP21. While the current agreement draft mentions indigenous and local knowledge systems, the negotiating parties are unwilling to refer to ’indigenous people’s knowledge’. “Big companies should not be allowed to bring in just any person from the street and say ‘this is an indigenous person’, check, now that’s done”, says Javo while underlining that the agreement must mention indigenous people’s collective, rather than individual, knowledge.

While climate change and the warming of the Arctic have severe implications for the Sami livelihoods, some mitigation policies pose an additional threat to the Sami people. In a panel discussion, organised by the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IPFCC), Keskitalo sheds light on how mitigation initiatives, such as windmill parks situated in important grazing areas for reindeers, make the reindeer herding very difficult. “It is colonization in the name of the environment”, says Keskitalo. One of the key reasons for situating windmills in these areas is that it results in fewer protests according to Javo. “It is not necessary to establish these windmill parks in areas that are very important for the reindeer herding”, says Javo. Once more, this shows the need for a better dialogue with the Sami people to prevent conflicts.

However, the current political environment does not give any major hopes for that governments will strengthen indigenous rights and accede to the demands of the Sami Parliaments. The Finnish government, which was about to ratify the, since long debated, ILO convention 169, took on a more hostile attitude in its indigenous policies after the elections last spring and in Sweden the question has not been on the agenda for a long time. The lack of support from the Nordic governments on questions regarding human rights and indigenous rights in the climate agreement clearly does not improve the situation. At the same time, Javo notes that ILO 169 is not the only element that counts and she mentions the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was supported by all Nordic countries, and other international commitments.

There is also more positive development in other countries. One example is Canada, which has gone from opposing both climate treaties and indigenous rights to becoming one of the key drivers for both these two. “There are other countries one can rely on in these negotiations when the Nordic countries fail”, says Javo, insinuating that Canada might play an important role for advancing indigenous interests also for the Sami people.

The Independent Barents Observe, Published: December 11, 2015

Who speaks up for the Sami people in Paris?

PARIS. Indigenous people have been recognized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as central to the solution of climate change, notably by providing traditional knowledge. Yet the Sami people have struggled to be heard during the ongoing climate negotiations in Paris at COP21.

By Rebecka Snefuglli Sondell

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Rights of the natives

A VIDEO went viral at the end of November on social media, portraying the Temiar Orang Asli community singing Negaraku as the blockade they had set up to protest logging at a forest reserve in Gua Musang in September was destroyed. Several orang asli villagers were also detained as a result of the incident.

This particular action was ordered by the Kelantan State Forestry Department, while a representative of the Kelantan state government stated that all logging activities in Kelantan since 1978 had complied with the law and urged all parties to comply with set regulations.

The orang asli in Malaysia despite being natives and therefore technically part of the bumiputra community have, unfortunately, not quite benefited from the country's affirmative action policies. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2014 report revealed that almost 34% of orang asli households live in poverty, this despite official country figures that say 0.6% of the population live below the national poverty line. Why the disenfranchised community? Has the government not paid enough attention to their woes?

The government has indeed set up a body looking into orang asli affairs, the Department of Orang Asli Development (or Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli), whose mission is to "implement inclusive development to improve the socioeconomic status and quality of life while advancing and upholding the excellent heritage of the orang asli community", but one does wonder to what extent the heritage of the orang asli is being preserved, really.

Many of the problems faced centre upon the lack of recognition of their land rights. This is a crucial point. Colin Nicholas from the Centre of Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) who has long championed their cause, said in a speech that "In the traditional context of their customary land, orang asli would have enjoyed full autonomy over their traditional lands and territories. These are lands held by them by custom and history, and which our courts have recognised as being native title lands under common law".

There is a lot more to unpack when discussing native customary land rights, but suffice to say that the property rights of native peoples are now being slowly but surely recognised around the world as legitimate. The problem, however, is that because these were only customarily recognised in the past, these lands need to be formally gazetted in order to be legally recognised.

The Federal Constitution places land as a state matter, which means technically it is the state governments' responsibility to gazette land as orang asli land. In 2009, when the new Selangor state government set up an Orang Asli Land Taskforce, the orang asli community (mainly Temuan) were overwhelmed and thankful that their rights were being recognised for the first time after so long. The taskforce, headed by an orang asli, was to conduct research to delineate the proper borders of orang asli native customary land, so the state could gazette them and land titles could finally be awarded to them.

While states have primary jurisdiction over land matters, it is not right to place the entire burden on them and absolve the role of the federal government entirely. Indeed, Article 76(4) of the constitution does allow for the Federal Government to make laws pertaining to "tenure, acquisition, registration, transfer of land and other rights and interests in land", so they could very well protect the recognised customary lands of the orang asli.

The protection of ethnic minorities anywhere in the world is an unquestionable right. Already in 1992 the United Nations member states unanimously adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which basically guides countries in their efforts to ensure minorities are not discriminated against.

But Will Kymlicka in his paper "Liberal Multiculturalism: Western Models, Global Trends, and Asian Debates" argues that Asian countries have been surprisingly absent from this global debate on minority rights, partly because they had little role in formulating these international standards in the first place.

According to him, the indigenous of many countries in the region suffer from state policies to "swamp their land with settlers". They are also pressured by the state and its various instruments to assimilate into a homogenous society. The paper in fact cited incidents of indigenous communities in Malaysia being pressured to convert into Islam. Malaysia's National Culture Policy introduced in 1970 also comes to mind, which emphasised the assimilation of non-Malays into Malay culture. Its website states, "… The culture of the indigenous people from this region, which, in a wider or narrower sense, refers to the Malay culture, forms the basis of the National Culture Policy".

Multiethnic and multicultural countries like Malaysia will continue to face challenges in negotiating for rights in public space, especially so for an ethnic minority with such minimal negotiating rights as the orang asli community. But the key is to ensure all citizens are free to exercise their individual liberty; in an ideal world, rights and protections should not be the state's prerogative to give away in the first place. Individual liberty ought to be accorded to each person regardless of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.

As we end the year with festivities, it is hoped that the rights and privileges we possess are not taken for granted. The liberty we enjoy should also be restored to those who have lived on these lands for hundreds of years before us. The Malaysian government, having endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, needs to collaborate closely with other state governments to fully recognise what it signed into; that our orang asli have the right to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, that they are free and equal to all others in this country, and finally, that they have the right to the lands they have traditionally owned.

The Sun, Last updated on 21 December 2016 - 08:57pm
Rights of the natives
Tricia Yeoh

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Language and glib in politics

GEORGE Orwell once wrote that the purpose of political language is "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind".

Even if you disagree, political lingo cannot easily be called beautiful. It tends to be ugly and functional at best, and outright unintelligible at worst.

One who is gifted with the language of the world and endowed with the glib will shine in politics. It is not strange that small snippets in the form of mottos, chants, slogans, and even individual words make up a huge part of modern political campaigning. In politics, words matter, spoken or otherwise.

You cannot get across all your ideas and beliefs at once, but you can create something that represents them, and then work around them. The single reference Amma or Mother brought on revolutionary representation in politics in Tamil Nadu, India when political icon Jayalalitha donned it for her radical mileage decades ago.

The unfortunate and shameful event of Jayalalitha being (almost) disrobed at Tamil Nadu Assembly in 1989 saw her meteoric rise. She was just 40 then and decided that she needed a conversion that would remove the gender identity for her to function with authority and command respect from the male-infested political scene.

Thereafter began her crusade, one that gained her the fame as Amma that saw her accepted with no barriers of any kind. News of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's demise recently hit us like a tidal wave and despite all the warning signs that came weeks ahead, we knew things were not looking positive for her health-wise and yet the news broke many hearts while shocking many more.

While her death is still shrouded in secrecy with conspiracy theories of all kinds being spread online, the fact remains that she is no more.

For those of us who admired her for her guts and courage, breaking the myth that male domination was universal, the loss is immeasurable. She stood up to be seen and heard among the patriarchal herd of politicians with her self-effacing, yet uncompromising ways, reminding us that the unequal social relations between man and woman is just matter of human conception.

Jayalalitha entered the cinema fraternity as a lead actress in the mid 60s and in many of her box office hits she starred opposite none other than MGR himself, the man who conquered and ruled the cinema scene then.

The ingredients to her success, as I see them, are her intellectual capacity, astuteness from experience and exposure, savviness that came from keen observations and her strategic and calculated moves.

Above these stands Jayalalitha's powerful grasp of languages including English in which she orated her political whims and personal goals with confidence. She could be regarded as another orator-in-chief at the peak of her political career.

Her early education in a convent definitely laid her foundation to her excellent grasp of English and she had the prowess very few had. I have seen her interviews in which she took the interviewer to task with her not-so-witty, capricious responses.

Two important interviews stand testimony to Jayalalitha's strong sense of pride as an individual as well as a well-groomed politician. The interview with Simi Garewal, a former actress, in 1999 gave away some insights into Jayalalitha's softer side, which many did not know existed.

Some aspects of her life were fascinating to know, is also indicative of how little we know. That she's a good singer. That she had crush on Shammi Kapoor, but they never met. That she loved Hindi movie songs.

In sharp contrast, in the interview with BBC World's Hardtalk in 2004 she took on the onslaught, that came in the form of pointed allegations, obscured in calmness that one would hardly sense the misgivings.

In that interview in 2004, which was a turbulent period of her political life, she quashed all allegations made against her with a charge instead that the media had always demonised her.

Her deftly crafted responses were spontaneous and might have worked awkwardly against the interviewer when her powerful words came out in a flurry of blows.

Her assertion that she was a, "perfectly rational, sensible, sober and a very responsible leader," closed the interview with her unreservedly apologising for even granting the interview, leaving the man at the other end red-faced, probably with a jolt.

She was neither rude nor disrespectful and her command of English elevated her immensely as a polished, learned, intelligent and shrewd politician. Her grace was amazing and obvious despite the spikes in her words. Very rarely do we find this combination in a politician and despite her demise she still lives heavily and heartily in all who admired her.

Jayalalitha's reference and reverence as Amma stood the test of time and she is more present now in her absence with her charisma and enigma unbroken.

The Sun, Last updated on 21 December 2016 - 08:57pm
Language and glib in politics
Bhavani Krishna Iyer

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Cable car in Penang Hill

GEORGE TOWN: Penang Forum is concerned that the proposed cable car linking Penang Hill, Penang Botanic Gardens and Teluk Bahang will threaten the last and largest water catchment area on the island.

It said the Teluk Bahang and Bukit Kerajaan Permanent Forest Reserves will be affected, adding that the Teluk Bahang and Batu Ferringhi hills contain the last expanse of undisturbed forests in Penang.

The coalition also said the proposals would involve constructing massive concrete towers in the forests.

“The construction process includes getting to and from the towers. It will involve cutting and destroying large parts of the forests.

“The proposals will involve huge pylons hanging over a great distance over hills and valleys.

“The possibility of landslides and soil erosion will arise due to the cutting of steep slopes,” said Penang Forum, a coalition of 11 civil society groups started in 2013.

Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz was earlier quoted as saying his ministry would keep pushing to get the RM325mil needed to build the cable car link.

He said the cable car was not only a tourist attraction but also a mode of transportation.

Penang Forum said there was no mention of cable car when the Penang Botanic Gardens Special Area Plan underwent due process and presented to the public for feedback.

“A special review panel was appointed by the state government to study the Special Area Plan.

“The cable car proposal was put in at the last stage and not presented to the public.

“The state review panel itself strongly objected to the cable car for various reasons of environment, usage and traffic,” said the statement yesterday.

Penang Forum also said traffic congestion was already intolerable at the Penang Botanic Gardens, Jalan Utama, Gottlieb Road, Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang.

“The cable car plan will jeopardise the state-backed proposal for a Unesco Biosphere Reserve on Penang Hill, which will be fragmented by development of this scale.

“The public just wants its hills preserved, guarded and cared for; we look to our state government to ensure that self-serving, profit-driven entrepreneurs take their ill-conceived plans elsewhere,” it said.

Thursday, 22 December 2016
Penang Forum against cable car link

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Don't worry, be happy!

We're told that happiness is the Holy Grail, the pinnacle of life, the end goal. It has fueled a multi-million euro industry of self-help books, movies and songs. It provokes us to change careers, end relationships and strive to improve ourselves. We are confidently assured of its place as our 'end objective', something we attain through hard work, kindness, good health, honesty. It dangles precariously in our future like a giant carrot. But, is it really attainable? And, even if we get it, how long does it last? What's left after the dizziness of love, laughter and good fortune fades?

If we were to listen to Woody Allen who admits life is "grim, painful and nightmarish and the only way to be happy is to tell yourself some lies", our future might look bleak. But disappointment, pain and fear are as much a part of life as joy, success and hope. In my experience happiness is transient; I have had great moments of elation and loss. But, isn't the very fact that they are just that, 'moments', what makes them great?

"Happiness is a delusion, it doesn't exist," says Brian Colbert, psychotherapist and best-selling author of The Happiness Habit and From Ordinary to Extraordinary, "it is not an end destination you arrive at, but something you do or don't do. It's realistic to put happiness as a priority in life but we've a right to be miserable and sad sometimes too. Life is chaotic and it's about balancing that chaos and paying attention to what matters most more often of the time." In other words, paying attention to our values, those needs such as connection, security and recognition, that amount to our identity and that are always being sought after either consciously or unconsciously. "People need to feel they are progressing and evolving. Happiness isn't a choice you make but what you do to enact certain behaviours that will lead to happiness. Even in moments of despair, adversity and negativity, the key is being able to say I'm going to redeem this situation and move forward in a more positive way."

Advance mind coach with imindcoach.ie, Mark Walsh confirms happiness is a way of being, and training your mind to let go of negative emotions is the key. "Often people think about what they don't want and get caught in those negative feelings. If you can acknowledge the feelings, let go of them and identify the simple things that make you happy, then everything else is a bonus. It's also important to give yourself permission to make mistakes and allow yourself to make new mistakes in the future."

We've come a long way since Aristotle who believed happiness was the by-product of a life of virtue, choosing instead to associate happiness with gratification and a vague metric of 'feeling good', not helped in part by our culture's obsession with the illusive pursuit of it. We no longer look at happiness in a philosophical or romantic sense; it has become something that is quantifiable. Mood-tracking personal devices tell us how 'happy' we are at any given time. Large multinationals now employ 'chief happiness' officers to assess employees' moods and researchers have discovered the happiest places and people on earth from analysing posts on social media sites. No pressure then.

But it's commerce; there are big bucks in wellbeing. Selling happiness is the key to marketing goods from phones, cosmetics and vitamins to apps and wellbeing experiences. Ireland has a host of businesses intent on keeping us buoyant, from Chris Flack's holistic early-morning raves and Sinead Duffy's daily words of wisdom on Twitter to Sinead Kavanagh's laughter yoga and Dublin's favour exchange, where folks offer their skills for free. There's nothing sinister about this trend; being happy is a good thing, but perhaps the emphasis on happiness is putting us under too much pressure. Is happiness a healthy goal for us to have?

"I'd be a right Scrooge if I didn't advocate happiness," laughs Josephine Lynch, mindfulness practitioner with Mindfulness.ie, "but often the stress of trying to be happy in itself causes additional stress." Similarly, psychologist and Clinical Director of AWARE Dr Claire Hayes does not see her role as 'making people happier' but helping people understand why they aren't feeling happy and helping them improve their situation. "It could be appropriate for someone to not feel happy. The question is, what are they going to do about it?"

Ask any mindfulness guru that question and they'll probably say absolutely nothing. The happiest man on earth is said to be a 67-year-old Buddhist monk and supreme practitioner of 'mindfulness' called Matthieu Ricard who spends his days gazing at the Himalayan peaks and meditating. My first brush with mindfulness was in Thailand with a wizened old monk who told me that the practice, in a nutshell, could be explained by Western society's 'don't just sit there, do something' mantra versus Eastern society's 'don't just do something, sit there'. He then crossed his legs, closed his eyes and told me to breathe deeply and be aware of myself. I tried but all I kept thinking about was the pain in my right knee and what I was going to have for my dinner.

It's about knowing our minds, being aware, and connecting with ourselves in the present moment, with kindness and without expectation, says Josephine Lynch. So, that's what I was doing wrong?

Positive psychologist Jolanta Burke says mindfulness is a practice that takes time and is not for everybody. "It is very useful but it is sometimes suggested as an intervention that will help everyone in every circumstance of their life - it's not as simple as that. It takes time to learn and very often what happens is people try it and when they don't see results initially they blame themselves, adding to their negative emotions."

There is no doubt it has had huge benefits for people suffering from anxiety and depression, but both Dr Hayes and Josephine Lynch agree that it may not be suitable for people in a vulnerable state. "Mindfulness can put people in contact with where they are at presently and connect them to their unhappiness first," suggests Dr Hayes. Positive psychology, on the other hand, is the science of optimum human functioning. Being evidence-based, it challenges myths and focuses on the indicators of wellbeing and how much positivity people have in their lives. Burke explains, "Rather than looking at what a person doesn't have in their lives, I focus on things like hobbies and laughter, positive indicators of happiness for that person. Happiness is often a compilation of elements such as engagement with life, meaning in life, a sense of achievement and what we do know is that these elements feature strongly in a 'happy' person's life."

If world happiness surveys were anything to go by we should expect ourselves to be in a constant state of near-explosive elation. The World Happiness Report puts Irish people at 18th in the world with an average happiness score of 7.076 out of 10 (despite the water charges, property tax, universal service charge). A recent Central Statistics Survey (CSO) on wellbeing went further showing more than three-quarters of the population ranked their overall satisfaction with life as 'high' or 'very high'.

A happiness index is all very well once put in its econometrics box; governments can better serve their nations if they have indicators as to the state of the economy. The tiny nation of Bhutan, for example, has long measured GNH (gross national happiness) over GDP, gaining itself almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La. But it is probably important to note that GNH is an aspiration. Happiness is, after all, a subjective emotion, which cannot really be measured appropriately.

On the flip side, AWARE reports 300,000 people suffering from depression in Ireland with one in four women requiring treatment at some point compared to one in 10 men. Rates of youth suicide in Ireland are now the fourth highest in Europe with suicide being the leading cause of death in men aged 15-34. Of course, the causes of depression and mental illnesses are many and varied but the added pressures of modern pressures life can play their part in many cases.

The more the demand for happiness, the higher the risk of unhappiness, and while TS Elliot's observation that humankind cannot bear too much reality may hold some weight, living in a rose-tinted bubble of positive emotions may give rise to a Pollyanna effect. Buying someone else's version of happiness is dangerous and unrealistic, says Colbert, whose books don't instruct people on how to be happy but are designed around finding the way there yourself. "There's only one version of happiness and that's yours," he says. But, is there a common denominator when it comes to the characteristics of happy people? "The reality is happy people sleep, eat and live better. They are more centred, balanced and focused in life in general," notes Colbert.

And, is there a common denominator when it comes to unhappiness? Money may seem to be an obvious reason but Jolanta Burke, who works with people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, trumps relationships over money. "People matter because they make us happier but they also complicate our lives a lot." Mark Walsh notes that people make the mistake of associating the accumulation of wealth with freedom. "Money is fickle, instead we should be concentrating on what can sustain us through good and bad times."

We only have to look at the fallout from the recession to know that the 'more is better' principal doesn't fly, not for Ireland anyway. I think it was Tommy Tiernan who said we were never meant to be wealthy anyway. "People were losing the run of themselves," says Colbert, "there was a sense of wearing a suit of clothes that didn't fit them. I think people are generally relieved that the Celtic Tiger has been shot and killed. The expectation is gone, allowing people to return to their true values. Irish people are becoming Irish again, we've got our authenticity back."

Since the recession, our happiness poll dropped a mere 0.068, proving it depends to a much smaller extent on wealth. Just recently, Fermanagh was voted the happiest county in Ireland. "Sure, why wouldn't we be," says my Fermanagh friend laughing, "we aren't connected to the world at all." It is exactly this sense of humour that sustains us, I think. As a nation we have a capacity to be both happy and miserable at the same time. 'What's wrong with you, the big happy head on you', an Irish expression that qualifies that wonderful aspect of our psyche: playful and filtered with cynicism and wit and that there must be 'something wrong with you' because you're happy. The fact is, Irish people are capable of enjoying themselves, which is often labelled as 'happiness' but we're also good at misery; we're expressive. We have a gift of not taking ourselves too seriously.

Perhaps we only need to look to ourselves as a nation to understand the key to happiness; that light requires dark to exist; that life is a tapestry of imperfections; that it's OK to listen to Pharrell Williams and Morrissey consecutively and that, in the words of writer Peter Chelsom, who wrote the screenplay to the movie Hector and the Search for Happiness: "Perhaps we should concern ourselves not so much with the pursuit of happiness but with the happiness of pursuit."

5 ways to be happy right now

Brian Colbert suggests five steps to how we can make ourselves happy

1 Know what makes you happy - food, movies, books, laughter - identify the things in your life that are good.

2 Cultivate an attitude of gratitude - notice what's good about your life: Whom do you love and who loves you? What do you enjoy? What are you free to do?
3 Take control of your thoughts - don't focus on the negative, the things that went wrong or that you did wrong, and start to think about how to improve things from now on.

4 Make happiness a priority - plan to be happy in advance: night and morning affirmations, random acts of kindness all raise your self-esteem.

5 Choose your words wisely - bad words as much as bad thoughts can affect our moods. Try to use positive words such as I can, I will, I need to, I have to etc, to help motivate you.

The Independent, Published: Wednesday 21 December 2016

Don't worry, be happy: Is happiness as simple as accepting life as it comes?

We are constantly bombarded with messages about how to be happy, but is it really attainable? For thousands of years we have looked to religion, philosophy and science for the answer to that question, but perhaps it's as simple as accepting life as it comesWe are constantly bombarded with messages about how to be happy, but is it really attainable? For thousands of years we have looked to religion, philosophy and science for the answer to that question, but perhaps it's as simple as accepting life as it comes


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barbarism against civilians in Aleppo

So there was Samantha Power doing her “shame” bit in the UN. “Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit?”, America’s ambassador to the UN asked the Russians and Syrians and Iranians. She spoke of Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica “and, now, Aleppo”.

Odd, that. For when Samantha talked about “barbarism against civilians” in Aleppo, I remembered climbing over the dead Palestinian civilians massacred at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, slaughtered by Israel’s Lebanese militia friends while the Israeli army – Washington’s most powerful ally in the Middle East – watched. But Samantha didn’t mention them. Not enough dead Palestinians, perhaps? Only 1,700 killed, including women and children. Halabja was up to 5,000 dead. But Sabra and Chatila certainly “creeped me out” at the time.

And then I recalled the monstrous American invasion of Iraq. Perhaps half a million dead. It’s one of the statistics for Rwanda’s dead. Certainly far more than Srebrenica’s 9,000 dead. And I can tell you that Iraq’s half million dead “creeped me out” rather a lot, not to mention the torture and murders in the CIA’s interrogation centres in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. It also “creeped me out” to learn that the US president used to send innocent prisoners off to be interrogated in... Assad’s Syria! Yes, they were sent by Washington to be questioned in what Samantha now calls Syria’s “Gulags”.

Funny old world. Samantha, God bless her, didn’t mention Gaza, where quite a lot of Palestinian children have been killed by the Israelis. Nor Yemen, where America’s head-chopping allies are now dissing the Shiites and have killed almost 4,000 civilians. Nor the mass killings by Isis in Mosul. Nor – most oddly of all – did Samantha mention 9/11. Here, surely, was an international crime against humanity worthy of mention in Samantha’s roll call of shame. 3,996 innocent dead. A must-be, you’d think, for throwing at the Syrians and the Russkis and the Iranians.

But no. For there’s a wee bit of a problem there, isn’t there? Because the 9/11 bloodbath was carried out by al-Qaeda. And al-Qaeda in Syria has changed its name to al-Nusra and then to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and – well, it’s al-Sham (alias Nusra, alias al-Qaeda) that’s been fighting against the Syrian regime in eastern Aleppo. A bit difficult, you see, for Samantha to express her horror over the most terrifying attack on her country in recent history – talk about “barbarism against civilians” – when the very criminal “jihadi” organisation which committed this outrage is, yes, in eastern Aleppo fighting against the Syrian army.

So Samantha has to throw the dead of 9/11 into the trash bin in order to tell us how “creeped out” al-Qaeda’s enemies should be at their behaviour in Aleppo. Out, too, go the Christians murdered or deported by Isis in Mosul, those Yazidis subject to Isis’ “ethnic cleansing” – a subject of which Samantha was quite an expert when it was taking place in Bosnia. In fact, Isis simply gets deleted from Samantha’s narrative. They get, in effect, a clean bill of health.

And we journos are going along with all this. What was the last time you read of Isis’ catastrophic return to the Syrian city of Palmyra last week – surely a victory for those we are supposed to be defeating in Mosul? And some of the Palmyra attackers actually came from Mosul! How did they do that when Mosul is surrounded by the Iraqi army and their allies and all those American “advisers”? And for that matter, what was the last time you heard about Mosul, surrounded by a government army trying to smash its way into the city against its “jihadi” defenders – with even more civilians besieged than in Aleppo?

So here we go again on the familiar semantic trail down which all critics of Syria’s enemies (and America) must tramp. Yup, Bashar is a dictator, his elections a farce, his militias killers, his army ruthless, his prisons so barbarous that Washington sent its captives there for a bit of brutal interrogation. I have actually seen an account of one such session in which the Syrian interrogators concluded that the guy sent over from the US was completely innocent. But seriously, if we were all so “creeped out” – like Samantha – then we would, would we not, have intervened militarily in Syria (despite the Russians) and come to the rescue of the Syrian opposition?

But there’s another odd element to our western outrage – and the clue lies in Samantha Power’s choice of atrocities. For the gassing of Halabja’s Kurds was committed by Saddam’s air force, who were Arabs. And the Rwandan genocide was commited by Rwandans. And the Srebrenica massacres were committed by Milosevic’s militias who were Serbs. We may have “stood idly by”, as the saying goes – it, is after all, what we are doing and going to do over Aleppo – but neither we nor our allies actually committed these atrocities. Samantha stayed on safe ground, didn’t she?

And this is what we in Europe are doing. The French president and the British parliament – where the former Chancellor George Osborne did his “woe is me” bit – all lamented that they had done absolutely nothing about the suffering of Aleppo. And didn’t intend to do anything; hence all the empty seats at the Westminster debate.

And I think I know why – because this is one of the very few times when our fingers are not bathed in the blood of the Middle East. For once, neither we nor our allies – except for the lads from al-Nusra who are supported by Qatar and our other Gulf chums but who are the “good guys” in all this – are guilty of anything more than indifference. Which was exactly the same problem at Halabja, Rwanda and Srebrenica. We didn’t do it, guv’. It wasn’t us this time.

So shame upon the Syrians and the Russkis and the Iranians. Creeps you out just a little bit, doesn’t it?

The Independence, Published: Thursday 15 December 2016

It was bizarre to watch Samantha Power at the UN conveniently forget to mention all the massacres done in America's name

When Samantha talked about ‘barbarism against civilians’ in Aleppo, I remembered climbing over the dead Palestinian civilians massacred at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, slaughtered by Israel’s Lebanese militia friends while the Israeli army – Washington’s most powerful ally in the Middle East – watched

By Robert Fisk

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Subway therapy

In the days and weeks following Election Day, the sticky notes in the subway stations created a mosaic of the emotions, frustrations and fears felt by Americans:

“Woke up this morning and still can’t believe this world,” one note read. “As my heart cries, help me understand,” another person wrote.

Others were more uplifting:

“Never give up.”

“It gives me hope that such beauty and solidarity is coming out of such chaos.”

The nearly 50,000 sticky notes left behind in the subway stations in New York City became an international symbol of unity and expression. And on Friday, more than five weeks after the project − called “Subway Therapy” − began, the notes were taken down. A large selection of the sticky notes will be preserved by the New-York Historical Society as a way of documenting New Yorkers’ response to the election, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday.

The notes will join a list of other artifacts the society has preserved from “spontaneous moments of crisis or exhilaration,” such as objects recovered from the Sept. 11 attacks, items marking the celebrations following the legalization of same-sex marriage and messages left behind at the Stonewall Inn during a vigil for victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, according to the news release.

“Ephemeral items in particular, created with spontaneity and emotion, can become vivid historical documents,” Louise Mirrer, New-York Historical Society president and chief executive, said in a news release. “‘Subway Therapy’ perfectly evokes this historic moment.”

[‘Not my president’: Thousands protest Trump in rallies across the U.S.]

With the sticky notes being taken down just a few days before the electoral college is set to convene to formally elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States, the removal of the messages seemed to perhaps symbolize a turning point in the period of post-election anxiety and uncertainty that has gripped some parts of the nation. But the preservation of the notes also ensures the emotions expressed in them are not forgotten, said the project’s creator, Matthew Chavez.

“I’m happy their voice is safe, regardless of whether they wanted it to be or not,” Chavez said in a phone interview early Monday with The Washington Post.

After moving to New York about a year ago, Chavez became fascinated by an idea: How do people feel better about things they feel bad about? Nine months ago, he began sitting in subway stations with a book that people could write their secrets in. People started talking to him, revealing their thoughts and burdens, seeking what he called a sort of “spontaneous absolution.”

Chavez often goes by the artist name “Levee,” meaning “an embankment built to prevent the overflow of a river.”

“When people are overflowing with emotion, help channel their energy into something good,” he wrote on his website.

The day after Election Day, noticing the devastation felt by so many in the city, he decided to bring pens and sticky notes to a bypass tunnel linking the 14th Street subway stations at Sixth and Seventh avenues in Manhattan. From 2 p.m. that Wednesday until 2 a.m. the following morning, Chavez offered travelers a chance to leave messages, drawings and other art displays on the wall.

“It was just an explosion of people using the sticky notes to find relief, to express how they felt, to comfort each other,” Chavez said. “I just stayed until people stopped coming.”

During the first few weeks, Chavez would take down each sticky note at the end of the night, coming back the next day with a portion of the notes. During the first five days after Election Day, Chavez spent a combined 40 hours in the tunnel. Soon, notes started popping up in other stations, most dramatically in the 14th Street-Union Square station.

In the days and weeks that followed, similar displays began appearing in cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto. Chavez has even received requests for assistance from groups in Paris, London and Brussels that are pursuing similar projects. The project became so demanding that Chavez had to quit his two jobs − working at a bar in Brooklyn and producing commercial voice-over recordings − to commit his time to “Subway Therapy.”

On the Saturday after Election Day, Chavez estimated that there were nearly 10,000 notes lined up on one wall of the tunnel. It took him a minute and a half to walk from one end to the other.

Many of the notes were reactions to the surprise victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. “As a non-hetero, colored woman in America, I am afraid but I will not cry anymore. Let’s stay strong,” one note read. “This is the wall that matters,” another person wrote, alluding to Donald J. Trump’s plans to build a wall with Mexico.

Others were deeply personal: “Suicide’s been on my mind but I can’t leave my family behind,” one person wrote.

[At suicide hotlines, the first 24 hours of Trump’s America have been full of fear]

Chavez always thinks back to a note he read on his second day, in which a parent wrote, “I don’t know how to talk to my 9-year-old, who is crying and upset all the time.”

Another mother told him how important she felt it was to bring her daughter to see the wall, in order to show her how many people were out there, standing together.

“It’s so difficult for adults to explain to young children how the adult world works,” Chavez said. “It seemed like it was a great way for the parents to have this bridge to help them cross the divide.”

Last month, the governor placed a sticky note on the 14th Street-Union Square subway station with the words, “New York State holds the torch high!” and a quote from the sonnet by Emma Lazarus engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free … I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

With Cuomo’s support, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority allowed the sticky notes to stay up. But as the project grew, so did certain problems that arose from it. Many people began posting propaganda and conspiracy theories on the wall. Police received at least one report of a racially insensitive message on the wall. People passing by would sometimes knock the notes down, or argue with Chavez that the wall was partisan, even as he insisted that it was not.

Realizing the disturbance the wall was beginning to create for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Chavez agreed to help in the removal and preservation of the notes.

Beginning Tuesday through Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, members of the public can still participate in the project by placing sticky notes on a glass wall inside the New-York Historical Society’s front entrance in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, according to the governor’s news release.

As part of the society’s History Responds program, the selection of notes will be preserved in clear protective material and eventually used for an installation, Margaret K. Hofer, the museum director for the society, told the New York Times.

Chavez said he plans to also archive the majority of the notes online so that the public can see them for free. He hopes to continue to provide “Subway Therapy,” in the tunnel in some way − whether it involves written notes or a different form of expression.

He would also like to expand the project to areas of the country that, unlike Manhattan, aren’t overwhelmingly liberal − to smaller towns in parts of middle America where Trump’s campaign appealed to frustrated people who felt their voices weren’t being heard.

“I think that’s why people voted the way they did,” Chavez said. “People felt really separate from each other.”

It is especially crucial to provide relief to people living in areas where such expression may not be as accessible, Chavez said.

“Even if someone doesn’t believe their voice is important,” Chavez said, “I think it’s important.”

The Washington Post, Published: December 19, 2016
Post-election ‘Subway Therapy’ sticky notes taken down − but not thrown out
By Samantha Schmidt

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We are not fine if we do not define.

I WAS an appalling student in university. I never came close to scoring a first for any of my exams ... except once.

It was in my second year and the paper was Crime. Before the exams, somehow I got the name of the external examiner for Crime. I am not clever, but I had my moments of cunning. So I searched high and low to find articles written by this particular professor. He wrote a lot about theft and I studied those articles very closely.

Come exam time I made sure to answer the question on theft and I made doubly sure to put in lots of quotes by the “brilliant professor so and so”.

As an unintended side effect of my attempts to be cunning I actually read more than I would normally have and I did pretty well in my Crime exam. In fact my paper was a borderline first. That’s like an A. I never got an A for anything in university.

Aha! This is where my scheming was to pay off. Borderline cases are sent to the external examiner and surely he would not be immune to the thick layers of praise I had spread around in my paper. All that talk about his intellect and acumen was surely worth the two extra marks to push my paper up from a 2.1. to a first.

You know what? The damned fool pushed me down.

Is there a moral to this story? I have no idea; I suppose there must be. But I didn’t tell this story so that it can be some sort of ethical Christmas tale.

The reason I raised it is because of all that reading I did (albeit with rather less-than-pure motives), I remember the definition of theft better than anything else from my undergraduate years. From memory, I think theft is “the appropriation of property with the intention to permanently deprive the rightful owner of said property”.

Definitions are important in law. We need to be clear as to what a crime is in order to avoid injustice. If there is no clarity and the law is overly vague, then a person may be found guilty of committing an offence that they had no idea was an offence.

Let me give you a couple of examples. The Penal Code has offences of crimes that threaten parliamentary democracy.

Yet there is no definition of what “parliamentary democracy” is. This means the police have been charging people for an offence that no one knows exactly what it is.

This has led to a situation where things that are actually part and parcel of a parliamentary democracy (at least in my view) have been deemed a threat by the cops.

Such state of affairs also exists in public universities up and down the country. In the students’ disciplinary rules of all public universities, you will probably find the offence of “tarnishing the image of the university” or something similar to that.

What exactly does “tarnishing the image of the university” mean? Well, it would appear to me that it means whatever the university and its disciplinary board want it to mean.

Therefore protesting against corruption has been deemed a “tarnishing” act. How can exercising one’s right to expression, on an issue of national importance, be seen as “tarnishing”?

I don’t know. It is a mystery to me. And in any law or rules, mysteries are not a good thing.

There has to be clarity and certainty as far as possible. This is to ensure that there can be no such thing as an overly broad discretion in the hands of those enforcing these laws and rules. Because when such a broad discretion exists, so does despotism.

And despots come in all shapes and sizes; some carry guns and some wear mortar boards.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 21 December 2016
We are not fine if we do not define
By AZMI SHAROM, law teaher

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hidden Christians

Japanese rice farmer Masatsugu Tanimoto doesn't think of himself as a Christian, and you'd almost never find him in a church. But every so often, he and others meet to recite prayers drawn from another time and place.

The group, dressed in sober kimonos and sandals, rapidly make the sign of the cross as they sing a mish-mash of Portuguese, Latin and Japanese -- evoking the memory of their ancestors, the so-called "hidden Christians", who were brutally persecuted in the 17th century, when Shoguns ruled Japan.

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese is bringing their harrowing story to the big screen just before Christmas in his newest movie 'Silence', based on the 1966 novel by famed Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo.

"If the film properly recounts the story of my ancestors, I'd gladly go see it," Tanimoto told AFP after singing with several other descendants.

The group, from the town of Ikitsuki, near Nagasaki, meet at a local museum to conduct these rituals.

Despite their Christian roots, the multilingual prayers, known as orasho, are not meant to honour God or any Christian figure, the 60-year-old added.

"We say 'Mary' several times but we're not praying to her. We don't refer to a specific god either, but rather to our ancestors," he added.

The link to modern day Japan, where Christians make up less than one percent of the population, stretches back more than four centuries.

The first missionary, Jesuit Francis-Xavier arrived in Japan with two companions in 1549 and was followed by Portuguese missionaries who drew tens of thousands more Japanese to the faith. The priests were expelled in the 17th century by military leaders who feared their growing influence.

For Japanese converts, hiding their religion became a matter of life and death for the next 250 years, as Christianity was banned and Japan closed itself off from the outside world.

Some suspects were forced to trample on holy images to prove they were not Christians. Many went into hiding or disguised their faith.

Those who refused to give up Christianity faced being burned to death, crucified, or slowly drowned.

- Isolated -

Whether it was to camouflage their beliefs or adapt to an environment without priests and bibles, the hidden Christians created a blended faith that left its mark on traditions still honoured by their descendants.

The Virgin Mary took the form of Kannon, the buddhist goddess of mercy. Ave Maria became the somewhat similar "Abe Maruya".

"Isolated, they had no choice but to recreate their beliefs as faithfully as possible," said Shigeo Nakazono, an ethnologist at the local Ikitsuki Island Museum.

Fisherman Masaichi Kawasaki's home has four altars in his living room, including one devoted to Buddhism, another for his ancestors -- common in rural Japanese homes -- and a third for the Shinto faith.

The last one, stuffed with flasks, apples, flowers, a melon, a cross and candles, features a kimono-clad woman with long black hair holding a child -- is unmistakeable as an image of the Virgin Mary.

On a table lay tiny white paper crosses like the ones Kawasaki's ancestors would hide in the ears of deceased converts.

"It was only natural that I would learn this practice as it was part of my daily life growing up as a child, a bit like one assimilates a habit into everyday life," the 66-year-old said.

Many descendants, known as Kakure Kirishitan (hidden Christians in Japanese), in the small community about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) southwest of Tokyo have never joined the church and struggle to identify with Christianity

Some of earlier underground Christians converted to Catholicism after priests returned in the mid-19th century, when Japan lifted over two centuries of self-imposed isolation.

In 1865, a group of nervous peasants approached a Christian missionary working in Japan. One woman whispered "ours hearts are the same as yours", revealing the previously unknown existence of what turned out to be tens of thousands of the original Christians' ancestors.

- 'Really sad'

Some think the Catholic church should reach out to help ensure the story doesn't fade into the mists of time.

"It is something that happened here in Japan and is a unique thing in the world," said Father Renzo de Luca, director of Nagasaki's Twenty-six Martyrs Museum and Monument, which commemorates Christians executed on the site in the late 1500s.

But there are just a few hundred known descendants of the hidden Christians left, and many younger people don't show much interest in carrying on traditions to honour the long-dead converts.

"It's really sad," said 64-year-old carpenter Yoshitaka Oishi, his eyes welling up with tears.

"If this doesn't get passed down, it's finished."

Daily Mail, Published: 04:40 GMT, 20 December 2016
The secret world of Japan's hidden Christians

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Press conference by CAP

GEORGE TOWN: Malaysia’s mental illness rate is above the global average.

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) said what was more frightening was that the country was not prepared to deal with the epidemic.

Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris said one out of three individuals had mental health problems in Malaysia according to the National Health and Mobidity Survey in 2015.

“The statistics are frightening. The global average for mental disorders according to the World Health Organisation is one in four persons,” he said in a statement here yesterday.

He also said that mental illness was still regarded as a taboo.

“Various factors causing mental disorders have been identified.

“They range from financial difficulties, failure to meet expectations, pressure from surrounding environment, negative media influence, workplace pressures and even poor parenting.

“Coping skills should be inculcated at every stage of life right from school.

“Malaysians need to have easy access to counselling services all over the country and not just in urban centres,” he said.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 21 December 2016
CAP: Malaysia not ready for mental health crisis

GEORGE TOWN: A sundry shop is selling alcoholic beverages illegally to the orang asli in Ulu Legong, Kedah, the Consumers Association of Penang claimed.

It urged the Baling District Council to investigate and take immediate action, claiming that the activity has been going on for some time.

CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris said a number of children and women in the community had become alcoholics because of it.

Some orang asli had also turned to glue sniffing, he said in a press statement yesterday.

He said a CAP survey found that besides adults, more than 30 children, between the ages of nine and 15, were consuming alcoholic drinks and sniffing glue that they bought from the shop.

“There are also outsiders who come to Kampung Lubuk Legong who sell these illicit things to the community, for RM5 per can of glue and RM5 a bottle of alcoholic drink.

“Those villagers who sniff glue and drink spend around RM25 each a day,” he added.

Idris urged the Kedah government and authorities to give serious attention to the issue.

He said alcoholism could lead to high blood pressure, nervous system disorders and liver damage, while glue sniffing could cause brain, liver, kidney and heart damage.

He suggested that awareness programmes on these adverse effects be conducted for the community.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 15 December 2016
CAP: Shop selling alcohol illegally to orang asli

GEORGE TOWN: Taking sand from the coastline of Tanjung Bungah for another beach on Penang island is like robbing Peter to pay Paul, said an environmental group.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president S. M. Mohamed Idris said it shared the grave concerns of the residents and fishermen living near the coastline.

“Such activities are destroying the beaches and the coastline in the areas concerned.

“The taking of sand from a highly populated part of Penang will destroy the environment there.

“To beautify the beach in a hotel stretch at the expense of another part of Penang is like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’,” he said in a statement here yesterday.

He was commenting on a report in The Star over the dredging works at the estuaries of Sungai Kelian and Sungai Kechil which had irked residents in Tanjung Bungah.

It is believed that the sand would be sent to the Batu Ferringhi beachfront between Hard Rock Hotel and Bayview Beach Resort for a RM10.8mil beautification project.

Mohamed Idris also urged the state government to reveal if an Environmental Impact Assessment had been carried out for the sand dredging and mining works in Tanjung Bungah.

Canadian S. P. Richard, 68, who is residing in Penang under the Malay-sia My Second Home scheme, had on Friday questioned the state government’s transparency on the matter.

“There is a lack of transparency about the sand dredging project.

“The state or authorities should let residents know what’s going on in their neighbourhood,” said Richard.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 11 December 2016
SAM: It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul

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Aleppo-More propaganda than news

It has just become more dangerous to be a foreign correspondent reporting on the civil war in Syria. This is because the jihadis holding power in east Aleppo were able to exclude Western journalists, who would be abducted and very likely killed if they went there, and replace them as news sources with highly partisan “local activists” who cannot escape being under jihadi control.

The foreign media has allowed – through naivety or self-interest – people who could only operate with the permission of al-Qaeda-type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to dominate the news agenda.

The precedent set in Aleppo means that participants in any future conflict will have an interest in deterring foreign journalists who might report objectively. By kidnapping and killing them, it is easy to create a vacuum of information that is in great demand and will, in future, be supplied by informants sympathetic to or at the mercy of the very same people (in this case the jihadi rulers of east Aleppo) who have kept out the foreign journalists. Killing or abducting the latter turns out to have been a smart move by the jihadis because it enabled them to establish substantial control of news reaching the outside world. This is bad news for any independent journalist entering their territory and threatening their monopoly of information.

There was always a glaring contradiction at the heart of the position of the international media: on the one hand it was impossibly dangerous for foreign journalists to enter opposition-held areas of Syria, but at the same time independent activists were apparently allowed to operate freely by some of the most violent and merciless movements on earth. The threat to Western reporters was very real: James Foley had been ritually beheaded on 8 August 2014 and Steven Sotloff a few days later, though long before then foreign journalists who entered insurgent-controlled zones were in great danger.

But the threat was just as great for a local persons living under insurgent rule who criticised their actions or ideas. This is made clear by an Amnesty International report published in July this year entitled Torture Was My Punishment. Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme of Amnesty International, says that in these areas civilians “live in constant fear of being abducted if they criticise the conduct of armed groups in power or fail to abide by the strict rules some have imposed”.

Any genuinely independent journalists or activists are targeted, according to the report. Speaking of Jabhat al-Nusra (which has renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and was formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), a 24-year-old media activist called “Issa” said “they are in control of what we can and cannot say. You either agree with their social rules and policies or you disappear.”

What follows after such an abduction is made clear by a political activist called “Ibrahim” who in 2015 organised a peaceful protest in support of the 2011 uprising. Such independent action was evidently unacceptable to Nusra who kidnapped him. He says: “I was taken to the torture room. They placed me in the shabeh position, hanging me from the ceiling from my wrists so that my toes were off the ground. Then they started beating me with cables all over my body… after the shabeh they used the dulab (tyre) technique. They folded my body and forced me to go inside a tyre and then started beating me with wooden sticks.”

Bassel, a lawyer in Idlib, said: “I was happy to be free from the Syrian government’s unjust rule, but now the situation is worse.” He criticised Nusra on Facebook and was immediately detained. Amnesty says the main armed opposition groups are equally severe on anybody differing from them.

There was a period in 2011 and 2012 when there were genuinely independent opposition activists operating inside Syria, but as the jihadis took over these brave people were forced to flee abroad, fell silent or were dead. In August 2013, I appeared on the same television programme as Razan Zaitouneh, a renowned human rights lawyer and founder of the Violations Documentation Centre which recorded crimes and atrocities. She was speaking by Skype from the opposition stronghold of Douma in north east Damascus where I had been the previous year, but it had become too risky for me to visit.

Zaitouneh was describing the sarin poison gas attack that had killed so many people in rebel-held districts of Damascus and denouncing the Syrian government for carrying it out. She was an advocate for the non-jihadi Syrian opposition, but she also criticised the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam movement that controlled Douma. On 8 December, its gunmen broke into her office and seized her and her husband Wael Hamada, and two civil rights activists: Samira al-Khalili, a lawyer, and Nazem al-Hamadi, a poet. None of the four have been seen since and are very likely dead.

It was convenient for the international media to broadcast the videos and Skype interviews from east Aleppo as if they had been given as freely as in Copenhagen or Edinburgh. To do otherwise would have damaged the credibility of the graphic and compelling material in which the speakers looked frightened, and with good reason, and there was the crackle of gunfire and the boom of exploding shells.

None of this was necessarily fake – but there were many omissions. There was no sign of the 8,000 to 10,000 armed fighters whom the UN estimated to have been in east Aleppo. In fact, I cannot recall seeing anybody with a gun or manning a fortified position in these heart-rending films. The only visible inhabitants of Aleppo are unarmed civilians, in complete contrast to Mosul where the Iraqi armed forces are battling thousands of Isis gunmen who are using the civilian population as human shields.

It would be simple-minded to believe that this very appealing and professional PR for the Syrian armed opposition is all their own work. Foreign governments play a fairly open role in funding and training opposition media specialists. One journalist of partly Syrian extraction in Beirut told me how he had been offered $17,000 a month to work for just such an opposition media PR project backed by the British government.

The dominance of propaganda over news in coverage of the war in Syria has many negative consequences. It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.

There is nothing wrong or surprising about the Syrian opposition demonising its enemies and hiding negative news about itself. The Iraqi opposition did the same thing in 2003 and the Libyan opposition in 2011. What is much more culpable is the way in which the Western media has allowed itself to become a conduit for propaganda for one side in this savage conflict. They have done so by rebranding it as authentic partisan information they cannot check, produced by people living under the authority of jihadi movements that tortures or kills any critic or dissenter.

News organisations have ended up being spoon-fed by jihadis and their sympathisers who make it impossible for independent observers to visit areas they control. By regurgitating information from such tainted sources, the media gives al-Qaeda type groups every incentive to go on killing and abducting journalists in order to create and benefit from a news vacuum they can fill themselves.

The Independent, Published: Saturday 17 December 2016

There's more propaganda than news coming out of Aleppo this week

There was a period in 2011 and 2012 when there were genuinely independent opposition activists operating inside Syria, but as the jihadis took over these brave people were forced to flee abroad, fell silent or were dead

By Patrick Cockburn (*)

Patrick Cockburn is an award-winning writer on The Independent who specialises in analysis of Iraq, Syria and wars in the Middle East.

In 2014 he forecast the rise of Isis before it was well known, and has written extensively about it and other players in the region.

He was born in Cork in 1950, went to school there and in Scotland, took his first degree at Trinity College, Oxford and did graduate work at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast before shifting to journalism in 1978.

He joined the Financial Times, covering the Middle East, and was later Moscow correspondent.

He joined The Independent in 1990, reporting on the First Gulf War from Baghdad, and has written largely on the Middle East ever since.

He is the author of The Rise of Islamic State (Verso, 2015).
More read the review by Jason Burke about his book in the Guardian's article:

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Drug addiction

Breaking a habit isn’t easy. So we don’t force smokers to “just quit”, despite the fact that smoking is linked to major diseases that bleed billions of ringgit from the nation’s healthcare budget.

We don’t wrench smokers from their families and jobs, shove them against their will into a “rehabilitation” centre, preach to them about morals or make them do manual labour in the hope of curing their addiction to cancer sticks.

So why do we do this with drug users? We rob them of everything that might offer some stability or self-esteem when we force them into drug “rehabilitation” centres. Not surprisingly, the vast majority relapse within weeks after leaving these centres, known as Puspen (Pusat Pemulihan Penagihan Narkotik; formerly, Pusat Serenti).

Conversely, the results are much better when we offer voluntary treatment at the Cure and Care (C&C) clinics offered by some hospitals and doctors. C&Cs provide various treatment options, including methadone, a commonly-used drug worldwide to manage heroin addiction.

Now, a major new study shows the extraordinary disparity between compulsory and voluntary treatment.

The study found that drug users released from Puspen were much more likely to relapse, and sooner – within 31 days, compared with 352 days – than those getting voluntary treatment in C&Cs. The people in the voluntary treatment group were 84% less likely to relapse.

A month after release from Puspen, more than half of the study participants had relapsed whereas 91% in voluntary treatment remained drug-free.

A year later, only 10% of those from Puspen remained drug-free compared with half the voluntary treatment group, indicating the ineffectiveness of using Puspen to treat addiction.

The study, published this week in the leading British medical journal, The Lancet, is one of the first to starkly demonstrate the difference between compulsory and voluntary drug treatment.

We really have to ask: why do we still have 7,000 drug users forcibly held in 28 “rehabilitation” centres nationwide, and twice as many more in prison?

Numerous studies have already shown the success of C&C centres, yet the programme remains limited in this country, mostly confined to the Klang Valley, with only 1,200 participants currently. This is just a fraction of the 131,000 Malaysians registered as “addicts” in the first half of this decade by the National Anti-Drug Agency.

Hopefully, this study will provide the impetus to scale-up voluntary treatment and move away from compulsory drug detention centres – not just in Malaysia but region-wide.

“Not only does this study have major drug policy implications for Malaysia, but for much of Asia where compulsory drug detention centres and the number of people detained in them are expanding,” said Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, an author of the study and dean of Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine.

Dr Anne Bergenstrom, from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said the study “provides solid evidence” of the need to expand voluntary treatment.

In China and South-East Asia, roughly 600,000 drug users are held annually in compulsory drug rehabilitation detention centres.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported detainees in some centres have experienced torture, violence, forced labour and sexual assault.

In their report Skin On The Cable, former inmates from a Cambodian centre describe how they were whipped with electric wires that tore off skin each time.

In Vietnam, inmates were made to work six days a week processing cashews, sewing garments or other work, HRW reported.

“Locking people up and subjecting them to abuse is considered a more politically-expedient way to manage drug use … than approaches such as voluntary, community-based treatment,” HRW’s Richard Pearshouse said.

In the Lancet study, the authors – also from American and Australian research institutes – concluded that, given their ineffectiveness, compulsory drug rehabilitation detention centres should be closed down.

The UN called for the closure of such centres in 2012, warning of consequences such as overdose, death and infection with blood-borne viruses.

Yet some 1,000 centres remain region-wide.

In Malaysia, drug rehabilitation centres date back to a five-decade-old policy. One reason why we have plodded along with the same policy is public pressure to lock up people who use drugs, said Dr Adeeba. Drug users are often viewed “as a nuisance to society”.

There is a mistaken belief that jailing them will change them. And punish them.

In fact, she said, drug addiction is a complex and chronic medical condition.

“Whilst addressing the physical dependence, it is also important to look into the psycho-social aspects of dependence.”

There is no magic bullet treatment; rather, a variety of treatment options, such as methadone and helping secure housing, employment and family ties, all help.

Addiction is society’s modern disease. Providing the means for drug users to reenter society rather than banishing them to rehab centres and prisons should be the logical – and humane – obligation of society.

The Star 2, Published: December 11, 2016

Addiction is society’s modern disease

And there is no magic bullet treatment for it.

By Mangai Balasegaram

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Gardens bring people together

When Sheryl Hybert was house-hunting several years ago, her real estate agent showed her a cozy 1920s home in north Minneapolis’ McKinley neighborhood. Hybert liked the house. But the yard next door sealed the deal.

“I saw her garden,” said Hybert, recalling her first look at Renee Allen’s lush landscape. “The Realtor took me back to meet Renee, and I said, ‘I want to live next door to her.’ I’m a gardener, and I recognized a kindred spirit.”

The two women quickly bonded, sharing plants, tips and an infectious enthusiasm for gardening that reverberates up and down their block.

They dig up plants and shrubs to share with neighbors and swap with nearby gardeners via the Twin Cities Perennial Exchange Facebook group.

“There’s always something that can be divided,” said Allen, who gave one neighbor a compost barrel to help get them started. “That’s the cool thing − gardens bring people together.”

Today, it’s hard to tell where Allen’s garden ends and Hybert’s begins; both women have filled the boulevard and just about every inch of their front yards with plants, many of them natives chosen to provide food, water and shelter for birds and beneficial insects. (They’ve posted signs announcing “Pollinator Habitat” and “Wildlife Habitat.”)

“We don’t use any chemicals,” said Allen, who keeps bees in her backyard.

But while they have a lot in common as gardeners, they also have their individual styles and quirks.

“We have similar plants, but every garden takes on the personality of whoever’s tending it,” said Allen. After living in her home for 24 years, she has the more-established garden, including a tidy cottage-style garden in front showcasing irises and peonies that have been in her family for generations.

“I can walk in front, and every plant has a memory,” she said. “It’s as good as looking through a photo album."

Hybert favors a slightly wilder look. The giant smoke bush in her front yard has “gone wacky,” she said, and her gooseneck loosestrife is “taking over. I’m going to be pulling it up to exert some control. I tend to like the natives, and I have a lot of things that spread. She [Allen] likes it nice and contained.”

Allen said she has evolved as a gardener through trial and error. “When you first start, you want things that fill in. But those spreading things are too much work,” she said.

Hybert has learned that less is more with some plants. “She’s taught me it’s OK to pull something,” she said.

‘Blank slate’

Both Allen and Hybert started their gardens from scratch. When Allen moved in, there was no garden, just a “mud pit. Everything sloped toward the house.”

She was determined to create a garden. “I’ve always had a fixation with plants,” she said. “I’d had a couple gardens, small beds here and there, but it wasn’t until I moved here that I caught the disease.”

Her first step toward creating her garden was to add a big accent rock to her front yard and plant a beloved cherry tree. She now has seven fruit trees, including cherries and apples, and makes her own jams.

“I’m a tree freak,” she said. “I have 14 trees. I can’t put one more back there,” she said of her heavily shaded backyard, anchored by a giant elm that she protects from disease with expensive treatments. “It’s a pet, like my dogs,” she said. “The thing that would bring me to absolute tears is if I ever lost the elm.”

Other than that, she doesn’t pamper her plants. “They get tough love,” she said. “They adapt or they die.”

Hybert’s yard was “all grass, a blank slate,” when she bought the house. “The first thing I did was the alley,” she said. “It was scary, and full of garbage. My friend is a landscaper, and he brought fantastic rocks.”

Allen, too, gardens in their alley, where she grows hops on a trellis. Not to make beer. “I just like the way it climbs.”

Hybert added a fire pit to her backyard. “I had to have a fire pit because Renee had a firepit.” she said. And inspired by Allen, she’s planted more trees. “She’s my garden mentor,” she said.

Both women love whimsical and rustic garden art. Allen hangs old, weathered picture frames on her fence. Hybert has a Thai-inspired “spirit house” with an altar tucked into a corner of her yard and a shimmering patchwork of wine and beer bottles pushed into the ground to form a glass mosaic.

“I got the idea in Mexico,” she said.

Together, the two garden buddies have weathered trials and tribulations. The tornado that hit north Minneapolis in 2011 took the roof off Allen’s backyard gazebo, and blew a neighbor’s cedar tree onto Hybert’s fence. Their block had no electricity for a week.

But neighbors came together to help one another clean up and repair damage, working by day, then firing up their grills for backyard barbecues in the evening. “It was a great community-building event,” Allen said.

That cooperative spirit is one of the things they love about their neighborhood.

“Living on the North Side, it’s a challenging part of the city,” Allen said. “We create our own little oasis. There are incredible people here, who care about this place.”

Hybert added: “And some amazing gardens.”

Star Tribune, Posted: November 12, 2016 − 3:23pm

Next-door neighbors in north Minneapolis share passion for gardening

Next-door neighbors in north Minneapolis share their passion for gardening with each other and others on their block.

By Kim Palmer

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Still explaining, still defending

For many public intellectuals these days, speaking engagements pay the bills. But listening, according to the feminist icon Gloria Steinem, is even more important. Her new book, “My Life on the Road,” provides a lesson in how to stay relevant when your name is synonymous with a decades-old movement that has fallen in and out of popular favor: Keep moving. And keep asking questions.

Steinem calls herself a “wandering organizer,” and she explains how a life of travel has boosted her spirits, shaped her politics and made her a household name. From her earliest days speaking on college campuses with her collaborators Florynce Kennedy and Margaret Sloan, to her work as a journalist on assignment for New York magazine, to her role drawing crowds to campaign events − it’s easy to understand how the political change Steinem has witnessed and fostered is directly proportional to how peripatetic her life has been.

“I come by my road habits honestly,” Steinem, whose father was an itinerant salesman, writes. She was raised in an era when women were still primarily associated with the hearth and home, but was drawn to a life of travel after two years touring India in her early 20s. Since then, she has spent more than half her life on the road. Steinem has gained wisdom from cabdrivers and fellow airplane passengers, and gotten story tips from strangers at rural diners and truck stops. The road signifies freedom in other ways, too. An outsider can often express things that local organizers or embattled professors or political staff members may not be able to say.

Like a feminist Zelig, the 81-year-old Steinem seems to have been present at many of the most important political moments of the last five decades. She listened to Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 march on Washington, and a black woman standing next to her pointed out the dearth of black women organizers onstage with him. She stood in the White House speechwriter Ted Sorensen’s office as John F. Kennedy bade him farewell, on his way to deliver a speech in Dallas in 1963.

She’s in California with Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez in 1968, in solidarity with the farmworkers’ strike. She organizes the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. She’s being cheered on a Pennsylvania campaign stage with the vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. She’s in Palm Beach, Fla., the day after the 2000 election, as voters demand a recount. “If you find yourself drawn to an event against all logic, go,” she advises.
Continue reading the main story

As an author, Steinem is best known for her essay collections published in the 1980s and 1990s. Though they all contain first-person anecdotes, none are as autobiographically comprehensive as “My Life on the Road.” Steinem’s life has been so remarkable that her memoir would have been fascinating even without a central theme, but her decision to use travel as a thematic thread was a smart one.

While the book is far from a tell-all, Steinem offers a few juicy details. She discusses her beef with the prickly -second-wave feminist pioneer Betty Friedan. She describes sharing a cab with Saul Bellow and Gay Talese, who, according to Steinem, dismissed her as “a pretty girl who comes to New York and pretends to be a writer.” And she is candid about her choice to support Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary. She made a pro-con list on a yellow legal pad, but in the end, it came down to personal connections: “If I were Obama, I would not feel personally betrayed by the lack of support from someone like me, a new ally. If I were Hillary Clinton, I might feel betrayed by a longtime supporter who left me for a new face.”

In her view, the contentious 2008 primary was falsely characterized by the media as a fight over race and gender. Steinem is as much a part of the media as she is a part of the movement, so this explanation rings a bit hollow − especially because Steinem wrote a controversial Op-Ed in The New York Times about the candidates in which she noted, “What worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.” Steinem, who has become used to being the target of right-wing protesters, was shocked when she drew the ire of her fellow feminists for creating a hierarchy of oppressions. That was not, she writes, her intention. But it was “definitely my fault.”

Steinem has spent her career as a hybrid journalist-activist, which means at one moment she’s covering a campaign as a reporter, and the next she’s onstage as a movement organizer. As she leaps from anecdote to anecdote, it can be hard to follow which role she is occupying at any given moment. The line must have been blurry for her, too, though she doesn’t confess to feeling conflicted about it. Her writing style reflects this professional dualism. “My Life on the Road” includes the reported storytelling of a great magazine article, but several of its sections are organized in long bullet points, with pithy takeaways at the end that are ripe for quoting on Twitter or reblogging on Tumblr.

By her own admission, she doesn’t do much listening or talking online. She writes that abolitionists and suffragists “couldn’t rely only on letters, newspapers and books to spread the word, just as we must not rely only on television, email, Skype and Twitter.” Throughout the book, she calls for in-person politics and face-to-face organizing. She extols the virtues of conversation circles in arousing empathy and creating connections, but insists that such breakthroughs are simply not possible online. “The miraculous and impersonal Internet is not enough,” she writes.

Yet she fails to acknowledge that the in-person connections she values most are not always accessible to us all. Sure, we can engage in conversations with people in our local communities. But Steinem’s most memorable gatherings have drawn together far-flung women, across racial and state lines, to share their personal experiences and find common ground. Most of us don’t have the time or money to crisscross the globe in search of meaningful feminist dialogue. And so we do the next best thing: We talk to one another online. If politics are, as Steinem writes, part of daily life, the Internet is one place where those politics play out. It seems foolish to play down its potential.

Although Steinem beautifully illustrates how her perpetual motion has shaped her professional life, there’s almost no mention of how it has affected her personally. She tells a few stories that involve men she’s dated, like a rich guy with whom she flew to Palm Springs, and a nonwhite lover from the late ’60s, with whom she was verbally attacked by a carful of white teenagers. She was married from 2000 to 2003, when her husband, David Bale, died of cancer, but his name does not appear in her book. She does, however, devote several pages to her friendship with the Native American feminist activist Wilma Mankiller, and to Mankiller’s death and legacy. One gets the impression that Steinem’s lifelong ties with other women and activists − not her romantic entanglements − are the defining relationships of her life, though she never comes out and says so.

In her afterword, Steinem reveals that in recent years, she “had to admit that I too was leading an out-of-balance life.” She has become interested in nesting as much as traveling. This ending strikes an odd chord. She assures readers that we don’t have to give up the journey in order to have a home, and vice versa. But she does little to explain how or why she finally sought to strike this balance herself, and how much it has to do with her getting older. Perhaps this is the subject of her next book.

"MY LIFE ON THE ROAD" By Gloria Steinem (276 pp. Random House. $28)

The New York Times, Published: NOV. 13, 2015
Gloria Steinem’s ‘My Life on the Road’

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Too hot to hundle

When an unprecedented heatwave hit South Australia state, home to the world-renowned Barossa Valley winemaking region, viticulturists fretted about the impact on their grapes.

The crops survived, but the extreme weather last year was a reminder of how climate change can hurt a resurgent Aus$2 billion (US$1.5 billion) export industry boosted by Chinese thirst for Australian premium red wine.

"I've been here for 20 years ... and we're seeing more severity in the weather," winemaker James Sweetapple told AFP at his vineyard in Orange, a picturesque town 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of Sydney.

"The wet years are much, much wetter, the dry years are much drier and much hotter."

With record-breaking hot weather tipped to become the new "normal" in the world's fourth-largest wine exporter by value, the government and grape-growers are trialling ways to mitigate against the challenges, including pruning later and switching varieties.

Lower quality
Australia is known as a land of drought and floods, and vignerons are accustomed to dealing with a variety of conditions.

But climate change appears to be causing a permanent shift, warming the continent by approximately 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) since 1910 according to government data, intensifying the risk of bushfires and droughts, while altering rainfall patterns.

The rising heat is compressing harvesting seasons, causing grapes to ripen earlier -- sometimes during the hotter December-February summer months rather than autumn.

This changes grapes' sugar and acid levels, leading to lower-quality wines with higher alcohol content.

"The last six weeks of ripening are critical for flavour and colour development and sugar-acid balance, so we don't want to have too much heat at the end of the season before harvest," winemaker and former viticulture lecturer Peter Hedberg told AFP.

"Most vineyards in Australia are actually in very hot climates... and unfortunately a lot of regions are ripening grapes at over 35-degree Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) into 40-degree heat which is not good for flavour."

Australia's independent Climate Council warned last year that up to 70 percent of wine-growing areas in the country with Mediterranean climates -- including the Barossa and Western Australia's Margaret River region -- would be "less suitable for grape growing by 2050" due to global warming.

While little or nothing can be done to save vines from flooding or smoke from bushfires tainting grapes, low-tech approaches to delay harvesting times and increase soil moisture are already being used.

Change or get out
Orange's Justin Jarrett boosts carbon levels in his soils by layering mulches and compost on top to make them more moist, while Sweetapple keeps a "hairy" vineyard by allowing grass to grow freely underneath vines, providing shade in dry spells and sucking up excess moisture when wet.

Pruning later is another tried-and-tested approach for delaying harvesting times, while winemakers are being encouraged to look at different varieties that thrive in warmer climes -- such as from Italy and Spain -- when replacing old vineyards.

Wine Australia, the official grape and wine body, commissioned a project that analysed 500 alternative varieties to map out the lengths of their seasons, when their grapes ripen and how much is produced, so growers have a guide if they want to make a switch.

"Most wines are made from 12 different varieties but there's thousands of them, which really means there's lots of opportunity within the genetics of grape vines to basically live in just about any environment that you attempt to grow them in," Wine Australia's research and development head Liz Waters said.

With 2016 "very likely" to be the world's hottest on record, according to the United Nations, the race to stay one step ahead of the shifting climate is heating up.

"Good farmers think about what's coming," said Jarrett, who has started growing prosecco, a white Italian variety he believes could suit Orange's climate in 20 years' time.

In warmer regions where profit margins are already tight, some farmers may need to consider moving away from grapes to nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and pecans that thrive in the heat, Hedberg suggested.

"I think people realise they've got to change or get out," he said.

"The world doesn't need more cheap wine. We need premium wines that have good flavour; they've got a good story with them that we can sell to China or all around the world."

AFP, December 7, 2016
Climate change battle heats up for Australian winemakers
By Glenda KWEK

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Heat's on in the Arctic

Passengers simmered in jacuzzis and feasted on gourmet cuisine this summer as the 850-foot cruise ship Crystal Serenity moved through the Northwest Passage.

But in the summer of 1778, when Capt James Cook tried to find a Western entrance to the route, his men toiled on frost-slicked decks and complained about having to supplement dwindling rations with walrus meat.

The British expedition was halted north of the Bering Strait by “ice which was as compact as a wall and seemed to be 10 or 12 feet high at least”, according to the captain’s journal.

Cook’s ships followed the ice edge all the way to Siberia in their futile search for an opening, sometimes guided through fog by the braying of the unpalatable creatures the crew called Sea Horses.

More than two centuries later, scientists are mining meticulous records kept by Cook and his crew for a new perspective on the warming that has opened the Arctic in a way the 18th century explorer could never have imagined.

Working with maps and logs from Cook’s voyage and other historical records and satellite imagery, University of Washington mathematician Harry Stern has tracked changes in ice cover in the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Russia, over nearly 240 years.

The results, published recently in the journal Polar Geography, confirm the significant shrinkage of the summer ice cap and shed new light on the timing of the transformation.

The analysis also extends the historical picture back nearly 75 years, building on previous work with ships’ records from the 1850s.

“This old data helps us look at what conditions were like before we started global warming, and what the natural variability was,” said Jim Overland, a Seattle-based oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Though earlier explorers ventured into the frigid waters off Alaska, Cook was the first to map the ice edge, Stern said.

Cook undertook the voyage, which also covered the Northwest coast, on orders from King George III to seek a shorter trading route between Europe and the Far East across the top of the world.

Stymied by the ice, Cook headed for the winter to Hawaii, where he was killed by native people.

Stern’s analysis found that for more than 200 years after Cook’s visit, the summer ice cover in the Chukchi Sea fluctuated, but generally extended south to near where Cook encountered it.

“Basically, from the time of Cook until the 1990s, you more or less could count on hitting the ice somewhere around 70 degrees north in August,” Stern said. “Now the ice edge is hundreds of miles farther north.”

That meshes with modern observations that confirm rapid shrinkage of the Arctic ice pack over the past three decades, Overland said.

The total volume of ice in summer is now 60 to 70% lower than it was in the 1980s, while Arctic temperatures have increased at twice the rate of the rest of the planet as a result of rising greenhouse gas levels.

“That’s probably the largest indicator that global warming is a real phenomenon,” Overland said.

With more melting in the summer and delayed freezing in the fall, the once-elusive Northwest Passage is now navigable for private yachts and vessels like the Crystal Serenity, which made the 7,300-mile trip from Alaska to New York in 32 days.

The transformation has also triggered a rush to drill for oil in previously ice-choked waters and an international power struggle over control of the route and resources.

The tensions are similar to those in Cook’s day, Stern pointed out. Nations then were eager to find and claim a Northwest Passage, while whalers and fur traders scrambled to exploit the newly opened frontier.

But the data from Cook and other explorers show there were no similar warm periods in their times, said UW climatologist Kevin Wood. “It tells you that what’s happening now is a fairly unique and extreme case.”

Wood helps run a project called Old Weather, which relies on citizen scientists to transcribe and digitize old ship’s logs. Since the effort began five years ago, thousands of volunteers have processed one million handwritten pages from whalers, fishing vessels and US revenue cutters.

The data are being used to re-create past weather patterns and improve climate models.

Historical ice measurements are especially valuable, Wood said, because existing models don’t seem to do a good job of forecasting ice cover.

While models predict the Arctic won’t be ice-free in summer until 2050 or later, the current pace of change suggests it will happen much sooner.

Cook’s ice observations are also of interest to historians. David Nicandri, former director of the Washington State Historical Society, is finishing a book in which he argues that Cook – who is usually associated with Hawaii and Tahiti – was the original polar scientist.

Cook also explored southern polar waters, searching for a rumoured continent. Though he never found Antarctica, the experience led Cook to question the conventional wisdom of the time that held that oceans couldn’t freeze and that sea ice originated in rivers.

“Cook never fully got it right, but he realised there was too much ice to have flowed out of any set of rivers,” said Nicandri, who was also co-editor of a series of essays entitled “Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage” where some of Stern’s analysis was originally published.

Cook also described different types of sea ice and suggested that thick walls and ridges, like those he saw in the Arctic, must represent multiple years of accumulation.

“He’s never given credit for his pioneering work in polar climatology,” Nicandri said.

The Star 2, Published: December 15, 2016
Did global warming start earlier than we thought?
By The Seattle Times/Tribune News Service/Sandi Doughton

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Staying in tip-top health

FROM 1980 to 2013, the International Journal of Epidemiology carried out 174 surveys across 63 countries to determine the global prevalence of common mental disorders. The systematic review and meta-analysis revealed that one in every five respondents (17.6%) met the criteria for a common mental disorder, and 29.2% of the respondents experienced a common mental disorder in their lifetime.

The same study suggests that women have higher rates of mood (7.3%:4.0%) and anxiety (8.7%:4.3%) disorders, while male respondents have higher rates of substance use disorders (2.0%:7:5%).

In Malaysia, the National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted in 2011 among adults aged 16 to 60 years suggests that 1.7% (0.3 million) respondents experience generalised anxiety disorders, 1.8% (0.3 million) suffer from depression currently, 1.7% (0.3 million) have suicidal ideations, and 1.1% (0.2 million) are reported to have attempted suicide in the past. This equates to 12% of Malaysian respondents having suffered from mental health problems.

These glaring statistics beg the question: What is mental health and how important is it in the overall aspect of a human being?

Mental health is an integral part of health. There is no health without mental health. Health must be viewed in a very holistic manner, comprising a complete physical, mental, and social well-being of a person.

Mental health is a state of well-being where the individual understands his or her own abilities, is able to cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is capable of making a contribution to his or her community. Anything that is amiss from these four could be a sign of mental health issue and needs to be addressed immediately.

As with physical health, good mental health is a lifelong process. People constantly need to learn and unlearn things in life, much like the ability to feel and express a gamut of emotions, both good and bad. Good mental health is likewise a journey in coping and managing changes and uncertainties in life. We do not live in a status quo. Good mental health simply allows you to react positively to shifts that occur and will occur in the future.

Counselling, a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between an individual and a counsellor, provides a way for individuals to feel at their best. People who suffer from mental health problems should seek counselling as it offers a supportive environment that allows an individual to talk openly without being judged. Counselling is the safe haven that lets you identify “road blocks” and change thoughts and behaviour patterns to help you achieve your optimal self.

Tell-tale signs that a person needs counselling include:

(1) if he or she feels an overwhelming sadness and helplessness over a prolonged period of time, and

(2) the feeling that problems don’t seem to get better despite efforts and help from family and friends.

People need counselling too when they find it difficult to concentrate on work assignments or carry out everyday activities, worry excessively or engage in substance abuse.

Stress, while it is not considered a mental health problem, may be associated with anxiety or depression if it exists long term.

Life admittedly can be tough but there certainly are ways to maintain mental wellness. Positivity, mindfulness, meditation, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and exercise top the list. Social activities that help connect yourself with others, reading self-help books and talking to professionals such as a therapist, when needed, will keep your mental health in tip-top shape.

Letter to The Star, Published: Thursday, 15 December 2016
Staying in tip-top health
By TERESITA M. GUTIERREZ, Programme Director, School of Psychology, Taylor’s University

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Putting the people first

He aims to “humanise” healthcare by steering the focus back to individuals rather than the industry, and he is in a good position to do so.

Dr Avinesh Singh Bhar is a pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine physician at Navicent Health, a large healthcare organisation in Central Georgia, the United States.

Recently, he was one of 33 professionals from 24 countries – representing the private, public and nonprofit sectors – selected as part of the 2016 Class of Asia 21 Young Leaders. Asia 21 is a network of young leaders from across the Asia-Pacific.

The 2016 Class was picked through a “highly competitive process based on outstanding achievement, commitment to public service, and a proven ability to make the world a better place”.

Members of the 2016 Class and select Asia 21 alumni gathered at the recently-concluded Asia 21 Summit (Dec 8-10) in Seoul, South Korea. The young leaders shared best practices in leadership and developed group public service projects.

What does being named one of the 2016 Class mean to Dr Avinesh and his work?

“It’s a humbling experience being in the company of truly exceptional individuals. I honestly feel out of place. In the spirit of grabbing opportunity by the horns, it is my goal to use this platform to move the conversation from one that is healthcare-focused (or industry-focused) to one that is health-focused (people-focused),” shared the 36-year-old via e-mail.

He aims to play his part in prioritising people in the healthcare system and industry.

“I hope to add a disruptive voice to the current movement in healthcare. Most things that people find important are not considered metrics of success in the healthcare space. This disconnect has largely been driven by the industrialisation of healthcare – through hospitals, insurers and the government.

“I am not speaking about going back to ‘the good old days’, but how do we use technology (telemedicine, machine learning, natural language processing) and advance medical knowledge (genomics, microbiota) to place the individual front and centre and not just a cog in the healthcare system,” he emphasised.

Born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Dr Avinesh completed his MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) at International Medical University, Malaysia. Currently, he is pursuing his executive MBA at the University of Chicago (Booth Business School).

Dr Avinesh feels that ideal systems should support people within their day to day lives.

“This is the biggest distinction between episodic care, which we handle pretty well nowadays, like pneumonia, heart attacks, appendicitis and chronic care, which will soon consume the most healthcare dollars, even in the developing world.

“No amount of new doctors or gleaming new hospitals is going to plug the demand on care created by an ageing population (with a higher proportion of chronic diseases), so we need to start looking ahead and start talking about it,” he said.

Dr Avinesh is also a clinical educator to medical students, residents and nurse practitioners at his workplace.

“We’ve seen the industrialisation of healthcare first hand in the US; it is not sustainable, neither for the economy, patient nor the physician. Even less so for a developing economy such as Malaysia. This disconnect and depersonalisation of care is also felt in medical education, which I am passionate about in my role as clinical instructor.

“Physicians and other providers have lost the forest (patient population) for the trees (electronic order entry, misaligned incentives, documentation, care coordination), leading to burnout and lack of engagement to navigate change,” said Dr Avinesh, whose wife Manvin is also a doctor.

When asked about his career goals, Dr Avinesh, who reads and plays tennis whenever he has the time, said he prefers to focus on the present.

“I personally don’t have a set of defined goals. Instead, I would like to have an exciting and fulfilling career, in whatever form it presents,” he said.

As part of the 2016 Class of Asia 21 Young Leaders, he looks forward to the Asia 21 Summit.

“The Summit will be a listening and learning experience for me. The opportunity to learn and understand the vision of young, innovative and motivated individuals in Asia Pacific will certainly help shape my view of the world around me.

“The challenges in Asia Pacific and the world over needs a dose of perspective and understanding of complex systems. For example, health of the population is as much geography, education, food security and economics as it is about lab tests, imaging and genetics,” said Dr Avinesh, who lives in Macon, a small town south of Atlanta, with his wife and their two dogs.

The Star 2, Published: December 14, 2016
Malaysian doctor is one of Asia’s top young leaders

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Eric S. Margolis

A senior CIA source tells me ‘with a high level of certainty that Russia’s Vladimir Putin was responsibly for Pearl Harbor, the Korean War, Vietnam and Iraq. This miscreant was also behind 9/11 and ring around the collar.

Not since Dr Fu Manchu have we seen such a wicked genius bent on wrecking the West. Vlad the Bad is so nefarious that he’s managed to rig America’s voting machines and probably the Super Bowl.

Watching the mounting Red Hysteria in the US is bizarre and amusing. But most amusing is the media furor claiming that the Kremlin has ‘meddled’ in US elections. Or even threw the vote to Manchurian Candidate, Donald Trump. If there was any foreign meddling, it came from a Mideast ally, not Russia.

All very childish.

My answer: even if true (and I don’t believe it), so what? Is great power meddling something new? That’s what great powers do.

The US is hardly in a position to play the outraged virgin. Starting in 1946, the US and the Vatican financed Italy’s right-wing Christian Democratic Party, helping it win three national elections against the Left even though it was heavy with former fascists and Sicilian bandits.

Washington organized the overthrow of Syria’s government in 1949. In 1953, the US and Britain colluded to overthrow Iran’s popular democratic government. In 1954, the US overthrew the government of Guatemala. There followed intervention in Lebanon in 1958. Three years later came the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion and over fifty attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In 1965, the US invaded the Dominican Republic and overthrew its regime. 1973 brought the US-backed coup against Chile’s Marxist government. Nicaragua’s leftists were next on Washington’s hit list. There was masked intervention in Haiti, then a bombing and sabotage campaign in Baghdad, Iraq. A failed attempt to overthrow Iran’s elected government and more machinations in Syria and Libya, followed by outright invasions.

There are many more to mention: Bolivia, Brazil, Congo, Turkey, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Russia under Yeltsin, Ukraine’s ‘Orange’ Revolution, Georgia, and the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected pro-Russian government. And now, of course, Syria.

Regime change has become as American as apple pie.

The US may even have tried to overthrow France’s president, Charles de Gaulle. Lately, the US helped put Egypt’s bloody dictator in power, overthrowing the democratic government in the process and tapped the phone of close ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In the past, Soviet intelligence was very good at intrigue, professional spycraft and occasional ‘wet affairs.’ But the Soviets never measured up in sheer volume of meddling and regime change to the mighty US – and still don’t.

I was the first western journalist admitted to KGB headquarters in Moscow – the dreaded Lubyanka – to interview its senior leaders. I also was closeted in the remarkable KGB museum with its curator for a review of intelligence operations since the 1917 civil war. I learned much about covert operations, but less than I wanted about the Soviet agents of influence who surrounded President Franklin Roosevelt.

As a seasoned intelligence watcher for the past three decades, I think claims by US Democrats that they lost the election due to Russian machinations are absolute bunk. One suspects all the noise and fake fury over Clinton’s loss may foretoken an attempt to oust the Trump government by underhanded legal means (‘lawfare’) and popular demos. Why not? We run them all the time in the Mideast and Russia.

The Dems lost because they ran a horrible, corrupt woman who was hated, and mistrusted by many. They tried to hide the shameful fact that the Democratic Party rigged the nomination to exclude an honest candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders. This was the scandal, not baloney about voting machine voodoo and red scares.

Claims by senior US intelligence officials that Moscow rigged the US elections show two things: first, if true, they were asleep on guard duty; second, that they have become shockingly politicized. Their job was to inform the White House, not manufacture conspiracy theories.
Some of them were shown to be frighteningly extreme, crazily anti-Russian, and likely agents of our deep government.

We need calm, seasoned professionals to run our intelligence, not wild-eyed ideologues bent on war against Russia. America was headed that way under Obama and Hillary Clinton. If Russia came to this conclusion, it was logical for them to try to sway the outcome of the election – if they really did.

The canard that Hillary Clinton was defeated by the godless Red spymasters are as believable as ‘the dog ate my homework.’ And here I thought my fellow Americans were a bit more grown up than this.

18 December 2016
By Eric Margolis (*)

(*) (Wikipedia)
Eric S. Margolis (born 1942 or 1943) is an American-born journalist and writer.

For 27 years, ending in 2010, he was a contributing editor to the Toronto Sun, chain of newspapers, writing mainly about the Middle East, South Asia and Islam.

He contributes to the Huffington Post and appears frequently on Canadian television broadcasts, as well as on CNN.

A multinational, he holds residences in New York, Paris, Toronto and Banff, Canada.

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Beware the roller coaster of complaints

The other day, while I was listening to a colleague whining about my boss, a little voice in my head whispered, “Whatever you do, don’t join in.”

Once someone starts complaining and they think they’ve found a sympathetic ear, there’s sometimes no stopping them.

If you want to know what that feels like, imagine taking just one crisp from a full packet, and then leaving the open packet on the table in front of you.

Your brain tells you to leave those crisps alone, even as one rebellious hand reaches out for another one. You try to convince yourself that you’ll just have ONE more, but you won’t stop there. And you know it.

So I listened quietly to my colleague, who was now strapped into the roller coaster of complaints and ready to zoom off. All she was waiting for was a little encouragement from me. She wanted me to get into the roller coaster with her and confirm her opinion that our boss isn’t a nice person.

I happen to like my boss, but once in a while she can be a bit cranky. I happen to like myself too, but once in a while I can also be a bit cranky.

Heck, I’m sure Mother Teresa, who worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of the poor and sick in the slums of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), also felt irritable from time to time.

And yes, I know she is now a saint, but I’m sure the young nuns under her charge must have stretched her patience occasionally.

The thing is, all of us have bad days when we feel a little frayed around the edges, when we might not have as much patience as we usually do.

Maybe your partner didn’t sleep well and the uncapped tube of toothpaste on the bathroom countertop was all the encouragement he needed to make a sarcastic comment to you.

Maybe your mother sitting opposite you at the breakfast table is nursing a bad headache when she says, “Please close your mouth when you’re eating. You look like a front-loading washing machine stuffed full of Cheerios.”

The trick is not to let things build up if you’re on the receiving end of someone’s cranky behaviour. If your boss, or your colleague, or your lover does or says something that bothers you, talk to them about it when they are in a better mood.

If you choose to let it go, that’s fine too. If you deal with little grievances by talking to someone about them, just try to keep away from that roller coaster.

Once you’re on that ride, every unvoiced grievance or complaint you’ve ever had about that person might come tumbling out. And once you’ve said something, you can’t unsay it. If my colleague had told me that my boss is cranky and selfish and has despotic tendencies and doesn’t give a toss about her staff, I would wonder why she bothers working for such a nasty piece of work.

I once had a friend who jumped on the roller coaster and began pouring everything out about her husband: years of uncaring, inconsiderate, boorish behaviour. I made all the appropriate noises and comments as she revealed the nasty side of his personality. When the ride came to an end, she asked me what I thought she should do.

I generally don’t offer unsolicited advice, but if I receive an invitation to air my views, I will do so.

Now this was way back before couples were inclined to seek the help of a counsellor for marital problems, so I told her she should leave the man.

There was no property or children, so she agreed that it would be the best thing to do. But she didn’t leave him. They are still married and every time I see them together, the air is decidedly frosty.

These days, I keep my complaints about others to a minimum. And even then I only speak up if it serves some greater purpose. Complaining for the sake of complaining doesn’t benefit anyone.

Of course, I can still complain about Donald Trump, and the state of the economy, and some of the lousy drivers on the road, and the idiot down the street from me who blasts his horn when he comes home every night at 10.

There’s something satisfying about bitching about these things now and again. As long as I don’t make a habit of it.

Here’s wishing you all a happy holiday this festive season. And may all your complaints be small ones.

The Star 2, Published: December 19, 2016
Beware the roller coaster of complaints

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Goodbye 2016

JUST a few days before Christmas, it is time again to look back on the year that is about to pass.

What a strange year it has been, and not one we can celebrate!

The top event was Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. It became the biggest sign that the basic framework and values underpinning Western societies since the second world war have undergone a seismic change.

The established order represented by Hillary Clinton was defeated by the tumultuous wave Trump generated with his promise to stop the United States from pandering to other countries so that it could become “great again”.

Early in the year came the Brexit vote shock, taking Britain out of the European Union. It was the initial signal that the liberal order created by the West is now being quite effectively challenged by their own masses.

Openness to immigrants and foreigners is now opposed by citizens in Europe and the US who see them as threats to jobs, national culture and security rather than beneficial additions to the economy and society.

The long-held thesis that openness to trade and foreign investments is best for the economy and underpins political stability is crumbling under the weight of a sceptical public that blames job losses and the shift of industries abroad on ultra-liberal trade and investment agreements and policies.

Thus, 2016 which started with mega trade agreements completed (Trans-Pacific Partnership) or in the pipeline (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and Europe) ended with both being dumped by the President Elect, a stunning reversal of the decades-old US position advocating the benefits of the open economy.

2016 will be remembered as the year when the romance in the West with “globalisation” was killed by a public disillusioned and outraged by the inequalities of an economic system tilted in favour of a rich minority, while a sizeable majority feel marginalised and discarded.

In Asia, the dismantling of the globalisation ideal in the Western world was greeted with a mixture of regret, alarm and a sense of opportunity.

Many in this region believe that trade and investment have served several of their countries well. There is fear that the anti-globalisation rebellion in the West will lead to a rapid rise of protectionism that will hit the exports and industries of Asia.

As Trump announced he would pull the US out of the TPP, China stepped into the vacuum vacated by the US and pledged to be among the torchbearers of trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific region and possibly the world.

The change of direction in the US and to some extent Europe poses an imminent threat to Asian exports, investors and economic growth. But it is also an opportunity for Asian countries to review their development strategies, rely more on themselves and the region, and take on a more active leadership role.

China made use of 2016 to prepare for this, with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank taking off and the immense Belt and Road Initiative gathering steam.

Many companies and governments are now latching on to the latter as the most promising source of future growth.

The closing months of 2016 also saw a surprising and remarkable shift in position by the Philippines, whose new President took big steps to reconcile with China over conflicting claims in the South China Sea, thus defusing the situation – at least for now.

Unfortunately, the year also saw heart-rending reports on the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the deaths of thousands of Syrians including those who perished or were injured in the end-game in Aleppo.

On the environmental front, it is likely 2016 will be the hottest year on record, overtaking 2015. This makes the coming into force in October of the Paris Agreement on climate change all the more meaningful.

But there are two big problems. First, the pledges in the agreement are grossly insufficient to meet the level of emissions cuts needed to keep the world safe from global warming, and there is also insufficient financing to support the developing countries’ climate actions, whether on mitigation or adaptation.

And secondly, there is a big question mark on the future of the Paris agreement as Trump had vowed to take the US out of it.

The biggest effect of 2016 could be that a climate skeptic was elected US President.

In the area of health, the dangers of antibiotic resistance went up on the global agenda with a declaration and day-long event involving political leaders at the United Nations in September.

There was growing evidence and stark warnings in 2016 that we are entering a post-antibiotic era where medicines will no longer work and millions will die from infection and ailments that could once be easily treated by antibiotics.

The world will also be closing in a mood of great economic uncertainty. In 2016 the world economy overall didn’t do well but also not too badly, with growth rates projected at 2.4 to 3%.

But for developing economies like Malaysia, the year ended with worries that the high capital inflows of recent years are reversing as money flows back to the US.

The first in an expected series of interest rate increases came last week.

All in all, there was not much to rejoice about in 2016, and worse still it built the foundation for more difficulties to come in 2017.

So we should enjoy the Christmas/New Year season while we can. Merry Christmas to all readers!

The Star, Published: Monday, 19 December 2016

Goodbye 2016, a strange and difficult year

The year will be remembered for the West ending its romance with globalisation, and its impact on the rest of the world.
By Martin Khor

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Keep the good

IT seems that the year has flown by and just like that, Christmas is around the corner. It heralds the passing of a year, and the approach of all things new.

Amid the shopping rush and eating sprees, it's important to slow down and reflect on the year that will soon be over.

Every day, the world changes a little bit more. This year has been no different; we are evolving swiftly and we need to keep up. From the strangest happenings on the global and local political fronts to heartbreaking scenes as families strain to reach the safety of distant shores, everything's changing.

This year has been different for all of us. For some, it's been the best year of their lives and they look forward to a new year, filled with hope and promise.

For others, it's been the hardest, most difficult year to have ever been through. But I'm quite sure that all of us have been through some form of change.

There are many different types of change.

A change in your environment can play a big part in the way you live each day. There's also physical change, such as moving house or changing your work address.

Then there's relational change, in which you let go of friendships and discover new ones. And finally, there's self-change. This, I believe, we must always be aware of and is something.

My life has changed rapidly this year. The pillars of stability in my life are slowly shape-shifting into new forms altogether.

Confronted with the daunting excitement of change and all it brings, I've been told on more than one occasion that change is not always bad. But I don't want the change to transform me into someone I don't know.

The thought frightens me. I frankly like some parts of myself, and I don't want those to change.

So while I know how important it is to embrace change, I feel it's just as important to keep the good. Change should not be a reason for regression.

I believe it's a good reminder for all of us, to keep the good. The good is especially important in cementing our life values, for it is these that determine the kind of lives we live, and the people we become.

Good values such as integrity, compassion and justice should not be held loosely by the reins but close to our hearts.

Another good to keep is contentment. It is one of the greatest companions one can have in making the most of the lives we've been given.

Being grateful for what we have helps us see beyond ourselves so that we become kinder, and research has consistently shown that being kind and helping others makes us happier people.

And for me personally, an important one is to be fulfilled.

If the changes in your life make you dread waking up every morning, or wonder whether your life has any purpose, then the exchange of old for new may not be worth it.

In this season of reflection amid the exchanging of wrapped gifts, uplifting words and mugs of hot chocolate, let's look back on a year that has passed with gratefulness in our hearts.

We've weathered the changes, fought our own battles and prayerfully, we come out stronger.

We must always be willing to learn, but bow down to all forms of change.

This doesn't mean that we reject change entirely, but the higher aim should always be to improve with each change that comes our way.

So for 2017, don't be afraid of holding fast to what is good.

The Sun Daily, Last updated on 18 December 2016 - 07:19pm
Keep the good
By Michelle Chun

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1948 Batang Kali Killings

KUALA LUMPUR: The British government has been ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to seek an amicable settlement over the Batang Kali massacre, in which its soldiers killed 24 innocent villagers on Dec 11 and 12, 1948.

It was also told to submit a written explanation on the merits of the massacre and state its position for a friendly settlement by Feb 7, said MCA vice-president Datuk Dr Hou Kok Chung.

The ECHR made the order recently after conducting a preliminary examination of the complaint filed by the victims’ families that London had violated Article 2 of the Euro-pean Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life, by endorsing the massacre.

Britain has been a signatory to the European Convention since 1953, when Malaya was still its colony and its residents were considered subjects under British rule.

“The descendants of the victims have for years asked the British government for an apology, compensation and construction of a memorial, but all these have been ignored.

“So, they turned to the European Court. We hope the British government and the families can reach an out-of-court settlement,” said Hou yesterday at a press conference attended by the victims’ families and their lawyer Quek Ngee Meng.

Hou said the massacre, in which British courts had held their government responsible for the killings and ruled that the victims were not linked to communist insurgents, was “an issue too big to be ignored”.

“Though many years have passed, justice must be done and the inhumane killings must be recorded. There is a need for governments to learn from history. Let history educate people.

“During the Emergency in 1948, a lot of Chinese suffered and lived in fear,” said Hou.

The British declared emergency rule on June 18, 1948, after three estate managers were murdered in Perak by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), an outgrowth of the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement which later turned anti-colonial.

During the 1948-60 emergency rule, Chinese were rounded up into “new villages” as they were suspected of being sympathetic to MCP.

On Dec 11, 1948, British troops entered the plantation village of Batang Kali, Selangor, and questioned the rubber tappers about the MCP but to no avail.

The next day, they loaded the women and children on a military truck and shot dead 23 men, after killing one the day before.

This massacre was claimed by the British as the “biggest success” since the emergency began, and its official parliamentary record in 1949 described the killings as “justified”.

But in 1970, the episode was given a twist when several soldiers involved in the operation told British media of their guilt over shooting innocent civilians.

In July 1993, survivors of the massacre petitioned for justice after the British Broadcasting Corporation did an independent documentary on the saga.

The survivors took their battle to the British government and later to the British courts with the help of international human rights groups.

Now their descendants are continuing the struggle for justice, this time with the help of MCA.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 15 December 2016

Settle massacre case, Britain told

International court orders amicable resolution over 1948 Batang Kali Killings

By Ho Wah Foon

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Sharing memories on Pearl Harbour attack

HONOLULU (AP) − In some ways, it could be any class photo from the 1940s. The sepia-toned image shows 30 fifth-graders − 26 girls and four boys − at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Waikiki. Most are smiling, some look stern. A few have no shoes.

Yet this picture is different in one striking way: Each child is holding a bag containing a gas mask, a sign of how war had suddenly broke apart the routines of their adolescence on Dec. 7, 1941.

Three of the students, now in their mid-80s and all friends who have kept in touch over the years, reflected recently on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago and the mark it left on their childhoods.

Joan Martin Rodby remembered the carefree walks to school, and her family building an air raid shelter in their yard. Florence Seto, who is Japanese-American, recalled sharing ice cream with Rodby, and being worried that her family would be taken away.

Emma Veary reminisced about her days singing, and her family covering the windows at night so Japanese pilots couldn't use the light of homes to guide them.


On the morning of Dec. 7, a Sunday, Japanese bombers flew across Oahu and began their assault. Some children climbed onto the roofs of homes to see what was happening. The planes were so close to the ground in some cases that they could make out the Rising Sun insignia.

Soon, smoke rose over the water, about 10 miles from Veary's home near Waikiki.

Veary, then 11, climbed atop a neighbor's house. Back then, Waikiki didn't have any high-rise hotels and condominiums to block the view, so she could see all the way to the naval base. Her parents yelled at her to get down as soon as they heard about the attack.

Seto, who lived a few blocks away near homes belonging to Navy families, remembered a neighbor rushing out of her home, screaming about how the Japanese, using an epithet common at the time, had attacked Pearl Harbor.

The young Seto ran home, and, using the same word, told her parents, both immigrants from Japan.

"That didn't go over too well," she said.

The attack killed more than 2,300 people, nearly half of them on the battleship USS Arizona. More than 1,100 were injured. After the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech before Congress, calling Dec. 7 a "date which will live in infamy." The U.S. declared war against Japan.

Veary, Seto and Rodby suddenly found themselves living in a war zone, as an ever-present worry about a Japanese invasion permeated life in their island home.


About a month or two after the attack, Rodby and her classmates were issued gas masks. Rodby, who was 10 at the time, remembers being tested on how quickly she could don the mask. If an air raid siren went off, they had to be able to put the masks on in seconds.

The children put their gas masks around the backs of their chairs while in class. When playing outside, they kept them in a set spot so they could grab them right away.

"It was like an extra arm we had to have all the time," Rodby said.

At home, her father, who worked at Honolulu Iron Works, built an air raid shelter in their yard. They didn't know how long the war would last or how long they would need it, so they stocked it with pillows, blankets, dishes and a kerosene lamp to make it comfortable.

"We would have food down there and artificial lighting and the more we needed the air raid shelters, the fancier they got inside. I mean, people would have beds and they put flooring in," she said.

Her school had air raid trenches dug by parents and volunteers. They were covered with grass, tin or wood so any airplanes flying overhead wouldn't be able to spot them.

Many of Rodby's war memories are happy ones, though. She recalls walking and skipping the four blocks or so from her home to the school, meeting friends along the way. They'd be a big group by the time they reached campus.


Seto said the only scary part of the entire war was when military police, carrying guns with fixed bayonets, showed up at her house looking for her father.

Her neighbors, who served in the Navy, suspected he was hoarding food and reported him after he used his painting business truck to load up on Vienna sausage, Spam and rice for friends.

Seto's immigrant parents had trouble communicating with the police. Her brothers explained what their father was doing and gave the police the names of families they were helping. The military police apologized and left, she said.

The families who called the police were good friends of the Setos. Their children played with Seto and her siblings. "They were just afraid. It was a scary time," she said.

Government authorities detained 1,330 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals from Hawaii, particularly community leaders like Shinto priests and teachers. Seto said her father was investigated, but she believes he was spared because a business associate vouched for his trustworthiness.

But a family friend, a restaurant owner, was deported. "We didn't know any details except my mother and father would talk about it and then hush up when we would come close by," she said.

Many of Seto's other memories were happy ones. She had the most fun helping out in the pineapple fields to fill in for men who left to serve in the military.

"Everyone did their part," she said.


Soon after the attack began, Veary's father got a call to go to Pearl Harbor to help rescue sailors. He was a tug boat captain for a local shipping company. He didn't come back for more than a day.

Life under the threat of further Japanese attacks meant her family had to cover their windows to block any light from escaping at night. Wardens would patrol neighborhoods to make sure no light was visible through the windows. They would knock on the door of offending houses.

But there were plenty of light-hearted moments, too. She practiced her singing, including in front of audiences − a talent that would later become her profession. During the holidays, Veary's brother and sister would bring servicemen they met on the bus home to eat food cooked by their mother and their neighbors.

"We weren't a well-to-do family, but whatever we had we liked to share," Veary said.

Veary would occasionally hear from some of them, until a few years ago.

Dec. 5, 2016 2:41 PM EST
Children who lived through Pearl Harbor attack remember

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Fidel Castro

OVER the last weeks since the death of Fidel Castro on Nov 25, I have been trying to assess how far sections of the mainstream media (MSM) would go in their vicious campaign to denigrate and demean a leader who had defied the world’s sole military superpower just 145km from his small island state.

Since the MSM knew that Fidel’s remarkable resistance to US hegemony would be highlighted in tributes to the man, some of them decided to tarnish his image by presenting him as a womaniser with an insatiable appetite for sex.

It is worth observing that a number of newspapers around the globe played up the same utterly ludicrous story of how Fidel had slept with 35,000 women, quoting an unnamed former Cuban official. But it is this sort of scurrilous lie that will divert attention from his stupendous achievements as a principled, resolute champion of justice.

This preposterous tale was often juxtaposed with a more serious allegation of how Fidel had crushed dissent right through the 47 years he was in power. While all of us value dissent, its character and its role in a particular setting can only be understood if one appreciates the overall context.

Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the US elite, for decades, through various agencies and proxies sought to overthrow the Fidel government.

There was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961; a total economic blockade imposed in the same year which is still in force albeit with minor changes; terrorist attacks in Cuba itself including the downing of a Cuban commercial plane in 1976 and hundreds of attempts to assassinate Fidel himself. No individual leader and no nation on earth have been subjected to such threats for such a long period of time.

It explains why the Cuban leadership was often forced to act against individuals and groups who in the guise of dissent were actually subverting the Revolution.

Not many paid attention to this organised subversion and de-stabilisation of a small, independent, sovereign state by a superpo-wer which characterised most of Fidel’s period in office, first as Prime Minister and then as President.

What was behind this subversion? Was Cuba a threat to the US? Did Fidel seek to destroy the US?

The main reason for the hostility of the US elite towards Fidel was because he and his comrades had through a popular movement ousted a US puppet in Havana, Fulgencio Batista, and established a government that was determined to safeguard its independence and sovereignty and ensure that the Cuban people shaped their own destiny.

In his passionate desire to protect the right of his people to determine their own future, Fidel was in the same category as Mossadegh of Iran, Lumumba of the Congo, and Sukarno of Indonesia, among others.

But for the US elite, this commitment to a nation’s independence, a people’s sovereignty, was an unpardonable sin which had to be punished. The continuing imposition of an economic blockade against Cuba is part of the punishment. Other countries in Latin America do not condone the US attitude towards Cuba which is why it has found itself increasingly isolated in the region in recent years. It explains to a great extent why President Obama had no choice but to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba in July 2015.

In fact, the whole world does not approve of the US’s stance towards Cuba. For a number of years now, the vast majority of nation-states have asked the US to end the economic blockade of Cuba. At the recent 2016 UN General Assembly, 191 states voted against the blockade. Only two countries - US and Israel - abstained.

The UN vote is, in a sense, an indirect endorsement of Cuba’s desire to preserve its independence and sovereignty. This is Fidel’s greatest achievement. He had not only succeeded in the face of huge odds to protect his people’s independence. He had also persuaded the human family to recognise the central significance of this principle.

It is not just countries in the Global South with their colonial background that should uphold their independence, whatever the costs and consequences. Even countries in the Global North faced with the challenge of US control and dominance, should assert their independence.

If Fidel’s struggle to assert his nation’s independence resonates with people elsewhere, it is because it was accompanied by a gigantic effort to improve the well-being of the ordinary Cuban.

With almost 100% literacy, Cuba has a comprehensive education system which is free right up to the tertiary level. Its much lauded health care programme sustained through neighbourhood clinics, polyclinics and hospitals provides free, good quality health care service to its entire population. The Cuban ratio of one doctor for 159.2 persons is among the best in the world and its under-five infant mortality of 6 deaths per 1000 live births equals that of developed societies in the West.

Under Fidel, Cuba had also developed a reputation as a leader in medical research. It is its emphasis upon science that enabled Cuba in the nineties when it was undergoing grave economic difficulties following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to convert its fertiliser and pesticide dependent agricultural sector into organic agriculture.

Today, its organic agriculture is one of the pillars of its economy. It is perhaps the first nation in the world to have transformed its agricultural base in this manner on such a vast scale.

It is equally significant that the Cuban economy organised through state and municipal corporations, cooperatives and collectives in agriculture, commerce and industry has up to this point succeeded in keeping income differentials to the minimum. There is no privileged economic class in Cuba. It is a society where egalitarianism is the order of the day.

This is due in part to Fidel’s determined endeavour to ensure that those who were entrusted with more power and authority than others did not abuse their position. While he was in power, he strived to curb corruption. His own simple, unostentatious lifestyle set the right example for others in the leadership stratum.

Fidel’s other outstanding accomplishment was the eradication of racial and cultural discrimination. A deeply segregated society before the 1959 Revolution with whites enjoying privilege and prestige, Cuba today is one of the most harmonious multi-racial and multi-cultural societies in the world with equal opportunities for blacks, meztizos ( people of mixed ancestry) whites and minority groups.

Gender equality was also at the top of Fidel’s national agenda. Not only are there equal opportunities for women in the workplace, in a number of critical professions there are in fact more women than men. Some 56% of all doctors are female. Women constitute 36% of the National Assembly and are well represented at all levels and in all spheres of public-decision making.

In evaluating Fidel’s record, one cannot overlook his patronage of the arts and culture. Musicians, dancers and film-makers have carved a niche for themselves in the international arena. Indeed, the various facets of Cuban culture, already vibrant before the Revolution, have become even more dynamic since 1959.

The same can be said about sports. From baseball to boxing, from athletics to cycling, sports as a whole figure prominently in the life of the nation.

It is not just in the domestic sphere that Cuba has registered spectacular success. For Fidel, reaching out to the poor and needy beyond Cuban shores was always in the forefront of his struggle. Thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses and other medical personnel have served in other parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

There is another dimension to Fidel’s involvement with other countries that the MSM had manipulated to malign the man. Fidel was ever willing to send his soldiers to fight against oppression in other lands. Cuban soldiers fought against the South African apartheid regime in Angola forcing out the aggressors and compelling them to leave illegally occupied Namibia.

The defeat of the apartheid regime especially in the decisive battle of Cuito Cuanavale shattered the myth of white supremacy and inspired the South African people in their struggle against apartheid.

As Nelson Mandela himself put it, “during all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength - (they) destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor and inspired the fighting masses of South Africa - a turning point for the liberation of our continent – and of my people - from the scourge of apartheid – What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations with Africa?”

Whether it is in the international arena or on the home front, Fidel’s selfless service and sacrifice had no equivalent. This does not mean that there were no shortcomings in his governance. He made mistakes, some more serious than others.

For instance, he made the grievous error of equating small and medium sized businesses with capitalist enterprises and sought to eliminate them to the detriment of the Cuban economy.

His view of ‘private property’ had some of the rigidity of Marxist dogma.

Nonetheless, if one considered the larger picture, Fidel’s contribution to Cuba and the world was immense. For centuries to come, people will remember his resistance to the unjust and arrogant power of the mighty and how he bestowed the Cuban masses – and indeed the poor and oppressed everywhere - with dignity and self-respect.

Before he died, Fidel had expressed the wish that his name and likeness should never be used “on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites and that busts, statues and other forms of tribute” should never be erected. He will not need them. For Fidel will live forever in the heart of humanity, an eternal inspiration for all those who yearn for justice and dignity.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 18 December 2016

Fidel: the truth about his struggle

This man will live forever in the heart of humanity, an eternal inspiration for all those who yearn for justice and dignity.

By Dr CHANDRA MUZAFFAR, President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)

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But what is Christmas, actually?

HERE are 10 myths of Christmas, which I think are appropriate for the festive season, and to have a better understanding of the festival.

Myth No 1: Jesus Christ was born on Dec 25.

Dec 25 is not his birth date. I am sorry if you have been listening to Boney M’s Mary’s Boy Child all your life. No one really knows when Jesus was born. There’s no mention of his birth date in the Bible, either. So there’s plenty of guesswork and interpretation. Some say Christmas was made a festival in the grim winter months and before long, it became a Christian festival. The date was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, retailers the world over hijacked the festival -– well, it is the year-end and since bonuses are usually given out to employees during this period, it’s a good time to persuade people to spend.

Restaurants also cleverly jack up the price of meals and include the “traditional” turkey as part of the courses even though having this big bird for Christmas has never been a part of Malaysian culture. Come on, admit it, the meat is just too tough for us Malaysians. It’s just good for Malaysian-style porridge to be served on Boxing Day. Now, that’s something to look forward to!

Myth No 2: The Christmas tree is a religious item.

It is not a compulsory or must-have item in Christian homes. No religious hardliner should get too excited about this. In Malaysia, we are very realistic – our plastic Christmas trees are from China. They are just as gorgeous. The Chinese probably ship them around the world. I am also very sure Father Christmas is now residing in China, busy answering letters requesting gifts.

The Christmas tree is reportedly a mid-18th century idea, and it was the Germans who took the idea to the United States. In the 1900s, then US president Teddy Roosevelt was reportedly peeved at the fad of cutting down trees for Christmas. I mean, what were these Germans thinking?

Myth No 3: “Xmas” is wrong.

Christmas isn’t X rated. It’s a wholesome family festival. Some Christians are upset with the abbreviation “Xmas”. But there’s some basis to this Xmas explanation, with some claiming that in the Greek language, the word “Christ” is written with a letter similar to X. Research on the Net says the first letter “X” or “chi”, is written as “X” in the Roman alphabet. Well, all this is Greek to me.

The only time I come across “chi” is when it is mentioned in tai chi or kung fu in the movies. I know it has to do with some power. Christ is powerful for sure. I don’t want to get into this but I know some sub-editors says “Xmas” is shorter and is easier to fit into headlines in a tabloid newspaper.

Myth No 4: Santa Claus is real.

As far as I can recall, Santa Claus is fat and bearded. I don’t know why. I also don’t understand why Santarina – the female version – must be hot, sexy and slim ... Santa Claus is based on a fourth-century bishop known as St Nicholas who was said to have delivered secret gifts to the needy. In Malaysia, the term “Santa Claus” is used even during the non-Christmas season to mean one should not be expected to be too generous. Thus the expression “Eh, you think I am your Santa Claus, ah?” No, the beard of St Nicholas is not made of cotton. It’s probably real since he was of Nordic (or Turkish) origin.

Myth No 5: Rudolph is real.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer isn’t real. No animal pulled a fat man, dressed in a ridiculous red suit, around, as that would clearly be a violation of animal rights. Rudolph is said to have made his appearance only in 1939 in a booklet written by Robert May. Accor-ding to the story, Rudolph was a neglected reindeer who caught Santa’s attention because of its glowing nose. I am sorry to tell you this but Mickey Mouse is older than Rudolph (!) as the super mouse was created in 1928 by Walt Disney.

Myth No 6: The red Christmas stockings have special powers.

Christmas stockings, no matter how big or small, are purely decorative. We Malaysians prefer our presents in boxes. Also, often even well decorated boxes are empty and are only good enough as decorations under Christmas trees. Don’t be easily fooled.

The story is this – the tradition of red socks started when Father Nicholas left a piece of gold in the stockings of a poor farmer which had been left hanging to dry near the fire place. The farmer wanted to marry off his three daughters, and it was a tradition and a requirement then to give away valuables to the bridegrooms. On hearing the plight of the farmer, St Nicholas slipped into their home at night and placed the gold in the stockings.

Again, please be reminded that one should not place such red stockings outside the gate ... please be aware of the kind of attention and interpretation you would get, especially if you are a female.

Myth No 7: Candy canes are a must.

Candy canes are not compulsory items in Malaysia. We all know that Malaysia has one of the highest numbers of diabetic patients in the world. And take note – there are no sugar-free candy canes yet. These candies are supposed to represent the purity and sinless nature of Jesus Christ, according to a website, with the red stripes symbolising the blood shed by Jesus and the shape of candy canes resembling the shepherd’s staff. It is said that when the stick is turned upside down, it denotes the letter “J” in Jesus Christ. The candy canes have been reportedly in existence since the 17th century and its significance is surely one of the more meaningful ones.

Myth No 8: During the Christmas season, Christians consume turkey meat, visit the homes of relatives and friends and go to church.

Well, yes and no. It is a busy, busy time for footballers and an equally intense time for football fans as we cancel all evening functions to ensure that we watch matches “live” on TV if our favourite team pulls through in the three crazy days of English football. The champion is always decided upon during this mad period. Will it be Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester City?

Myth No 9: Boxing Day is for boxing matches.

Christians do not go to boxing matches on Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas, Dec 26. The only boxing we may see, if any at all, will be on the football field when English teams play their games, a day after their one-day Christmas break.

It is called Boxing Day because in the 1830s, presents, which were delivered in boxes, were regarded as a gratuity for good service rendered on the first weekday after Christmas. There is nothing special about Boxing Day in Malaysia. In Europe, shops have Boxing Day sales but in Malaysia, we have sales throughout the year.

Myth No 10: Malaysians have a deep suspicion of each other’s religion and have become increasingly religiously intolerant over the years.

NOT true! We all love each other and respect each other’s religion. We will happily support calls for more long weekends and public holidays to celebrate each community’s religious festivals. Yes, cuti lah! I sokong!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all Malaysians!
Treasure the time you spend with your family, friends and loved ones.
Travel safe and have a good time!

The Star, Published: Sunday, 18 December 2016
But what is Christmas, actually?

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Junk food ad ban

The Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) said its restrictions would also apply to all other media where under-16s made up a quarter of the audience.

The rules are an attempt to help tackle obesity when children are spending more time online than ever before.

But critics say the new rules do not go far enough and may not have any impact.

They point to the thousands of children watching TV shows and videos online not specifically targeted at children, which these rules will not cover.

Protecting children
However, the advertisers' body said the move would lead to "a major reduction" in the number of "junk food" ads seen by children on platforms such as YouTube and children's games websites.

And it said the new rules would bring non-broadcast media, such as online, social media, cinema and billboard advertising, in line with TV rules introduced in 2007, which restricted the advertising of junk food during children's TV programmes.

The CAP said the rules were a response to research suggesting children aged five to 15 spent about 15 hours online every week - overtaking time spent watching TV.

Last month, the World Health Organization warned that governments should be protecting children from targeted junk food adverts in apps, social media and video blogs.

While the CAP acknowledged the impact of the rule changes could be small, it said they demonstrated the industry was putting "the protection of children at the heart of its work".

Recent figures showed a third of children in the UK were overweight or obese by the time they left primary school.

Prof Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the measures would help in the fight against the damaging effects of junk food and fizzy drinks - but more could be done.

"Surely it is time for government to strengthen rules around all advertising, and in particular ban the advertising of foods high in salt, sugar and fat on television before the 21:00 watershed."

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the advertising restrictions were encouraging but the real test would be whether they made any difference to the exposure of high sugar, salt and fat products to children and young people.

The government's childhood obesity strategy was heavily criticised in the summer for not including measures banning advertising of junk food to children, and campaign groups still want the government to take a stronger stance.

Loopholes concern
Action on Sugar said: "This is industry regulating itself, but we need to know if advertisers are complying with the rules.

"There is a need for an independent monitor."

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children's Food Campaign, said there were still too many loopholes.

He said: "Just as many of the TV programmes most watched by children aren't covered by the rules, so it looks like many of the most popular social media sites won't be either; neither will billboards near schools, or product packaging itself."

And he said it was not clear what ads would be banned under the new rules, if children had to make up 25% of the audience.

He added: "Ultimately, the new rules are only as good as the body which enforces them."

The Advertising Standards Authority, which regulates all media in the UK, has said it will administer the new rules.

The rules will come into effect on 1 July 2017.

The advertising ban will cover food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar in children's media

More and more children are spending time online rather than watching TV

BBC, 8 December 2016

Children's online junk food ads banned by industry

Online ads for food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar aimed at children are to be banned under new rules from advertisers.
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A country still in deep denial

IN just 14 months to October 2004, Gen Khin Nyunt was Prime Minister of Myanmar.

The former intelligence chief had closed universities and arrested 10,000 people, many of them tortured or handed long sentences by kangaroo courts.

Yet by Myanmar’s standards he was a “moderate” who clashed with junta head Senior Gen Than Shwe. After Khin Nyunt was sacked he spent seven years under house arrest.

Next came Prime Minister Soe Win, “the butcher of Depayin” who engineered the Depayin Massacre the year before. A mob of thousands had attacked an opposition convoy and killed scores of people, reportedly on Than Shwe’s orders.

After Gen Soe Win died in 2007, the “moderate” Gen Thein Sein took over. He retired from the military in 2010, held and won the 2011 election, and assumed the position of President.

Thein Sein expanded contacts abroad and presented his leadership as a break from the past.

In 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar, followed by President Barack Obama a year later. These visits signalled acknowledgment of reforms and encouraged more.

Thein Sein approved of peaceful protests, declared a truce with the Shans, stopped army operations against the Kachins and signed a ceasefire with the Karens.

From the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” when monks rose against the government, the deep state learned that the monkhood could be turned into a useful force outside the control of politicians. So Ashin Wirathu was paid to sponsor monks to act against their religion and karma by attacking Rohingyas.

Aung San Suu Kyi has shown no intention or ability to surmount this dual-key challenge. She cannot plead innocence, since as the most powerful figure in government the world will still hold her responsible.

But while Myanmar gained international credentials for reforms, its treatment of the Rohingyas deteriorated.

The 1982 Citizenship Law had already deprived them of citizenship, despite Rakhine being their home for generations. Their plight would worsen drastically through a campaign of intimidation, repression, murder and terror.

In June 2012, mobs attacked four Muslim townships, killing scores of people and displaced nearly 100,000. Then in October nine Muslim townships were hit, with more people killed and 35,000 displaced.

Rakhine’s Rohingya and Kaman Muslims were the victims. But “moderate” Thein Sein accused them of “threatening national security” and sought to remove them from their homeland.

He set up an inquiry to investigate. Typically, the Muslim community attacked by mobs would only be targeted in court prosecutions.

From 2012, Thein Sein dangled the carrot of leadership for opposition leader Suu Kyi. It helped contain any protest action she might have considered.

He told the BBC he would accept Suu Kyi as President if she could win. Less highlighted was how the Constitution had already barred her from contesting.

In March 2013, the Muslim community was again attacked, in Meiktila, resulting in dozens dead and 12,000 displaced. All seven persons convicted and jailed were Muslims while non-Muslim perpetrators suffered no penalty.

If earlier “peace deals” impressed Washington, they had no effect on fighters on the ground – in 2014 the army fought the Kachins again. Still, publicity abroad on pledged reforms diverted attention from the violence at home.

For all the planned violence against minorities, the Rohingyas have long borne the brunt of attacks. Officials conveniently sidestep all allegations by simply denying Rohingyas even exist.

Then they would say that the problems take time to resolve. Of course, given time the Rohingyas would have vanished altogether through mass murder and forced expulsion.

From at least 2012, international rights groups had accused the government of laying the groundwork for genocide against Rohingyas. That groundwork has led to a sordid superstructure in 2016.

An eight-month investigation by Al Jazeera and Fortify Rights, with Yale University Law School and the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, found strong evidence of genocide.

Evidence comes from secret army documents and witness testimonies by current and former military officers, Rohingya villagers and former UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Quintana.

Three main criteria helped evaluate the situation as genocide: the Rohingyas constituted a specific group, the acts perpetrated against them were genocidal, and these acts were deliberate.

By the political expediency of denying the Rohingyas as a group, the government implicitly acknowledged the Rohingyas as a specific group.

The genocidal nature of extermination is as clear: mass murder, often with torture and rape; forced expulsion; restrictions on marriage and childbirth; and other atrocities. These crimes are being committed wilfully by and in collusion with state authorities, including the military, the police and the border forces (Nasaka).

Added to shameless official denials of genocide is a virulent campaign of false histories about the Rohingyas, accusing them of the very crimes perpetrated on them.

After years of persecution, some once-passive Rohingyas have started to fight back. If foreign militants join in, Myanmar’s stoking of revolt would “reward” Asean with a regional terrorist threat after Asean had worked hard for its membership.

To its credit, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide is also doing valuable documenting work on the genocide against Rohingyas.

Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch has developed a more detailed formula to define genocide. Beginning with eight and then 10 criteria, he regards genocide as a phased campaign of heinous victimisation.

These are: dividing people between the majority and the victimised group; use of hate symbols; a process of dehumanisation; organised persecution; spreading polarising propaganda; physically separating the target group from others; extermination; and denying any wrongdoing.

Myanmar government agencies have engaged and colluded in all these stages.

The International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide established the definition of genocide in UN General Assembly Resolution 260A (III), Article 2.

It defines genocide as an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, such as killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm, bringing about the physical destruction of the group (wholly or partly), preventing births within the group, or forcing the transfer of children from the group to another.

Again, Myanmar conforms to the definition.

After spending one day in the Rakhine capital of Sittwe, the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission on Rakhine State tried to avoid using the word “genocide”. It ended its government-chaperoned survey within a week. Almost immediately, Myanmar publicists spread the “news” that Annan had come to Myanmar, assessed the situation, and found no genocide there.

The Commission will complete its report only next year. Six of the nine members are Myanmar citizens, none of them a Rohingya.

Annan said the charge of genocide is a serious one, and so it would require careful study. He could perhaps begin by considering the careful studies already done by others.

Annan is also chief advocate of “responsibility (of states) to protect” innocent civilians. Given what is known of Myanmar’s genocide, avoiding use of the term would irreparably damage his reputation.

But no Myanmar official need worry. Annan’s Commission did not seek to identify the culprits or assess guilt, only to see how long-term solutions can be reached.

If only the Rohingya community can last the long term.

The Star, PUblished: Sunday, 18 December 2016

A country still in deep denial

However genocide is to be defined, the Myanmar of today has clearly positioned itself in the centre of it – complete with official denials.


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Stateless people for the rest of their life

THEY started shooting randomly – woman, child, they didn’t care. I heard about 1,000 people were killed that day,” Rafik Shah Mohd Ismail recalls the violent attack of the national army on the Rohingya in Maungdaw, a town in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.

“No one dared to go out and we huddled in a corner of the house with all the windows and doors shut, praying the soldiers would not come for us,” he adds.

As the violence grew, his family decided to leave their home and escape to safety.

That was in 1981, and Rafik, now 41, has been living in exile in Malaysia for some 35 years.

“I was only six years old then, but I remember how scared and tired I was, walking and hiding in the jungle until we crossed the Thai border.”

To survive, they sold his mother’s jewellery and other valuables. After a few months in Thailand, his father managed to get in touch with his friend from Kelantan, who helped Rafik and his family of seven get into Malaysia.

With a little help from the friend, his father, who had been a businessman and community leader in Myanmar, managed to start a small business for them to build a new life here as refugees.

You can say Rafik is one of the luckier ones.

Most of the Rohingya refugees, especially the more recent ones, are forced to leave with only the clothes on their backs, the little possessions and money they have used to pay people smugglers to get them out of Myanmar.

Ali Ismail, 43, who has been in Malaysia for more than 20 years, not only had to leave everything behind but he was also separated from his family.

“I don’t know where they are now, I just hope they are all right,” he says.

Thirty-five-year-old Zafar, who has been a refugee in Malaysia for more than five years, survived by collecting scrap metal, cans and plastic bottles to sell for recycling. On a good day, he can make up to RM40, which he tries to save to get his wife and three daughters to Malaysia.

He has been worried sick about their safety since the reported violent crackdown by the Myanmar military in northern Rakhine, after armed militants, alleged to be Rohingya, attacked the border posts on Oct 9, killing nine policemen.

“What is clear is that the Rohingya’s plight is not new. Every five years, there seems to be fresh violence and one crisis or other in Rakhine,” says Rafik, or Ustaz Rafik as he is known among his fellow Rohingya and Myanmar Muslim refugees in Selayang, Selangor, after he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a community leader.

In 2012, he teamed up with a few of his Malaysian friends to set up the MyWelfare (Malaysian International Welfare and Humanitarian Organisation) community centre.

The main focus of the organisation, a registered society, is to provide welfare and support for refugees and asylum seekers in the area, particularly the Rohingyas.

Rafik has not been optimistic for peace or change in the Rakhine state.

“There has been no solution for 70 years, and even the new Myanmar government is not making a difference.

“The Rohingya have had no choice but to leave their homes and seek refuge in other countries,” says Rafik.

That is why like many of the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, he was heartened by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s resolute stand against the latest atrocities in the Rakhine state in a rally early this month.

Their hope is that the Malaysian government can lead Asean and the international community to engage with the Myanmar government to stop the violence and put pressure on them to recognise the Rohingya people as citizens.

Two weeks on, however, many are wondering if the issue, and their struggle, has been forgotten.

“We were hoping that, at the very least, people would start paying attention to the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia,” says Rafik.

Often described as the most persecuted people, the Rohingya – the Muslim population in northern Rakhine state with their own distinct language and culture – have been forced to flee from their home for decades due to alleged state-sanctioned violence and poverty.

Global advocacy organisation Refugees International estimates that at least 1.5 million Rohingya are exiled outside Myanmar.

In Malaysia alone, it is estimated that there are over 120,000 Rohingya refugees living in the country, out of which only 54,856 are registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Malaysia (as of Oct 31, 2016).

As Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, however, Rohingya refugees are considered illegal immigrants and have no or few livelihood opportunities, restricted freedom of movement, no access to affordable healthcare and no admission into government schools for their children.

And while a few have been resettled to other countries like the United States and Australia through UNHCR programmes, many Rohingya refugees are forced to make Malaysia their home.

But life is hard for the Rohingya refugees here, even for those registered with the UNHCR who carry the agency’s identification card.

“The challenge is to survive – it is difficult to earn a living and support your family,” stresses Rafik.

True, not allowed to work legally in Malaysia, the Rohingya are exposed to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and unsafe working conditions.

And even with a valid UNHCR documentation, many live in constant fear as they are at risk of arrests by the authorities.

Rafik believes around 2,000 to 3,000 Rohingya refugees are currently being held at the detention centres nationwide.

“The process of being released from detention can take up to two years. Many at the detention centres are worried that they would be sent home.”

The arrests, he says, have led to a high number of single mothers and abandoned children in the Rohingya community.

One is Senowa Ahmad, 38, who has been staying at the MyWelfare community centre for almost a year with her five children after her husband Hamid was arrested in an immigration operation. His arrest came three months after she had given birth to their youngest son.

“When we first found them, they were basically starving. It was difficult for Senowa to go out and work with the children – she had a newborn baby and her eldest here (she and her husband have four older children in Myanmar) was only 10 at that time,” says Rafik.

At MyWelfare community centre, she works as a kitchen help for the community-based “school” the centre runs for refugee children there, including her own.

Her family’s life has improved somewhat, but she and her children miss their father and count the days until he is released.

“Unfortunately, we heard that he may have died in detention, but we cannot confirm it. The saddest thing is that her case is becoming a norm in the Rohingya community here,” Rafik notes.

He understands the security issues the Malaysian Government is concerned about, he says, “But considering the situation, should the Rohingya refugees be detained?

“We do not want to burden the Malaysian government and people, but now that it’s clear that the Rohingya problem is a serious problem, we hope the Malaysian government can come up with a policy to look at the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia in a more positive light and give us some livelihood opportunities here,” he adds.

An urgent measure is to register the undocumented Rohingya refugees here, says Rafik.

“Today, documentation is essential, even to travel from our house to the shop, to get a job, access to education, for birth, medical care, and even when we die. The UNHCR card alone is not enough.

“If the Malaysian government and authorities can come up with an identification system on who is a Rohingya and give us some allowance to live, work and our children access to school here ... that will help,” he proposes.

The Government’s recent announcement of a pilot project to allow 300 Rohingya refugees holding a UNHCR card to work in the plantation and manufacturing sectors has given Rafik and the Rohingya community here a glimmer of hope.

As Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed stated, it is one of Malaysia’s humanitarian initiatives in helping refugees and asylum seekers in the country despite not being a signatory of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and its 1967 Protocol. Signatories of the convention are obligated to ensure the rights of refugees are respected and protected.

Lauding the pilot project, Mohammad Sadek, the programme coordinator for the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC), also believes it will go a long way in helping the Rohingya refugees here.

“We appreciate Malaysia’s stand and for allowing us to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds but the anxiety of trying to survive in Malaysia without being allowed to work legally is pushing many to the brink, what more with the pain of seeing what’s happening to their families back in Myanmar and worrying about them.

“We hope the project can be opened to more people soon – 300 out of 54,900 is too small,” the 44-year-old who has been in Malaysia for more than eight years points out.

Many of the Rohingya refugees here are struggling to put food on their table and pay the rent for the roof over their head, which is often a room for a family of six or seven, in a flat shared with two or three other families, he says.

“If not all Rohingya refugees can be allowed to work, we hope the Government can help with some provisions and food aid for them.”

Other than being allowed to work, Mohammad Sadek hopes humanitarian assistance can also be extended to allow their children access to school as well as support for their learning centres.

Like many other community-based learning centres in Malaysia, the informal school run by RARC, which provides lessons to some 103 children in the Ampang area, is struggling to survive.

“We don’t have a budget, so we can’t pay for the rental of the house where the school is held, pay teachers’ salaries or for materials for the children,” he says.

On the recent rally in support of the Rohingya’s plight, Mohammad Sadek says they really appreciate the Malaysian Government, civil society and the public for understanding their problem.

“It will also be good if the Malaysian Government can push for a dialogue between the Myanmar Government, international community and the Rohingya community to find a resolution inside Myanmar. A constant engagement with the Myanmar government by Asean and the international community can put pressure on them to stop the ‘genocide’ of the Rohingya people,” he says.

Rafik believes political will is key.

“I think it is an easy conflict to resolve if there is political will on the part of the Myanmar government, and here Malaysia can play a crucial role.

“If the conflict is resolved, I believe all the Rohingya refugees would want to go home and be reunited with their families.”

Mohammad Sadek agrees.

“If a political solution can be found, it will stop the Rohingya from fleeing to other countries. Essentially, the Rohingya want to be accepted as citizens in Myanmar.

“We all want to go home. No one wants to live outside the country. If there is peace and stability in the country, if the Rohingya are respected as human beings and citizens of the country, we will go back.”

It is a hope that Rafik is holding out for despite his deep pessimism, as he laments.

“Our biggest worry, especially for those who have been here for 10-20 years and more, is the future of our children – ‘What are they going to be without schooling? How will they survive? Are they going to be stateless people for the rest of their life?”

The Star, Published: Sunday, 18 December 2016
A daily battle for survival

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When in Langkawi, cook fish!

Surrounded by verdant greenery and clear waters on a daily basis, executive chef of The Datai Langkawi Richard Millar has found much to inspire him, as he heads one of the premier kitchens on the fabled island.

“I cook with seafood a lot, because we have such an abundance of it here,” he said.

“Not only do we have the ocean surrounding us, but there are a lot of fish farms in Langkawi. So in addition to wild-caught prawns and fresh local octopus, we get a lot of farmed snapper, seabass, and grouper. We also get sea grapes, which are really good.”

Melbourne-born Millar has spent 17 years in the Asia Pacific region, working in Indonesia, Singapore, Fiji, Japan and China, before coming to work in Malaysia.

When he left Australia, it was from The Point at Albert Park Lake, which then boasted two Chefs Hats from The Age Good Food Guide Awards.

At The Datai, Millar works closely with local fishermen and farmers; he is known for his exacting standards and insistence on working with only the best quality produce he can find – in keeping with those standards, setting up his own organic garden and greenhouse is already in the pipeline for next year.

According to Millar, one of his favourite island pastimes is exploring the rainforest surrounding the resort, in search of native herbs and plants to add interest to his plates.

“I like using local, natural products,” said Millar. “I eat very healthily, so I generally cook the same way at the resort. I use very little cream and butter in my cooking, and am very particular about the oils I use – I only use those of a very high quality, such as fruit-based and nut oils.

So when Richard was introduced to red palm oil by culinary consultant and chef Ahmad Kasdi Mohd Dahari, he found a new oil that he loved.

“Kasdi called me and asked me if I had heard of palm oil – and of course, I was familiar with it as a good oil for deep-frying,” said Millar.

Palm oil’s high smoke point of 235°C has made it an entrenched favourite for professional chefs and home cooks alike when it comes to frying. Palm oil can withstand the high temperatures required for deep-frying without breaking down and releasing free radicals.

“But I had not heard of the red palm oil before, and I asked Kasdi for a sample. When I tried it, I thought it was fantastic.

The health benefits of red palm oil were foremost on the list of Millar’s likes. Red palm oil gets its colour from its high carotene content; in addition to being rich in vitamin E tocotrienols like all palm oil, this particular variant is also full of pro-vitamin A carotenes. In fact, it contains the highest amounts of these antioxidants of any plant-based oil.

“It doesn’t have a flavour of its own, and that allows it to be infused with other flavours.

“And when you have cold-pressed red palm oil, it really retains all its health benefits. I started looking at how it was sustainably processed, and went down to Malacca early this year to see a couple of plantations,” said Millar.

“Because of how it is processed (cold pressed), I feel it needs to be marketed at the more luxury end of the oil spectrum, rather than being for the mass market,” he added.

Millar said as much as a speaker at the first-ever Malaysian Palm Oil International Chef Conference 2016, held recently at Berjaya University College of Hospitality. The conference saw chefs from all over the region coming to learn more about palm oil, with many prominent chefs serving as speakers.

Today, Millar uses red palm oil in dishes across almost all of The Datai’s restaurants. Here, he shares recipes from the Gulai House, The Dining Room and the Pavilion.

The Star2, Published: DECEMBER 17, 2016
When in Langkawi, cook fish!

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On the age of reason and getting older

LIKE gravity, age gets you down.

My problem is that I tend to be pessimistic. Went for my annual medical the other day and the doctor said that I was in reasonable shape for “my age.” Instead of being pleased, couldn’t help thinking that it would also be reasonable that at “my age” I could die at some point.

I wasn’t always like that. When I was young, I couldn’t wait to get “older”. I mean, there were lots of things out there waiting to be explored mainly girls and my friends and me couldn’t wait for the Age Of Reason to dawn so that we could begin acting unreasonably.

It seemed to take forever until you got out of university after which life seemed set permanently in fast forward. In a blink of an eye, one moved gracelessly from rakish bachelor (or so one hoped) to dirty old man. It just happened. Honest!

The irony was that when I first started working, I used to look too young to be in-charge of much older people so I grew a beard. That went out the window after my then girlfriend, now wife, said that she supposed it would have been okay “if I wanted to go out with a monkey.”

It’s been downhill ever since. I used to be “boy” first after which “adik” came along. So far so good. Then, one fateful day, there I was, waiting in line at a cafeteria, just minding my own business when the dish at the counter eyed my dishes and said. Dua ringgit abang.

Now all sorts of people claim to be related. I went to a hi-fi shop recently to ask if someone could sell me some speakers. The guy says, “Kenwood.” So I go, “Ok, so call Ken then.”

And he goes. “Who do you mean, uncle?”

Uncle? I live now in fear, waiting with a sense of foreboding, for the first, dreaded, yet inevitable, sounds of pakcik.

I used to think my dad didn’t understand me. In my university days, I used to be an amateur musician of sorts complete with long hair and a band. One day while at home, I was practising for an up-coming gig when my dad cleared his throat behind me and asked in a puzzled voice, “And for this, they pay you?”

It’s just as true now. Take the abomination called rap music, a phrase that has to be an oxymoron. Rap is composed by illiterate musicians who should keep their dissonance to themselves and learn how to spell “gangster.”

Rap chiefly consists of extremely bad poetry sung repetitively to a monotonous beat by people wearing reversed baseball caps and whose fathers all seemed to have been called Dogg. There seems to be no discernible melody whatsoever.

What’s worse, the words “yo” and “with chou” occur at an alarming, and downright distressing, frequency. I mean, if you are constantly going to sing about being with some Chinese gentleman called Chou, you might as well sing it in Mandarin. My worry is that my father may have thought the same thing about The Beatles.

Unfortunately, my daughter likes rap which is one of the particular crosses I have to bear in life. It’s also why I have to keep my dislike of it out of her earshot.

I used to be amused at my father’s propensity to follow the obituaries. Now I don’t laugh at myself when I do the same thing because, you know, you have to keep up with the Joneses, however late.

In the end I suppose it always comes full circle. I have become my father’s son.

The Star, Published: Saturday, 17 December 2016
On the age of reason and getting older

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