Happy wanderer

Lum in Turkey. She took a bold decision to quit her job and travel the world.

Determination and courage is all you need to step out from your comfort zone.

Lum Weng Haan did just that, when she decided to quit her job and start backpacking to travel the world.

Her bold decision proved worthwhile when she managed to experience things that were beyond her imagination.

“Living a stable life is good, but a few years ago, I was eager for some changes,” says Lum, 35.

“I wanted to go somewhere that I am unfamiliar with, become a nobody, reset myself to zero and learn from the world. Throughout the three years on the road and across five continents, I’ve gained a lot of unforgettable experience and lessons.”

Born in Sekinchan, Selangor, Lum started backpacking when she was studying in Australia in 2003. Upon finishing her studies, she worked for a few years in Australia before returning to Malaysia in 2006; she worked as a project manager in telecommunications.

As she loved to read books about people who travel around the world with just a backpack; she developed an innate curiosity and wanted to do the same.

In 2012, she travelled solo for two months in Sichuan and Yunnan, China.

Equipped with no plans nor clear objective, she found the journey to be amazing, and was eager to do more backpacking by herself.

Relying on her own savings, she managed to travel all over Asia, Europe, Central and South America and Africa.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect I could go so far. Before I explored Europe, I thought I’d finish spending all my money. In the end, I was able to go to Latin America and Africa as well,” says Lum, who is presently working as a senior project manager in Australia.

Lum recently launched an online Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to self-publish her first book.

Titled My Lucky Odyssey, it features her backpacking travels and includes the surprises, shocks, hardship and touching moments she encountered along the way.

Lum, who is married to a Bulgarian CouchSurfing (hospitality service) host, admits that the whole process of writing and self-publishing her book has been challenging. It reminds her of all the hard times she encountered on her travels.

The book, which will be available in Mandarin, conveys the message: “The world is not perfect. As long as we are brave enough to explore it, we will get nearer to our dreams.”

According to Lum: “My first book is in Mandarin because that’s the language I can express myself best in.”

A jovial Lum helps to clear snow in Japan.

Learning that “everything is possible” on her solo travels, she hopes that the book will inspire readers.

She started her crowdfunding campaign on July 1; it will end on Aug 9. If the campaign is successful, the book will be distributed in November. Funds collected will be used for layout and design, editing fees, printing and distribution.

“If there is surplus from the fund, I will donate it to Kiva to help more people who need financial assistance,” shared Lum. (Kiva is a non-profit organisation that lends money to low-income entrepreneurs and students in over 80 countries.)

At the moment, the only way to get Lum’s book is to make a pledge via her Kickstarter campaign.

The Star2, Published: JULY 31, 2017
The happy wanderer

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WORLD Hepatitis Day

It’s not acceptable that 500,000 M’sians are infected with the disease but cannot afford treatment, when a total cure is available.

WORLD Hepatitis Day fell on July 28. So it was timely that the alarming situation of Hepatitis C in Malaysia has been highlighted.

A solution is in sight but must be implemented soon, as so many lives are at stake.

The Star revealed last Friday that over 500,000 Malaysians aged 15 to 60 are infected with Hepatitis C, but most are unaware because there are no early symptoms. Hepatitis C can seriously damage the liver, especially when it leads to cirrhosis (serious scarring) and cancer.

What is more alarming is the high incidence and its recent rate of increase. In 2009, the Hepatitis C incidence rate was 3.71%, and this shot up to 8.57% in 2016, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subra-maniam on July 20.

That indicates one in 12 adult Malaysians has Hepatitis C.

The incidence rate for Hepatitis B also rose from 2.13% to 12.6% in the same period. Combined, that’s a very high rate of hepatitis.

The good news is that a new cure for Hepatitis C is now available.

The bad news is that it is very expensive for Malaysians, though much cheaper in other countries. And the hopeful news is that we might get good treatment at a cheap rate by next year, if all goes well.

The year 2013 saw a breakthrough in Hepatitis C treatment with new direct-acting antivirals which may cure up to 95% of cases.

In the new regime, the main drug is Sofosbuvir (produced by Gilead) which is often combined with another drug to make it more effective.

The big problem is that the original price of Sofosbuvir was fixed at US$84,000 (RM359,436) for a 12-week treatment course in the United States.

In Malaysia, the cost may be up to RM300,000 for the full treatment, according to The Star report.

Last November, the Consumers Associa-tion of Penang reported that a patient in a private hospital had been charged RM385,000 for a 24-week course a few years ago.

Even though prices may have fallen since, “life-saving Hepatitis C treatment is beyond the reach of most Malaysians”, said CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris.

Gilead has entered agreements allowing some Indian drug companies to produce and sell Sofosbuvir in about 100 low- and middle-income countries, and the cost has gone down to about US$200 to US$300 (RM855 to RM1,283) for them.

But Malaysia is one of the 41 middle-income countries excluded.

In countries which have not patented the drug, generic versions of Sofosbuvir are available for a 28-day course at prices ranging from US$15 (RM64) in Pakistan to US$197 (RM842) in Bangladesh in 2016, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.

In countries where Gilead holds the patent, the originator branded product (Sovaldi) was selling for prices ranging from US$2,292 (RM9,807) in Brazil to the launching price of US$28,000 (RM119,812) in 2013 in the US for a 28-day supply.

The company has been criticised for making super profits through charging as much as the market can bear and excluding the majority who need treatment.

Worldwide, Hepatitis C causes 700,000 deaths each year.

“It can be completely cured with direct acting antivirals (DAAs) within three months. However, as of 2015, only 7% of the 71 million people with chronic Hepatitis C had access to treatment,” said WHO.

In Malaysia, the situation is bad, as very few of the infected are able to get treatment. The Health Minister said on July 21 that “it currently costs RM30,000 to RM40,000 per person for 12 weeks of treatment”. But he also indicated that “we hope to bring it down to RM1,000; if we do that it will be a major success”.

The Health Ministry is cooperating with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a Geneva-based non-profit research and development organisation, to do clinical trials for a combination of Sofosbuvir and Ravidasvir drugs.

According to DNDi executive director Dr Bernard Pecoul, DNDi had agreed with Pharco, an Egyptian drug company, to provide treatment for Malaysians for around US$300 (RM1,283).

One issue is that Sofosbuvir is patented in Malaysia, unlike Egypt which rejected the patent application. If a product is patented, rival brands are not allowed to be sold.

However, the WHO and national patent laws allow governments to issue “compulsory licences” or “govern-ment use orders” on -various grounds.

Malaysia is no stranger to this. In 2003, the Government issued a government use order to enable import of two combination HIV-AIDS drugs from an Indian generic company, which resulted in great savings as the cost fell by 68% to 83% and three times more patients could be treated.

Malaysia earned praise for this action, with other countries following suit, including Thailand and Indonesia. Today it is quite common for countries to issue compulsory licences.

In the case of Hepatitis C, there are potentially half a million Malaysians suffering from the very serious ailment and who just cannot afford the treatment.

If the price can be brought down from the original RM400,000 and the present RM40,000 to only RM1,000, imagine the massive savings to the Government and country, and the joy of the patients.

On this year’s Hepatitis Day, it is thus imperative that all necessary measures are pursued, including concluding the clinical tests, working with DNDi and Pharco to set the right treatment regime and getting a good bargain on the cost the Government has to pay for the combination drugs, and issuing the compulsory licence or government use order to enable the treatment to proceed.

The Star, Published: Monday, 31 July 2017
Urgent action needed on Hepatitis C

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A perfect business crime

It is time to name a new crime. It is called ‘shrinkflation’.

There have been reports for some time that manufacturers of such household items as sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate and confectionery have been reducing the size of their products without making corresponding cuts in their prices. I say reports because this activity cannot easily be detected by the naked eye. Somebody has to tell us poor consumers that this shrinkage is going on because we cannot see it for ourselves. That is the nature of the fraud.

It is a fraud, isn’t it? If the manufacturer of, say, your favourite jar of strawberry jam raised the price, you would most likely notice and then make a rational decision whether to pay up or do without the jam. But if instead the manufacturer reduces the quantity of jam and maintains the price, you probably won’t be the least bit aware of what is going on – unless you study the small print on the label. In short, you have been had.

Now the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has calculated the extent of this disingenuous behaviour, which it calls ‘shrinkflation’. It reports that as many as 2,529 products have shrunk in size over the past five years but are being sold for the same prices. This activity isn’t just confined to chocolate bars as popularly supposed. It stretches from toilet rolls to fruit juice.

The ONS also knocks on the head the notion that Brexit has somehow been responsible. It comments that there has not been a change in trend since the EU referendum – “our data shows that shrinkflation has been used in practice consistently across the past 5 years”.

Now according to standard economic thinking, companies that deceive and manipulate people are not going to last long. Competition between firms will see to that. But actually there is quite a lot of evidence that competition doesn’t always take the form of a race to the top; it can often be a slithering and sliding to the bottom.

As two Nobel Prize-winning economists, George Akerlof and Robert Silver, argue in their book, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, companies exploit human weaknesses not necessarily because they are malicious or venal, but because the market makes them do it. Those who fail to exploit people will lose out to those who do. To put it bluntly, they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Then what about the law? In theory perhaps it could be brought to bear on ‘shrinkflation’. But in practice the evidence for prosecution could be collected only if individual consumers were to spend their time weighing chocolate bars and toilet rolls on their home scales or if armies of inspectors were employed.

It is not of course the only dubious business practice to come under the microscope. Transparency International published a report last year which suggested that, within the health sector, pharmaceuticals stands out as a sub-sector that is particularly prone to corruption. This can take the form of a pharmaceutical company bribing a doctor to prescribe its medicines irrespective of a health need or a government employee being ‘encouraged’ to facilitate the infiltration of sub-standard medicines into the distribution system.

The Governor of the Bank of England, in a speech he gave soon after his appointment, referred to scandals in fixed income, currency and commodity markets. He said: “The scandals highlight a malaise in corners of finance that must be remedied. Many banks have rightly developed codes of ethics or business principles, but have all their traders absorbed their meaning?”

Then, as if to confirm the justice of the Governor’s comments, it was recently discovered that thousands of employees at the world’s most valuable bank, Wells Fargo, secretly opened millions of accounts without their American customers’ knowledge in order to meet sales targets. Staff faked email addresses to create accounts and even went as far as to create PIN numbers for customers without telling them.

Perhaps this is why ‘shrinkflation’ is the perfect business crime: it is only one among many and, compared to some of the others, has yet to be ruled illegal or even impermissible.

The Office for National Statistics has found that it isn't only confectionery that's getting smaller Getty

The Independent, Published 7 days ago

'Shrinkflation' should be called out for what it is - a fraud against consumers

When manufacturers put their prices up, we can decide whether to pay more; when they subtly reduce the size of a product, we don't even notice that it's happened

By Andreas Whittam Smith

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Not cowed by HIV

Prospects for defeating HIV, once considered an invincible killer, look brighter with major advances against the AIDS-causing virus discussed at an international conference last week.

One of those pieces of good news comes from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. In collaboration with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, its researchers have generated “broadly neutralising antibodies” that kill HIV using an unexpected source – cows.

The startling feat was announced in a study published in the journal Nature. It marks another milestone toward the long-elusive aim of creating a vaccine against the virus, with the antibodies perhaps also leading to creation of new HIV drugs.

“It takes humans years” for the immune system to trigger formation and full production of broadly neutralising antibodies. “The cows solved it in a couple of months,” said Dennis Burton, co-author of the new report and a long-time researcher of such antibodies at Scripps Research.

In other news at the 9th IAS Conference on HIV Science in Paris, researchers highlighted the case of an HIV-infected child who has apparently been cured of the virus. They also announced success in using a long-lasting injection to suppress HIV levels.

Yet another study showed that certain HIV drugs were able to prevent transmission of the virus in hundreds of couples where at least one person was HIV-positive.

Despite the progress, HIV continues to spread and destroy lives, said Mark Feinberg, the vaccine initiative’s president and CEO.

“To me, the most significant thing is how the epidemic continues to ravage many countries and communities, and is still such a major threat to so many people’s lives,” Feinberg said.

“While this disease may have receded from the headlines, it hasn’t gone away. And unless things are really stepped up, it’s going to get worse rather than better. That is part of the discussion taking place in Paris.”

In the United States, 1.2 million people are living with HIV. The worldwide number is 37 million, with many of the patients living in poor countries with inadequate healthcare.

Mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, people can’t get ready access to the drugs that have turned HIV from a virtual death sentence when it was discovered in the 1980s into today’s manageable disease.

And a lack of awareness of how the virus is transmitted means more are infected all the time.

About 2.1 million new infections occurred worldwide in 2015, according to the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Over the course of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, more than 70 million people have been infected with HIV, according to the World Health Organization. About 35 million of them have died of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

During this time, numerous efforts have been launched to develop a vaccine against HIV. But none of those projects has demonstrated more than a modest benefit in reducing the rate of infection.

Broadly neutralising antibodies have long been researched intensively for clues on making a better HIV vaccine. It’s hard for the human immune system to produce these antibodies because HIV mutates prolifically, presenting a moving target.

When these antibodies finally arrive, the virus is too well-established to eradicate from the patient’s body, said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

But if the immune system could be trained with a vaccine to make these powerful antibodies before any infection occurs, the virus might be blocked from getting a foothold, Fauci said.

In the study from Scripps Research and the vaccine initiative, calves were injected with HIV fragments selected to provoke production of broadly neutralising antibodies. Their quick response was remarkable, said Burton and study co-author Vaughn Smider, a Scripps Research colleague.

It’s thought that the bovine immune system’s powers protect it from extensive exposure to microbes in its gut as it chews and rechews its cud.

This power may be conferred by a peculiarity of cows’ antibody structure.

Antibodies form a Y shape. At the ends of the two arms are loops of protein that latch onto the molecular target, called an antigen. These loops are called complementarity-determining regions, or CDRs. Their structure determines which antigens it can bind to.

An antibody region called CDR H3 is far longer in cows than in humans, which provides a greater reach to find the right molecular latching point, such as in a deep indentation that hides a vulnerable region.

A broadly neutralising human HIV antibody has an exceptionally long CDR H3 region, but is still much shorter than the one in cows.

Insights from how cows make these antibodies could help in several ways.

First, they could give guidance in devising an effective HIV vaccine that can quickly rev up the immune system to make these powerful antibodies, blocking HIV from getting a foot in the door, said Fauci, Burton and Smider.

In addition, the broadly neutralising antibodies could be manufactured as HIV drugs to prevent or treat infection, they said.

The antibodies would need to be altered to look more human so they don’t provoke an immune reaction, but this has been done with other antibody drugs.

Finally, the study could provide a template for developing vaccines and therapies for other diseases, such as influenza.

While HIV and the flu virus are quite different, the general concept is the same.

The most prominent targets on each mutate rapidly. Other parts, vital to the virus function, remain relatively constant but are concealed.

The immune system must produce antibodies to the unchanging areas and not be distracted by areas of rapid change.

“A lot of the tools developed for HIV are now being applied to flu,” said Feinberg with the vaccine initiative. A vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, may be even closer at hand, he said.

“RSV has been a pathogen which causes serious morbidity and mortality in young children and older people,” Feinberg said. “And it’s long been at the top of many lists for vaccine development, but for a variety of reasons has been challenging.

“I’m hopeful that these new approaches will actually crack the code on that and enable the development of an efficacious RSV vaccine. So it is a direct example where the work in HIV is having broad benefits to other areas as well,” he added.

Researchers have come up with anti-HIV antibodies from the most unlikely of sources – cows.

The Star2, Published: JULY 31, 2017
To defeat HIV, scientists are getting help from cows
Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune

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N.Korea youths

PYONGYANG, North Korea − She dances beneath 10-foot portraits of two smiling dictators, a modern young woman in a central Pyongyang plaza who twirls to music calling on North Koreans to die for their leader.

When she speaks, a torrent of reverence tumbles out for North Korea's ruling family, as if phrases had been plucked at random from a government newspaper: "The revolution of the Great Leader" ... "Only by upholding President Kim Il Sung could the people win their struggle" ... "Laborers trust and venerate Marshal Kim Jong Un." And as hundreds of students dance behind her in a choreographed display of loyalty, she is adamant about one thing: North Korea, she insists, has no generation gap.

"The spirit of the youth has remained the same as ever!" Ryu Hye Gyong says.

But look more closely − look beyond her words, beyond the propaganda posters on every street, and the radios playing hymns to the ruling family − and the unspoken reality is far more complicated.

A 19-year-old university student with a confident handshake and carefully styled hair, Ryu lives in a city that today feels awash in change. There are rich people now in Pyongyang, chauffeured in Mercedes and Audis even as most citizens of the police state remain mired in poverty. There's a supermarket selling imported apples and disposable diapers. On sidewalks where everyone once dressed in drab Maoist conformity, there are young women in not-quite miniskirts and teenage boys with baseball caps cocked sideways, K-pop style.

In this profoundly isolated country, a place that can still sometimes appear frozen in a Stalinist netherworld, a generational divide is quietly growing behind the relentless propaganda.

Continue reading the main story
Here, where rulers have long been worshiped as all-powerful providers, young people have grown to adulthood expecting nothing from the regime. Their lives, from professional aspirations to dating habits, are increasingly shaped by a growing market economy and a quietly thriving underground trade in smuggled TV shows and music. Political fervor, genuinely felt by many in earlier generations, is being pushed aside by something else: A fierce belief in the power of money.

It's a complex divide, where some 20-year-olds remain fierce ideologues and plenty of 50-year-olds have no loyalty to the increasingly worried regime. But conversations with more than two dozen North Korean refugees, along with scholars, former government officials and activists, make it clear that young people are increasingly unmoored from the powerful state ideology.

"When Kim Jong Un speaks, young people don't listen," says Han Song Yi, 24, who left the North in 2014, dreaming of pop-music stardom in the South. "They just pretend to be listening."

In her tight jeans and gold-speckled eye shadow, Han revels in Seoul's frenetic glitz and unembarrassed consumerism. She loves talking about fashion and the K-pop bands she and her friends secretly listened to back home.

But she also talks about her homeland with the thoughtfulness of someone who is constantly watching, constantly looking for explanations. Han can deconstruct the sudden emergence of short skirts in her hometown in the autumn of 2012, and how that mirrored not just the ascension of Kim Jong Un, the new leader often photographed with his glamorous, well-dressed wife, but also the political cynicism growing around her.

"North Korea in the past, and North Korea today are so different," she says.

Nobody in North Korea will talk to an outsider about this, and it's easy to see why.

Stand at nearly any Pyongyang street corner and reminders of the state's immense power are everywhere. Mounted portraits show the country's first two rulers: Kim Il Sung, who shaped the North into one of the world's most repressive states, and his son, Kim Jong Il, who created the personality cults that now dominate public life. Immense rooftop signs spell out praise for grandson Kim Jong Un, the ruling party and the military. On the radio, the song "We Will Defend Gen. Kim Jong Un With Our Lives" booms out again and again.

The message is unmistakable: "People are always careful about what they say," says Han.
For generations, propaganda about the Kim family was all that most North Koreans knew, a mythology of powerful but tender-hearted rulers who protect their people against a hostile world. It still suffuses everything from children's stories to university literature departments, from TV shows to opera.

"When I was younger I believed all of this," says a former North Korean policeman in his mid-40s, who now lives in Seoul and who spoke on condition his name not be used, fearing retribution against relatives still in the North. He's a powerfully built man with a gravelly voice who remains conflicted about the North, critical of the dictatorship but also scornful of a younger generation that doesn't understand the emotional tug of loyalty. So his voice is dismissive when he adds: "But the younger people, many of them never believed."

Many older North Koreans feel that emotional tug.

In part that's because they remember the days of relative prosperity, when the state provided people with nearly everything: food, apartments, clothing, children's holiday gifts. North Korea's economy was larger than the South's well into the 1970s.

An economic shift began in the mid-1990s, when the end of Soviet aid and a series of devastating floods caused widespread famine. The food ration system, which had fed nearly everyone for decades, collapsed. The power of the police state weakened amid the hunger, allowing smuggling to flourish across the Chinese border.

While the state tightened its hold again when the famine ended, private enterprise grew, as the government realized it was the only way to keep the economy afloat.

To people who came of age after the famine, when it had become clear the regime was neither all-powerful nor all-providing, the propaganda is often just background noise. It isn't that they hate the regime, but simply that their focus has turned to earning a living, or buying the latest smuggled TV show.

"After a while, I stopped paying attention," says Lee Ga Yeon, who grew up amid the mud and poverty of an isolated communal farm and began helping support her family as a teenager during the famine, pedaling her bicycle through nearby villages, selling food door to door. "I didn't even think about the regime anymore."

That lack of interest frightens the regime, whose legitimacy depends on its ability to remain at the center of North Korean life.

"They know that young people are where you get revolutions," says Hazel Smith, a North Korea scholar at SOAS, University of London and former aid worker in North Korea. "This is the cleavage that the government is worried about."

Kim Jong Un, who wasn't even 30 years old when he came to power after his father's 2011 death, now faces the challenge of his own generation, with a little over one-third of North Koreans believed to be under the age of 25.

On his gentler days, Kim has reached out to young people: "I am one of you, and we are the future," he said in one speech. There was an increase in youth-oriented mass rallies after Kim's ascension, and public pledges of youth loyalty. Earlier this year, the regime held the first national gathering in 23 years of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth league, a mass organization for all North Koreans ages 14 to 30. There's also propaganda now clearly aimed at young people, like the all-woman Moranbong Band, which performs pop-political anthems in tight skirts and high heels.

But fear has a long history in North Korea, where at least 80,000 people are believed to be held in an archipelago of political prison camps, some for simply being related to someone suspected of disloyalty. Despite his youth and his schooling in Switzerland, Kim understands the tools that his father and grandfather used. He has purged dozens of powerful members of his inner circle, including his uncle, who "did serious harm to the youth movement in our country."

Kim also has blasted outside movies and music as "poisonous weeds" and in 2015, researchers say, his regime announced that people caught with South Korean videos could face 10 years of imprisonment at hard labor.

Most young people have grown up with at least some access to smuggled DVDs or flash drives, whether Chinese TV shows (normally OK with the government), American movies (highly suspicious, though Schwarzenegger shoot-em-ups are said to be in high demand) or a buffet of digitized South Korean entertainment choices (by far the most popular, and by far the most dangerous.)

In the North, South Korean soap operas are far more than just weepy sagas of thwarted love. To many young Northerners they are windows onto a modern world, nurturing middle-class aspirations while helping change everything from fashion to romance.

Today, young women can be seen on the streets of Pyongyang in tight-fitting blouses and short skirts (though no shorter than 5 centimeters (2 inches) above the knee, Han notes, or party workers can demand you change or pay a fine). Couples can occasionally be spotted holding hands in the parks along the Taedong River. In a culture where arranged marriages were the norm until very recently, young people now date openly and choose their own spouses.

Some things, though, have barely changed at all.

The power of the police state, for instance, with its web of agencies and legions of informers, remains immense.

So while the generational divide has grown, there have been no signs of youthful anger: no university protests, no political graffiti, no anonymous leaflets. Even among themselves, young people say politics is almost always avoided, with honest conversations saved only for immediate family and the closest friends.

Plus, politics is not at the heart of the generation gap.

"It's not about the regime," says Lee, the former door-to-door food saleswoman, who now studies literature at one of South Korea's top universities. "It's about money."
Officially, North Korea remains rigidly socialist, a country where private property is illegal and bureaucrats control the economy.

Then there's the reality.

"Everybody wants money now," says Han, whose father ran a successful timber business. In her hometown, where squat houses and small factories line the Yalu River border with China, her family counted as wealthy. "I grew up like a princess," she says happily, ticking off the family's possessions: a TV, two laptop computers, easy access to the latest South Korean K-pop videos.

Money now courses through North Korea, shaking a world that earlier generations thought would never change. Experts believe the private sector, a web of businesses ranging from neighborhood traders to textile factories, accounts for as much as half of the North Korean economy, with most people depending on it financially, at least in part.

Young North Koreans "were all brought up in a market economy. For them, Kim Il Sung is history," says Smith. "They've got different norms, different hopes."

Major markets are off-limits to most outsiders, but refugee descriptions and satellite imagery show more than 400 across the country, warehouse-size buildings filled with traders selling everything from moonshine to Chinese car parts.

"In the past, everybody wanted to be a government official, that was the number-one dream," says Lee. "But more and more, people know that money can solve everything. More and more, people are interested in the markets, in buying and selling, in money."

The markets also mean there's much more to buy: battery-powered bicycles to ride on rutted roads, cheap Chinese electronics, imported fabrics, solar panels for electricity outages.

If North Korea remains very poor, with malnutrition rates similar to those in Zimbabwe and Syria, it is no longer an economic basket case. And consumerism, once derided as a capitalist disease, has rippled through the culture.

"Young women don't want to stay on tiny farms anymore," says Lee. "They want to move to cities, to fall in love with some big-city rich guy, just like in South Korea."

Or at least just like in South Korean soap operas.

In Pyongyang they say none of this. Not openly. And definitely not to a foreign reporter shadowed everywhere by government minders.

On a sunny spring afternoon, by a three-story obelisk celebrating North Korea's love for its leaders, a math student at the country's top university talks about how life has changed since her mother was young.

"There is one difference," says 19-year-old Jang Sol Hyang. "My mother lived under the wise leadership of Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and I live in the great era of Marshal Kim Jong Un."

As she talks, a well-dressed, sour-looking man walks up to listen, standing only a couple feet away.

Maybe he's a party official. Maybe he's secret police. Maybe he's just a nosy passerby.

But no one asks.

Instead, Jang continues talking about the glories of her country, and the young leader shepherding his people into the future.

The New York Times, Published: JULY 30, 2017, 2:15 A.M. E.D.T.
In North Korea, a Generation Gap Grows Behind the Propaganda

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Drinkable water may be on moon

Living on the Moon may be easier than first thought, after scientists discovered large amounts of water trapped beneath the surface.

It was generally assumed that the Moon was a fairly dry lump of rock, although ice still exists at the poles.

Both Nasa and the European Space Agency are keen to establish a lunar base to act as a stepping stone for the rest of the Solar System, and have been looking into whether water could be mined.

Researchers at Brown University in the US began to suspect there might be more water than previously thought after reexamining volcanic glass beads brought back by the Apollo 15 and 17 missions.

They discovered that the beads contain similar amounts of water as basalt rocks on Earth, suggesting that parts of the Moon’s crust contain as much water as our own planet.

Although it is only a small amount, around 0.5 per cent of the weight of the beads, such glassy deposits are large and abundant on the Moon, and the water could be extracted

“Other studies have suggested the presence of water ice in shadowed regions at the lunar poles, but the pyroclastic deposits are at locations that may be easier to access,” said Dr Shuai Li, formerly of Brown University, and now at the University of Hawaii.

“Anything that helps save future lunar explorers from having to bring lots of water from home is a big step forward, and our results suggest a new alternative."

The findings were also backed up using instruments on board India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter which measured light bounced off the Moon to see which minerals and other compounds are present.

The researchers found evidence of water in nearly all of the large volcanic deposits that had been previously mapped by astronauts across the Moon's surface. However it is still a mystery how it got there.

Dr Li added: “The growing evidence for water inside the Moon suggest that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the Moon had completely solidified.

“The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The Telegraph, Published: 24 JULY 2017 • 4:00PM
Lunar colonies take a step closer to reality as large amounts of water are found under the Moon's surface
By Sarah Knapton, science editor

See more: BBC News, 26 July 2017
Could astronauts in future missions be drinking Moon water?

New research suggests there may well be a greater presence of trapped water on the Moon than previously thought. Water is, of course, one of the pre-requisites for any planned human mission to colonise planets or moons in our galaxy and beyond. So what does this mean for the potential of a Moon base in the years to come?

Dr Marek Kukula is the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London.

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Something in the air

We are a jaded lot. While some people live with the threat of a bomb falling on their house at any moment, some of us are more concerned about the scent we put on every morning.

And I’m not talking about any old scent. It would appear that some folks are no longer content with smelling of jasmine, vanilla, musk or chocolate cake – they want something edgier.

They want to step out smelling of the feeling they had when they lost their first tooth, or the feeling of skateboarding on a summer day, or concrete.

Have we completely lost the plot? I don’t want to spray on a scent every morning that reminds me of that first stubborn milk tooth that wobbled for ages before deciding to part company with me.

Nor do I want to remember those moments when I forgot about my loose tooth and attempted to bite into a piece of unyielding toffee or a hard biscuit. I might as well spray on a scent called Pain, Blood or Scream!

Still, I’m sure such names might appeal to the masochists among us.

My feelings towards the other “alternative scents” mentioned are just as enthusiastic.

For example, I’ve never been on a skateboard before so I’m unlikely to be attracted to the smell of rubber on tar. And don’t get me started on the smell of concrete.

There’s something about the smell of concrete, especially wet concrete, that really gets up my nose. It makes my stomach churn and I have to pinch my nostrils together to prevent myself from throwing up.

A quick Internet search has just shown me that there are countless people out there who love the smell of concrete in all its forms – from cement powder, to wet cement going around in a mixer, to dry expanses of concrete, to pavements after a shower of rain.

Another smell that bothers me just as much is the odour that emanates from a wet dog.

And I don’t mean a dog that’s been freshly shampooed with a pleasing range of canine grooming products.

I’m talking about a mangy street dog that has been caught in the rain and is just beginning to dry. You’ve probably seen such a dog before.

The poor thing usually has sore spots on its emaciated body where hair refuses to grow, doleful eyes and a breath so fetid that it will make your eyes water if you catch so much as the tiniest whiff of it.

But the smell coming from such a mangy dog’s body can eclipse all the bad breaths in the world exhaled onto your face simultaneously.

If you reach out and touch the wretched animal in an attempt to comfort it, the smell that is transferred onto your hand will linger, and linger, and linger…

The only other thing worse than the smell of a wet mangy dog (and I do love dogs) is the smell of a wet mangy dog standing on wet concrete.

Not only has concrete inspired its own scent, it has also been immortalised in a few songs and poems, such is the pull of its odour.

But I can’t say I’ve come across a verse dedicated to a wet smelly dog. But that’s not to say that there isn’t someone out there who loves to sniff a wet smelly dog.

You might scoff at the idea, but it seems that some people also like the smell of skunks. There are even websites and Facebook pages dedicated to these strong-odoured animals.

And no, it’s not the animal itself but just its scent that these aficionados love so much.

It seems that our like or dislike of certain smells is not hardwired, which means we are not born with a predisposition to any sort of smell.

Otherwise, we’d all hate the smell of cow dung and love the smell of freshly baked bread.

I’ve discovered that we form opinions about the various scents that we are exposed to by association and/or by mimicking our parents.

For example, I love the smell of petrol and oil and just about any other smell to be found in a garage.

As a teenager, I once spent a summer working in a petrol station, where I met some of the most amazing people travelling around Scotland.

The weather was glorious that year and the couple who owned the station were so considerate, and the other staff so friendly that it is etched in my memory as a fabulous experience.

I could happily smear oil on my neck and dab petrol on the inside of my wrists but I suspect I would get some strange looks.

I also love the smell of lit matches and pipe tobacco – but I suspect that all comes from my grandfather who was a pipe smoker.

My son on the other hand dislikes most perfumes. I think this dates back to when he was a little boy. I would only wear perfume when I was going out without my children, and he remembers one perfume from that time as smelling of cockroach – the one insect that scares him. The smell of perfume possibly triggers feelings of abandonment.

What do your preferences say about you?

An employee conducts an odour test at a laboratory in Nanjing, China. In terms of smell, what do you prefer?

The Star2, Published: JULY 31, 2017
Something in the air

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Immune system and function

Life demands so much out of an individual – whether you are female or male – work, family and social commitments may be never ending.

Even when you go off on vacation, how often have you felt on returning that you need another vacation?

All of this often robs us of the time that we need to care of our own overall wellness.

When we are mentally exhausted, we pay less attention to how we care for our bodies, and it’s easy to forget that it’s not just our physical appearance that is affected.

More importantly, our body’s internal functions can be disrupted, leaving the immune system susceptible to viruses and bacterial infection.

In boosting the effectiveness of our immune system, we might already be practising many of the right habits, but it does not hurt to have a reminder of what we should be doing while learning new information about the immune system.

The four key areas that we should always pay attention to include: food, exercise, hormonal balance and nutrition. This week, we will discuss food and exercise.

The influence of food on the immune system

Can you remember the last time you had a heavy meal?

Whether it was a large plate of char kuey teow with limau ais, or nasi lemak and teh tarik, did you feel the crash in energy one hour later?

While we often joke about needing a nap after a big Friday lunch at the office, one of the long-term effects of poor food choices is that it contributes to the breakdown of the immune system.

The body can only function efficiently with proper nutrition. Fill your fridge with whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and good, nutrient-rich proteins like salmon and lean chicken.

Eliminate trans and saturated fats, simple carbs and refined sugar, as these clog your arteries and make your internal system work harder to figure out what to do with all these empty carbs.

Avoid additives and preservatives.

Generally, if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Avoiding processed foods will also encourage healthier eating habits.

Some spices have been found to increase the immune response when you feel sickness coming on.

Certain spices like pepper, garlic, radish and hot mustard contain something known as “mucolytics”, which help to reduce nasal congestion.

Others have antioxidant potential, like cinnamon, where a teaspoon is equivalent to half a cup of blueberries or a cup of pomegranate juice.

Sweets or desserts should always be eaten in moderation. Choose good sugars over processed ones like dark chocolate and raw honey.

Avoid corn syrup and white table sugar, as these can suppress the immune system for several hours, as quickly as 30 minutes after consumption. White blood cell count decreases as a result of too much sugar. This makes it hard for you to ward off infections.

Drink plenty of fluids and make them healthy ones. Generally, you should drink eight glasses of water everyday. Make it more interesting with a dash of lemon or lime juice, or cut up fruit like strawberries and oranges, or greens like cucumber and mint for some fresh flavours in your water.

Green tea and herbal tea have antioxidant properties that promote good health.

Avoid drinking too many carbonated drinks, as well as fruit drinks with colouring and added sugar – opt for freshly-pressed juices instead.

Eat in moderation. The problem can sometimes be the amount of food that we choose to eat, not the type of food.

Binging on high-calorie foods leads to weight gain. Your immune system’s response to viral attacks will be slower, but it can be restored if you drop the weight by cutting back on the daily calories and an exercise plan.

You will also see an improvement in cell function and hormone balance.

The influence of exercise on your immune system

Rotating your workouts to include various types of exercise can be really beneficial to heart health, bone density, fat loss, stress reduction, and of course, the immune system.

Moderate levels of exercise like cycling in a park, swimming, tai chi or yoga deepens breathing and promotes blood flow, stimulating the immune system.

Good blood circulation helps white blood cells and antibodies move quickly against unwanted viral or bacterial intrusions, before they can cause any real damage to your system.

Why is it so important to increase blood circulation via deep breathing?

It has to do with two key components in your immune system. Known as lymphocytes, they are types of white blood cells, B-cells and T-cells, that shield against harmful germs and toxins.

When B-cells and T-cells interact with foreign particles, the action occurs in the lymph glands, where an activator of the lymphatic system is deep breathing. When you exercise, the movement of your limbs provide a pumping motion that activates and distributes lymph fluid to the rest of your system.

Your immune system will also benefit from the right amount of oxygen metabolism.

Otto Warburg won a Nobel Prize in 1931 for his research on the link between cancer and adequate oxygen to the cells, but the research on oxygen benefits has not stagnated – studies are being conducted on the link between immune deficiency and reduced oxygen metabolism, and the preliminary findings indicate that increasing one’s oxygen intake can help reduce the problem.

Essentially, what we are trying to say is that we should all get up and get moving.

Work out according to individual capacity. Do not push beyond what you are capable of doing, especially in the beginning, as this can cause more harm than good.

Start slow, then work up to a more advanced level.

Once you’ve advanced to a higher level of intensity in your workouts, it’s a good idea to consider supplements rich in vital nutrients and antioxidants before beginning your routine.

Make sure you stop to recover in between tough workouts to avoid blackouts and other problems.

Yet, it’s quite understandable if an exercise routine seems daunting, time-consuming or just “not your thing”.

With exercise, a little is better than none at all. Save time by including moments throughout the days to do something a little more rigorous than just sitting or standing.

At work, take the stairs, or walk to the other end of the office to talk to your colleague instead of calling.

At home, there are plenty of household chores to get your heart rate going: wash the car, sweep or vacuum the floors, paint a dirty wall or clean the toilets.

Make time to take walks around your neighbourhood in the evenings or early mornings. You’ll be impressed at how such a simple activity can clear your mind and keep you mentally refreshed.

We will discuss how nutrition and hormonal balance impact the immune system in the next article.

The Star2, Published: JULY 16, 2017
How to maintain your immune system

In boosting the effectiveness of our immune system, we might already be practising many of the right habits, but it does not hurt to have a reminder of what we should be doing while learning new information about the immune system.

The four key areas that we should always pay attention to are food, exercise, hormonal balance and nutrition.

This week, we discuss hormonal balance and nutrition.

Balance your hormones

It is easy to forget how hormonal balance can impact your immune system’s response to external attacks.

The thyroid and adrenal glands, two key hormone-producing parts of our internal system, play a big role in many immune system-activating functions.

Imbalances in oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone can also impact immune responses negatively, be it overproduction or low levels of hormones.

Briefly, here’s how different types of hormones help boost the immune system.

The adrenal glands produce hormones that are needed for metabolic function. This includes DHEA, the most prolific hormone that influences the production of oestrogen, testosterone and cortisol.

DHEA levels can drop when you are stressed or tired, causing your white blood cell count to also drop, lowering your immune response.

Thyroid health affects our developmental, cardiovascular and metabolic function, all of which are important to an effective immune system. Low thyroid levels disrupt the body’s response to viruses and slows response to inflammation.

Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels all affect the activity of B-cells and T-cells – lymphocytes that are integral to the disease-fighting mechanism of your immune system.

Low levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone have its consequences, but it should also be noted that an overproduction of each hormone can cause problems like autoimmune diseases.

It’s not easy to fully understand what is happening inside your body, but a few telling symptoms of hormone imbalance include tiredness, low moods and weight gain, amongst others.

Hormonal balance does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. If you suspect hormonal imbalance, seek a doctor’s advice.

Depending on your age, hormone replacement therapy might be recommended, but instead of synthetic hormones, ask him or her about bio-identical hormones – a term for hormones that have the same chemical structure as naturally-occurring hormones.

Get the right amount of nutrients

Good nutrition is essential for a strong immune system, which offers protection from seasonal illnesses such as the flu, and other health problems, including arthritis, allergies, abnormal cell development and cancers.

Help protect yourself against infection and boost your immunity by including the following nutrients in your eating plan.

Protein is part of the body’s defense mechanism. Eat a variety of proteins including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, unsalted nuts and seeds.

Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protects against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy.

Get this immune-boosting vitamin from foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs or foods labeled “vitamin A fortified” such as milk or cereal.

Vitamin C protects you from infection by stimulating the formation of antibodies and boosting immunity. Include more of this healthy vitamin in your diet with citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice, or foods fortified with vitamin C, such as some cereals.

Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralises free radicals and may improve immune function.

Include vitamin E in your diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts and peanut butter

Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. It can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.

Other nutrients, including vitamin B6, folate, selenium, iron, as well as prebiotics and probiotics, may also influence immune response.

There are herbs and vitamins that you can take to replenish the nutrients in your body that will help strengthen your immune system, e.g. elderberry, green tea, ginseng, Echinacea and vitamin C can be found in their original form or in supplements at the health food store.

Below are a few more nutritious foods that will help boost immunity.

Echinacea is found mainly in the United States and parts of Canada. It stimulates antibodies, reduces inflammation and is used to treat infections in Europe.

Researchers have found that Echinacea lowers the incidence of the common cold by up to 55% and shortens the recovery period for upper respiratory infections. However, it is not advisable to use Echinacea daily for more than eight weeks.

Licorice has phenolic compounds that contain antioxidant activity. One of the compounds is called beta-glycyrrhetinic acid, and it reduces inflammation and allergies.

Licorice root can slow down abnormal cell growth, decrease liver inflammation and encourage macrophage production, helping to reduce stress on the immune system.

Up to 600mg can be taken each day for up to six weeks.

Olive leaf extract contains flavonoids and phenolic compounds that have antioxidant properties.

One of those primary compounds, oleuropein, is found to delay the growth of fungus and bacteria that can damage the immune system. Up to 1,500mg can be taken each day in divided doses.

Astragalus has been around in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It’s a herb that is part of the legume family and protects against infections by activating antibodies like B-cells and T-cells, as well as macrophages that fight bacteria and viruses. About 1,000mg of astragalus can be taken daily.

Shiitake mushroom is used in Chinese medicine for herbal therapy. It can prevent bacterial strains from attacking the immune system and improve its function. Up to 400mg of shiitake mushroom can be taken each day in divided doses.

Vitamin C should be consumed every day to improve the production of lymphocytes.

A body that experiences stress usually falls low on vitamin C, but by replenishing it, your body can stave off symptoms of infection, or shorten the time one might be sick.

Up to 3,000mg of vitamin C can be supplemented each day.

Goldenseal root has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine because of its immune-enhancing properties. It is used to fight bacteria, fungi and parasites.

Goldenseal root improves immune function by increasing the activity of immunoglobulin antibodies. Up to 500mg can be taken daily in divided doses.

Elderberry is rich in antioxidants and flavonoids that activate immunity.

It can increase the production of cytokines to stimulate the immune response and decrease flu symptoms. Up to 1,500mg of elderberry can be taken daily.

Green tea is rich in catechin polyphenols and is a strong antioxidant that stimulates immunity by boosting T-cell production and encouraging macrophage activity.

Green tea also decreases the proliferation of bacterial antigens. Up to 500mg per day can be taken daily.

Grapefruit seed extract, or citrus paradisi, is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It has been found to inhibit the development of 67 different bacterial strains. The recommended dosage is 100mg to 300mg each day.

Nutrients are your immune regulators and impaired immunity can be enhanced by modest amounts of a combination of micronutrients as supplements.

The Star 2, Published: JULY 30, 2017
Helping immune function

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Save our mangrove swamps

July 26 is the International Day For The Conservation Of The Mangrove Ecosystem. This is the second year for the observation day established by UNESCO to underline the importance of mangrove swamps worldwide.

Mangroves take root at inter-tidal zones along coastlines in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In Malaysia, swamps can be found at 27 places including Matang in Perak, Sekinchan in Selangor, and Marudu Bay in Sabah.

It may not look like it, but these coastal forests are an endangered habitat, more so than tropical rainforests. Globally, more than 40,000km2 – that’s over one-third of all mangroves – was estimated to have been destroyed in 20 years (1980-2000). The swamps made way for things like factory development, and fish and prawn farms.

The loss and degradation of mangroves has a closer impact on our daily lives than most people realise. Not only are these swamps sanctuaries, feeding grounds and breeding habitats for mammals, reptiles, migratory and aquatic birds, fish and crustacean species, mangroves also provide human communities with a commercial source of food, medicinal plants, and timber material – like the charcoal that ends up in our vanity products.

So here are four everyday reasons why we should protect and restore our mangrove ecosystem.

Fisheries (Or, Cheaper Crabs At Seafood Restaurants)

Mangrove swamps are crucial nurseries and home to large varieties of fish, crabs and prawns, including crayfish and mud crabs (or mangrove crabs), just some of our favourite orders at seafood restaurants. Roughly half of all fish landings on the coast of peninsular Malaysia are associated with mangroves. Without a sustainable ecosystem, you can guess what the subsequent decline of crab harvests will cause: more expensive seafood dinners.

Timber And Plant Products (Or, That Stuff That Helps You Give Good Face)

Mangrove trees or pokok bakau are logged mostly for wood that goes into firewood and charcoal. In fact, a lot of that charcoal ends up in several of our beauty products, like the BLACK GOLD Handmade Charcoal Soap (RM35 for one 120g bar). The commercial value of mangrove timber is so great that real-time monitoring systems are in place at Sabak Bernam, Selangor to enable the community, researchers and authorities to catch illegal logging activities.

Coastal Protection (Or, How Not To Get Swept Away By The Sea)

Mangrove swamps act as natural barriers against coastal erosion, and protect the coastline from destructive waves and strong winds. Their presence in some areas even lessened the force of rogue waves caused by the 2004 tsunami. In research done at Cuddalore district in southeastern India, to test the benefits of coastal forests against tsunamis, it was concluded that out of five villages – two on the shoreline, three shielded by mangroves – those behind the woodlands suffered less than the others.

Tourism (Or, Taking A Holiday With Mother Nature)

Ecotourism is big business in Malaysia, and the biodiversity of mangrove swamps has caught the attention of tourists from around the world. Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve in Taiping, Perak is one of the most famous, with a boardwalk that allows visitors to get closer to the environment. You can also get first-hand experience at replanting bakau and lenggadai tree samplings, part of a reforestation programme by the Perak State Forestry Department.

Another place to experience a mangrove habitat is Hutan Bakau Kuala Bakau, also in Perak. And among the NGOs that are actively promoting mangrove conservation in Malaysia is Sahabat Hutan Bakau (Friends Of Mangrove).

The Star2, Published: JULY 26, 2017
Save our mangrove swamps, save our food and facials

(*) Friends Of Mangrove:

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Plantation Tours

WALLACE, La. − Ceramic sculptures of hollow-eyed slave children haunt the Whitney Plantation, west of New Orleans, where owner John Cummings has infused the traditional antebellum plantation tour with an unflinching look at human bondage in the Old South.

Cummings, an attorney and real estate investor, opened Whitney more than two years ago as a slavery museum, bucking a tradition of plantation tours that romanticize antebellum life and gloss over the slave trade. Yes, there are live oaks arching over the walk up to a grand, restored main house full of period antiques. But there’s also an artist’s jarring monument to slaves slaughtered after a failed revolt − multiple rows of spikes topped with what look like the decapitated heads of African-American men.

Purchased as a real estate investment more than 15 years ago, Whitney became something else for Cummings, an 80-year-old white man, as he examined volumes of documents related to the old sugar plantation and similar surrounding operations along the Mississippi River. Inventories of human beings valued like livestock or equipment and records of women touted as breeding stock were eye-openers, even for a wealthy, college-educated man from the South.

“I asked myself, ‘How the hell didn’t I know this?’” Cummings recalled. That led to years of research, consultation with historians and the transformation of the plantation into a sprawling showcase of art, history and memorials.

Whitney’s look at slavery may be the starkest. But, it’s not the only plantation addressing the issue, said Justin Nystrom, associate professor of history at Loyola University New Orleans.

“For a long time they’ve been touting the moonlight and magnolias antebellum fantasy,” Nystrom said. “That’s a dying idea.”

Norman Marmillon, who runs tours on Laura Plantation, says people are hungry for true stories of the enslaved and those who enslaved them.

“I’ve been doing it for 25 years,” Marmillon says.

While Whitney provides an expansive view of slavery throughout Louisiana, Marmillon says his tour tells only the stories of slaves and owners at Laura. The information is gleaned from 5,000 pages of documents preserved by the family that originally owned the plantation, including the property’s namesake, Laura Locoul Gore. Her writings were discovered after her death in 1963 at age 101. The one-time plantation matriarch wrote about growing up in the years immediately after the Civil War and her realizations about slavery’s cruelties − including the branding of slaves as though they were animals.

“We don’t give a broad view of what slavery was about in the South,” Marmillon said. “We take one place and we say, ‘This is what happened.’”

The historic plantations’ increasing focus on slavery’s cruelty comes as Southern cities grapple over the propriety of Jim Crow-era monuments honoring Confederate figures − witness New Orleans officials’ decision to remove four such monuments this year. Nystrom sees it as a slow but sure devolution of reverence for the old Confederacy.

“I think the slavery experience is going to become crucial to the plantation tour as generationally we get further removed from the Old South, Lost Cause paradigm,” he said.

Some plantations offer education about slavery while maintaining the sense of Old South grandeur. Destrehan Plantation’s website touts its education center in a former overseer’s cabin, including a section dedicated to one of the largest slave revolts in history. The same website has a page showing a bride and groom under an oak laden with Spanish moss, promoting the venue as a prime spot for class reunions, conferences and weddings.

“I think this whole industry is a very difficult industry to navigate,” said Ashley Howard, a Loyola history professor. “In essence, you’re profiting off of thousands of peoples’ misery. The fact that, at some of these you can drink a mint julep where people suffered atrocities − that’s a very difficult thing to reconcile.”

Demond “Ali” Johnson, a docent at Whitney, knows that sentiment.

“Coming to a plantation as a kid, on a field trip, I realized that they just brought me to the big house and showed me the architecture and all the wealth and didn’t talk about anything about who worked there − what was done for them to have the things that they had,” said the 41-year-old black man with a background in computers.

Now he conducts daily Whitney tours, dispensing facts from construction and architectural details to the tragic cruelties of enslavement.

Howard sees room for improvement in the plantations’ attempts to confront slavery. More focus is needed, she said, on the racism that oppressed ex-slaves in the decades after the Civil War, often as sharecroppers on the land where they once were enslaved. She’d like to see greater emphasis on the overall humanity of the unpaid captives who made the plantations grand places.

“Even in the midst of this terrible existence, they struggled and they rejoiced and they celebrated the common human experience,” Howard said. “There were still children being born. There were still weddings to be had. There were still the same things we all loved as human beings.”

This July 14, 2017 photo shows a memorial by Woodrow Nash for the German Coast Uprising at the Whitney Plantation in Edgard, La. After the uprising, slaves who participated were tried and executed. Their heads were placed in public view along the Mississippi River, to serve as a warning to others.

The Washington post, Published: July 29 at 12:37 AM
A cold look at slavery now a part of some plantation tours
By Kevin McGill, AP

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Asean Belt and Road

MALAYSIA and other South-East Asian countries have come under China’s close scrutiny for political, financial and legal risks as Beijing intensifies its efforts to review its Belt and Road programmes and control capital outflows.

Two weeks ago, a six-member delegation of academics, researchers and foreign affairs officials – members of Beijing think tanks –came to Kuala Lumpur to conduct an independent assessment of the local political situation, legal and financial systems, as well as response towards Belt and Road projects.

China’s President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road initiative in 2013. This trade-cum-foreign affair ambitious scheme seeks to connect China more closely with Europe, Southeast and Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The July 13-16 study tour of the Chinese group came following the May 14-15 Belt and Road Summit in China that had, among others, compiled complaints on Chinese projects and the way the projects were being implemented.

When opening that summit, Xi had announced plans to allocate more funds for roads, railways, ports and pipelines across Asia and beyond.

According to Citi Research, Malaysia’s port and railway projects may see investments of RM400bil from China.

By sending its officials to conduct independent studies, the Chinese are signalling that their money does not fall from the sky anymore. It is time to rectify the wrongs. Chinese funded investments should look at risks, costs and benefits, just like any other commercial undertakings.

Beijing had to act in the face of warnings of risks linked to these projects and other investments.

Although there are successes in Belt and Road projects, there are also disturbing stories of protests against projects which affected the livelihood of residents in host countries.

Business-wise, it is also worrying. Recently, the Chinese Commerce Ministry revealed that 65% of Chinese investments abroad – including Belt and Road projects – had incurred losses.

And state-funded insurance company Sinosure that has supported export, domestic trade and investment with a total value of US$2.8 trillion (RM12 trillion) since 2001, reported that claims it had paid out by 2015 amounted to US$9.5bil (RM40.6bil) .

These revelations could not have gone unnoticed.

The Malaysia-bound study group, led by Zhang Yuyan – director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics and senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) – had met with officials from the Economic Planning Unit and a think tank, among others.

“We are here to study the response to Belt and Road projects before and after the summit. We have heard there are opposition noises and we hope to clear our doubts,” Zhang told the press here.

The influx of Chinese investments in the recent two years has sparked a local debate on whether the Government is “selling Malaysia’s sovereignty”.

There is also a warning that Malaysia’s debts, just under 55% of the country’s GDP, could balloon due to huge soft loans to be taken from China to implement Belt and Road projects, mainly for railways and ports.

On the ground, there is fear that jobs and business opportunities for small businesses may be curtailed as the Chinese bring in their own contractors, managers, workers and even chefs.

Zhang said a major task of the delegation was to assess how stable the Government was, and whether there were implementation risks in Chinese projects here. Malaysia must hold its 14th general election before mid-2018.

The Chinese experts were also looking into how investments from China were being managed.

The unexpected visit of this group shows that China is no longer indiscriminate in dispersing funds for state projects overseas. It also means that overseas investments by its nationals – not just the big corporations – would also have to be properly managed.

The scrutiny has come about partly due to China’s tightening of capital controls to prevent outflow of funds into projects that will not contribute to the real economy of the host countries, said Zhang.

Zhang said his delegation would also visit Brunei and Myanmar.

While Brunei has not been prominently featured in the Belt and Road scene, China’s US$3.6bil (RM15bil) Myitsone dam in northern Myanmar has stirred up anti-Chinese sentiment as it would cause irreparable harm to the Irrawaddy River, destroy fish stocks downstream and displace thousands of villagers.

Indeed, just before the Chinese delegation came to Kuala Lumpur, CASS – known for its research work – posted a warning on its website of various risks facing Chinese direct investments in Asean.

“Although China and Asean have enjoyed close and fruitful cooperation in policy coordination, infrastructure development, investment and trade facilitation, financial integration and people-to-people connectivity – some deep-seated problems still need to be solved.

“For example, cooperation is still in the exploratory stage and some policy details have yet to be clarified. Trade growth is slowing while an increasingly complicated geopolitical environment adds to the difficulty of cooperation,” says the CASS report published on July 12.

The report also highlights legal risks.

“Chinese enterprises considering investing abroad might face a series of risks related to politics, culture, business, law and morality, most of which will be transformed into legal risks.”

However, Prof Zhai Kun of Peking University – a member of Zhang-led study tour – said infrastructure of “strategic importance” and manufacturing projects that will add value to the economy and in line with the objectives of the Belt and Road would not be affected.

“President Xi has guided that our enterprises should not only talk, but must manage their companies well. If you are solid and steady, then you will be able to go far,” he said.

On Malaysia’s political situation, Prof Zhai felt “it is more stable now” compared to one to two years ago.

“China hopes there will be continuity for our projects, whoever forms the Government after the general election.”

He said China could understand the fear of many Malaysians towards the influx of Chinese investments.

In 1978, China also had the same experience when it opened itself to the world.

“People were asking if the invasion of foreign investments would rob us of our wealth and sovereignty. But now everybody agrees that globalisation has benefited China and the world.”

The delegation felt many ordinary people could not immediately enjoy the benefit of Belt and Road projects mainly because they are long-term schemes.

Some projects classified by China as Belt and Road projects in Malaysia are the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link, Bandar Malaysia, RM70bil KL-Singapore High Speed Rail, RM40bil Melaka Gateway, RM30bil oil pipeline linking Bagan Datuk to Bachok, Kuantan Port and Xiamen University Malaysia.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 30 July 2017

Asean Belt and Road risks under scrutiny

China is signalling that it will not be splashing money indiscriminately along 65 Belt and Road nations from now on.


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Oh yes, we can!

MALAYSIANS’ enduring passion to get their names into the Malaysia Book of Records (MBOR) for all sorts of feats may be a result of them growing up with the idea of Malaysia Boleh, says Universiti Malaya sociologist Dr Rosila Bee Mohd Hussain.

They believe they can do anything and everything, she says, and breaking records is a way of “winning attention” and gaining recognition, so people go for all sorts of records.

“I don’t see it as an obsession but we do like achieving records.

“Maybe it’s because there are so many things in life to worry about or when life gets too hectic, we can flip through the Malaysia Book of Records and laugh at some entries and think ‘Oh my God, do you have tell me this?’ or ‘What? Why is this even a record?’

“And there are records which can motivate us when we are down because we see how other people have overcome the odds and obstacles to make it. So we can stop complaining about what’s happening in our own lives.”

Dr Rosila Bee believes everyone is capable of achieving some kind of feat. “But our culture gets in the way because when we achieve something, we don’t go around telling people and promoting ourselves because that is not our culture.”

For her, people are all different. Some will go out and do anything and everything for self-satisfaction, recognition and breaking new ground while others may not want to do it alone and prefer community-type of records.

“The community-based type of record like the biggest flag or the highest number at an event helps bring people together, which is a good thing for solidarity and unity. This is something you don’t find enough of in cities these days.”

But this also has its negative aspects, she points out.

“Records can bring people closer but it can also divide them, especially if there is disagreement. Food records, for example, may be a ‘wow’ for some but others might see it with tears in their eyes if there is wastage.”

Dr Rosila Bee is also unsure about events which entail having 8,000 people in a jungle. On Aug 19, in conjunction with National Day celebrations, the Negri Sembilan government is planning to create a record with an 8000-strong expedition into the Ulu Bendul jungle. This unsurprisingly has raised environmental concerns.

“It affects the flora and fauna. Even if there is a designated path, you are talking about 8,000 people, so there will always be those with itchy fingers and some who cut across and don’t follow the path,” she says.

For Dr Rosila Bee, whatever record Malaysians want to attempt – even if it is a syiok sendiri type – they should ask themselves a few questions: “‘What impact does it have on society and the next generation? Does it take society to a different level?’

“If the answer is positive, then by all means go for it.”

MBOR chief operating officer Chistopher Wong says MBOR always tries to take into consideration “incidental effects” of record attempts on other aspects of life like the environment.

“We can’t be on the ground policing everything. It has to be the responsibility of the organiser (of the Ulu Bendul expedition) to make sure that the 8,000 people would not do anything to destroy the environment or leave rubbish behind or carve their names on trees and destroy trees and plants.

“We can only tell the organiser and those who applied for the record that they can’t do this and that and if they are found to have breached these rules, then we will reserve the right to rescind the record.”

So, does he think Malaysians are obsessed with being the biggest, longest, fastest, or whatever?

Wong feels that Malaysians crave to be recognised for something.

“Why do Malaysians chase after honorific titles like a Datukship? Singapore has their kiasu mentality. As for Malaysians, we innately starve for recognition.”

Because of the economy, he adds, many organisations have their advertising budgets slashed and see getting into the Book of Records as one of the cheaper ways of branding, but the MBOR will look at what they are trying to achieve: “We will see – is there a ‘wow’ factor? Does it bring value? Does it inspire people? Is it relevant?” he says.

Record achievement: (Above to bottom) Malaysians pursue various feats to get their name into the Malaysia Book of Records from the largest diabolo participation, longest carved melon line, longest handmade doll chain and longest distance swimming by a toddler to the biggest 24-festive drum performance.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 30 July 2017

Oh yes, we can!

The Malaysian pursuit for superlatives – biggest, longest, highest – may have its roots in the Malaysia Boleh spirit.


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Tomomi Inada

SEOUL, South Korea − Just last fall, it seemed that Japan was starting to shake off its legacy as a country with a poor record of putting women in political power. In the space of less than two months, three women had assumed high-ranking posts, poking a few more holes in the glass ceiling.

But in the space of two days this week, two of those women resigned their positions, inevitably raising questions about the challenges to female leadership in a country where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly talked of creating a society in which “women can shine.”

On Thursday, Renho Murata, the first woman to lead the opposition Democratic Party, stepped down in the wake of a crushing defeat in local Tokyo elections this month. And on Friday, Tomomi Inada, the embattled defense minister, resigned to take responsibility for a controversy about the dangers faced by Japanese soldiers in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Both women stepped down for reasons that had little to do with gender. Yet in a country that scores abysmally in global measures of gender equality and has experienced false hopes of change in the past, these women’s departures are seen as a setback.

“There are just not that many of them,” said Sheila A. Smith, a Japan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, referring to high-ranking women in politics. “So when a couple of them go conspicuously and simultaneously, it’s just a reminder that there is not a lot of female talent in Japan.”

Most analysts agreed that it was time for Ms. Inada to resign. She had been ensnared in other scandals involving the prime minister and committed numerous gaffes as defense minister.

Mr. Abe, who had been grooming her as a possible successor, had protected her on several occasions, answering questions that she fumbled in Parliament and as recently as last week standing behind her denial of any involvement in a cover-up of records about South Sudan. But with Mr. Abe’s own popularity tumbling in opinion polls, the Japanese news media had widely reported that he would replace Ms. Inada in a cabinet reshuffle, expected next week.

Analysts said Ms. Murata’s resignation also seemed appropriate after the Democratic Party performed so poorly in the Tokyo election, taking just five of 127 seats. Some polls have put the party’s approval ratings in the single digits. A male leader in her position would probably have left as well.

Still, sexism could have played a part, in that women in leadership positions face such high expectations. “Men get nurtured and put in experiences where they can gain ability,” Ms. Smith said. “They don’t get plopped in the spotlight where they are expected to succeed, and now it’s ‘ah, ha, ha, she’s a woman’” who has failed.

There was more overt sexism as well. In the press and on social media, critics commented on Ms. Inada’s fashion sense, criticizing her fishnet stockings, her glasses and her nails.

Ms. Murata was also subjected to attacks about her heritage. Born of a Japanese mother and Taiwanese father, she had kept dual citizenship − inadvertently, she said − until last year. But critics insisted she prove that she had renounced Taiwanese citizenship. Last week she released parts of her family registry showing her sole Japanese citizenship.

“I’m not especially fond of Inada or Renho,” said Mayumi Taniguchi, associate professor of gender studies at Osaka International University. “But I feel they were excessively bashed because they are women.”

There is one striking exception to the disappointing track record for women: Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike. Ms. Koike is enormously popular in the capital. In local elections this month, all but one of the 50 candidates fielded by a party she founded won seats in the metropolitan assembly.

Ms. Koike, who is widely believed to harbor ambitions to become Japan’s first female prime minister, has successfully stood up to the establishment and courted the news media while focusing on local issues such as the relocation of the famed Tsukiji fish market or controlling costs for the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.

Women are expected to balance femininity with strong leadership and are quickly criticized if they fall short of expectations.

“We are put in these positions all the time where we have to play the feminist card and the feminine card at the same time,” said Nancy Snow, a professor of diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies.

Some feminists, for example, accused Ms. Inada of trying too hard to cater to men.

“Inada internalized the masculine culture,” said Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “So she played the feminine role to appeal to men who have power.”

By contrast, Ms. Miura said she was disappointed that Ms. Murata had tamped down her femininity. “She was not able to use the fact that she was at the top of the second biggest party to progress the feminist agenda,” Ms. Miura said, calling Ms. Murata “gender blind.”

Ms. Murata, for her part, told reporters on Thursday that she believed she had broken only halfway through the glass ceiling. “I’d like to keep trying,” she said.

With Mr. Abe dealing with scandals and struggling to regain political trust, it is unclear whether voters will also condemn him for failing to do a better job of promoting women. “This is not what Mr. Abe had in mind when he talked about empowering women as one of his major campaign themes,” said Richard Samuels, a Japan specialist and the director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Indeed, since Mr. Abe was elected prime minister in 2012, the number of women in Parliament has barely budged. Just 13 percent of members are women.

“As a whole, the government should have female ministers and bureaucrats that match the global standard,” said Izuru Makihara, professor of politics at the University of Tokyo.

Analysts say that the only way to improve the role of women in politics is to tackle barriers to women in the workplace. Despite a low birthrate, there are not enough day care slots for children, and women still do far more housework and child care than men.

“Until family roles are equalized and men are expected to spend time at home with children,” said Frances McCall Rosenbluth, a professor of political science who focuses on Japan at Yale University, “there really is not going to be equality in politics or the workplace, especially in jobs that require around-the-clock work.”

Tomomi Inada was surrounded by journalists as she left the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on Friday after resigning as Japan’s defense minister.

The New York Times, PUBLISHED: JULY 28, 2017
Resignations in Japan Set Back Hopes for Women in Political Power

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What a waste!

A RECENT front-page report about the massive amount of food waste in Penang once again highlights the seriousness of Malaysia's problem of solid waste disposal which affects the quality of our environment.

In Penang alone, dubbed the country's food haven, some 700,000kg of food is thrown away daily and amazingly, the amount is equivalent to the weight of four Boeing 747s!

Those who have flown in a Boeing 747 or jumbo jet can imagine how huge and heavy it is to the extent that it's mind-boggling how it could fly at all. But for food weighing four such aircraft to be wasted daily in just one of the 13 states in the country is something unimaginable.

This sheer amount of waste makes up 40% of the average 1,750 tonnes of solid waste sent every day to the landfill in Pulau Burung.

This is just Penang. What of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur with a bigger population than Penang and which have far more food outlets, especially the 24-hour restaurants?

Nationwide, food waste is the largest contributor of solid waste, averaging up to 3,000 tonnes daily.

The biggest question is just how long can all the landfills in the country sustain all this food that Malaysians are wasting with impunity?

I know it's the biggest headache for all the local authorities to grapple with, not to mention the huge budget allocated for solid waste disposal.

If the people of Taiwan, which I visited recently, had read the news report of our food waste, some might even get a "heart attack".

I could not find a garbage bin in the streets or shopping mall or at the international airport.

And yet Taipei is one of the cleanest cities that I have been to.

Taiwanese friends say it's in their DNA not to throw rubbish around and by same token, hardly any rubbish is created in the first place.

Malaysians can never ever be like them but at the very least something drastic ought to be done to curb this gross unsustainable culture of waste.

Unsustainable in every sense of the word and in every aspect of life.

All those "Don't litter" signs and campaigns over the years not only have proven futile but the waste and garbage problem has gone from bad to worse with the increase in population.

Even with the world's biggest number of garbage bins provided at every nook and corner, including huge ones in certain areas, it is difficult to find drains free of rubbish.

If you come across a drain where the water flows freely, please email me. I will write a story about it.

And rubbish thrown in rivers and lakes is yet another Malaysian phenomenon which at times even causes water treatment plants to be shut down leading to water supply disruptions.

To begin with, do we really need so many eating outlets, identified as the major cause of food waste?

Local authorities need to review their liberal policy of approving licences for such outlets.

Yes, we need to perk up our economy by creating jobs and so on but virtually all jobs at such places like the 24-hour restaurants are not taken by Malaysians but foreigners. If anything, it only worsens our over-populated foreign worker presence in the country.

And what about the problem of pest control with food waste being an attraction for pests like rats?

The next time you eat your favourite nasi kandar, take a peek at the restaurant's garbage bin, if you don't see a rat, please let me know.

There have also been regular reports of people being hospitalised or dying after eating food contaminated with rat's urine.

It's not food alone that is going to waste.

Our use of electricity, too, needs to be revisited including by the city and municipal authorities.

Our utility giant, Tenaga Nasional Berhad, which the prime minister rightly described as one of the world's best managed companies, is bending over backwards to provide world class service to homes and industries.

But there is a tendency to waste this resource as well as evident from lamp posts that are too close to each other. In other words, many streets in the cities are unnecessarily over-lit even by Western standards.

We do not have to make the night look like day because it consumes too much power and I can imagine the electricity bills of entities like Kuala Lumpur City Hall or the operators of PLUS Highways.

You can also take a look at the road tunnels in some parts of the Klang Valley, they are brightly lit round-the-clock.

Not many people know that our electricity charges are kept affordable or low because of the discount generously offered by Petronas to power plants. By right, it's a bone of contention that gas ought to be supplied at market rates.

Also a lot of electricity is wasted because of faulty timers for street lighting.

What this means is that it results in roads being lit up even during the day.

I passed a certain flyover in Kuala Lumpur on three consecutive days last year and the area was lit up even at 1pm.

So on the third day I alerted the Kuala Lumpur City Hall and it was only then that the lights were switched off.

Last but not least in my list of public wastage is of course water which I wrote about in this column two weeks ago.

By and large, water is being wasted like there's no tomorrow.

This has to stop and the sooner the better.

The SunDaily, Last updated on 21 July 2017 - 11:28am
What a waste!
ByAzman Ujang
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The Maker came to my rescue on the morning of Hari Raya.

FOR the first time in my life, last month’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri was marred by an unfortunate incident. While others enjoyed the festivities, I was reeling in pain.

The recent colon cancer surgery in April this year has created havoc in my stomach. My digestive system has gone haywire.

Two days prior to Hari Raya, there was a severe and unbearable pain in my tummy.

The Maker, however, came to my rescue on the morning of Hari Raya.

When I woke at 5.30am for my dawn prayers, the pain had disappeared. I was so relieved. This enabled my wife and I to attend the Hari Raya prayers at our flat’s compound at 8.30am.

I found solace inside the mosque. Its beautiful interior decor was a feast for the eyes and peace for the soul.

But before noon, the ‘bomber squad’ started its attack on this poor soul again.

Once the ‘killing machine’ was set in motion, I wept in silence. I only turned to the Creator for help.

I was forced to groan in pain in my room. It was like solitary confinement in my ‘cell’ while family friends visited us.

On the second and third day of Hari Raya, I locked myself in the house.

Everyone, including my daughter and son and their families, was out on a visiting spree to relatives’ and friends’ houses.

I don’t know whether visitors came and knocked on the main door of my house.

Nursing my pain in bed, various thoughts began to gain momentum in my mind.

Why was I fated to experience the painful ‘doom’? The merciful and forgiving Lord must have a reason.

When there was pain, it was followed by relief. With sorrow, there was happiness. The events were just like a wheel of fortune to me.

Without pain and suffering, we tend to forget about the plights of others. Thus, selfishness engulfs us.

My handset was inundated with Hari Raya greetings, videos and photos. Most of them were morale boosters.

It was also heartening to know that the messages came from people of all walks of life. They comprised various races and religions.

Retired Bernama editor-in-chief and chief executive Datuk Yong Soo Heong said: “You are a fighter. You will be ok. Your Acehnese spirit will lift you higher.”

“You are my hero, Amir. You have been a good mentor to me while I was at the Straits Echo,” he said.

Former Penang Hospital surgery chief Datuk Dr Manjit Singh said: “Believe me, Amiruddin, you will still have a fairly long, good quality life. Just keep up your spirits.”

Advocate and solicitor B.C. Teh said he was sad to hear of the liver cancer discovery episode that befell me.

“Stay strong. I wish you all the best,” he said.

Glorious Kingdom Christian Centre member Chan Lih Ying said she was so glad to know me in this chapter of her life.

“You have left a very good example for the next generation. You have had a great, positive influence on lots of people through your column in The Star.”

“Those (including me) who wanted to console and comfort you at this point of time were being encouraged and motivated by you instead,” she said, and she was thankful that I had made a difference in the lives of others.

“Thank you for being my friend. I thank God for knowing you. I will continue to pray for you. God bless you, uncle,” added Chan.

Retired Fisheries Department officer Jamil Azhar Sheikh Awab said he hoped Allah would give me strength and help to overcome my tribulations at this point.

“I will pray for you, Amir. You only need Allah as your protector and guide,” added Jamil.

Lecturer Jannie Ng Bee Jim told me: “Put your hands in Allah’s hands. He will make things well for you and your family. You have a wonderful family and good friends. I will continue to pray for you.”

Former New Straits Times journalist Rizaudin Wahab said: “To me, you have lived a full life. My prayers for you. Think positive.”

Photographer Asri Abdul Ghani said he still owed me a visit. “Miss you Tok and take care. You are a great man and will forever be my idol. Love you, Tok,” he said.

When I asked in what way was I a great man, Asri answered: “Great people always don’t think they are great. It’s what others see in them that has inspired them.”

I was down but not out. The sun will still shine, for the time being. The moon will continue to cast its brightness to pave the way for me and others in the same predicament.

Amiruddin with his family members during Hari Raya.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 27 July 2017
Facing realities amid festive joy

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Singing Nun

Sister Enda still plays the piano during her spare time.

DATIN Paduka Sister Enda Ryan, former principal of SMK Assunta Petaling Jaya, is well-respected and loved by thousands of the school’s former students.

The 88-year-old is the last Irish nun in the country serving under the Order of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM).

Her retirement as principal of SMK Assunta Petaling Jaya in 1989 did not stop her from being active in the education sector.

Despite her age, she is still involved in the development of the school.

“I was recently involved in setting up the new library building for the school with the help of YTL Foundation.

“Two of the girls from the YTL family studied at SMK Assunta PJ,” said Sister Enda, who lives in Section 4, Petaling Jaya.

This photo in ‘Make Me An Instrument’, a biography on Sister Enda, shows her racing with other teachers at a school sports day.

She is a cancer survivor but she fractured her arm in a fall that left her with a permanent injury and the inability to lift her right arm completely.

The nun is also involved in the Malaysian Christian Schools’ Council and the Malaysian Catholic Education Council.

During her days as principal, Sister Enda would put up a positive quote on the school notice board every Monday morning.

She continues to do this via social media. “I upload positive and encouraging quotes mostly on Mondays on the SMK Assunta Alumni Facebook page. The page is followed by more than 3,000 former students.

“I also correspond with some of the former students through email,” said the tech-savvy nun.

Sister Enda is also fondly known as the “singing nun”.

Her students came up with the nickname as she sings and plays the piano well.

“I still play the piano and I should play more often now that I have more time,” she said.

Her retirement also enables her to devote more time to prayer and be more involved in social and church-related work.

“Besides my daily prayer, I attend the Sunday evening mass at the Church of St Francis Xavier in Jalan Gasing,” she said.

Sister Enda came to Malaya from Ireland in 1954 when she was only 26 and helped form the Assunta Primary School in early 1955.

She was awarded Malaysian citizenship in 1966.

“Saya warganegara Malaysia,” was the reply she gave when asked if she could converse in Malay.

“I am a Malaysian and I can speak the Malay language but I cannot seem to remove my Irish accent from my speech and my sense of humour,” said the nun.

Sister Enda said despite her service in the teaching profession, she and several other missionary teachers were not entitled to pension.

“It may come as a surprise to many but for the most part of my teaching career, my salary was RM260 plus some allowance. I do not have any pension,” she said.

Sister Enda said it was the late Brother Felix J. Donohue, the former La Salle Petaling Jaya principal, who realised the need for financial assistance for the missionary nuns and brothers following their retirement.

“He sold one property and kept part of the funds for the needs of the missionaries for their old age.

“The rest of the money was channelled back to charity. After Brother Felix’s retirement, he took up financial management courses.

“This was to enable him to manage finances and assist his fellow peers,” said Sister Enda who is still mourning the loss of Brother Felix who died on June 18.

When asked her thoughts on the issue of bullying among students, Sister Enda said parents should be more involved in their children’s lives.

She said it was vital for parents to express positive emotions and love towards their children from a young age.

“The seeds of good values should be planted from home. Don’t be shy to show love and don’t stereotype children by saying things like boys will be boys when they misbehave,” said Sister Enda.

She also advised teachers to keep a lookout for talents among students.

She said parents should be actively involved in Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings.

“Some students may not be academically inclined but they may have artistic talents. They can become chefs and artists.

“Parents should also attend PTA meetings and discuss ways to tackle discipline issues. A good discussion will help put forward effective ideas,” she said.

She added that schools could also implement a mentor system between bright and weak students.

When asked what is her one wish that has not been fulfilled, she replied, “I want to be able to pray better. I have problem focusing,” laughed Sister Enda.

The SMK Assunta Alumni published a biography of Sister Enda titled Make Me An Instrument in 2013. It is available at major bookstores.

The SMK Assunta Alumni published a biography on Sister Enda titled ‘Make Me An Instrument’ in 2013.

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 11 July 2017
‘Singing nun’ continues to serve beloved school

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Linkin Park

RECENTLY, the music world was stunned by the untimely death of Chester Bennington, lead singer of the popular rock band Linkin Park. Amid the outpouring of shock and grief from fellow musicians and fans, many were unable to make sense of the tragic manner in which Bennington had taken his life.

Questions continue to linger, perhaps none of which would ever be answered in a conclusive and satisfactory manner. Why would someone (or indeed anyone) with a family, fame and secure finances resort to such a drastic way to end his personal emotional turmoil? Was life so bleak and meaningless for him that ending it was the only rational option left?

In all honesty, it is downright silly that someone famous or deemed to possess significant celebrity clout should have to die in an unfortunate manner before anyone would address the elephant in the room – mental health and suicide prevention.

Many are reluctant to bring these issues to the fore, deeming them as too sensitive to be discussed frankly and openly. However, in a society that is generally obsessed with popular culture, this incident would be one of those rare times a taboo subject like suicide would see the light of day. Indeed, whether one is a fan of the late musician or not, there are sobering lessons to be learned about mental health and suicide prevention.

It is ironic that even with significant advances in the science and medical field, many individuals still subscribe to the medieval concepts of mental health. There are those who steadfastly insist that conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are due to “malevolent supernatural forces” while others view these illnesses as nothing more than psychological mumbo-jumbo concocted by Western quack practitioners.

Studies have shown that these mental disorders could be attributed to the imbalance of certain hormones and chemical substances in the body, hence the various psychiatric medications required to help alleviate the associated symptoms.

Therefore, it does not stand to reason that snarky, judgmental views on mental health are allowed to prevail in our society in this day and age.

For example, we would not accuse someone diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension to deliberately use their medical condition to gain sympathy from others. Likewise, we would never rebuke an asthmatic patient for being “weak” or urge them to “toughen up and stop being asthmatic”.

Should we, to paraphrase an infamous line from George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, believe that “not all medical conditions are created equal”? Surely not! Although certain medical conditions warrant greater care and attention, we do not have the right to invalidate a disease and its impact on the affected individual based on petty personal bias.

Last year, I was at the emergency department of a hospital to help translate advice from one of the health staff to the family members of a youngster who had attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. I heard someone carelessly remarking about how troublesome such “attention-seeking” cases were.

Later on, another individual proffered his unsolicited and condescending opinion about how mental disorders such as depression were just a “rich man’s disease”, as though there had already been research providing irrefutable proof linking someone’s financial status to his or her ability to handle life’s hard knocks.

The entire situation could have been further compounded had it been investigated as a criminal offence, which would result in the survivor of the suicide attempt being jailed or fined as stipulated under Section 309 of the Penal Code.

Being diagnosed with a mental disorder should not be the end of the road for the individual involved, but the recovery and healing process would be a long and arduous journey requiring solid, unwavering support from the patient’s family members, friends, employers and colleagues.

However, as evident in the incident mentioned earlier, it is clear that we are still lacking the impetus, compassion and empathy required to address mental health issues.

Truly, the progress of a nation and its society as a whole is not marked by an increase in wealth and material comfort alone but also the continuous presence of strong moral convictions and spiritual values among its members to end discrimination and marginalisation of individuals suffering from mental health and emotional disorders.

Letter to The Star, Published: Friday, 28 July 2017
Shine the light on mental health
By KEVIN, Johor Baru

Laws that involve life and death have no room for jokes on psychological abuse.

IT was the kind of WhatsApp message that no one wants to receive from a friend or family member. But come through my phone it did, amidst other messages, some on topics as mundane as work, arranging for meet-ups over coffee, and tips on running and fitness.

“I feel like offing myself.” That sentence shook me to the core. Despite a long day at work and the lateness of the hour, I agreed to meet the friend for supper to offer a shoulder to cry on.

I want to believe that compassion prevented a suicide that night. After all, love – in its varied forms and manifestations from the simplest gestures to the grandest of acts – is the greatest magic that can be evoked when dealing with such situations.

I am not a professional when it comes to mental health issues. Yet, when faced with such situations, I think anyone would automatically react with empathy.

Mental health is currently a hot topic, with many living with mental health issues using social media as a platform to increase visibility on the subject. The matter is made more prominent by cases of celebrity suicides, most recently that of Linkin Park’s lead vocalist, Chester Bennington.

I hate to think that trivialisation of mental health led to the depression and eventual suicide of a 41-year-old man idolised by many of my generation; I hate the fact that humans have that much power to hurt another. Ironically, Linkin Park helped me, and many others, to deal with our own teenage angst and depressive episodes through their music.

A part of me wondered about the what-ifs. If Chester had simply sent a text message and a friend had answered his pleas for help, would he have instead benefited from an initiative similar to the suicide prevention website set up by his bandmates following his death? Would a life be saved, or would the demons of depression still hold on, merely postponing the time when one finally gives in to despair?

I’m afraid Chester’s suicide is neither the first nor would it be the last to catalyse public discourse on mental health.

Closer to home, current statistics from the National Health and Morbidity Survey projected that mental health problems are set to be the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after cardiovascular diseases by 2020; where being young, female, and financially vulnerable presented higher risks of developing mental health issues.

Reading through the discourse on mental health online is further disheartening. Such statements as “I feel like committing suicide” and “I have depression” have been trivialised as “attention-seeking”, and in some cases, aggravated by further online harassment to dare the individuals to commit suicide.

Yet, even with vibrant, ongoing discourse on this issue, there are still many who trivialise mental health. This is especially disappointing when it comes from policymakers.

The debate on the recently passed Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2017 saw the MP for Setiu, Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh, trivialising psychological abuse, to the general amusement of Parliament.

(Che Mohamad equated the withholding of sex by wives with inflicting emotional and psychological abuse on husbands. He said it was also abuse when the wife of a Muslim man denies her husband’s requests to marry another woman.)

I did not find these remarks funny.

Emotional and psychological abuse is a more cruel form of abuse, as it leaves no visible physical scars, and in many cases, it leads to intimate partner violence, including marital rape. The trauma faced by survivors of such episodes is life-long and often further impacts the mental health of children of these survivors.

I do not have access to national data on how many suicides and suicide attempts are caused by intimate partner abuse. However, inferring from 2015 statistics published by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) on women who sought shelter that year (n=99), all survivors (100%) have experienced psychological abuse, with 51% of these women having considered suicide. A further significant number from this subset have actually attempted suicide (55%), some more than three times (15%).

A form of psychological abuse is threatening polygamy, with husbands using sex as a tool to control and contort.

Contrary to popular belief, polygamy is historically allowed to ensure that families who have lost their breadwinners (i.e. husbands) due to war are taken care of. Thus, it is a means to address an economic issue rather than a sexual one.

This economic burden is highlighted in a 2014 study conducted by Sisters in Islam (SIS), where today, polygamy is shown to lower overall quality of life, especially among working-class families, and increase a family’s financial burden, resulting in wives needing to take on second jobs or find new means of income.

Increasing financial burden is a risk factor for mental health issues. Surely this is a slippery slope towards depression and attempted suicides, not a chance to have a comedic moment in parliament?

There are occasions for humour to be used to defuse tension in our august house. When it comes to laws involving live and death, however, it is no laughing matter.

The Star, Published: Saturday, 29 July 2017
Stop trivialising mental health

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Ring of Fire

Sydney (AFP) - Scientists are attempting to unlock the secrets of the "lost continent" of Zealandia, setting sail Friday to investigate the huge underwater landmass east of Australia that has never been properly studied.

Zealandia, which is mostly submerged beneath the South Pacific, was once part of the Gondwana super-continent but broke away some 75 million years ago.

In a paper published in the Geological Society of America's Journal GSA Today in February, researchers made the case that it should be considered a new continent.

They said it was a distinct geological entity that met all the criteria applied to Earth's other continents, including elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area and a crust much thicker than that found on the ocean floor.

Covering five million square kilometres (1.9 million square miles), it extends from south of New Zealand northward to New Caledonia and west to the Kenn Plateau off Australia's east.

Drill ship Joides Resolution will recover sediments and rocks lying deep beneath the sea bed in a bid to discover how the region has behaved over the past tens of millions of years.

The recovered cores will be studied onboard, allowing scientists to address issues such as oceanographic history, extreme climates, sub-seafloor life, plate tectonics and earthquake-generating zones.

Co-chief scientist Jerry Dickens, from Rice University in Texas, said the region was a vital area to study changes in global climate.

"As Australia moved north and the Tasman Sea developed, global circulation patterns changed and water depths over Zealandia fluctuated," he said.

"This region was important in influencing global changes."

Australian National University's Neville Exon said the two-month expedition, setting out Friday from Townsville, would also help better understand major changes in the global tectonic configuration that started about 53 million years ago.

This is around the time that the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a hotspot for volcanoes and earthquakes, came into existence.

In the February scientific paper, lead author Nick Mortimer said experts had been gathering data to make the case for Zealandia being a continent for more than 20 years.

But their efforts had been frustrated because most of it was hidden beneath the waves.

"If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, high-standing continent," he said at the time.

Scientists set sail to unlock secrets of 'lost continent' Zealandia
AFP on July 28, 2017, 2:55 pm

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How to Develop and Maintain Healthy Romantic Relationships

When Rachel’s boyfriend, Gary, read a text message on her phone complimenting an outfit she wore, he got very angry. Gary accused her of flirting with other boys and demanded that she stay away from her friends, outside of class.

Gary had lost his temper with Rachel before, but this time it was different. He was enraged and started keeping tabs on her – checking her phone messages and emails, and tracking her on his phone.

“At first, I thought it was my fault. Maybe I did send mixed signals to other boys. Maybe I do dress inappropriately for college and invite attention.

“Then he started showing up in college and picking fights with my friends. I became uncomfortable. He also insisted on sending me to college and picking me up after class. My friends thought he was being a creep and urged me to break up with him.

“But it wasn’t so easy … we’d been going out for six years and he was very caring, otherwise. Sometimes I think he cared too much because he’d want to do everything together and preferred us going out alone rather than in groups because he wanted me to himself,” shares the 25-year-old business graduate.

However, when Gary hit her a week later for going out “without telling him”, Rachel became afraid.

“He apologised almost immediately and explained that he needed to know that I was safe. But I didn’t feel safe anymore. I was afraid of him,” she recalls.

Control and social isolation, says Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Sumitra Visvanathan, are among the hallmarks of abusive behaviour. They are an abuser’s way of asserting power and often leaves victims of abuse unsupported and alone.

“When one partner starts asserting control over the other, that is a clear sign of an abusive relationship. Control manifests in many ways. It can start with questions about your whereabouts, who you are with, constant calls and messages to find out where you are and it can easily escalate and can end in physical violence,” says Sumitra.

Control isn’t love

It isn’t always a good thing if your partner wants you “all to himself” all the time, says WAO case manager, Charlene Murray.

“More than 90% of of our clients who come to us for help do not have anyone they can turn to. These are not just women in abusive marriages but young girls in problematic relationships. It’s not because they have no family or friends … they have been cut off from their support network by their abusers and feel that they cannot turn to them anymore,” says Charlene.

Consultant clinical psychologist Loheswary Arumugam is concerned about the high number of teens in abusive relationships that she has encountered. Many of these cases go unreported and therefore, unchecked.

“About two-thirds of my young patients are grappling with symptoms that stem from problematic relationships. They suffer depression, eating disorders, inflict self harm and some display suicidal tendencies. And when we probe further, it points to an abusive relationship,” she says.

And they start young, says Loheswary, citing a 12-year-old patient who has depression because her 13-year-old boyfriend was constantly putting her down and fat-shaming her.

Among teens, the most common forms of abuse are psychological, emotional and sexual abuse.

“Many of these teens and young adults see the abuse as ‘accepted behaviour’, which they have to put up with. They are not able to navigate these relationships and often have a very low sense of self esteem,” says Loheswary.

Not knowing what healthy relationships should be like, many young people find it hard to deal with problematic and misogynistic relationships, that can escalate to abuse.

A report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education published in May suggests that young people struggle with developing healthy romantic relationships and receive little or no help in forming and maintaining fulfilling relationships or dealing with widespread misogyny and sexual harassment.

The report, based on several years of research that included surveys of over 3,000 young adults and high school students, also found that most adults appear to be doing very little to address these issues and are more concerned about the “hook-up” (casual sex) culture among the young.

“Teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the size of the “hook-up” culture. Research indicates that young people are not hooking up frequently and that 85% of them prefer other options to hooking up such as spending time with friends or being in a serious relationship.

“Large numbers of teens and young adults are unprepared for caring, lasting, romantic relationships but are anxious about developing them. Yet, parents, educators and other adults often provide little or no guidance in developing these relationships. The good news is that a high percentage of young people want this guidance,” said the report titled, The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment.

Back to school

Families and schools need to take the lead in talking to young people about developing healthy relationships, says Sumitra.

“A healthy relationship is all about equality. Both partners must understand the need for equality and work to overcome gender stereotypes that are so pervasive in our society. That is why it is so important to include sex education in schools.

“We need to empower young people with information and teach them about integrity, respect and confidence. Many young people feel pressured to be in a relationship. Even when the relationship is problematic, the alternative – not being in a relationship – seems worse because of the expectation they feel,” she says.

Girls, especially, need to know that they have the right to be happy, the right to safety, the right to say no and the right to be heard.

“They need to know that they can change their minds. They may have said yes once before or twenty times before but they are allowed to change their minds and say no. If we teach them young, they will carry this empowerment with them throughout their life,” stresses Charlene.

Loheswary says that schools have to play a bigger role in helping boys and girls develop skills to form and maintain healthy relationships.

“At a young age, your whole world revolves around home and school. Where else are they going to learn about these things? Children are blank slates and if we don’t feed them the right messages or empower them, how will they know?

“They end up learning about relationships from what they see around them, and from media messages that often lean heavily against women. Women are seen as having to put up with abusive behaviour. I hear from my young patients that they don’t know what a healthy relationship is,” says Lohes.

Failure to prepare young people to navigate relationships has emotional and social costs, such as teen pregnancies, abandoned babies, depression, suicide, high rates of divorce and domestic abuse.

Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect. Unhealthy relationships are based on control.

Control in a relationship can manifest in many ways. It can start with questions about your whereabouts, who you are with, constant calls and messages to find out where you are and can escalate and can end in physical violence.

The Star2, Published: JULY 28, 2017
Here’s what an abusive relationship may look like

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How to Raise an Optimistic Human in a Pessimistic World

If you're raising kids today, it can be easy to focus on the negative.

And it's no wonder: Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, social media, cell phone notifications -- and even sources you wouldn't expect, like Instagram and YouTube -- kids are immersed in doom and gloom.

Consider their world: The suicide rate is up, cyber bullying is rampant, the United States is more divided than ever, and people are now live-streaming murder and suicide. So it's understandable if you don't feel like putting on a happy face every day and keeping your kids optimistic about the future.

But don't give up. Ironically, even though media and technology seem to be the cause of our collective pessimism, they're also essential for overcoming it, either by using them wisely or knowing when to put them away.

Here are six ways to find the silver lining in every cloud.

Put things in perspective

When tragedy strikes somewhere in the world, we relive it every time we turn on the TV, open our social media, check our phone notifications, or walk by a supermarket newsstand trumpeting a sensationalistic headline.

Parents understand that the media amplifies things for eyeballs and clicks.

But kids don't necessarily get the relationships among sources, sponsors, and audience.

How you respond to news makes a difference in how kids process it, too.

Help your kids put things in perspective by explaining that the loudest voices capture the most listeners.

When you "right-size" things, it lessens kids' fears and restores hope.

Talk about what you're grateful for

Counter defeatist attitudes by nurturing your kid's character.

Strong character grounds your kids when the world feels chaotic.

Take the time to share what you're grateful for.

Encourage them to persevere against obstacles and to have compassion for others.

Research shows that expressing gratitude actually makes people feel optimistic. Try these character-building movies to kick off the conversation.

Fight fake news

A lot of kids say they can't tell the difference between what's real and fake online.

Confusion, doubt, lack of trust -- these things get in the way of being optimistic.

But kids have the tools to fight fake news.

They can use online fact-checking tools to discover the truth (or at least uncover the fraud).

They can refuse to contribute to the spread of false information by not sharing stuff they can't verify.

And they can call out dubious claims when they see them.

Taking fact-checking into your own hands is empowering.

Stand up to cyberbullies

Teach your kid that the buck stops with them.

When they see someone getting bullied -- and it happens all the time in texts, on social media, and in online games -- they shouldn't just stand by.

While they should never do anything that would endanger themselves, they can do a lot to assert their support of others.

They can call out cyberbullies, report them, stand up for the victim, or just private-message the victim and tell them someone cares.

It's not tattling. It's truly everyone's responsibility to keep the internet a positive, productive place.

Standing up to cyberbullies shows you believe you can make a change.

Stamp out hate speech

Online anonymity can have some unintended consequences.

For example, people think they can spew hateful language or share insulting images without fear of being discovered.

That may be, but hate speech is not a victimless offense.

While institutions are beginning to punish those who spread abusive material, no one should wait until that happens.

Hate speech hurts people, contributes to an overall negative environment, and is sometimes a cry for help from someone in crisis.

Explain how to handle hate speech: Don't respond to it, block people who do it, report offenders, and don't share it.

If your kid can influence only one person to knock off the negative stuff, then they'll influence someone else, and they'll influence someone else, and they'll …

Tune out the world for a while

Grab your kids, grab your spouse if you have one, and shut everything else down.

If they're all there with you, you won't miss anything. Simply being together, whether it's to read, have a device-free dinner, or talk about an issue recharges you and sends your kids the message that family time takes precedence over everything else.

Experts recommend this kind of self-care because the buildup of bad news can be overwhelming and even debilitating.

And if that's how adults feel, imagine how kids are reacting to the constant barrage.

By managing your media and reclaiming your family time, you show your kids what's really important.

Common Sense Media, Published: 7/17/2017

How to Raise an Optimistic Human in a Pessimistic World

Show kids that the tools for a positive outlook are well within their reach.

By Caroline Knorr

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Haute manner

Women attend a lesson at the Switzerland's last finishing school Institut Villa Pierrefeu on June 26, 2017 in Glion.

GLION - AFP: Eight women sit primly around an elaborately set table making pleasant small-talk about the weather, as immaculately starched waiting staff stand at the ready.

But as one of the servers steps forward holding a silver soup tureen with white-gloved hands, an instructor helps her adjust the angle of the bowl to make sure the ladle is facing the diner.

And a second tutor whispers in the ear of another diner to lower her elbow as she brings the spoon to her mouth.

The women are not at a fancy restaurant or a high-end social club, but at Switzerland’s last finishing school, learning to master good manners, strict etiquette and how to avoid a fatal faux pas.

“I realise now that I have been mixing the French style of eating with the British style,” said Institut Villa Pierrefeu student Heba, asking that her last name not be given.

With some embarrassment, the 34-year-old Egyptian national explained that she had placed her knife on her plate even though she had not used it during her meal – a no-no in French dining etiquette.

Heba is among 30 students from 14 different countries taking an intensive Pierrefeu summer course, lasting either three or six weeks, and offering classes like international business etiquette, floral art and staff management.

Women taste chocolate during a lesson at Switzerland's last finishing school Institut Villa Pierrefeu on June 26, 2017 in Glion. Eight women sit primly around an elaborately set table making pleasant small-talk about the weather, as immaculately starched waiting staff stand at the ready. But as one of the servers steps forward holding a silver soup tureen with white-gloved hands, an instructor helps her adjust the angle of the bowl to make sure the ladle is facing the diner. And a second tutor whispers in the ear of another diner to lower her elbow as she brings the spoon to her mouth. The women are not at a fancy restaurant or a high-end social club, but at Switzerland's last finishing school, learning to master good manners, strict etiquette and how to avoid a fatal faux pas.

The students are a diverse crowd, according to Viviane Neri, who took the reins of the school in 1972 – nearly two decades after her mother founded it.

“Obviously we have daughters of presidents and princesses, but those are definitely not the majority,” she said, her warm smile offsetting the strictness of her impeccable attire.

“We also have people who save money to finance their stay because... they realise that this will give them extra knowledge that very few people have,” she said.

It is not cheap. Depending on the formula chosen, a six-week course, with exams and board at the school’s majestic manor houses, can cost close to 30,000 Swiss francs ($31,000, 27,000 euros).

The current students, aged between 18 and 50 and ranging from professional businesswomen, to doctors and housewives, do not reveal their last names to each other to ensure equal treatment.

Half a century ago, the students at Institut Villa Pierrefeu, which overlooks the picturesque town of Montreux, were among thousands attending a plethora of finishing schools dotting the hills around Lake Geneva.

Back then it was common for girls and young women from wealthy, upper-class families to attend so-called “charm schools” to polish their manners and social graces.

Britain’s late Princess Diana was among the famous alumni of since shuttered finishing schools in this area.

A teacher shows a cup during a lesson at the Switzerland's last finishing school Institut Villa Pierrefeu on June 26, 2017 in Glion.

But today, Pierrefeu is the only one left, after the industry was decimated by the 1968 student revolution and rise of feminism.

“There was a huge dip in attendance right after the student revolution,” Neri said, adding that “the few who came said they were going to a languages school. They were ashamed.”

Neri attributes her school’s longevity to its broad international focus and its rigorous efforts to keep the course material, including textbooks available only to Pierrefeu students, constantly up-to-date.

The students learn and practise the proper etiquette and protocol of 20 different countries, as well as cultural taboos to be avoided.

“Cultural differences you are not aware of can create conflicts for very silly reasons,” Neri said, pointing out for instance that in Japan it is rude to blow your nose in public, while in Germany it is rude not to.

She suggested that many journalists could use a Pierrefeu course to avoid “embarrassing” articles like those criticising US First Lady Melania Trump for not covering her head during a recent trip to Saudi Arabia.

“She doesn’t have to because it is not compulsory for non-Muslims who come to Saudi Arabia. That’s protocol,” she said.

The students seem to enjoy delving into such details, although some expressed surprise at the intensity of the course.

“I don’t know if, when you hear finishing school, you take it as seriously as I think we all do now,” said Taylor, a 34-year-old American student, who also refrained from giving her last name.

“It is very rigorous,... very comprehensive,” she said, adding that she felt she was “becoming educated here in a very rounded way.”

Unlike the post-1968 generation, she and others said they proudly boasted of attending the school.

Former student Nadine Abou Zahr, 46, said she had been sceptical when she first heard about the school while attending university nearby two decades ago.

But the French-Lebanese former fashion magazine editor, who declined to reveal her current occupation, told AFP in an email that she could not be more delighted with her experience.

“Learning good manners in my opinion is not about snobbism or superficiality. It’s about respect, for yourself and others,” she said.

The course is not about creating “dramatic” career or life changes, she said, but, rather, designed to broaden cultural horizons and teach the importance of paying attention to detail.

Neri said she had noted a clear shift in attitudes towards the need for good manners.

“I think people, after two generations of no etiquette, realise that it is so much easier when people share the same codes,” she said.

The shift has led Neri, along with her son and would-be successor, Philippe, to explore a range of expansion options.

Three years ago they opened shorter seminars to men. They are also looking into reinstating a full school year and online courses.

At the same time, Neri is working to clear up common misunderstandings about what finishing schools actually represent.

Far from seeing girls walking gingerly with books balanced on their heads, or being focused on how to find a husband, her finishing school provides for in-depth learning and opening-up of the mind, she said.

“I always say we don’t finish them (the students), we start them,” Neri said.

“We open their eyes to the diversity there is.”

New Straits Times, Published: July 13, 2017 - 1:22pm
Mastering manners at Switzerland's last finishing school

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Used cooking oil

WHEN you are done deep-frying at home, hold on before pouring the spent cooking oil down the sink. There is some money to be made yet.

You can sell that oil for 50 sen to RM1.50 per kg and Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) has made arrangements for collectors to take from high-rise blocks, residents associations and villages.

MPSP secretary Rosnani Mahmod said the combined consumption rate of flat residents, for example, created the required economy of scale for collectors to drop by.

“We will put a 200-litre drum at the ground floor for all the households to leave their oil.

“The money earned can be used to maintain facilities. But best of all, this keeps the oil out of the sewerage and drains,” she said.

According to her, oil in the public drainage system makes anaerobic bacteria grow, creating a rancid stench during dry weather and can clog drainpipes.

Rosnani was recently at the launch of the state’s third high-rise homes cooking oil collection effort in Sri Mekar 1 apartments in Mak Mandin, Butterworth.

The other two are in Taman Bagan Lalang and Tanjung Indah apartments.

Also present was state Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh who announced that cooking oil recycling would become a statewide affair soon as another step towards a holistic urban waste disposal system in Penang.

Where will your used cooking oil go? Europeans love it as bio-diesel.

Bio-diesel maker Khenny Chong said the price of diesel was much higher there.

“Conventional diesel is RM6 to RM7 per litre in countries like France, Germany and Britain as of this month, so bio-diesel from cooking oil is considered a cheap alternative.

“We will filter your cooking oil at a high-tech level, add methanol and ship it to Europe in batches of 500 to 3,000 tonnes each time,” he said.

He said his company, Fatbusta Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd, would pay for the used oil based on the quality.

“Some people let their oil be tainted with water, soap or bits of food.

“We are happy to pay more if the oil is sieved, free of water and the volume is large, such as the combined collection of high-rise homes,” he added.

Despite collecting used cooking oil from Penang, Kedah and Perlis for the last six years, Chong said he estimated that less than 20% of the cooking oil used in the region was recycled.

Anyone interested in selling used cooking oil can email him (chong@fatbusta.com) or contact the local authorities.

Phee warned of collectors of the shady kind.

“Three years ago, we stopped a lorry that was collecting used cooking oil.

“We discovered that the operator mixed it with new oil and re-bottle it as cheap cooking oil for the low-income groups.

“That is grievously wrong from the standpoint of health, culture and religion. We took serious action then.”

Phee said used cooking oil could only be collected for making bio-diesel and soap.

The Star, Published: Friday, 28 July 2017
Cash in on used cooking oil

Japan has seen an increase in efforts to recycle used cooking oil − a byproduct of supermarkets and cafeterias − as biodiesel to use as a substitute for light diesel oil fuel for vehicles.

Improvements in purification techniques have allowed biodiesel to be almost as fuel-efficient as light oil. There are high expectations for this mode of energy recycling since it has the additional benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

In October, NGK Insulators Ltd., based in Nagoya, experimented with biodiesel in one of is forklifts used for moving goods at the company’s ceramics plant.

It found that it was just as fuel-efficient as light oil, requiring only 50 liters once every four days even though the forklift was used for around four hours each day.

“It was just as powerful (as light oil), so much that I wouldn’t even have noticed that they’ve changed the fuel,” said a driver of the forklift.

The biodiesel was converted from frying oil from the cafeteria at NGK Insulators’ plant. The factory kitchen produces about 3,600 liters of waste oil annually.

The oil was first sold to Dai- seki Eco. Solution Co., a company providing soil contamination solutions that has a purification facility, processed, and then sold back to NGK as biodiesel.

Biodiesel costs a few yen more per liter than light oil. However, biodiesel is considered carbon neutral, as the carbon dioxide released from burning vegetable oil is offset by the absorption of carbon dioxide during the vegetables’ growing process. This gives biodiesel a net zero carbon footprint.

By using biodiesel, NGK will be able to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by some 8,000 kg a year.

“We can reduce company wastage and carbon dioxide emissions. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. I think it also gives the staff a higher awareness of environmental issues when they see the recycling process with their own eyes,” commented a staff member in charge of NGK’s environmental management department.

Currently, NGK only runs one forklift on biodiesel, but it hopes to implement changes at some of its other factories once the fuel-efficiency of the biodiesel has been fully assessed.

Yamanaka supermarket, based Nagoya, contracted Daiseki Eco. Solution in April to collect frying oil from its takeout deli stores in the Tokai region. Starting in November, they have increased the number of stores that deal with Daiseki Eco. from 30 to 46, and the firm is considering using the biodiesel it bought back to fuel its trucks.

“We are also thinking of donating the profits we earned through the transaction process to environmental groups,” said a representative of Yamanaka.

Daiseki Eco. Solution began its biodiesel business in March, and the company plans to produce about 3,000 kiloliters of biodiesel annually.

It is currently operating at 30 percent capacity.

Since it started, the total number of clients and suppliers has grown from 11 to 50.

“We hope to increase the number of clients so that we can mass produce and subsequently reduce the price of our biodiesel,” an official at Daiseki Eco. Solution said.

The Japan Times, Published: NOV 10, 2012
Cooking oil’s second life: biodiesel

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I RECENTLY came across news published in The Star regarding Turkey which depict some developments in the country as elements of violation of freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and media.

What has been happening in Turkey especially since the thwarted coup attempt of July 15, 2016 which was executed by the disciples of Fetullah Gülen, the man leading the terrorist organisation FETO, should be read in its right context where terrorist threats have gained new forms and manifestations in this complex world.

Turkey, who has been fighting against three terrorist organisations simultaneously, namely FETO, PKK and DAESH, has always prioritised striking a proper balance between maintaining public order and security and protection of the freedom of expression and media.

In this regard, the steps taken by the government are not more than the rightful efforts to protect public order along with the fundamental rights in response to these existential threats faced. This is required for the continuation of the enabling environment for media freedom as well.

On the other hand, it is crystal clear that the exercise of freedoms should go hand in hand with duties and responsibilities prescribed by law. Journalism, just like any profession, cannot be used as a shield against criminal investigations and this is not in line with the principles of journalism too.

Acts attributed to the people who are claimed to be “journalists in prison”, if proven, cannot be taken as journalistic work. If found guilty by the courts in due judicial process, they will naturally be convicted, not due to their journalistic work but as they used their profession for committing crimes including terrorism, the coup attempt or links with terrorist groups.

Let me underline that the Turkish people will continue its struggle to remain strong, stable and resilient in one of the most volatile regions in the world. Turkey is determined to fight terrorist threats in all its forms and manifestations within the framework of the rule of law.

Letter to The Star, Published: Friday, 28 July 2017
Freedom of expression and media in Turkey
By AHMET DOGAN, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Republic of Turkey

SAYLORSBURG, Pa. − During the attempted military coup in Turkey this month, I condemned it in the strongest terms. “Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” I said. “I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.”

Despite my unequivocal protest, similar to statements issued by all three of the major opposition parties, Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, immediately accused me of orchestrating the putsch. He demanded that the United States extradite me from my home in Pennsylvania, where I have lived in voluntary exile since 1999.

Not only does Mr. Erdogan’s suggestion run afoul of everything I believe in, it is also irresponsible and wrong.

My philosophy − inclusive and pluralist Islam, dedicated to service to human beings from every faith − is antithetical to armed rebellion. For more than 40 years, the participants in the movement that I am associated with − called Hizmet, the Turkish word for “service” − have advocated for, and demonstrated their commitment to, a form of government that derives its legitimacy from the will of the people and that respects the rights of all citizens regardless of their religious views, political affiliations or ethnic origins. Entrepreneurs and volunteers inspired by Hizmet’s values have invested in modern education and community service in more than 150 countries.

At a time when Western democracies are searching for moderate Muslim voices, I and my friends in the Hizmet movement have taken a clear stance against extremist violence, from the Sept. 11 attacks by Al Qaeda to brutal executions by the Islamic State to the kidnappings by Boko Haram.

In addition to condemning mindless violence, including during the coup attempt, we have emphasized our commitment to preventing terrorists’ recruitment from among Muslim youth and nurturing a peaceful, pluralist mind-set.

Throughout my life, I have publicly and privately denounced military interventions in domestic politics. In fact, I have been advocating for democracy for decades. Having suffered through four military coups in four decades in Turkey − and having been subjected by those military regimes to harassment and wrongful imprisonment − I would never want my fellow citizens to endure such an ordeal again. If somebody who appears to be a Hizmet sympathizer has been involved in an attempted coup, he betrays my ideals.

Nevertheless, Mr. Erdogan’s accusation is no surprise, not for what it says about me but rather for what it reveals about his systematic and dangerous drive toward one-man rule.

Like many Turkish citizens, the Hizmet movement’s participants supported Mr. Erdogan’s early efforts to democratize Turkey and fulfill the requirements for membership in the European Union. But we were not silent as he turned from democracy to despotism. Even before these new purges, Mr. Erdogan in recent years has arbitrarily closed newspapers; removed thousands of judges, prosecutors, police officers and civil servants from their positions; and taken especially harsh measures against Kurdish communities. He has declared his detractors enemies of the state.

Hizmet, in particular, has been the target of the president’s wrath. In 2013, Mr. Erdogan blamed Hizmet sympathizers within the Turkish bureaucracy for initiating a corruption investigation that implicated members of his cabinet and other close associates. As a result, scores of members of the judiciary and the police forces were purged or arrested for simply doing their jobs.

Since 2014, when Mr. Erdogan was elected president after 11 years as prime minister, he has sought to transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into an “executive presidency,” essentially without checks on his power. In that context, Mr. Erdogan’s recent statement that the failed coup was a “gift from God” is ominous. As he seeks to purge still more dissenters from government agencies − nearly 70,000 people have been fired so far − and to crack down further on Hizmet and other civil society organizations, he is removing many of the remaining impediments to absolute power. Amnesty International has revealed “credible” reports of torture, including rape, at detention centers. No wonder Mr. Erdogan’s government suspended the European Convention on Human Rights and declared a state of emergency.

Turkey’s president is blackmailing the United States by threatening to curb his country’s support for the international coalition against the Islamic State. His goal: to ensure my extradition, despite a lack of credible evidence and virtually no prospect for a fair trial. The temptation to give Mr. Erdogan whatever he wants is understandable. But the United States must resist it.

Violent extremism feeds on the frustrations of those forced to live under dictators who cannot be challenged by peaceful protests and democratic politics. In Turkey, the Erdogan government’s shift toward a dictatorship is polarizing the population along sectarian, political, religious and ethnic lines, fueling the fanatics.

For the sake of worldwide efforts to restore peace in turbulent times, as well as to safeguard the future of democracy in the Middle East, the United States must not accommodate an autocrat who is turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government.

The New York Times, Published: JULY 25, 2016
Fethullah Gulen: I Condemn All Threats to Turkey’s Democracy
Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.

ANKARA: The Turkish government has taken the western media to task for its alleged failure to accurately portray the events behind the bloody attempted coup which took place on July 15 last year.

Turkish Minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, said it was also disappointing to note that the western media in its reports appeared to side with the plotters of the coup instead of focusing on how the Turkish people were defending its principles of democracy.

"The coup attempt was the most horrific attack in Turkish history. It was nothing less than an attempt at occupation," she said, slamming the move, spearheaded by the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (Feto).

Speaking to the international media in Ankara yesterday as part of the Turkish government's one year commemoration of successfully stemming the coup attempt, Fatma said some of the reports appeared to have an agenda against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan by portraying it as a mere clash between the president and his opponents.

Fatma also noted that the civilan resistance towards the coup attempt was unprecedented, and it would be difficult to fully understand the emotions behind it unless one had lived through the events of July 15, 2016.

"The people took to the streets in order to stave off an attempt to overthrow an elected government via undemocratic means. The events of that night had an impact not just on Turkey, but also Europe," she said.

She recalled how she herself had left her child at home as the clashes flared, so she could convene with other ministers at the parliament building.

The building was also targeted by the coup plotters, and was even subjected to a bomb attack. More than 200 lost their lives in the attacks.

She said it was disappointing to note that as the people of Turkey fought back to defend their democracy, the rest of Europe merely stood by and watched.

She said that as such, it was baffling that Turkey's declaration of a state of emergency in the wake of the coup attempt was being questioned, when other European nations employ the same method when they come under a terror attack. She also criticised the lack of cooperation by European nations in handing over Feto suspects based abroad, despite documented evidence of their involvement in the plot.

"Turkey's fight against terrorism is vital to the security of Europe. It is time that the European Union accompany us in the fight against terror," she said.

New Straits Times, Published: July 14, 2017 - 4:23pm
Turkey takes western media to task over coup attempt reports

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Lisa Shimazaki

PUTRAJAYA: Her love and admiration for Malaysian culture inspired Japanese student Lisa Shimazaki to learn the Malay language three years ago.

The Sapporo native strove to master the language and eventually found the confidence to enter a pidato (public speaking) competition here.

The 21-year-old wowed the judges and audience with her speech titled Bahasa Bukan Sekadar Alat Komunikasi, Bahasa Adalah Segala-galanya (Language is not just a communication tool, language is everything).

Her hard work and courage paid off as she won the Prime Minister’s Trophy in the international category of the 2017 Bahasa Melayu International Public Speaking (PABM) competition.

When interviewed by reporters, Shimazaki spoke confidently in Bahasa Malaysia, saying she loved the language because she felt it was indah (beautiful).

“I chose to learn Bahasa Malaysia because I really like South-East Asian countries and their culture. Everything about Malaysia to me is inspiring.

“The language is not so difficult to master, although sometimes I do forget some words,” she said.

Besides her native Japanese language and Bahasa Malaysia, the student of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies also speaks English and a bit of Spanish.

She has even adopted a Malay name for herself – Raihana.

“My lecturer Puan Faridah gave me that name. I love it,” she said.

Shimazaki fended off challengers, including Ma Xiao from China and Rimajon Sotlikova from Uzbekistan, in the final round of the competition.

In the Foreign Students in Malaysia category, International Islamic University IT student Abdul Matin Mohamed Azeem was crowned champion.

The third time was the charm for the Afghanistan native, who finally snagged the trophy after failing to do so in 2013 and last year.

“I suppose you could say my experience from previous years helped me win the competition this time around, although I still think it was hard due to the number of good competitors,” he said.

Abdul Matin, 24, moved to Malay-sia with his parents and enrolled in a local school at the age of 13.

“Bahasa Malaysia has become my daily language because I use it to speak with my friends, so I am very comfortable with it,” he said.

The Alam Melayu (Malay world) category, which saw participants from Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand, was won by Malaysian Noor Haqim Noor Hamiddon.

The three champions took home a RM20,000 cash prize, a trophy, a certificate and a copy of the Kamus Dewan dictionary.

The prizes were presented by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak during the finals on Wednesday night.

Some 52 contestants from 35 countries took part in the competition.

Vibrant victory: Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor with Abdul Matin (Najib’s right), Noor Haqim (third from right) and Shimazaki (second from right) during the prize-giving ceremony at Putrajaya International Convention Centre. Looking on are Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh (second from left) and his deputy Datuk Dr Mary Yap Kain Ching (right).

The Star, Published: Friday, 28 July 2017
Japanese student wows judges with BM speech

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Ain't no mountain high enough

Pack your hiking gear, lace up your boots and go on an adventure trip with these two entrepreneurs.

FOR the past few years, hiking has become a favourite activity of Malaysians. A search on the Internet will list some of the best hiking spots in the country and reviews of the hikes.

There are many reasons why people enjoy hiking − for health, social connection or to immerse themselves in nature.

Hiking helps improve cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness. It also lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, among others.

Zain Asri and Siti Nur Hidayah Mohd Azlan’s love for mountain hiking not only keeps them healthy but also serves as a source of income − they guide people on hiking trips and even mountain climbing.

The two have set up their own company which specialises in hiking trips in Malaysia and abroad. Their goal is to encourage people to be more active through this challenging activity.


Four years ago, freelance photographer Zain Asri, 40, went on his first hiking trip. It wasn’t for health reasons or that he loved the outdoors. He wanted to capture a scenic view that he saw in a photograph.

The picture was taken from the highest peak on Samosir Island in Lake Toba, Indonesia.

“I booked a flight ticket and made my way there. When I arrived there on a motorcycle, I was stunned by the view. It looked just like a painting and it was so beautiful. It was then that I decided to hike so that I can take more of such photographs.”

When he came back, Zain went on his first hiking trip to Bukit Tabur in Taman Melawati. He did not train for the trip because he thought it would be an easy climb.

“I was so wrong. Back then I was obese and was never involved in physical activities. I was out of breath and had to stop every five minutes.

“But I persevered until I reached the top. Although it was very difficult for me, I found that I liked hiking and wanted to do it again. I went on a few more hiking trips on my own including to Bukit Broga in Semenyih and Gunung Nuang in Hulu Langat. By then, I had more stamina and enjoyed it more.”

In 2014, a friend invited Zain to hike to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. It was a challenge as the trail is totally different from local hiking trips.

At a height of 4,130m, he had to deal with high altitude and weather, among other issues.

Zain was working with the food and beverage department of a hotel and found it difficult to find time to train.

He then decided to use the next best option − climbing up the stairs.

“The hotel has 30 floors, so every day during my break, I would climb the stairs. The first day, I could only reach the fifth floor. The next day, I managed to climb up to the 10th and eventually, to the 30th floor. After a month, I can reach the top with ease.”

Zain on top of a mountain summit in Kashmir


Although physically ready, Zain says hiking to the Annapurna was extremely difficult and there were times he regretted his decision.

The only thing that kept him going was the pictures he had taken during the hike.

Like other hardcore hikers, Zain could not escape the lure of the mountains despite the various obstacles and challenges.

It was during this trip that he met his business partner, Anuar Amir. They set up New Horizon Explorer to organise hiking trips for Malaysians.

When he posted pictures of his trip, people kept asking him where it was taken and if Zain could take them there. The partners then decided to organise a hiking trip to Annapurna.

“More than 30 people signed up so I had to split them into two groups. There was no age limit and it was open to everyone, even those without hiking experience. For those without experience, I took them to train in Hulu Langat.

“The trip was a success and personally, it was an achievement for me. I was able to conquer Annapurna twice in a span of 10 days as there were two groups.”

Two years ago, the partners trained their sights on Kashmir.

“Since there were many other Malaysian companies organising trips to Annapurna, Anuar suggested that we focus on Kashmir, which was relatively unknown to Malaysians then.

“Last year, we organised the first camping and hiking trip there. We were the first Malaysians to do so, with the help of a local who helped with logistics and equipment.”

Zain with the team members who conquered The Shepherds Peak (3,900m) and Koull Sar Peak (4,120m) in Kashmir Himalaya.

This year, Zain has planned six hiking and sightseeing trips to Kashmir.

He says the company focuses only on hiking trips abroad because he wants to encourage Malaysians to explore places that they are not familiar with.

It is also to allow them to face and overcome challenges with the different trails and weather.

For Zain, the best part of being a hiking guide is that he gets to encourage people to be healthy and, at the same time, enjoy nature.

“Hiking can easily burn between 400 and 800 calories an hour. When you are hiking in nature, you are not distracted by noise and people. It helps reduce mental fatigue and helps us to think creatively. It can also reduce stress and boost self-esteem. This is why I love hiking.

“Most of the participants tell me that they continue with their healthy lifestyles after the trip. For me, to be part of that is a huge achievement.”


A hiker since she was 13, Siti Nur Hidayah has been a certified hiking guide for the past eight years.

She set up her company, National Outdoor Adventure, in 2009 while she was still in college.

“Back then there were not many women who were into hiking, let alone as hiking guides. When people look at me, they do not have much faith in me because I don’t look tough.”

“It was difficult at first to get people to join my hiking trips. But eventually, through word of mouth, people realised that I know my job and have the experience to guide them.”

Siti Nur Hidayah during a solo hiking trip to Mount Rinjani, Lombok, Indonesia

Hidayah, 27, says hiking is a way for her to keep in shape since she does not have the time to engage in other forms of exercises.

“I love to eat and since I hike three to four times a week, it is a good way for me to manage my weight. In addition, it builds muscle strength and stamina.”

To date, she has hiked the seven highest mountains in Peninsular Malaysia, namely, Gunung Tahan, Gunung Yong Belar, Gunung Yong Yap, Gunung Korbu, Gunung Gayong, Gunung Chamah and Gunung Ulu Sepat.

The longest trip was 12 days and the shortest was eight. At times, there were more than 80 people in her hiking groups.

With group of hikers during the Chemerong/Berembun/Langsir, Terengganu hiking trip.

She says the most important thing to focus on is safety.

“When it comes to safety, everyone in the group must listen to me. To me, the success of the trip is when everyone arrives home safely. Reaching the mountain’s peak is a bonus.”

Due to her experience, Hidayah was one among the search-and-rescue team members looking for Syed Redzuan Syed Salim Shatri and Ramli Abd Majid who went missing while scaling Mount Damavand in Iran last November.

Next on her agenda is to climb the seven summits in seven continents.

“In September, I am going to China and India for a technical alpine climbing course. I will learn how to climb alpine peaks and survival techniques in such conditions. It is one of my goals to climb alpine peaks, which are more challenging than hiking.”

New Straits Times, Published: July 25, 2017 - 10:58am
Ain't no mountain high enough
By Kasmiah Mustapha

(*) Ain't no mountain high enough
The song became Diana Ross' first solo number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award -- September 19, 1970 (three weeks) --

(**) How to start
There is no age limit yo enjoy hiking, according to Zain Asri. However, there are certain factors one must be aware of. Here are his tips for beginners:

# Don't give in to thoughts of "I'm too out of shape", "I will get tired", "I'm afraid I can't do it". It just isn't true! No matter how out of shape you are, you can do it.

# Hike with other people because it's fun and motivating.

# Try hiking at least once a week as you will develop your footwork skills, test out new gear and build up your physical endurance. The best way to gain confidence is to do something over and over again.

# Check the weather as this will give you valuable information on how to dress and what to pack.

# Invest in good quality hiking shoes.

# Pick a pace you can maintain all day. When you are going uphill, you need to conserve your energy.

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Playing for democracy

Hanoi − AFP: A group of old pals trot onto the pitch for what looks like an ordinary football match in Vietnam.

But it is actually a sly act of subversion in the authoritarian state, where this team of political dissidents has turned to football to circumvent government efforts to block their meetings.

The game lasts just 45 minutes before security guards storm the field and kick the players off the pitch – a regular disruption for a team constantly dodging the watchful eye of the communist regime.

“We have played the so-called mouse-and-cat game with the police and security forces since we established our football team,” founding member and activist Nguyen Chi Tuyen said.

The No-U FC squad was formed in 2011 by Tuyen and some 40 others who had rallied against China in a series of protests over disputed waters in the South China Sea, where the two communist countries have overlapping territorial claims.

Police broke up the protests, sometimes violently, and Tuyen said they continued to harass the group when they met at cafes in Hanoi to discuss politics – a sensitive topic in the one-party state.

“We tried to find a way to legally and publicly meet each other to discuss everything,” said Tuyen, 43, who is commonly known by his online handle Anh Chi.

The football team was formed soon after, named after the U-shaped boundary that Beijing says demarcates its territory in the South China Sea – and which Vietnam rejects.

The anti-China cause remains the team’s central rallying cry today, with players denouncing Beijing’s long history of conflict with its smaller communist neighbour.

But the squad has also embraced a number of other causes, calling for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression in a country where dissent is banned and often punished with lengthy prison terms.

“I joined this football club to support the democracy movement, to call on every Vietnamese to join together and protest against the authorities in Vietnam,” said Nguyen Trung Linh, a former political prisoner who joined No-U last year.

And though conversations on the field are mostly apolitical – coffees before and beers after the games are reserved for charged political chats – the games send an important message to the authorities.

“Every match is a protest,” said Tuyen, smiling.

In a country where political blogs and Facebook are closely monitored, many activists turn to unconventional means of protest, like art or sport.

“They have to find other avenues to get together and to discuss issues and just to express themselves,” Janice Beanland, Amnesty International campaigner for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, said from London.

“The No-U team is a classic example of that,” she said, adding that even meeting for the matches is “extremely risky”.

Most players say they are routinely followed, harassed or even beaten by police or plainclothes thugs.

One teammate was smashed in the face with a brick after a match last year by a group of men he believes were plainclothes police.

Uniformed officers, who did not respond to requests for comment, also break up their matches sometimes.

On a football pitch on a recent balmy Sunday evening in Hanoi, field staff swooped in to block the team’s attempt to pose for a picture with a giant No-U flag.

About 20 minutes later, security guards rushed onto the field, tearing the goal net down and ordering journalists to leave.

The officials in charge of the college campus pitch, which No-U had paid to play on for the evening, refused to explain why the match had been cancelled.

“It makes me very angry every time,” said Nguyen Van Phuong, 30, who sports a tattoo of the international human rights logo – a hybrid of a waving hand and a winged dove – on his bicep.

In order to escape the threat of the authorities, they keep match locations secret until minutes before the games and travel in groups to all gatherings.

But the team says harassment has intensified under the country’s new conservative leadership in place since last year, a sentiment echoed by rights groups and in diplomatic circles following heavy-handed measures against activists.

Last month, a prominent dissident blogger was sentenced to jail for 10 years in a one-day trial over critical Facebook posts the judge branded as anti-state propaganda.

Days earlier another dissident with French nationality was stripped of his Vietnamese citizenship and deported to France.

Since 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented 36 cases of plainclothes thugs physically attacking dissidents – assaults the watchdog believes are carried out with tacit official backing.

Still, No-U say they will not be intimidated, despite the authorities’ continued efforts to shut them down.

“They tried their best for six years but they didn’t, they failed,” said Tuyen.

Playing for democracy: Members of the No-U FC squad posing for a photo before a game at a local pitch in Hanoi.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 27 July 2017
Every match is a protest for these footballers

Dozens of Vietnamese who gathered for an anti-China protest in central Hanoi were taken away by authorities on Sunday as they tried to rally support for an international tribunal’s ruling rejecting Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.

About two dozen people were bused away from around the landmark Hoan Kiem Lake in the capital even before they began their protest. There was heavy police presence around the lake with cars briefly banned from around it.

The rally was organised by No-U group in Hanoi, which opposes China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. It came after the Hague-based permanent court of arbitration last week issued the ruling in a case initiated by the Philippines, which together with Vietnam is one of the claimants in the disputed waters.

Vietnam’s communist authorities have clamped down on such protests before, fearing they could stir dissent.

China rejected the tribunal’s ruling and refused to take part in the arbitration.

The UN tribunal ruled that China violated international maritime law, specifically the Philippines’ maritime rights by building up artificial islands that destroyed coral reefs and by disrupting fishing and oil exploration.

The Guardian, Published: Sunday 17 July 2016 06.10 BST (This article is 1 year old)

Vietnam removes protesters gathered for anti-China rally in Hanoi

About two dozen people are bused away even before they begin their protest against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea

By Associated Press

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Asean Security Meeting

MANILA (Reuters) - North Korea's vice foreign minister met with his Philippine counterpart on Wednesday ahead of a regional security meeting in Manila, where Pyongyang is expected to face pressure to halt its intermediate-range missile tests.

Vice Foreign Minister Choe Hui Choi led a delegation for a one-day visit to discuss preparations for the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting on Aug 7, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said. The Philippines is the chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations this year.

Cayetano said the purpose of the visit was to discuss Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho participating at the event, and talks were mainly focused on logistics after Philippine officials gave the North Koreans a tour of meeting venues.

The North Korean visit was not publicized until afterwards.

Two diplomats from the foreign ministry said the North Koreans were worried ASEAN may issue a strongly-worded statement about the situation on the Korean peninsula to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its planned missile tests.

U.S. officials said on Tuesday they have seen increased North Korean activity at a site in the western city of Kusong that could be preparations for another missile test within days.

Pyongyang said it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, following numerous other missile tests since February.

"This is the not the first time North Korea sent its top diplomats to appeal to ASEAN and to the Philippines as chair this year to go slow on them," a diplomat familiar with the visit told Reuters.

Pyongyang sent diplomats early this year to Manila to appeal to the ASEAN chairman not to embarrass North Korea during the regional meeting, which foreign ministers of Japan, Russia, China, South Korea and the United States are due to attend. It also sent a letter to ASEAN's secretary-general asking for help.

A North Korean diplomat also met with the Philippine ambassador in Beijing to make a similar appeal and invite Cayetano to Pyongyang.

"They wanted me to go there straight from China," he told a news conference. "As of now, there's no plan. We really have to consult with ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, China, Russia and the United States.

"It's a concerted effort on the Korean peninsula," he said, referring to efforts to de-escalate tensions, which ASEAN foreign ministers voiced concerns about in a statement at the ASEAN leaders' summit in April.

"Our stand has not changed," he added.

Reuters, Published: JULY 26, 2017 / 3:29 PM / 16 HOURS AGO
North Korean delegation visits Manila ahead of regional security meeting
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty

MANILA, Philippines − North Korea’s top diplomat will attend an annual Asian security conference in Manila, where concern over the North’s nuclear weapons program is expected to be high on the agenda, Philippine officials said.

A North Korean delegation led by its vice foreign minister flew to Manila on Wednesday to discuss the participation of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho in the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Ri’s attendance at the meeting is definite, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told a news conference. The meeting is scheduled on Aug. 7, the department said.

The 27-member ARF’s annual meetings are also attended by the foreign ministers of South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, countries involved in earlier six-nation talks aimed at taming North Korea’s nuclear ambition. North Korea pulled out of the talks in 2009 to protest international condemnation of a long-range rocket launch.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pressed Southeast Asian foreign ministers in a meeting at the State Department to ensure “leak-proof” enforcement of sanctions against North Korea and prevent the nation’s diplomats from conducting business that could benefit its weapons programs.

The foreign ministers were from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which is hosting next month’s meeting.

The Trump administration has been pushing to get the international community to intensify diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program before it can pose a direct threat to the American mainland.

The Washington Post, Published: July 26 at 9:28 AM
Philippines: top N. Korean diplomat to join security meeting
By Associated Press

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To cool planet

SHANGHAI (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Shanghai sweltered under a new record high of 40.9 deg C on Friday (July 21), the authorities said, as they issued a weather "red alert" over a stubborn heat wave that has plagued much of the country.

Hospitals in the city have reported increased numbers of patients suffering from heat-related illnesses, according to state media, and the Shanghai zoo said it was putting large blocks of ice into some animal enclosures to help them beat the heat, while providing its pandas with frozen apples.

China's most populous city has baked under soaring summer temperatures for more than two weeks and Friday afternoon reached the hottest point since the establishment of its benchmark weather station in 1872, the municipal weather bureau said.

Other areas of China have also seen records set in recent weeks, in what has been a torrid summer so far for much of the country, while large areas of south-central China have endured raging floods from torrential rain.

Shanghai's "red alert" - the first this year - is triggered when temperatures in excess of 40 degrees are forecast and comes with a warning to citizens to keep cool and avoid too much time outdoors, especially children, the elderly, or the sick.

It also puts the authorities on heightened alert against fires breaking out and advises special care with perishable foods to prevent spoilage and bacteria.

Shanghai is getting hotter - the previous record of 40.8 degrees was set only in 2013, and eight of the 12 highest temperatures reached over the past century were recorded in the last five years, according to the city weather bureau.

People are losing their cool, said the state-run Shanghai Daily.

"(Shanghai has) seen a spike in accidental injuries, triggered by fights or traffic accidents, as people are more easily irritated in the extreme heat and failing to exercise proper judgment," it said on Friday.

Even dogs are on edge, according to a state media report this week that said the heatwave has coincided with a rise in dog bites.

Shanghai's weather bureau said on Thursday that a stubborn subtropical high and hot southwesterly winds were to blame and that the city will continue to bake at least until early August when typhoon season begins and the weather begins to shift.

Straits times, PUBLISHED: JUL 21, 2017, 5:33 PM SGT
Hottest day ever in Shanghai as heatwave bakes China

OSLO (Reuters) - Scientists are sucking carbon dioxide from the air with giant fans and preparing to release chemicals from a balloon to dim the sun's rays as part of a climate engineering push to cool the planet.

Backers say the risky, often expensive projects are urgently needed to find ways of meeting the goals of the Paris climate deal to curb global warming that researchers blame for causing more heatwaves, downpours and rising sea levels.

The United Nations says the targets are way off track and will not be met simply by reducing emissions for example from factories or cars - particularly after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the 2015 pact.

They are pushing for other ways to keep temperatures down.

In the countryside near Zurich, Swiss company Climeworks began to suck greenhouse gases from thin air in May with giant fans and filters in a $23 million project that it calls the world's first "commercial carbon dioxide capture plant".

Worldwide, "direct air capture" research by a handful of companies such as Climeworks has gained tens of millions of dollars in recent years from sources including governments, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the European Space Agency.

If buried underground, vast amounts of greenhouse gases extracted from the air would help reduce global temperatures, a radical step beyond cuts in emissions that are the main focus of the Paris Agreement.

Climeworks reckons it now costs about $600 to extract a tonne of carbon dioxide from the air and the plant's full capacity due by the end of 2017 is only 900 tonnes a year. That's equivalent to the annual emissions of only 45 Americans.

And Climeworks sells the gas, at a loss, to nearby greenhouses as a fertilizer to grow tomatoes and cucumbers and has a partnership with carmaker Audi, which hopes to use carbon in greener fuels.

Jan Wurzbacher, director and founder of Climeworks, says the company has planet-altering ambitions by cutting costs to about $100 a tonne and capturing one percent of global man-made carbon emissions a year by 2025.

"Since the Paris Agreement, the business substantially changed," he said, with a shift in investor and shareholder interest away from industrial uses of carbon to curbing climate change.

But penalties for factories, power plants and cars to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere are low or non-existent. It costs 5 euros ($5.82) a tonne in the European Union.

And isolating carbon dioxide is complex because the gas makes up just 0.04 percent of the air. Pure carbon dioxide delivered by trucks, for use in greenhouses or to make drinks fizzy, costs up to about $300 a tonne in Switzerland.

Other companies involved in direct air capture include Carbon Engineering in Canada, Global Thermostat in the United States and Skytree in the Netherlands, a spinoff of the European Space Agency originally set up to find ways to filter out carbon dioxide breathed out by astronauts in spacecrafts.

Not Science Fiction

The Paris Agreement seeks to limit a rise in world temperatures this century to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial times.

But U.N. data show that current plans for cuts in emissions will be insufficient, especially without the United States, and that the world will have to switch to net "negative emissions" this century by extracting carbon from nature.

Riskier "geo-engineering" solutions could be a backstop, such as dimming the world's sunshine, dumping iron into the oceans to soak up carbon, or trying to create clouds.

Among new university research, a Harvard geo-engineering project into dimming sunlight to cool the planet set up in 2016 has raised $7.5 million from private donors. It plans a first outdoor experiment in 2018 above Arizona.

"If you want to be confident to get to 1.5 degrees you need to have solar geo-engineering," said David Keith, of Harvard.

Keith's team aims to release about 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) of sun dimming material, perhaps calcium carbonate, from a high-altitude balloon above Arizona next year in a tiny experiment to see how it affects the microphysics of the stratosphere.

"I don't think it's science fiction ... to me it's normal atmospheric science," he said.

Some research has suggested that geo-engineering with sun-dimming chemicals, for instance, could affect global weather patterns and disrupt vital Monsoons.

And many experts fear that pinning hopes on any technology to fix climate change is a distraction from cuts in emissions blamed for heating the planet.

"Relying on big future deployments of carbon removal technologies is like eating lots of dessert today, with great hopes for liposuction tomorrow," Christopher Field, a Stanford University professor of climate change, wrote in May.

Jim Thomas of ETC Group in Canada, which opposes climate engineering, said direct air capture could create "the illusion of a fix that can be used cynically or naively to entertain policy ideas such as 'overshoot'" of the Paris goals.

But governments face a dilemma. Average surface temperatures are already about 1C (1.8F) above pre-industrial levels and hit record highs last year.

"We're in trouble," said Janos Pasztor, head of the new Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Project. "The question is not whether or not there will be an overshoot but by how many degrees and for how many decades."

Faced with hard choices, many experts say that extracting carbon from the atmosphere is among the less risky options. Leaders of major economies, except Trump, said at a summit in Germany this month that the Paris accord was "irreversible."

"Barking Mad

Raymond Pierrehumbert, a professor of physics at Oxford University, said solar geo-engineering projects seemed "barking mad".

By contrast, he said "carbon dioxide removal is challenging technologically, but deserves investment and trial."

The most natural way to extract carbon from the air is to plant forests that absorb the gas as they grow, but that would divert vast tracts of land from farming. Another option is to build power plants that burn wood and bury the carbon dioxide released.

Carbon Engineering, set up in 2009 with support from Gates and Murray Edwards, chairman of oil and gas group Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, has raised about $40 million and extracts about a tonne of carbon dioxide a day with turbines and filters.

"We're mainly looking to synthesize fuels" for markets such as California with high carbon prices, said Geoffrey Holmes, business development manager at Carbon Engineering.

But he added that "the Paris Agreement helps" with longer-term options of sucking large amounts from the air.

Among other possible geo-engineering techniques are to create clouds that reflect sunlight back into space, perhaps by using a mist of sea spray.

That might be used locally, for instance, to protect the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, said Kelly Wanser, principal director of the U.S.-based Marine Cloud Brightening Project.

Among new ideas, Wurzbacher at Climeworks is sounding out investors on what he says is the first offer to capture and bury 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air, for $500 a tonne.

That might appeal to a company wanting to be on forefront of a new green technology, he said, even though it makes no apparent economic sense.

A facility for capturing CO2 from air of Swiss Climeworks AG is placed on the roof of a waste incinerating plant in Hinwil, Switzerland July 18, 2017.

Reuters, Published: JULY 26, 2017 / 2:07 PM / 5 HOURS AGO
Scientists dim sunlight, suck up carbon dioxide to cool planet
By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle, Editing by Anna Willard

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JAKARTA -- AP/TODAY ONLINE: Five Indonesian provinces have declared states of emergency as peatlands burn in Aceh and the risk of fires spreading elsewhere increases during the annual dry season, an official said Wednesday.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 18 helicopters have been deployed to help extinguish fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Satellite images show that the number of fires increased from 150 on Sunday to 179 on Tuesday, he said.

Nugroho said the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan have declared emergencies in anticipation of a worsening of the fires and to mitigate the choking smoke that peatlands generate when burned.

A state of emergency was earlier declared in West Aceh district, where fires on peatland expanded over 70 hectares within a week.

Devastating dry-season fires in 2015 burned through 2.6 million hectares and blanketed Sumatra, Borneo, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand in health-damaging haze. Plantation companies and villagers set the illegal fires because it is a faster and, for them, less expensive way to clear land than using machinery.

The 2015 disaster, which the World Bank estimated caused US$16 billion in losses, was worsened by El Nino drought conditions but also showed the risks that palm oil and pulp wood companies have taken in draining Indonesia's peatlands for use as industrial plantations, making them highly combustible.

Yusmadi, chief of Aceh's disaster agency, said at least 23 villagers are being treated at hospitals due to respiratory problems.

Nugroho earlier warned that forest and peatland fires would worsen in the coming months, with the peak of the dry season expected in August and September.

The forest fire rages on as a helicopter drops water over a peat fire in Meulaboh, Aceh province on July 26, 2017. Some 35 fire hotspots in the past week have destroyed 70 hectares (0.27 square miles) of forests and other land in Aceh, the national disaster agency said. The haze is an annual problem in Indonesia caused by fires set in forest and on carbon-rich peatland in Indonesia to clear land for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

New Straits Times, Published: July 27, 2017 - 9:54am
Indonesian forest fires: 5 provinces declare state of emergency

At least 10,000 people, including thousands of holidaymakers, were evacuated overnight after a new wildfire broke out in southern France, which was already battling massive blazes, authorities said Wednesday.

The new fire broke out a day after France asked for Europe's help to tackle the flames already raging in several spots on the tinder-dry south, including near the popular resort of Saint-Tropez.

Firefighters are also battling fires on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica and in Portugal.

About 3,000 of the evacuees in southeast France were holidaymakers staying in campgrounds, some of whom ended up spending the night in sleeping bags on the beach.

"The evacuations, at least 10,000, followed the progression of the fire. It's an area that doubles or triples its population in summer," said a fire service official of the blaze near Bormes-les-Mimosas on the Mediterranean coast.

The number of people on France's Cote d'Azur bulges in July and August as holidaymakers head to the beach, although the area is experiencing an exceptionally hot and dry summer that has made it especially vulnerable to fires.

On Tuesday over 4,000 firefighters and troops backed by 19 water bombers had already been mobilised to extinguish the flames, which have left swathes of charred earth in their wake.

At least 12 firefighters have been injured and 15 police officers affected by smoke inhalation since the fires broke out on Monday, according to the authorities.

The blazes on Tuesday had devoured around 4,000 hectares (15 square miles) of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the mountainous interior and on Corsica.

With strong winds and dry brush creating a dangerous mix, the government asked its European Union partners to send two extra fire-fighting planes -- a request immediately fulfilled by Italy, according to the EU.

But one union official denounced what he said was a lack of spare parts preventing all the aircraft required from being put into action.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb announced on Tuesday that France would be adding six more firefighting planes to its fleet.

'Apocalyptic' scenes

A fire in La Croix-Valmer near Saint-Tropez, a resort frequented by the rich and famous, had been contained, local fire chief Philippe Gambe de Vergnes said Tuesday.

But the blaze had already consumed 400 hectares of coastal forest in an area dotted with homes, he said. More than 200 people had to be moved from the area.

La Croix-Valmer's deputy mayor Rene Carandante described a desolate landscape of blackened headlands fringed by charred umbrella pines, where green forest had once framed the azure waters of the Mediterranean.

"It's a disaster area. There's nothing left," he said.

Francois Fouchier, of the local coastal conservation group, told AFP that local wildlife, such as the Hermann's tortoise, would be victims of the fires. "We are going to find burnt shells."

Around 80 kilometres (50 miles) inland, 300 hectares of pines and oaks went up in smoke near the village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.

A local official accused the authorities of failing to regularly remove dry undergrowth, making the forest a fire hazard.

Corsica, situated midway between France and Italy, was also assessing the damage.

A resident, whose house had at one point been in danger, spoke of "apocalyptic" scenes.

In the end, disaster was averted after the wind died down, but the blaze engulfed 1,800 hectares of forest and burned several vehicles.

In Carros, north of Nice, a house, three vehicles and a warehouse went up in flames, according to regional authorities.

Speaking to France Info radio, local mayor Charles Scibetta described waking up to a "lunar landscape" and said residents had a lucky escape.

Riviera becoming 'bushier'

"All of France is mobilised," the head of the fire service in southeast France, Colonel Gregory Allione, told France Info, adding that extra firefighters had been drafted in from the north.

Thomas Curt, a director at the Irsea institute for research into the environment and agriculture, said a drop-off in farming in southeast France since the 1970s had made it more prone to fires.

"Farmland is contracting and the forest is naturally expanding, making the area bushier," he said.

A proliferation in the numbers of homes, roads and power lines near forests also increased the fire hazard, he added.

In mid-July, a blaze believed to have been ignited by a cigarette butt tossed out of a car ripped through 800 hectares of land near Aix-en-Provence.

Portugal, meanwhile, which last month suffered deadly forest fires, has been battling fresh blazes since Sunday in centre of the country, forcing the evacuation of around 10 villages.

At La Croix-Valmer, near Saint-Tropez, 1,100 hectares were destroyed by fires, July 2017.

France 24, Latest update : 2017-07-26
Wildfires prompt major evacuations near French Riviera

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The unspoken language

WHETHER we go abroad for a much-deserved holiday or long-term relocation, we are generally aware of the impending difficulties of communication.

Unfortunately, we often concentrate on verbal interaction, forgetting about the other non-verbal variety.

One of the most frequent questions I have been asked about everyday life in Malaysia was: “How do you communicate there? Did you have to learn the language?”

The short answer has always been “No, most everybody speaks better English than I will ever master Malay”.

When I am in a talkative mood, I will add a little anecdote about my forays into language learning. But, that is stuff for a different story.

However, verbal communication is only half the ticket, as I realised soon after setting foot in this part of the world.

Hand gestures and body language form an integral part of interaction between the people.

While we are very much aware of our shortcomings regarding foreign language, we forget that we unintentionally offend our counterparts on a different level.

It is interesting to note that, while locals are tolerant regarding our lack of verbal skills, they are often caught on the wrong foot in regard to our use of gestures or our omission thereof.

Body language is commonly regarded as a supplement to verbal communication, when in fact, it is the essence of a culture, without which the spoken word could not have evolved.

When we travel to foreign shores, we may well leave our languages behind, but we always carry our cultural baggage with us and, therefore, often send mixed messages to those around us.

My mother, who managed to live and function in foreign language territory for 50 years without even trying to acquire the local prose, used to say “jeux de mains, jeux de vilain”, which loosely translates to “hand games, naughty games”.

Truer words have seldom been spoken, as it happens. Some gestures convey universal messages; an outstretched hand means welcome, a held up one says stop, and a waving palm sends you on your way with a fond goodbye.

And yet, other non-verbal communication can be fertile ground for misunderstandings; even going as far as to start wars.

In the West, we point at things, if not at people, with our forefinger, it’s called pointer for a reason. A definite no-go in Malaysia, where we learn to point out directions with our − preferably not outstretched − thumb; a small cultural difference with potentially far-reaching consequences.

While hitting your right fist into your cupped left hand is a sign of encouragement and signifies a nonchalant “let’s go” or “let’s do this” in large parts of the Western hemisphere, it is considered rude, if not shocking, here.

Similarly, many foreigners will hide their hands in their pockets or cross their arms in front of their chest as as a sign of feeling insecure, but it is perceived as assertively aggressive in many Asian societies.

The traditional Malay greeting of salam is one of my personal favourite salutations in the world, as you bring your hand to your chest indicating that you hold your counterpart in your heart.

The fact that the preluding handshake is not a firm grip is interpreted as a weak “cold fish” gesture in many Western countries, however.

Perhaps the most commonly misunderstood signal is the laugh, which in Asia can mean anything from happiness to surprise, anger, shock or embarrassment. To Westerners, a laugh means merriment, nothing more, nothing less.

Did you know that the very rude thumb protruding between the first two fingers of a clenched fist is a playful gesture used by French adults towards children, pretending to have stolen their nose?

Flick your throat with your forefinger to swat at a mosquito and your Russian acquaintance will immediately proceed into the next bar to offer you a drink.

And, while the newly-erupted culture of selfies often depicts (mainly young Japanese) girls making a victory sign en lieu of a socially not-acceptable smile, it is misunderstood as a lewd gesture symbolising female genitals in Southern Europe.

The list of potential pitfalls goes on and on, and I haven’t even touched on the subjects of eye contact, glances, breathing patterns and personal space.

When we travel to foreign countries, we all bother to enquire about the local language. Some of us will read up on food and local dressing etiquette, and a few will delve into the subject of culture and history.

With affordable travel and globalisation, clearly, non-verbal communication, body language and mannerism should not be an afterthought any longer, but rather a complementary part of language learning; an all-important appendix to your run-of-the-mill phrase book.

For, as Shakespeare said: “There is language in her eye, her cheek, her lip.”

New Straits Times, Published: July 22, 2017 - 9:52am
The unspoken language

* Cold: distantly, without warmth or feeling
He's a cold fish who hardly ever smiles.
* merry: fun, reverly
Laughter and merriment greeted the good news.

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Japan, the highest suicide rate among G7

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan aims to cut suicides by 30 per cent over 10 years, with the government on Tuesday (July 25) approving a plan which seeks to curb extreme work hours seen as contributing to one of the world's highest suicide rates.

Japan has the highest suicide rate among Group of Seven (G7) advanced countries and the government describes the situation as "critical" in a country where more than 20,000 people kill themselves every year.

The suicide rate - the ratio per 100,000 people - was 18.5 in 2015 and the government wants to reduce it to below 13 in 2025.

Suicides have fallen since peaking at 34,427 in 2003, with 21,897 taking their own lives last year.

The government in the plan cited measures taken nationwide over that time as being behind the drop.

The plan, approved at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, is reviewed every five years. The first one came in 2007.

It states that the government will push further for measures against work-related suicides, saying that cutting extreme work hours and preventing harassment by bosses are necessary.

Tokyo is ramping up efforts to tackle deaths from overwork following the suicide of a young employee at Japan's biggest advertising agency Dentsu, who regularly logged more than 100 hours of overtime a month.

The death of Matsuri Takahashi in 2015 generated nationwide headlines, prompting the government to come up with a plan asking employers to limit overtime to a maximum of 100 hours a month. But critics say this is still too high.

The labour ministry in May released its first nationwide employer blacklist, naming-and-shaming more than 300 companies, including Dentsu, for illegal overtime and other workplace violations.

The Straits Times, PUBLISHED: JUL 25, 2017, 2:53 PM SGT
Japan aims to reduce suicides by 30% in 10 years with measures to curb overwork

格差・貧困…対策は?大企業トップらに聞く #日テレ http://www.news24.jp/articles/2017/07/24/06367823.html今さらどの口が言うのか、と言うこととズレたご高説や取り組みより先に、まずはまともに税と賃金を払え。

--- 藤田孝典 2:21 AM - 26 Jul 2017

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abandoned babies

ALMOST 700 babies were abandoned over a six-year period, with Selangor having the highest number of cases.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim said that 697 cases of abandoned babies were recorded between 2010 and December last year.

“Selangor recorded the highest number with 157 cases, followed by 84 cases each in Sabah and Johor, 65 in Kuala Lumpur and 49 cases in Sarawak,” she said when replying to a question raised by Teo Nie Ching (DAP-Kulai) in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

She said there was an increase in cases of abandoned babies, with 115 recorded last year compared with 91 in 2010.

Rohani said eight hospitals and an NGO had set up baby hatches to allow desperate mothers who were unable to care for their newborns to leave their babies there.

She added that babies left at the baby hatches were cared for by OrphanCARE, an NGO set up to help find suitable homes for the babies.

“Based on OrphanCARE records, from 2010 and as of last year, a total of 35 babies were left at the baby hatches.

“Unfortunately, most babies continue to be abandoned everywhere and not left at the hatches,” she said.

Rohani said that 29 babies were left at the baby hatch in Selangor, two each in Kuala Lumpur and Negri Sembilan and one each in Perak and Pahang.

OrphanCARE was set up in 2008, under the patronage of Sultanah Pahang Sultanah Hajjah Kalsom. It was the first to start a baby hatch to discourage women from abandoning their babies by providing the assurance that the babies would be placed in good homes.

On the nationality and citizenship of abandoned babies, Rohani said that her ministry works closely with the National Registration Department to prepare the necessary documentation, such as birth certificates and citizenship, upon adoption.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Selangor has most cases of abandoned babies

KYODO - A total of 395 minors under the age of 18 were abandoned by parents or guardians nationwide in the three years to March, a survey indicated Saturday.

Some of the children died of starvation or heatstroke after being left alone in their homes or in public places.

By fiscal year, 121 children were found abandoned in 2011, 169 in 2012 and 105 in 2013. In some cases, children were abandoned at child care centers, according to the survey.

The plight of abandoned children has drawn public attention since the skeletal remains of a young boy, who is thought to have died at least seven years ago, were found in May in an apartment in Kanagawa Prefecture. The boy’s father was subsequently arrested.

Osaka Prefecture was found to have the highest number of abandoned children over the three-year period, at 113. The next highest tallies were 90 in Tokyo and 40 in Saitama, the survey showed.

The fatalities included a 9-month-old boy who died in a cardboard box in his Yokohama home in 2011 while his parents were out all day playing pachinko; a 3-year-old girl who starved to death in Gunma Prefecture in February last year after she was abandoned in an apartment by her mother; and a 20-month-old girl who died of heatstroke after being left at home without air conditioning for 18 hours in the city of Saitama last August.

As local governments differ in the way they classify child abandonment, such as cases when a parent working overnight leaves a child alone at home, the true number of children abandoned may be even higher. Most of these governments limit their definition to abandoned children with identifiable parents, while some also include abandoned infants whose parents were unknown.

The data were obtained in a Kyodo News survey of the nation’s 47 prefectural governments and 22 major cities earlier this month.

THE JAPAN TIMES, Published: JUL 20, 2014
Nearly 400 children abandoned in Japan since 2011: survey

When Katherine Penny, the 23-year- old daughter of a middle-class couple, abandoned her baby outside a Portuguese airport and boarded a flight back to Britain with her boyfriend, it shocked the nation.

This act of callousness was compounded by the fact that three-monthold Charles was suffering from a cleft palate, which needed treatment he had not received.

Now, with what some may view as remarkable gall, Penny says she wants --even deserves - to have her baby back.

And, in an outpouring of self-pity, the former drug user describes herself as the episode's ultimate victim.

Speaking for the first time, Penny, whose parents, ironically, are senior social workers skilled in childcare, claims that it was post-natal depression which caused her to abandon her baby.

She also claims that she attempted to have the baby taken into the care of Portuguese social
services at the airport but that nobody showed up to take him.

Now, although she faces the possibility of extradition to Portugal and a maximum eight years in jail, she is to launch a legal battle to win back the baby. Her lawyer's fees are being met by the taxpayer under the legal aid scheme.

'I can see why people must think I am the worst mother in the world,' she said. 'I purposefully left my son. I accept that and I'm totally to blame.

'But I was so depressed, I'm sure I can prove it was post-natal, and we had terrible money problems.

'I couldn't afford a passport for Charlie and I reached breaking-point and wasn't thinking straight at all, I just lost it.

'But I know none of that should ever have meant me leaving him and I want him back more than anything. I know I need help and I am determined to try and get my son back so we can all be a family again.'

Her boyfriend of one year, and father of the baby, 29-year-old Mark Beddoes, claims he was duped by Katherine into believing she had left the baby in care.

He is angry but has decided to stand by her as long as she receives professional help for depression.

This week Katherine made contact with her parents Lynne and Mike for the first time in a year. They are perhaps her one life-line if she hopes to get her baby back.

The couple, who are the legal guardians of Katherine's first child, Ellie, aged four, have told the Portuguese authorities they believe the baby should be with their daughter after she has counselling for depression.

The loving well-spoken couple, both graduates, were running a children's home in Southampton when their daughter was born in 1978.

They spent time with Katherine and her younger sister Caroline, 21, despite the demands of the 14 children they cared for.

Later the family moved to a village near Basingstoke. When Katherine was 16, she claims, she was sexually molested by a manager while working parttime at Sainsbury's.

'My self-esteem plummeted, I felt so bad about myself,' she remembers.

She dropped out of sixthform college and began smoking cannabis. For the next two years she took copious amounts of ecstasy and cocaine in a life revolving around nightclubs and illegal raves.

At 18, she began a relationship with a chef and accidentally became pregnant. He left her before the baby arrived.

When Ellie was born in December 1997 Katherine's parents bought a three-bedroom terraced house for her and the baby in Basingstoke.

'For the first 18 months I coped but then it all fell apart because I felt so isolated and I got depressed.'

According to family friends, Katherine's parents took Ellie into their care after discovering Katherine had abandoned the child in the drug-ridden house for two days.

But Katherine claims that one morning her mother arrived to find two scruffy chain- smoking male friends staying in the spare rooms and Ellie awake but unattended in her cot.

'I agreed to let Ellie go. My mum said I was not bringing Ellie up the way she should be,'

Katherine said. 'They are professional parents, after all. I felt I could never live up to their standards.'

Katherine's relationship with her parents became fraught and she moved to a decrepit bedsit in Bournemouth with her friend Ben, a tattooist, whose early practice designs adorn her upper body.

She shared a mouldy bathroom with heroin addicts and again began taking large amounts of ecstasy and cannabis.

In January last year Katherine began her relationship with Mark Beddoes, a chef, who helped her give up drugs, and became pregnant within weeks.

A month later, feeling miserable in outofseason Bournemouth, the couple spotted an attractive-sounding advert to sell timeshares in the Algarve.

The couple scraped together enough money to go, but found that the commission-based work combined with tough sales targets did not cover their living expenses or rent, and that life in Portugal was not the holiday they expected.

At the timeshare company in Ourapraira, 45 minutes from Faro, Katherine worked parttime 'meeting and greeting' holidaymakers while Beddoes worked in the sales department.

'The timeshare world is full of sharks,' Katherine said. 'We felt ripped off and they never paid as much as they promised.'

When Charles was born in October last year she admits she was shocked by his disfigurement.

She said: 'I blamed myself for not eating enough protein during my pregnancy, which can be one of the causes.

'But we knew straight away it could be fixed. Despite what everyone thinks, I never felt anything but love for him from the moment I saw him.'

MailOnline, Published:
Mother who abandoned baby at airport breaks her silence
by LUCIE MORRIS, Daily Mail

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Why I hate to walk

HAVE you heard? We’re the third laziest people on the planet. That was the conclusion from a massive new study of 717,527 people in 111 countries by Stanford University.

While the Stanford researchers didn’t try to shame nations by using the word lazy, the co-relation was based on the finding that we are very reluctant walkers.

What the study did was to measure how many steps people take, using the data gathered from their hand phones with a fitness app that detects movement.

Hong Kong is tops, with its residents taking an average of 6,880 steps daily, followed by the Chinese, Ukrainians and Japanese, all scoring above 6,000 steps. We are third from the bottom with 3,963 steps a day, followed by Saudi Arabia (3,807) and Indonesia (3,513).

My Samsung phone has a built-in step detector too, but I wasn’t included in the survey. If I were, I would have been among my fellow citizens guilty of being lazy, condemned by the low number of steps I take. While there are plenty of the active Energiser Bunny type of Malaysians, I totally accept that the majority of us dislike walking as part and parcel of our daily lives.

That’s different from walking or running as a planned activity which is a deliberate, conscious effort to exercise.

But given the choice to walk or ride to a place, we will choose the latter, even if the destination is just a hop, skip and a jump away.

Others have tried to defend our poor walking record by pointing out that our roads are unsafe because of poorly designed sidewalks, snatch thieves and yes, our hot weather is another factor.

I agree with all that and more, but I know why I am a lazy Malaysian.

I just hate walking in my everyday life because it is really nasty. I live in Petaling Jaya, with an LRT station a 15-minute walk away. But will I walk there? No, siree. Not only do I not want to work up a sweat, but the footpath from my house to the station also plays hide and seek with pedestrians.

There are some decent sections but parts of it disappear or have a tree growing right in the middle, and there are far too many dangerous spots of broken and loose tiles. At night, a long stretch is poorly lit.

I also dislike walking on the five-foot ways of the neighbourhood shops. I willingly go round and round to hunt for a parking spot as close as possible to the shop I want to visit. Why?

Because these walkways are invariably filthy, badly maintained with overhead dripping aircon condensers. And don’t get me started on the drains, which are invariably clogged and foul-smelling.

If there is a car or motorcycle repair shop in the block, you can forget about walking through and you can add grease and grime to the mix.

That’s my experience walking in my suburb. Walking in Kuala Lumpur is not much fun either. I realised that when I spent six hours walking from Bangsar to KLCC during the last Bersih rally.

Even in our greatest metropolis, sidewalks are like an afterthought and once built, seemingly forgotten and left to quietly deteriorate. The only exception is the skywalk from Pavilion shopping centre to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

And that’s why I hate to walk. The only places I don’t mind going by foot are the malls. But when I get there, I do my very best to park as close to the entrance as possible.

It’s for the sake of safety and convenience but also because underground parking is hot like a sauna, often with poor ventilation and confusing signage.

But when I am travelling I am a different person. I walk without hesitation and much joy.

I checked my Samsung Health app and noted on Dec 6, 2016, I walked 28,144 steps and on April 18, 2017, I walked 29,597 steps, way above the 5,000 step benchmark in the Stanford study.

In December, I was in Busan, South Korea, and in April, I was in Kyoto, Japan.

Of course, when you are a tourist, walking is a given because you want to explore the place. But going by foot in countries like Japan and Korea is just wonderful.

The sense of safety, the well-thought out design, the cleanliness – all make walking just so attractive and easy. Go in the right season like spring, autumn and early winter, and you won’t even feel tired chalking up thousands of steps.

While our climate is a deterrent to walking, it doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome.

Singaporeans scored pretty high at number nine with 5,674 steps and we all know why. The city state ticks all the right boxes in creating an environment that is safe, clean and pedestrian-friendly.

In fact, that is a key finding in the Stanford study: well-designed pedestrian friendly cities can encourage people to walk and help combat obesity.

As dailymail.com reported, the researchers found that urban planning had strong health impacts and that “The cities that were best designed for walking had a better rate of activity among all its citizens.”

It quoted Jennifer Hicks, director of data science for the Mobilise Centre at Stanford: “In cities that are more walkable everyone tends to take more daily steps, whether male or female, young or old, healthy weight or obese.”

Now which city in Malaysia can boast of being well-designed? Putrajaya, of course.

But if you remember my April 6, 2016 column, I pointed out the irony of our national capital being a winner in the International Awards for Liveable Communities 2012, and yet having the highest rate of overweight and obese citizens, according to the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS).

Putrajaya won because it has “lush greeneries surrounding buildings, infrastructure, (12) parks and gardens.” But instead of getting fitter and healthier, Putrajaya residents have gotten fatter with their obesity rate going up from 27.4% in 2011 to 43%, according to the 2015 NHMS findings.

As I wondered then, I wonder still: Why aren’t our fellow citizens in Putrajaya taking advantage of their well-designed city?

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Why I hate to walk

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Hikers rescued from trees

A helicopter rescued hikers clinging to tree branches and perched on boulders as a flash flood tore through a normally quiet creek in Arizona, where unpredictable summer storms can rapidly wash churning torrents into canyons and trap those looking to take advantage of cooler weather after the rain.

Seventeen hikers, including a young child, were stranded Sunday in a scenic canyon on the outskirts of Tucson, just over a week after floodwaters killed 10 members of an extended family more than 140 miles to the north.

In southern Arizona, two final hikers were lifted to safety Monday morning from Tanque Verde Falls after they spent the night stuck on the side of a cliff in a rocky, narrow canyon, authorities said.

One woman suffered minor leg injuries that did not require medical attention, officials said.

Brian Boll, incident commander from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, choked up recounting the rescue.

“When you see a 4-year-old on his dad’s back and you can’t get to them, it’s tough,” Boll said.

The rescue was a reminder of the dangers of flash flooding during Arizona’s monsoon, a weather phenomenon that brings powerful and unpredictable storms each summer with bursts of heavy rain that can quickly overwhelm usually calm waterways.

When rains ease triple-digit summer temperatures, people often go hiking, but that’s when the danger of flash flooding has skyrocketed, authorities said. On July 15, a large family celebrating a birthday at a swimming hole in central Arizona was swept away by a wall of water that cascaded down a canyon without warning after a storm.

After those deaths, rescuers considered the hikers who survived Sunday very lucky. Erick Maldonado, who supervises the sheriff’s search-and-rescue unit, said he understands families come to outdoor swimming spots to cool off, but it has to be done responsibly.

“There were generations of a family that were literally swept away, and that easily could’ve happened yesterday,” he said. “I can’t stress that enough.”

A police helicopter lowered a rescuer to eight hikers, including the 4-year-old boy, fastening them to a hoist that hauled them to waiting rescuers on the side of the mountain creek.

Three were plucked from the creek as they clung to tree branches with water up to their waists, said Shelley Littin of the Southern Arizona Rescue Association who helped in the effort. Others scrambled to safety on rock ledges, climbing as high as they could.

“They were standing on top of what was now a raging rapid,” she said.

The creek normally has just a trickle of water, allowing people to play in shallow pools, but Littin said the water level jumped about tenfold in five minutes and was at least 6 to 8 feet deep.

“We were extremely lucky not to lose anyone,” she said.

Rescuers helped seven hikers in a less dangerous area walk to safety by Sunday night. Crews dropped food, water and blankets to the two remaining hikers stuck on a ledge before they could be rescued Monday morning.

Littin and another volunteer rescuer spent in the canyon to ensure the pair were safe.

Milt Kennedy, who piloted the rescue helicopter, said he was frustrated he couldn’t get everyone out Sunday night but couldn’t risk the copter blades hitting the canyon walls in the dark.

Multiple hiking sites warn that Tanque Verde Falls is one of southern Arizona’s most dangerous hiking locations. A flash flood that swept through the area in July 1981 claimed eight lives.

Tanque Verde Falls is a series of multiple waterfalls, none taller than 100 feet. Visitors often swim and picnic after a short hike to the lower falls, but the trail to the main falls is longer and more strenuous. The narrow canyon, about 350 feet deep, is littered with sharp rocks and cactuses.

The National Weather Service had issued a flash flood watch for a wide swath of southern Arizona on Sunday, and Tanque Verde Falls was within that area, said Gary Zell, a meteorologist in Tucson.

People going into mountains or other flood-prone spots should know the conditions before heading off, he said.

“They’re not good places to be when there’s a risk of thunder, lightning and heavy rain,” Zell said.

The sheriff’s department said people often decide to go hiking once it stops raining, not realizing that the water they see in the creek is from much earlier rainfall, not the storm that just ended.

“What’s coming is a lot more fierce,” said Deputy Cody Gress, a sheriff’s spokesman.

A funeral mass is planned Tuesday for those who died in the earlier flash flood, including a couple and their three young children as well as the woman’s mother and sister.

In this Sunday, July 23, 2017, image taken from video provided by the Pima County Sheriff’s office, a stranded hiker is rescued from torrential flash flood waters near Tucson, Ariz. Over a dozen hikers were stranded Sunday in a scenic canyon on the outskirts of Tucson, just over a week after a flash flood killed 10 members of an extended family more than 140 miles to the north.

The Washington Post, Published: July 24, 2017
Hikers rescued from trees after another Arizona flash flood
By Angie Wang and Paul Davenport, AP

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the July 27 armistice day

Seoul − AFP: Speculation intensified that North Korea is preparing another missile launch to coincide with a military anniversary, just weeks after conducting its first successful test of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) that experts warned could reach Alaska.

US and South Korean media reports cited intelligence and military officials as saying vehicles carrying launching equipment were seen on the move.

The test – which both Seoul and Washington officials warned could be of another ICBM – could coincide with the 64th anniversary of the end of the Korean War on July 27, reports said.

This is a public holiday in the nuclear-armed North and is celebrated as Victory Day.

The two Koreas have remained technically at war since the three-year conflict ended only with a ceasefire rather than a full peace treaty.

“Movements by transporter erector launchers carrying (ICBM) launch tubes have been continuously observed in North Pyongan (province),” a South Korean government source was quoted as saying by the country’s Yonhap news agency.

“There is a high possibility that the North may carry out (the test-launch) around the July 27 armistice day.”

The North in 2014 marked the armistice anniversary by firing a Scud-B short-range missile on July 26.

Yonhap also cited a South Korean military source as saying Pyongyang may be preparing to test a new type of ICBM or an intermediate-range missile, a class of missile below ICBMs with 3,000km to 5,500km of range.

On Monday CNN cited a US defence official as saying the North appeared to be preparing for another missile test.

That official said transporter vehicles carrying launching equipment were seen arriving at Kusong in North Pyongan last Friday.

The US network earlier cited US intelligence as indicating preparations for another test of an ICBM or intermediate-range missile.

Kusong also has been the scene of past tests, including in May when an intermediate-range ballistic missile travelled more than 700km.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 26 July 2017
North Korea may launch ICBM again, say analysts

Presidential Proclamation -- National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, 2016.
- - - - - - -


In 1950, when Communist armies from the North stormed across the 38th parallel, brave American men and women though weary of combat in the wake of World War II stepped forward to defend their brothers and sisters on the Korean Peninsula. Over the course of 3 years, through unforgiving weather and severe danger, nearly 1.8 million Americans joined in the fight and faced down Communism pushing the invading armies back and protecting a people on the other side of the world. As we mark the 63rd anniversary of the Military Armistice Agreement that brought an end to this war, we pause to honor the strength and resilience of our Korean War veterans, whose spirits and stories serve as an inspiration to continue advancing freedom's cause.

Rising from occupation and ruin, the Republic of Korea today shines as a thriving, modern country, whose people can take comfort in knowing that the commitment of the United States to their stability and security will never waver. Fifty million South Koreans now live in freedom, reaching for their dreams and pursuing opportunities in a vibrant democracy and dynamic economy always realizing they have a partner who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in defense of peace and prosperity. Our lasting friendship and unbreakable alliance are sustained by the beliefs we hold in common and the values we cherish.

As we pay tribute to the Americans who gallantly helped forge this bond, we know our solemn responsibilities to our fallen and their loved ones persist long after the battle ends. More than 7,800 Americans are still missing from the Korean War, and we will not stop working to live up to our obligations to their families. We owe all our service members an enormous debt of gratitude. To honor the full weight of the sacrifices made by those who serve, we must uphold our Nation's promise to our veterans when they return home, and fulfill our commitment to all who wear the uniform in our name.

On National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, we pay tribute to the American patriots who fought for freedom and democracy throughout the Korean War, leaving behind everyone they loved to secure the blessings of liberty for a country they never knew and a people they had never met. For the heavy price they paid, we will forever honor the legacy of their service and uphold the ideals they secured through this hard-won victory.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim July 27, 2016, as National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities that honor our distinguished Korean War veterans.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.


For Immediate Release, July 25, 2016

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Solar power

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) - In a country where you can find everything from chopsticks to slippers designed to look like pandas, one Chinese energy company is going a step further by building 100 solar farms shaped like the bears along the route of the ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

Panda Green Energy Group (0686.HK) has already connected one such 50-megawatt (MW) plant to the grid in the northern province of Shanxi, the first step in a public relations stunt that emphasizes the cuddly side of the world's No.2 economy.

Built with darker crystalline silicon and lighter-colored thin film solar cells, the plant resembles a cartoon giant panda from the air.

"The plant required an investment of 350 million yuan ($52 million), and it would require investment of $3 billion for 100 such plants," Panda Green Energy's Chief Executive Li Yuan told Reuters.

Li did not say where the longer-term investment would come from.

The Hong Kong-based firm is currently in talks with Canada, Australia, Germany and Italy to launch more panda-shaped power stations.

The Belt and Road initiative is a plan to emulate the ancient Silk Road by opening new trade corridors across the globe using roads, power lines, ports and energy pipelines.

A 100-MW panda power plant would be expected to generate 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy over 25 years, according to the company, capable of supplying power to over 10,000 households annually.

Panda Green Energy is currently constructing its second panda power plant in Shanxi, which accounts for a quarter of China's coal reserves.

Utilization of one panda solar power plant will save the equivalent of a total 1.06 million tonnes of coal and cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 2.74 million tonnes in 25 years, the company said.

The firm has been investing in and running solar power plants in China's major solar hubs such as Xinjiang and Qinghai province, as well as some solar projects in Britain.

Shanxi aims to install 12 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020 versus 1.13 GW installed in 2015.

($1 = 6.7642 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reuters, Published: JULY 25, 2017 / 2:26 PM / 15 HOURS AGO
Paw power: China plans 100 panda-shaped solar plants on new Silk Road
Reporting by Muyu Xu and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Pak Yiu in Hong Kong; Editing by Joseph Radford

THE climate change issue has preoccupied the thoughts of many for decades now. Not only are climate scientists consumed by the countless debates that have been held over the years. Instead, business leaders and politicians have also entered the fray lately.

Many agreements have also been signed detailing the pledges and promises made by countries to cut emissions and embrace the non-fossil economy. Unfortunately, pledges remained just that, unfulfilled promises.

Few countries eventually did ratify such agreements. The Kyoto Protocol must count to be the most publicised among the many agreements. It eventually also failed to take off. Many key players could not agree to ratify. The United States, which counts among the largest contributor to fossil-based carbon emissions, was one of those which succumbed to the strong fossil lobby at home.

Many excuses were offered. One concerned the issue of the common but differential treatment between developed and developing economies. Developed economies complained why developing countries, especially China and India, which do emit considerable amounts of carbon, are not included in the list of countries which have to cut emissions.

Though on a per capita basis, both China and India emit much less than the United States and the European Union, but as a country both their emissions are considered high. This issue took a few years to resolve.

Finally, two years ago, in Paris, all the countries in the world agreed to put into place the necessary actions to cut emissions, irrespective of whether they are in the category of developed or developing nations.

Malaysia, as a country, has long offered to play our part to reduce emissions, conditional upon the fact that technology and financing are accessible. The Paris Agreement also agreed on some kind of common fund to help the less developed economies deal with the issue.

Many hailed the Climate Agreement reached in Paris as a resounding success for the world. President Obama, who played a key role as well in securing the consensus among countries of the world, was optimistic that at last a solution was finally in sight.

The world can also rest easy when both China and India gave their pledges to phase out their dependence on fossil energy. China, which for years suffered from hazardous air quality which inflicted their cities, took a serious stance to eventually move away from coal. They have now put together a long-term plan to develop more viable alternatives. It has been reported that China is setting their sights on solar. They are investing big in solar, planning to lead the world in the technology. It has been reported that China would pump in US$360bil (RM1.54tril) through 2020 in advanced-energy technology, including solar.

While China is making leaps into solar, the United States is backtracking on climate change. The new administration has openly called the climate change theory as fabricated untruth and fake. The country is in the process of revitalising their coal industry. They have also declared substantial cuts in the budgets of the country’s environmental agencies. Not to mention serious cutbacks in the allocation for R&D. Will they live to regret it?

A recent analysis on solar has suggested that by about 2030, a mere 13 years from now, solar will be able to produce electricity at half the cost of coal and lower than the cost of any carbon source. Talking about disruption, what could be more disruptive than that. With the expected improvements in battery technology, it is inevitable that all forms of transport will go electric.

As in the case of microprocessors, the costs of solar have come down as a result of the same principle of cramming more capability into smaller spaces. Technologists have been able to reduce the thickness of solar cells and use less silicon per watt, thus driving down manufacturing costs while at the same time increasing each cell’s efficiency. As a result, the price per watt of solar modules has dropped from US$22 in 1980 to under US$3 (RM12.80) today.

Similar progress has also been reported in battery technology. With such a rapid pace of development, many predict the disruption will deal a severe blow to the oil and gas businesses. What is also clear is that when solar costs reach such low levels, climate agreements like the Paris Accord are no longer relevant in the fight against climate change!

Letter to The Star, Published: Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Setting sights on solar power
By PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM, Professor of Chemical Engineering, UCSI University

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China's late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo

The ashes of China's late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo were buried at sea on Saturday, depriving his supporters of a place to pay tribute to the pro-democracy dissident.

Officials showed a video in which his wife, Liu Xia, and relatives lowered a white round urn into the water off the northeastern coastal city of Dalian, two days after the democracy advocate died of liver cancer aged 61 while in custody.

His supporters said the authorities wanted to avoid giving him a pilgrimage site where they could remember a writer whose calls for political reform angered the Communist regime and led to his arrest in 2008.

Officials "fear that if someone who is as emblematic a symbol as Liu Xiaobo had a burial ground, it would become a place where his supporters would gather on his memorial day, the day he received the Nobel or any other such occasions to express their desire to chase after freedom," activist and family friend Ye Du told AFP.

Liu Xiaobo's older brother, Liu Xiaoguang, said at a news conference organised by the authorities that the government had followed the family's wishes.

He thanked the Communist Party for its "humanistic care" of his brother during his hospitalisation and death. He did not take any questions before being escorted out by two women.

Zhang Qingyang, an official from the Shenyang city municipal office, said the cremation was "in accordance with the will of his family members and local customs".

Liu's supporters said it was impossible to verify if it was really his wish to be buried at sea as the authorities have severely restricted access to his family. They also said Liu Xiaoguang did not agree with Liu Xiaobo's political leanings.

"It is deplorable how the Chinese government has forced the family to cremate Liu Xiaobo, bury him at sea, and then coerced Liu's brother to make robotic statements to the media about the great care of the government and superiority of its health care system," Jared Genser, a US lawyer who represented Liu, told AFP.

- 'Disgusting' funeral' -

Authorities also released photos of a private ceremony attended by his family, including his wife, whose fate worries supporters hoping the government will cede to international pressure to release her and let her leave China.

Liu Xia, a poet, stood with her brother, and two of Liu Xiaobo's brothers in front of the body, which was covered with white petals.

Zhang said "friends" also attended the ceremony.

But Amnesty International's China researcher Patrick Poon told AFP he did not recognise any in the row of non-family members in the official photo and people close to the Liu couple identified at least one "state security police officer" among them.

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who lives in Berlin, tweeted a photo of the funeral and called the display "disgusting" and a "violation" of the deceased.

In Hong Kong thousands took part in a candlelit march Saturday night in memory of Liu. "He was a great scholar who woke up young people, especially of my generation," said Beijing-born Steven Wong, 45, who travelled from Singapore to attend the march.

- Wife is 'incommunicado' -

China's government faced a global backlash for denying Liu Xiaobo's wish to be treated abroad, and the United States and European Union have called on the government to free Liu Xia.

She has been under house arrest since 2010, but she was allowed to see her husband after he was transferred from prison to a hospital in Shenyang following his diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer in late May.

Liu Xiaoguang said Liu Xia was in "weak condition" and experiencing such "great sorrow" and that she may need hospital treatment.

"As far as I know, Liu Xia is in a free condition," municipal official Zhang said.

But Genser said she was still being held "incommunicado" and he has "seen no sign that the government is going to let her go".

At Liu Xiaobo's funeral, Liu Xia "fixed her eyes on him a long time, mumbling to say farewell," Zhang said, adding that she was "in very low spirits".

"It's best for her not to receive too much outside interference during this period," he said.

Liu was jailed in 2008 after co-writing a petition calling for democratic reforms. The veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "subversion" a year later.

"The most preposterous thing is that even during his cremation and funeral he still was not free," Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist and family friend, told AFP.

"And now it's been passed on to his wife, who will continue to lead on that same freedom-less existence."

MailOnline, UPDATED: 19:41 BST, 15 July 2017
Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo's ashes buried at sea

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A Cold Country

OSAKA, Japan − The country suffered a “lost decade,” and then another one, after its bubble burst some 25 years ago. To this day, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to reinvigorate it, Japan’s economy remains in the doldrums.

Now, experts are warning of a “lost generation” − a whole tier of Japanese children who are growing up in families where the parents − or, often, a single parent − work but do not earn enough to break through the poverty line.

“The Japanese economy has been getting worse and worse, and that’s hurting poor people, especially single mothers,” said Yukiko Tokumaru, who runs Child Poverty Action Osaka, a nongovernmental organizational that helps families in need.

The judgment and stigma that single mothers face in many countries are taken to another level in Japan, a homogeneous society where those who do not conform often try to hide their situations − even from their friends and wider family.

But Japan also has a culture that makes it difficult for women to work after having children − changing this is a key part of Abe’s solution to the country’s economic problems − and that makes life exponentially harder for single mothers.

“We have this culture of shame,” Tokumaru said. “Women’s position is still so much lower than men’s in this country, and that affects how we are treated. Women tend to have irregular jobs, so they need several jobs to make ends meet.”

Japan does have a welfare system, and it provides benefits according to different situations. A 35-year-old mother in Osaka with two elementary school-aged children and no job can expect to receive $2,300 a month.

But the number of families living on an income lower than the public welfare assistance level more than doubled in the 20 years after the asset price bubble popped in 1992, according to a study by Kensaku Tomuro of Yamagata University.

Now 16 percent of Japanese children live below the poverty line, according to Health Ministry statistics, but among single-parent families, the rate hits 55 percent. Poverty rates in Osaka are among the worst.

“If parents are working poor, their children are poor as well, and the cycle of poverty is handed down to the next generation,” Tomuro said.

“Poor children can’t get higher education, so they end up with a bad job,” he said. The prolonged recession created a layer of second-tier jobs, in which workers do not get the security or benefits that had long been standard − damaging their prospects. “They can’t start a family as they can’t get married or have a child with a low income.”

This situation is all the more surprising given that Japan does not have anywhere enough children. The country desperately needs more taxpayers to fund the pensions of its rapidly aging society.

The falling birthrate means that the population, currently 127 million, is set to drop below 100 million by 2060, and one-third of Japanese will be older than 65.

[ Japan’s Abe wants more women to work. He’s got big plans for day care. ]

Community centers in Osaka provide not only free dinners and playtime for children, but also camaraderie for the mothers.

“I feel relieved when I come here with my kids,” said Masami Onishi, a 23-year-old single mother who stopped by an Osaka center called Nishinari Kids’ Dining Hall, which is in a small, two-bedroom apartment in a housing project.

“It’s a relief to meet fellow mothers and talk about any difficulties we are having. I realize that I’m not the only one going through this,” she said. Onishi has a job operating a machine at a sheet metal factory, but it’s a struggle.

“And it’s fun to come here because I get to see my children smiling and other children smiling, too,” she said as her daughters, Sora, 6, and Yua, 3, ate octopus dumplings, an Osaka specialty.

“I want 20, and I’m going to eat them by myself!” yelled Masahide, an 8-year-old who came to the center by himself and repeatedly lashed out at other children, hitting them for no reason.

Such behavior is normal among these children, said Yasuko Kawabe, who started the Nishinari center, which relies entirely on donations, after meeting children who were always angry.

“I wondered if they were hungry,” she said, so she started cooking lessons as a way to feed the children. “I’ve seen dramatic changes in the kids’ behavior. Before, they wouldn’t even look into my eyes and couldn’t communicate. But they become much calmer here.”

But it’s not just about food. It’s also about attention.

“These kids don’t see much of their parents because they’re too busy working,” Kawabe said. “So when they’re here they’re very clingy. They crave attention.”

Local schools, which once tried to hide their problems, now refer children to Kawabe’s center.

Indeed, for women trying to operate support groups, even finding single mothers to help can be a challenge − because the sense of shame runs so deep.

[ For vulnerable high school girls in Japan, a culture of ‘dates’ with older men ]

Some women are so embarrassed about a relationship breaking up that they don’t tell their friends, or even their parents, said Junko Terauchi, head of the Osaka Social Welfare Promotional Council, a nongovernmental group helping single mothers with advice and emergency food packages.

“Single moms in poverty try really hard not to look poor,” she said, describing how they buy makeup and nail polish at the Japanese equivalent of a dollar store so they can keep up appearances. “Sometimes local government officers, who are often men, say things like, ‘You don’t look like you need welfare.’ ”

Children of single or poor parents often are ostracized in their communities, Tokumaru said, noting that other parents do not want their children playing with children from a “bad house.”

The plight of these children only worsens as they become older and face the question of whether to continue their schooling.

This is a problem all too familiar for Akiko, a 48-year-old who works part-time at a day-care center and also receives public assistance, but struggles to make ends meet.

Her 20-year-old daughter, who skipped school between second and sixth grade because she was bullied for having separated parents, did not pass the exam to enter a public university. So she’s now at a private college.

Akiko, who spoke on the condition that her full name not be published because of the stigma, has been challenged by local officials over why she’s trying to put her daughter through a private college. “I felt hurt by these kinds of comments at the beginning, but now I’ve become accustomed to it,” she said, noting that a welfare officer, of all people, should not be trying to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

Some change is happening slowly at the grass-roots level, with groups such as Kawabe’s and Tokumaru’s putting pressure on local authorities to do more to help single mothers. But change at a national level seems a long way off, they say.

“Japan is considered an economic power, but the government keeps saying we are in debt,” Tokumaru said. “I feel like Japan is such a cold country towards children. It’s really embarrassing.

Masami Onishi, 23, with her daughters, Yua, 3, and Sora, 6, on a bicycle. They visit Nishinari Kids’ Dining Hall for a place to hang out and get a meal.

The Washington Post, Published: May 28, 2017
In Japan, single mothers struggle with poverty and a ‘culture of shame’
By Anna Fifield

Italians living below the level of absolute poverty almost tripled over the last decade as the country went through a double-dip, record-long recession.

The absolute poor, or those unable to purchase a basket of necessary goods and services, reached 4.7 million last year, up from almost 1.7 million in 2006, national statistics agency Istat said Thursday. That is 7.9 percent of the population, with many of them concentrated in the nation’s southern regions.

As Italy went through its deepest, and then its longest, recession since World War II between 2008 and 2013, more than a quarter of the nation’s industrial production was wiped out. Over the same period unemployment also rose, with the rate rising to as high as 13 percent in 2014 from a low of 5.7 percent in 2007. Joblessness was at 11.3 percent at last check in May.

For decades, Italy has grappled with a low fertility rate -- just 1.35 children per woman compared with a 1.58 average across the 28-nation European union as of 2015, the last year for which comparable data are available.

“The poverty report shows how it is pointless to wonder why there are fewer newborn in Italy,” said Gigi De Palo, head of Italy’s Forum of Family Associations. “Making a child means becoming poor, it seems like in Italy children are not seen as a common good.”

The number of absolute poor rose last year in the younger-age classes, reaching 10 percent in the group of those between 18 and 34 years old. It fell among seniors to 3.8 percent in the age group of 65 and older, the Istat report also showed.

Earlier this year, the Rome-based parliament approved a new anti-poverty tool called inclusion income that is replacing existing income-support measures. It will benefit 400,000 households, for a total of 1.7 million people, Il Sole 24 Ore daily reported, citing parliamentary documents. The program will be funded with resources of around 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion) this year which should rise to nearly 2.2 billion euros in 2018, Sole also said.

The incidence in Italy of relative poverty, which is calculated on the basis of the average consumption expenditure and affects a larger group of people, also rose last year.

Poor individuals in relative terms were almost 8.5 million or 14 percent of the population, with a higher incidence in the households with a bigger number of children and in the groups below the age of 34 years old, Istat said.

The Bloomberg, Updated: July 14, 2017, 12:00 PM GMT+8
Italy's Poor Almost Triple in a Decade Amid Economic Slumps
By Lorenzo Totaro and Giovanni Salzano

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Abe denies cronyism allegations

TOKYO − Reuters: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (pix), his ratings sinking over a suspected cronyism scandal, said today he had never instructed officials to give preferential treatment to a long-time friend.

Abe and his aides have repeatedly denied intervening to help Kake Gakuen, an educational institution whose director, Kotaro Kake, is a friend of the prime minister, win approval for a veterinary school in a special economic zone.

Abe's support has plunged below 30% in some opinion polls, hit by the suspected scandal and a perception among many voters that his administration is taking them for granted.

The slump is encouraging rivals and casting doubt on Abe's prospects of becoming Japan's longest-serving prime minister by winning a third three-year term when his current tenure ends in September next year.

Abe told a special session of parliament's lower house budget committee that it was not surprising the public had doubts, given that Kake had been his friend since they were students, but added that Kake had "never once" sought favours.

"There was no request or lobbying regarding the establishment of a new veterinary school."

Asked if he had intervened in the approval process, Abe said: "I have never issued instructions regarding specific cases."

He also pledged to regain public trust by "producing results", giving priority to the economy and diplomacy.

Adding to the headaches for Abe, an opposition-backed candidate on Sunday won a mayoral election for the northern city of Sendai.

That follows this month's historic defeat for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in elections for the Tokyo assembly – a devastating blow since much of Abe's clout stems from his record of stacking up poll victories for the party.

The SunDaily, Posted on 24 July 2017 - 11:27pm
Abe denies cronyism allegations

Shinzo Abe is fighting for his future as Japan’s prime minister as scandals drag his government’s popularity close to what political observers describe as “death zone” levels.

Apart from clouding Abe’s hopes of winning another term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) when a vote is held next year, the polling slump also undermines his long-running push to revise Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

Abe, who returned to the prime ministership four and a half years ago, was long seen as a steady hand whose position appeared unassailable – so much so that the LDP changed its rules to allow Abe the freedom to seek a third consecutive three-year term at the helm of the party.

“He is no longer invincible and the reason why he is no longer invincible is he served his personal friends not the party,” said Michael Thomas Cucek, an adjunct professor at Temple University Japan.

Abe’s standing has been damaged by allegations of favours for two school operators who have links to him.

The first scandal centred on a cut-price land deal between the finance ministry and a nationalist school group known as Moritomo Gakuen. The second related to the approval of a veterinary department of a private university headed by his friend, Kotaro Kake.

Abe has repeatedly denied personal involvement, but polls showed voters doubted his explanations, especially after leaked education ministry documents mentioned the involvement of “a top-level official of the prime minister’s office” in the vet school story.

Abe attempted to show humility in a parliamentary hearing this week by acknowledging it was “natural for the public to sceptically view the issue” because it involved his friend.

“I lacked the perspective,” he said.

Experts doubt that Abe’s contrition, combined with a planned cabinet reshuffle next week, will do much to reverse his sagging fortunes.

Last weekend a poll by the Mainichi newspaper showed the Abe cabinet’s approval rating had plummeted 10 points for a second straight month to 26%, the lowest since he returned to power in 2012. The paper pointed out several previous prime ministers – including Abe during his first short stint – had left office between one and nine months after hitting the 20s.

Cucek said the historical record for prime ministers who fell below 30% was not good. He said one exception was Keizo Obuchi, who served as prime minister from the late 1990s. “He fell all the way to what you consider the death zone of 20% support but then pulled up out of it. But he’s a rare case where that’s taken place. Usually once a prime minister drops below 30% it’s an inexorable descent from that point on.”

While some other polls have been more favourable towards Abe’s administration, they all confirm a downward trend.

“What’s dire about this situation is not just the slump in Abe’s approval ratings but the driver of the slump,” said Tobias Harris, a political observer and vice president of advisory firm Teneo Intelligence.

“Each poll has shown that, unlike earlier dips in Abe’s approval ratings, the slump is driven by falling trust in Abe himself and not disapproval of his policies. Abe himself is the problem, and it’s not at all clear what he can do to regain the public’s trust after months of battling scandal allegations. For me, that’s the main reason for believing that he won’t be able to recover from this slide.”

University of Tokyo professor Yu Uchiyama rated Abe’s problems as “considerably serious”, with his internal critics becoming increasingly outspoken.

“Abe seemed to be so strong that few LDP politicians tried to challenge him until several months ago,” Uchiyama said. “As the LDP is in disarray now, more and more politicians, especially factional leaders, are starting to challenge Abe.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Abe will resign in the short term.

Harris believes it is more likely he will decide against seeking a third term as LDP chief and therefore leave office in September 2018 when the leadership vote is due. An orderly change would boost Abe’s successor heading into a general election due by the end of 2018, “which strengthens his hand as a kingmaker after leaving office”.

The foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, is considered a leading contender, while other potential candidates include former defence minister and Abe critic Shigeru Ishiba.

There is also speculation about Yuriko Koike, a former LDP minister and now Tokyo’s first female governor, as she led her new Tomin First (Tokyoites First) party to big gains in metropolitan assembly elections early this month. However, Koike is overseeing 2020 Olympics preparations and the mechanics of an early tilt at national office are not straightforward.

Despite Abe’s troubles, the main opposition Democratic Party has struggled to gain traction. More pressure seems to be coming from the LDP’s national coalition partner Komeito, which partnered with Koike’s upstart party at a local level.

Komeito is not as determined as Abe to bolster the standing of Japan’s self-defence forces in the constitution. “The question seems to be how soon Abe admits defeat,” Harris said.

The Guardian, Last modified on Tuesday 25 July 2017 06.41 BST

Scandals threaten Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's grip on power

Once seemingly unassailable, Abe is now dogged by plunging polls and allegations of giving favours to two school operators

By Daniel Hurst in Tokyo


菅原裕典(無所属・新)  14万8993票
林宙紀(無所属・新)    6万1647票
大久保三代(無所属・新)    8924票






* 特定秘密保護法の強行制定

* 集団的自衛権行使容認の憲法解釈改変

* 戦争法の制定

* 共謀罪の強行制定






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Holidays in N. Korea

Pyongyang − AFP: The Westerners lined up before giant statues of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il and, on command from their guide, bowed deeply.

It is a ritual that the Trump administration intends to stop US tourists performing, with Washington due to impose a ban this week on its citizens holidaying in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the North is officially known.

The move comes amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile ambitions – it launched a rocket earlier this month which specialists say could reach Alaska or Hawaii – and after the death of US student Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned for more than a year by Pyongyang.

Warmbier was convicted of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour for trying to steal a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel.

He was sent home in June in a mysterious coma that proved fatal soon afterwards.

Most tourists to North Korea are motivated by curiosity and the desire to experience a different destination.

The iconic 20m statues at Mansu hill look out over Pyongyang and groups of North Koreans in suits and ties arrive regularly to pay their respects. Passing traffic is obliged to slow down.

As the tourists reached the platform, speakers played “We miss our general”, about Kim Jong-Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-Un.

“President Kim Il-Sung liberated our country and built a people’s paradise on this land,” they were told.

Call centre manager Kyle Myers, 28, from Ireland, said he wanted “to go somewhere different from what I’m used to” for his first trip to Asia, “to see something that not a lot of people have seen”.

The mounting tensions in the year since he booked the tour had made him nervous, he said, but he added: “I don’t see the threat here for tourists as long as they behave themselves and they follow the rules of the country.”

Some of the visitors – who paid from €1,850 (RM9,247) for the tour – expressed enthusiasm.

Australian IT manager Pallavi Phadke, 43, was among those who placed a bouquet before the statues.

It was “a sign of respect”, she said.

“It’s the same as covering your head when you go to a mosque or removing your shoes when you go to a temple.

Other tourists were more sceptical. Mark Hill, a writer and editor from Calgary in Canada, compared the statues to “a very grim Mount Rushmore”.

“It’s all very impressive and also a little disquieting,” he said.

For years the US State Department has warned its citizens against travelling to North Korea, telling them that they are “at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement”.

It is also “entirely possible that money spent by tourists in the DPRK” goes to fund its weapons programmes, it adds.

The ban will go into force 30 days after it is formally declared, said department spokesman Heather Nauer.

The Star, Published: Monday, 24 July 2017
'No more holidays in N. Korea'

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Pipe organ

GEORGE TOWN: South-East Asia’s oldest Anglican church, the St George’s Church Penang in Farquhar Street, saw the official dedication of a new pipe organ in conjunction with its bicentenary celebration.

Consecrated by Archbishop of the Province of South-East Asia Datuk Ng Moon Hing, the organ was donated by the family of the late Datuk Tan Kim Yeow.

Built by the prestigious Mander Organs of London, the new pipe organ with 1,050 pipes took over a year to construct. It comes with an organ case of African teak, a console of English oak and pipe shades of limewood carved with traditional Malaysian motifs.

There are only two pipe organs in Penang, the current pipe organ at St George’s Church and another at the nearby Church of the Assumption.

Bishop Charles Samuel said the character of Anglican worship revolved around congregational singing of hymns.

“An organ is the basic necessity for nearly all of this music and there is no other instrument that matches its ability to lead the singing of a several hundred-strong congregation,” he said.

“The organ will also serve for the good of the community through special recitals and other associated events that will be open to the public.”

An inaugural public recital will be held in the church on Aug 19.

St George’s Church had a few organs over the centuries, including a two-manual 16-stop (17-rank) pipe organ built in 1899 by Forster & Andrews in memory of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

However, at the outset of the Second World War, St George’s Church was hit by a Japanese bomb, and shortly after, the organ was destroyed by looters.

The church was built in 1817 by the East India Company and consecrated in 1819 by the Right Rev Thomas Middleton, Bishop of Calcutta.

Located within the Unesco’s World Heritage Site in George Town, it underwent a major restoration in 2009.

The Star, Published: Monday, 24 July 2017
Church’s new pipe organ consecrated
By Cavina Lim

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A billion elephants

We live in an era of information. We turn on the news and see what’s happening across the globe, social media has connected us so that the things that happen to our friends far away can feel like it’s happening right next to us….

The problem with having access to all this information is that it can have trouble sinking in. We’re so inundated with info that, sometimes, it doesn’t affect us.

Take for example a report from the BBC stating that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics have been produced in the past 65 years. They try to make that relatable by telling us how much that weight is in things we can relate to like:

> That’s the same weight as 25,000 Empire State Buildings


> A billion elephants

Both of which are just as abstract for me as the initial talk of 8.3 billion tonnes. I can’t picture any of it. But, intellectually, I do realise that the production of this much plastic is absolutely horrific. Because most of it ends up in the trash – and plastics don’t degrade quickly. The average plastic bottle can take 450 years to biodegrade. That means that most of that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste is probably still kicking around somewhere, probably washing up on some otherwise beautiful beach or stuck in the throat of some poor sea turtle.

And I know this. But on some level it’s easy to shake my head at this and go on sucking air and waiting for the new episode of Game Of Thrones. Too easy.


That’s what all this information has made us. Apathetic to things we absolutely should be caring about. But reading about it isn’t enough. The problem with most humans is that we can know a thing but we can’t really know it unless we’ve experienced it.

So that’s what we need to do.

For me that happened shooting the documentary Trash Trail. On the shoot, I learned that those paper cups we get from our favourite coffee spot (you know the one, Starbones or something) are not recyclable. Paper coffee cups, or the paper cups we get in general from most fast food outlets, can’t be recycled because of the plastic lining that makes them waterproof. That lining must be removed before the cup itself can be broken down and the pulp recycled.

So, yeah, I found this out. And I know the average lifespan of a paper cup is 15 minutes. And I just have to look around to know that there are a lot of paper cups being used but it wasn’t until I went into a paper cup manufacturing plant that this really sank in.

At this plant there were huge bales of virgin (not recycled) paper – because we want our disposables to be made of the best stuff, I’m serious – shipped in from northern Europe. These bails weighed in at a tonne each, were twice my height, and basically looked like giant pillars. In the next room was an army of machines being used to churn all that virgin paper into the branded paper cup you may be drinking from right now.

Watching those machines curl and fasten and transform the sheets into disposable paper cups is what did it for me. Each pop from every machine, signalling the creation of something designed to provide us with the slightest of conveniences. And that popping noise was continuous. A waterfall of plastic-lined paper cups being puked out, all destined for a landfill or a ditch near you.

This is when I realised how wasteful those paper cups actually were. I had to see it.

Suddenly, the fact that paper cups have an average usage of 15 minutes hit home. All the effort, to cut down forests, to ship these huge bales, to run that battalion of machinery, all of it so I could drink a crappy soft drink for five minutes or so I can enjoy a coffee without having to remember to bring my own mug.

Is that really worth all the resources put into it? Is it worth continuing to breed this idea of disposable convenience in our society? An idea of disposability that has led to 8 billion tonnes of plastic being produced and leading to the BBC headline, “Earth is becoming a Plastic Planet”.

Knowing eight billion tonnes of plastic have been created means we should let that affect us, and let it affect our choices as consumers. Maybe avoid buying disposable plastics as much as possible. It’s a small step but it’s something everyone can do in their everyday lives.

Because it’s not enough to read headlines and know that things are happening, we have to really know and really understand to affect change.

Because I’m sure you, like me, don’t really want to live on a plastic planet.

The Star2, Published: JULY 23, 2017
Do YOU want to live on Planet Plastic?

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Once We Were There

When it comes to creative projects, Bernice Chauly is a one woman artistic machine. From making documentaries to acting in films, from creating poetry to taking photographs to writing short stories, there’s little this intrepid author and educator hasn’t tried her hand at.

Chauly, however, had to face her greatest creative challenge a few years ago: writing her first novel, a task she describes as “the hardest thing” she’s ever done.

“The novel is the most profoundly difficult thing to write. Ever. It’s the pinnacle of literary work. There were times while writing when I was filled with doubt and self-loathing. I was like, do I even know what I’m doing? It’s very difficult.

“That’s why I keep telling people who are working at novels: you have to keep at it,” says Chauly, 49.

She started six years ago. But today, Chauly’s Once We Were There has finally been completed and can now be found on the shelves of both Malaysian and Singaporean bookstores. (It’s reviewed on page six.)

“I’ve been thinking about writing this novel for years, and the fact that it’s done is so liberating. I feel that if I can do this, I can do anything!”

This interview is being held at Chauly’s cosy little place in Kuala Lumpur, its furnishing an effortless blend of old-world tradition and modern comfort. In one corner, a large television with DVDs of all the latest movies and television series; in another, two rustic typewriters sit on a table next to a wayang kulit puppet. Old books, some first editions from colonial days, sit on shelves close to modern paperbacks.

Youthful-looking, yet with a piercing gaze, Chauly is candid as she talks about her new novel, and reflects about her long and colourful creative career.

A novel idea

If you’re involved in any way in the Malaysian arts or literary scenes (or even just read about them), you would definitely have heard Chauly’s name before. She is, after all, the award-winning author of five poetry and nonfiction books; Going There And Coming Back (1997), The Book Of Sins (2008), Lost In KL (2008), Growing Up With Ghosts (2011) and Onkalo (2013).

Chauly has lectured for over 12 years in creative writing at colleges and universities in Kuala Lumpur and was an honorary fellow in writing at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program 2014. She is the founder and director of the KL Writers Workshop and currently lectures at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Her photographs and films have been exhibited and screened worldwide.

Published by Epigram Books, Once We Were There is Chauly’s debut novel. It opens in 1998, with much of East Asia in turmoil. Nations are still reeling from the effects of the Asian financial crisis which began the previous year. And in Malaysia, political unrest is brewing. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been sacked by Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister at the time.

This action gives birth to Reformasi (Malay for reformation), a massive protest movement which sees many Malaysians resorting to demonstrations, civil disobedience, online activism, and even rioting to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

“It’s a time in Malaysian history where things were really turned upside down.

“The Government became a force to be feared, not to be reckoned with. People were very confused, they took to the streets. It’s a very important time, because I think this is the first time Malaysians took things into their own hands, said they’re not taking this lying down,” Chauly says.

“It’s a time which has not been written about much in contemporary Malaysian literature. And I felt a need to address that.”

Caught up in these events is journalist Delonix Regia (a name derived from the scientific name of the royal poinciana, or the flame of the forest tree), who is involved in the hedonistic drug scene of 1980s Kuala Lumpur. She witnesses first-hand the changes in the capital city after the genesis of Malaysia’s Reformasi movement, and the changes in her own life as she settles down, gets married, and has children.

In this tumultuous time, Delonix struggles to maintain her idyllic family life even as she discovers the dark secrets of KL, where babies are sold and women and children are trafficked, with sometimes fatal consequences.

What results is a dark and devastating tale of love and loss, which greatly changes the lives of several characters; these include Omar, Delonix’s half English, half Malay husband; and Marina, a transgender sex worker from Sabah.

“It’s about Kuala Lumpur. KL is a character that features in the novel. Its about people who survive, and people who don’t,” Chauly says.

“I really think KL is one of the most fascinating cities on the planet. It’s a place that I kind of both love and loathe. This novel is a love song to my country. I must warn you, though, it’s kind of bleak. It’s not a happy-clappy book.”

Born storyteller

Storytelling has always been a major part of Chauly’s life; the author describes herself as an avid reader since she was a child, reading anything and everything in her parents’ extensive library.

Chauly was born in George Town, the eldest of the three children of teachers Loh Siew Yoke and Surinder Singh, who fell in love and got married despite fierce objection from their families at the time. Much of Chauly’s early life, however, was spent in Kelantan, as her parents taught in schools there.

Growing up with a Chinese-Punjabi heritage, seen as very unusual back in the day, Chauly struggled with issues of identity.

“I was teased in school. I didn’t know who I was, I never felt like I belonged, I was confused, I was angry. People made fun of my name. There were times I was actually ashamed of it. Teachers would make fun of my name, ‘Bernice why is your name so long, what kind of name is Chauly?’ Now I love my name. But then, as a teenager, you’re awkward, you’re insecure, it was very difficult,” Chauly says.

When she was about four and a half years old, tragedy struck Chauly’s family: her father died in a drowning accident while the family was at Batu Ferringhi, Penang.

“He was a good man, a good father. He used to read to me, he used to sing to me. I remember drinking fresh cow’s milk with him every night before bed,” Chauly reminisces.

“When he died, my whole world fell apart. I was a changed person after that. I had to find a way of dealing with that. So I turned to writing.”

Chauly’s family eventually moved to Perak, first to Taiping and then Ipoh, where the author studied at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. There, the teen lived in her own little world – so much so that her friends nicknamed her “Blur-nice”.

“I think I daydreamed my way through secondary school. I remember once I went to school without wearing socks, and so I went to the toilet, and I wrapped toilet paper around my ankles so I wouldn’t be caught and penalised by the prefects! I was in a world of my own. I escaped into my imagination,” Chauly says.

After secondary school, she studied Education and English Literature at the University of Winnipeg, Canada, as a government scholar, a time she describes as one of the most exciting in her life. It was there she published her first piece – an article in the university newspaper – and also where she had the first public reading of her work.

After finishing school in Canada, Chauly returned to Malaysia in 1993. Her reason for returning? A documentary called Ring Of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey, which tells of the decade-long journey of the British filmmaker brothers Lorne and Lawrence Blair around Borneo.

“There was a segment about the Penan people. And the tribe was documented and depicted in such a way that made me go, wow, this was fascinating! I knew I wanted to do something like that someday. I wanted to tell Malaysian stories,” Chauly says.

“I was really compelled by that episode. I met Lawrence Blair later, in Bali, and I thanked him for changing my life.”

And in 1996, Chauly accomplished what she had come home to do: she wrote and codirected Bakun Or The Dam?, a documentary about the plight of the native population in Sarawak in the shadow of the construction of the Bakun Dam.

“It was a transforming experience. I lived with the Penan, I lived with the Kayan, I lived with the Iban, in different longhouses, and it was just amazing.

“But it was also heartbreaking, because all these people were going to lose their land,” she says.

Establishing herself

Since returning home, Chauly has worked practically nonstop. Among (many!) other things, she worked as a producer for legendary Malaysian dancer Ramli Ibrahim, and was a journalist with the magazine Men’s Review.

In 1998 – long before indie publishing was a thing – Chauly and the late Fay Khoo (also a creative artistic force, Khoo died, aged 48, earlier this year of lung cancer) formed the now-defunct Rhino Press, an independent publishing house, which published 11 local titles, including the well-known Black And White Series.

Other notable works are Chauly’s documentary, Semangat Insan – Masters Of Tradition (2000), which showcased various dying art forms in Malaysia, and Face To Face – Confronting The Humanity Of Refugees In Malaysia, a series of refugee portraits commissioned by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights.

In 2005, she and author, publisher and creative writing instructor Sharon Bakar founded Readings, currently the oldest live literary reading event in Kuala Lumpur, a lively monthly affair nowadays.

One of Chauly’s more well-known works is undoubtedly her 2011 book, Growing Up With Ghosts, a “fictive memoir” that won third prize in the nonfiction category of the 2012 Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards.

In the book, Chauly tells of her journey, in the light of her father’s death, to unravel the mystery surrounding a curse that is thought to have plagued her family. She traces 100 years of her family history to Fatshan, China; and Verka, India, to recount and re-live her ancestors lives against the histories of India, China, Singapore, and Malaya.

“I’m glad I did it. It was very transformative, to exorcise all the grief I had over my father’s death. It was starting to become a weight, this heavy baggage that I was carrying. I felt I needed to tell this story, to be free of it,” Chauly says.

The author also took the time to participate in three writing residencies: the first in Amsterdam in 2012, then at the Sitka Island Institute, Alaska, and the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, both in the United States in 2014.

“Residencies are very important. If I hadn’t had those three residencies, I don’t think I would be able to even come up with a first draft for the novel. They help you to read, and to focus, and to do nothing but write,” Chauly says.

“We don’t have a writing residency in Malaysia. But it’s crucial! I really hope that some day, we will recognise the need for them. You need a space to write and think and let the process unfold. It takes time!

“I’m talking to some people in George Town. I’m hoping that sometime, maybe even by the end of this year, we will have a writing residency in Penang.”

Speaking of Penang, Chauly has also served as festival director of the George Town Literary Festival since 2011, helping to make it one of the events with the fastest growing profile in the region.

Surging forward

Chauly now lives in Kuala Lumpur, with two daughters (from her former husband, filmmaker Farouk Al-Joffery) and a little dog named Lucca, “named after my favourite city”.

The author already has plans for the future – there might be a new collection of poems coming. And while the experience of writing the first novel was quite an ordeal, Chauly can’t wait to start work on her second, which she says will be set in a few different locations, and deal with “climate change, shamanism, suicide, and shapeshifting”.

Wow. Don’t say you wouldn’t be interested in a novel with any, let alone all four, of those elements. While we eagerly anticipate seeing Chauly’s new novel, the author, on the other hand, says she wants to see more books on contemporary issues.

“I think it’s the best time to be an artist right now. But I don’t think there’s enough literature being produced now. There’s a lot of genre work. But I think we need more writers putting out more literary work,” Chauly says.

“Literature needs to be written. Why isn’t anybody writing it? It’s worrying. In 20 years, what are Malaysian readers going to look back on, what did we produce in this quarter of the century? I think there’s a lot of talent here. But it needs to be nurtured.”

Chauly was tasked by United Nations Commission for Human Rights to create portraits of refugees in Malaysia in 2005

Star2, Published: JULY 23, 2017
Award-winning author Bernice Chauly on Malaysia’s writing scene

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Using the same expressions over and over again

Many writers and even some officials fall into this trap – using the same expressions over and over again, it’s almost automatic.

Ten worst clichés used by journalists (and maybe officials) in their news reports (and at press confe-rences):

1. Certain quarters:
For some inexplicable reason, the Malaysian media and the country’s officials, particularly politicians and the police, are enamoured with the word “certain quarters”, or the Bahasa Malaysia equivalent, pihak tertentu. That phrase is hardly used anywhere else, but seems to pop up time and again here.

No one seems to be able to explain why it has to be “quarters” and never “certain groups or parties”, so, inevitably, it ends up being “certain quarters”. It’s almost the equivalent of tiga suku in Bahasa Malaysia, and there’s a joke somewhere in there for sure.

2. Neighbouring countries:
Our authorities seem to have a phobia naming criminals from our, ahem, neighbour countries. It’s always negara jiran, and the last time I checked the map, only Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia can claim to have that kind of proximity with us. The Philippines, Brunei, and further away, Myanmar and Cambodia, somehow, do not (pardon the pun) “fit the profile” of the police and other officials when they reference negara jiran.

Likewise for the media. So, negara jiran has to be one of those three nations. And given our prejudices and sense of bias, the guessing game can become an interesting and funny one at times.

Malaysians can never understand the impeccable courtesy and manners of our officials, especially the kind extended to most foreigners.

But if a Malaysian is caught for an offence in Singapore or Thailand, you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be named and shamed. They won’t say from a “neighbouring country”, which could just be 10 minutes away on a clear traffic day.

3. Go all out:
This has to be one of the most over-used and annoying phrases in Malaysian news. It’s difficult to be sure if this is down to poor vocabulary on the part of the reporters or just tardy approach to work, or simply, unimaginative officials. And this doesn’t exclusively apply to cops or politicians, but also sports coaches.

Classic examples include, “we will go all out in the general elections”, “we will go all out to nab the gangsters” and “we will go all out to win the title”. We must really be an out-going bunch because we simply love to go all out. We will go all out to make sure we keep using “all out” in our news reports and at press conferences. (It’s essentially lazy writing and lazy talking).

4. Leave no stone unturned:
Our crime reporters and cops love this term passionately. So we keep reading about how “the police will leave no stone unturned” in their investigations. Of course, it will invariably be followed by the predictable “we will go all out” – these phrases are partners in crime almost.

Every Malaysian newspaper reader or TV viewer can tell what’s coming – “we are taking this very seriously and we will leave no stones unturned in our investigations”. What else were we expecting? “We will take this lightly and we will leave the stones as they are?” I’m not even certain if this is exactly what the police officer says, or what the reporter interprets and then creates. But possibly, after reading so many reports like these, I’m starting to wonder if there’s actually a vicious cycle at play, making the police officer to automatically use it.

5. Shock of my life:
Another classic unimaginative and embarrassing bit of news reporting. I don’t think the legendary Michael Chong even uses it. So, for example, we have a 10-year-old boy who had a shock of his life when he discovered his dog was killed by a cat. Never mind that he hasn’t even lived a full life yet, since he is only 10 years old, but it has to be a shock of life. A jolt or even a shock, is never sufficient, it seems. It has to be the shock of his life.

6. Like a scene from a movie:
Every fire drill, every security exercise often has to start with a snooze-worthy introduction – like a scene from a movie. This kind of news reporting has to be from a bad horror movie, if its source is indeed the cinema. And of course, the real story unfolds in the

standard subsequent paras of bad reporting that “it’s a relief” that this is only an exercise. For goodness’ sake, Malaysians can tell the difference between a real disaster and a drill.

7. The ball is round:
Another one from Captain Obvious’ handbook. Why not “difficult to predict”, or “I am too daft to predict” or “anything unexpected can happen”. Of course, we all know the ball is round. Even someone who barely knows how football – or soccer – is played can tell the ball is round. So, we don’t need a sports reporter giving himself a more respectable title of football analyst to tell us that he dare not guess the outcome of the game because the “ball is round”.

8. Agenda:
The only agenda that most Malaysians have to deal with daily is the agenda of a meeting. But in Malaysia, based on media reports, it can be of a political nature ... sometimes with subversive subtexts. So, we read and hear of “people with agenda” or (wait for it ...) “certain quarters with an agenda” or ada pihak tertentu dengan agenda. Once again, the guessing game begins on what exactly this agenda is about. No one is clear.

On the bright side, “agenda” sounds far better than anasir anasir jahat, which was widely used in the 1960s and 1970s. Again, no one knows why it has to be jahat but the authorities came up with something better, and presto, we now have “agenda”.

9. Authorities:
The media loves this cliché and they keep readers guessing. What constitutes “authorities” exactly? The Federal Government or state government? The Home Ministry, the police, immigration, the council, your employer? Or the wife or husband, who both also wield tremendous influence over our daily lives. They are serious authorities.

Come on, let’s confess, our spouses decide what we eat, what we watch in the cinema and where we go on holidays. So, when we read and hear the words “the authorities have decided”, we have to be sure which component of this influential (ahem) quarters. But the media prefers using this word pretty vaguely.

10. Do-or-die:
With the general election looming, we will get to hear many of our politicians making these statements and the media will predictably pick up this mother of all clichés. Some of the politicians who have been using this worn-out script for decades, are still around.

Old soldiers, it is said, never die but fade away. But for politicians in Malaysia, they seem to continue forever and in some cases, refuse to retire, so they’re not about to ride into the sunset just yet. Old foes can even become new friends in our incredible Malaysian political landscape.

For sure, it will be a “do-or-die” battle for them in the impending elections, but we can be sure they will still be around if they lose. And we will be treated to the same boring clichés again the next round ... like a scratched record.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 23 July 2017
Phrase that again, please?

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Islam a part of Europe

SINCE the 2008 financial crisis, a right-wing populism preaching exclusivist nationalism has swept across Europe.

Far-right groups that once found themselves relegated to the fringes of European society have exploited the anxieties of the continent’s most disenfranchised to demonise the outsider and popularise the politics of resentment. Utilising populist rhetoric, these once-derided movements have gained a firm foothold within mainstream politics.

Brexit and the inclusion of far-right candidates in the final run-offs of both the 2016 Austrian and 2017 French presidential elections stand as testament to the power of this populist wave.

Although the precise character of these far-right movements varies from country to country, all share a common (sometimes even defining) theme − a hatred of Islam.

For Europe’s far-right, Islam is inherently alien, an acute existential threat that, like cancer, is slowly spreading from one European country to another.

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front, and recent French presidential election runner-up, has made it the cornerstone of her political career to halt “the progressive Islamisation of our country and the increase in political-religious demands (that) are calling into question the survival of our civilisation”.

Likewise, The Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party (PVV) that came second in this year’s Dutch parliamentary elections, has called on the Quran to be banned while describing his movement as a “patriotic revolution”, whose supporters are fighting “for the preservation of their people”.

In the United Kingdom, similar rhetoric has emerged with the UK Independence Party (Ukip), members of which have described Islam as “evil” and a threat to national wellbeing.

The message is, therefore, clear. For some, Islam does not belong in Europe. Yet, even the most cursory study of European history will demonstrate precisely the opposite; Islam has been a fundamental part of Europe for at least 1,300 years, during which time it had contributed to both the richness and variety of European culture.

Islam first arrived in Europe in 711, when a Muslim army led by Tariq ibn Ziyad landed in Gibraltar. Within a year or so, Tariq defeated the Visigoth king, Don Rodrigo, at the Battle of Guadalete.

He then extended Muslim rule right across the Iberian Peninsula until, by 718, it had become an Umayyad province called al-Andalus.

In 756, the exiled Umayyad prince, Abd al-Rahman I (756-788), fled Damascus to al-Andalus and established the independent Emirate of Cordoba.

From that point on, al-Andalus became home to a distinctive, European-based Islam. Although Arab culture proved central to that identity, by the reign of Abd al-Rahman II (r.822-52), it had ceased to be a mere foreign imposition; conversions and mixed marriages had become commonplace, resulting in an eclectic blend of Middle Eastern and European cultural elements.

As European peoples began to convert to Islam, Islam became European. This situation persisted until 1492, when the Castilians destroyed the last Iberian Muslim kingdom and completed the Reconquista.

Nevertheless, in the wake of their victory, the Castilians found themselves ruling a substantial Muslim population. They called these Muslims the Moriscos.

Although quickly forced to (at least outwardly) convert to Christianity, with the majority eventually being expelled to North Africa, these Moriscos were the survivors of a European Muslim community that had been in existence for more than 700 years.

Although ultimately destined for extinction, these Iberian Muslims were representatives of a rich and thriving European Muslim society. But, just as Muslim rule was ending in Spain, on the other side of Europe, the Balkans were witnessing rapid Ottoman expansion and, ultimately, the creation of a new European Muslim identity.

In 1463, the Ottomans conquered the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Bosnia.

For almost a century, Bosnia had been in decline; harried by the Hungarians to the north and persecuted by the Catholic powers to the west, it had experienced a period of serve political instability and economic turmoil.

The Ottomans, however, pushed the Hungarian frontier far to the north and, being generally unconcerned with the doctrinal peculiarities of the Bosnian Bogomil brand of Orthodox Christianity, allowed the Bosnians to practise their religion undisturbed.

These factors brought much-needed political stability to the region, allowing new economic opportunities to develop.

As a consequence, the Bosnians began to look favourably upon their new Ottoman masters; by the end of the 15th century, official Ottoman records show a steady stream of conversions among Bosnian Christians.

By 1530, when a Catholic delegation from the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II passed through the Balkans on the way to Istanbul, Bosnia was already predominantly Muslim.

As a result, from the early 16th century onwards, a new Muslim identity evolved in Eastern Europe. First appearing in Bosnia, it later spread (with minor variations) to Albania, Kosovo and elsewhere.

As in al-Andalus, it saw indigenous Europeans adopt Islam and then merge it with elements of their pre-existing culture, forming a unique European Muslim identity, in this instance, termed Poturnak.

Former non-Muslim European cities like Sarajevo became centres of this new Islamicate culture. Indeed, they remain so even today long after the last Ottoman governor left the region in 1878.

(Islamicate refers to all forms of cultural expressions that show a clear influence of Islamic, Muslim traditions even though they originate from non-Muslims or outside Muslim communities).

This brief overview demonstrates Islam’s longstanding relationship with Europe.

Far from being alien to the continent as modern-day far-right movements claim, Islam is a fundamental part of European history and identity. As new waves of Muslims continue to arrive in Europe from the Middle East and Africa, Europeans should remember that Islam is not something to be feared, but an integral part of their culture, too.

New Straits Times, Published: July 21, 2017 - 9:55am
Islam a part of Europe
By ALEXANDER WAIN, Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.

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Israel-Palestine divide

Jews need no instruction in the agony of exile. Yet, their modern statehood, achieved after the millennia of diaspora existence and persecution, has come to involve the statelessness of another people.

Two Palestinians and two Israelis write briefly of their feelings on this anniversary.

SALAM FAYYAD, former Palestinian authority prime minister: “At 50, the occupation remains highly oppressive to us and corrosive to Israel. Yet, it lingers on. Arresting this highly adverse dynamic requires that we Palestinians genuinely seek to empower ourselves and take full agency in our own liberation. This entails unifying the Palestinian polity and mobilising grassroots support around the central objective of projecting the reality of Palestinian statehood on the territory Israel occupied in 1967, in spite of the occupation.

“Some would say that the pursuit of empowerment in the face of a capricious occupation regime designed to disempower the occupied is doomed to failure, or that even if we manage to attain some progress toward building our state, we merely succeed in normalising the occupation. This dangerous combination of defeatism and self-doubt is a perfect prescription for paralysis and entrapment.

“We must break away from this inaction trap. We must, under all conditions, persist and persevere in our pursuit of empowerment. That said, it should be realised that the political viability of this endeavour would be highly questionable in a context in which our national rights remain unrecognised and settlement activity, military raids, land confiscation and home demolitions continue.

“This is the way forward. After all, Palestinian empowerment and ending the Israeli occupation are two sides of the same coin.”

ITAMAR RABINOVICH, former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s ambassador to Washington and author of a biography of him: “The Cursed Blessing was the perceptive title that the Israeli historian Shabtai Teveth gave to his book about the impact of the Six-Day War on Israel. A blessing it was; it released Israel from a dangerous crisis, consolidated its standing vis-à-vis the Arab world, turned it into a regional power and transformed its relationship with the United States. Most important, it provided Israel with the bargaining chips for peacemaking with its Arab enemies.

“Another decade was needed to convert the abstract principle of ‘territories for peace’ into peace with Egypt, and another 15 years for the peace process to be renewed and to produce peace with Jordan and the Oslo compromise with Palestinian nationalism. But, the Oslo process, an attempt to resolve peacefully two people’s claim to the same land, was only implemented in part and suspended. An Israeli zealot assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Fifty years after June 1967, Israel is still encumbered with the occupation of the West Bank and with the perception of lingering control of Gaza.

“Both Israelis and Palestinians pay dearly for the impasse. Keeping the settlement project in the West Bank saps Israel’s resources, compromises its international legitimacy and injects negative norms into Israel proper. It is time to seek a final status agreement that will separate the two peoples or at least stop the current drift into one-statehood.

“We all know what the shape of a final status agreement should and would look like. Realistically, we may not be able to achieve it now. The state of Israeli and Palestinian politics, the upheaval in the region and the question marks regarding the Trump administration could prove insurmountable. But, there is a way to stop the gradual sliding into the abyss through an interim agreement that would give Palestinians a provisional state in a large part of the West Bank territory. This is anathema to both the Israeli right and the Palestinian leadership, but is the only realistic option today for those who seek to salvage a two-state solution.”

JOYCE ALJOUNY, director of the Ramallah Friends School: “I was barely 2 years old when my mother clutched me close to her chest when we saw Israeli soldiers taking control of our street in Ramallah. It was June 1967. Fifty years of a life tarnished by injustice, subjugation and daily anxieties ensued.

“Living under military occupation meant coping with the shooting of my best friend in high school, turning a fearful blind eye when seeing soldiers beating a Palestinian boy with a baton, rescuing my husband from the grip of soldiers on a cold winter night, contending with my 10-year-old son’s night terrors after weeks of relentless bombardment, not being allowed to enter the city of my birth, Jerusalem, and living in daily anguish knowing that my people remain refugees after more than 70 years and have lived under siege for decades.

“Myriad human rights abuses by brutal Israeli occupation forces have not been sufficient to amplify solidarity with Palestinians to a level that would fundamentally change American foreign policy. The double standard, complacency and failure of the international community to acknowledge the authenticity and morality of my people’s struggle are disheartening.

“The Palestinian plight, grounded in decades of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and apartheid, is brushed off with baseless counterarguments − claims that there is no partner for peace, that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews, that Israel’s excessive force is retaliatory, that settlements are a legal right.

“As is the case for many Palestinians, it seems that despite my belief in non-violence and coexistence in one democratic state, I have been dehumanised and deemed an anti-Semite, a non-partner, even before I utter a word.”

DAN MERIDOR, former Likud Israeli deputy prime minister:
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. Occupation is damaging to Israel, but even a dovish Israeli government proved unable to find agreement with the Palestinians. The ‘creeping status quo’ is hurting both sides. It moves in a dangerous direction. It urgently calls for courageous leadership on both sides to resolve it.”

New Straits Times, Published: July 20, 2017 - 11:03am
Israel-Palestine divide: 50 years of unresolved conflict

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A native of Croatia who ended up in Kosovo as a war refugee

John Ogburn doesn’t remember a single thing about Monday, June 26.

He doesn’t remember waking up that morning, or helping prepare breakfast for his three young children, or kissing his wife Sarabeth goodbye, or any of the meetings he had with landscape design clients. He doesn’t remember driving to the Panera Bread in Cotswold Village. He doesn’t remember going to his favorite booth in the back, where he regularly sat for hours doing work on his laptop.

He doesn’t remember crumpling to the floor at about quarter past 4, his heart gone completely, terrifyingly still.

He doesn’t remember any of the many, many things that happened next. But in the two and a half weeks since, he’s come to understand this: If a single one of those things “didn’t happen correctly,” he says, “it could have gone differently pretty quickly.”

And John Ogburn would be dead.

It was a bad situation. It was really bad.

April Bradley was just starting her shift that afternoon as a delivery driver for Panera Bread. She went to clock in after grabbing a drink cup for her brother, who headed to the dining room to fill it but quickly returned to tell her that someone was passed out in the back of the restaurant.

When they got to Ogburn, whom she immediately recognized as a regular, he was splayed out on the carpet and “his face was just like – ooooooo,” she shivers at the thought. “Dark purple – it was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” She picked up the phone and dialed 911, at 4:17 p.m.

The response to the call came faster than anyone could have imagined.

Maybe a football field away, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Officer Lawrence Guiler had just finished tending to a minor accident and was in his cruiser about to get back on the road.

“I was leaving that report, made the left in the Harris Teeter parking lot, and the call came out for a male in cardiac arrest at the Panera Bread,” Guiler says. “I look up, and the Panera Bread is right there. So, immediately, I just told our dispatch, ‘Hey, I’m right here, put me on the call,’ and I went in to find him on the ground.”

“It was a bad situation. It was really bad.”

And Guiler should know. Before joining CMPD four years ago as an officer, he was an EMT in the Durham area – which made him an ideal person to be the first of the first responders.

Guiler couldn’t find a pulse and established that Ogburn wasn’t breathing, so he began CPR. He estimates that the amount of time that passed between him getting the call and him starting life-saving efforts was “probably around 20 to 30 seconds.”

About 30 seconds after Guiler arrived on the scene, another CMPD officer rushed into the restaurant.

“Coincidentally, I was already dispatched to a second accident in the same parking lot in Cotswold, which generally doesn’t happen very often – the same time, the same parking lot,” says Nikolina Bajic, a native of Croatia who ended up in Kosovo as a war refugee, immigrated to this country, and has been a police officer in Charlotte since 2006.

So within roughly 30 seconds of April Bradley calling 911, Ogburn was receiving CPR from someone who’d had a whole lot more experience administering CPR than the average police officer, much less the average person, and within about a minute, another officer was there to help.

The officers agree it was a highly unusual situation – that Medic or Charlotte Fire Department personnel almost always get there first and start CPR, and that police typically are tasked with securing the scene, or directing traffic.

How unusual?

In 11 years as a police officer, Bajic says, “I’ve never had to do this.”

Nobody wanted to give up on him

The officers say a woman in the restaurant who identified herself as a nurse offered to assist, “and she definitely did,” Guiler says. “She didn’t do chest compressions, but she was helping me try and monitor his pulse, see if he was starting to respond.” (Bajic says they never got her name.)

A few minutes later, four Charlotte firefighters from Station 14’s B Shift arrived, opened up Ogburn’s airway, and fitted him with an oxygen mask, says Medic spokesman Lester Oliva.

They also began taking turns with the officers performing CPR – and again, it’s rare that police start CPR, much less continue once Fire and Medic arrive. Each person went at it for roughly two minutes at a time.

Firefighters also used a defibrillator to deliver a shock that they hoped might restart his heart.

It didn’t.

Medic arrived at 4:26 p.m., say its records, and life-saving efforts continued as paramedic Benjamin Shaw and EMT Brittany Harris expanded the CPR rotation to eight.

Two hundred compressions, switch off. Two hundred compressions, switch off. Two hundred compressions, switch off. (Says Guiler: “It was hot in the Panera Bread, we’re all doing compressions, which is very strenuous. ... The teamwork was everything.”)

Medic shocked Ogburn with the AED again. And again. And again. They gave him a shot of epinephrine, which aims to return the heart to a normal rhythm. Then another. Then another.

Nothing. No response. No pulse. No breathing. No sign of life. At this point, more than 20 minutes have gone by.

“Me and my brother were (watching) and we were like, ‘There’s no way that this guy is gonna live through this,’ ” says April Bradley, the Panera employee. “And I thought even if he did come back, he’d be brain-dead.”

Bajic admits they were not optimistic by the time they passed the half-hour mark.

“(We figured) he’s not gonna come back, because – that long to be without pulse, generally it doesn’t end well,” she says.

But they kept on.

Adds Bajic: “Nobody wanted to give up on him.”

We don’t know what’s gonna happen

Around 4:30 p.m., while Ogburn was on the floor of the Panera Bread receiving CPR from eight first responders, his iPhone started ringing.

It was his wife, Sarabeth.

“I was trying to get in touch with him because our oldest son (5-year-old Huck) had his first loose tooth, so he wanted to FaceTime with him to show him,” she says. “I called a couple times, but he didn’t answer. I assumed he was in a meeting.”

A little over an hour later, she was heading with Huck, 4-year-old daughter Birdie, and 2-year-old son Revel to her parents’ house for dinner when Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center called. She was told John had gone into cardiac arrest and that she needed to get to the emergency room immediately.

“It was terrifying,” she says. “When I got there, I was taken into a room with two police officers, ER doctors, nurses and clergy. Basically, they said: ‘We don’t know what’s gonna happen.’ ”

She says someone informed her that he received CPR for 38 minutes; Medic reported it at less (33 minutes) and the officers estimate it at more (45), but in any event, it was a lot.

And although his pulse had finally been re-established on the scene, he was far from safe.

When Ogburn was brought into the ER, the first person to examine him was Dr. Amy McLaughlin, Novant Health emergency medicine physician.

“Medic tells us the story,” McLaughlin says: “that he collapsed in the Panera, that first responders were less than a minute away and started CPR ... that they had a total of eight shocks and five rounds of epinephrine, which is quite a bit. It’s a lot. And the total CPR time, which is a lot.”

(Some context, from McLaughlin: “Generally, when you start getting into over 30 minutes, you start thinking, ‘When should we call this?’ Because we start thinking, if we got a pulse back – I mean, we’re (concerned about) no meaningful neurological outcome after a certain amount of time. So you sort of have to weigh that in.”)

She says his pupils were responsive, which was a good sign, but his heart was still acting erratically, his blood pressure kept dropping, and they were having trouble keeping his oxygen levels up. So she put in an endotrachial tube to keep him oxygenated, gave him one medication to try to stabilize his heart and another to try to increase his blood pressure.

A quick consultation with the cardiology unit ruled out a heart attack, and the CT scan McLaughlin ordered revealed that he didn’t have any blood clots.

John Ogburn had no pre-existing heart conditions, there was no history of heart disease or heart issues in his family, he had a healthy diet, and he worked out at the 9Round kickboxing gym in Cotswold four to five days a week.

“The medical term is idiopathic,” McLaughlin says, “which means: We can’t find a cause for it. The medical term for ‘we don’t know’ is idiopathic. Just sounds better, I guess.”

I got goosebumps all over

Ogburn was transported to the intensive care unit, then put into a hypothermia protocol, which – as McLaughlin explains – brings the patient’s body temperature down to several degrees below normal, decreasing the metabolic demand of the body so that it can recover.

Essentially, the patient is medically paralyzed to keep his body from shivering, sedated into a coma, and given pain medicine. (It’s believed this hypothermia protocol might help prevent or lessen brain damage caused by cardiac arrest.) Ogburn’s body was warmed back up after two days – on his 36th birthday, in fact – and brought slowly out of sedation on Day 3.

“When he started to wake up from the coma,” Sarabeth Ogburn says, “he squeezed my hand. I wasn’t sure if I would ever have that again.”

His first few conscious days were a bit hazy, but it was quickly clear his brain had suffered no damage, and by the time Officers Bajic and Guiler came to the hospital to visit him on the Fourth of July, he was able to get out of bed to hug them.

“It was very emotional,” Bajic says. “I got goosebumps all over because when I saw him and his wife, and how happy they are, and we met his parents and they couldn’t stop thanking us for saving their son’s life ... that’s when you realize, we did all this. ... All these people’s lives were impacted by what we did.”

Just over a week after Bajic and Guiler found John Ogburn unresponsive, they stood with their arms around him in his hospital room, smiling for a camera.

A few days later, when that photo is shown to April Bradley, the Panera employee who called 911, she puts her hand to her face and her breathing hitches.

“Awesome. That’s – that’s awesome,” she says, her voice cracking. She turns her head away, then starts sobbing, silently.

’This is why we do what we do’

It is awesome. All of it.

Amy McLaughlin, the ER doctor, points out: “If this had happened when he was on his way to Panera, he probably wouldn’t still be alive.”

Lester Oliva of Medic adds: “If police would have not showed up and done CPR ... we might not have the outcome that we had with John.”

Officer Guiler, the first first responder on the scene, shakes his head: “Not many people make it out of that situation. ... Seeing that he was able to make a full recovery is – I can’t even explain it. I can’t even explain it.”

Officer Bajic tries: “A miracle.”

McLaughlin sums it up: “Everything that could go right for him after this event did go right.”

Astonishingly, the only after-effects appeared to be some short-term memory loss and an extremely sore chest – from the more than 3,500 compressions Oliva says were administered.

John Ogburn now has a defibrillator implanted just beneath the surface of the skin near his left collarbone, there to give him a kick if something like this should happen again. But Sarabeth Ogburn says, “They do not expect to see him again until it’s time to change the battery in 10 years.”

They’d like to go visit the hospital staff again anyway, just to hug them, and thank them. They want to thank the firefighters, the Medic personnel, the staff at Panera; they want to try to track down the mystery nurse; and most of all, they want the world to know how special the officers are.

“They’d be the first to say, you know, ‘We’re just doing our job’ type of thing,” John Ogburn says. “But from everything I’ve heard, they were doing more than their job.”

What do the officers have to say about that?

“We were just doing our job,” Guiler says. “We were in the right place at the right time. We would do it for anybody.”

But both he and Bajic are clear on this: Knowing that they played a big part in saving Ogburn’s life is one of the best feelings they’ve ever had on said job.

“Being a police officer’s a very stressful job,” Bajic says. “There are days that this job can be just like any other job, where you just feel like you don’t want to do this anymore, and that it’s too much. ... You become overwhelmed.

“I explained to John’s wife, I was saying that we have our negative and positive charge, and when things like this happen, your positive goes way up and eliminates all this negativity that you had before. ... We look at each other like: This is why we do what we do. This is why.”

“It was special to be out of the bed and be able to take a photo, get a good photo with both of them where I’m still connected to the IV but sort of sandwiched between them and with big smiles,” says John Ogburn, shown with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Officers Lawrence Guiler and Nikolina Bajic on July 4 at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

The Charlotte Observer, Published: JULY 16, 2017 11:49 AM
His heart stopped for more than 30 minutes. How can he still be alive?

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South Sudanese girls

With the internal conflict still raging in South Sudan, children have been separated from their parents and the odds of the young ones being reunited with their families remain slim.

HER feet bare and her hometown in flames, Nyadet walked east alone, eating food given to her by strangers and following trails left by others escaping war in South Sudan.

She is 12 years old. Nine days after she fled bloodshedfrom Malakal last November, Nyadet reached the country’s border with Ethiopia, and crossed over to safety.

“Maybe they are safe,” is all she can say of her mother, father, sister and two brothers, whom she lost track of when the streets of her hometown transformed into a war zone.

South Sudan’s civil war has raged on for the past three years with such viciousness that parts of the country are bereft of food and a third of the population has fled their homes, but few refugees present as vexing a problem as children like Nyadet who escape the conflict alone.

”They are fleeing definitely life-threatening situations,” said Daniel Abate of aid group Save the Children, which helps reunite lost children with their families.

At the Nguenyyiel refugee camp near Ethiopia’s lush western frontier, boys and girls who crossed the border unaccompanied tell tales of murdered families and childhoods shattered by the unremitting violence in South Sudan.

“War happened,” is the description Nyakung, 11, gives for the atrocities she witnessed in the capital Juba, where her mother was left to die inside a blazing hut and three of her brothers were gunned down on a road while running for the safety of a UN base.

Aid agencies are trying to get children like Nyakung back with their families, but humanitarians admit that with the conflict still raging in South Sudan, the odds of these children seeing their loved ones again are slim.

South Sudan’s war, sparked when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup in 2013 which has been been marked by numerous atrocities against civilians despite the presence of thousands of UN peacekeeping troops.

Around 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled the country, making it the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

One million of those refugees are children, the UN says, and of that number about 75,000 were either separated from their parents or without any family at all.

Aid workers say they regularly see South Sudanese children straggling across the border, often with an adult stranger, but sometimes by themselves.

“You can tell they are very tired, their clothes (are) worn-out on them, they have not had a shower or even food. So, you can see that they’re destitute,” Daniel said.

Nguenyyiel is home to nearly 2,900 children who arrived without any family, who pass their days attending school and playing in a tree-shaded jungle gym.

Chan, 13, escaped Malakal late last year when fighting erupted and the grass hut he lived in was torched.

He then walked for a month until he crossed into Ethiopia. “I just go the direction where I see safe place,” he said.

Some, like Nyadet, hope to be reunited with their families.

Others hold no such hope.

Chan says he doesn’t know where his parents are but believes they must be dead.

The odds are slim with neither the government nor the rebels honouring a peace deal made two years ago, locating family members of lost children in the chaos of South Sudan is difficult, says Hiwotie Simachew, emergency response manager for aid group Plan International.

Some parents have also likely joined the exodus that has distributed hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees to Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and beyond.

Parents, if they are still alive, could be in refugee camps in any of these countries, or in other settlements in Ethiopia, Hiwotie said.

Plan International and Save the Children have managed to reunite hundreds of youths with their families, but that’s just a fraction of the around 31,500 children Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs says have arrived without their parents.

South Sudanese girls who travelled alone for about a month finally get to play at a refugee camp in Gambela, Ethiopia, where they have sought refuge.

The StarEducate: Published: Sunday, 23 July 2017
Kids flee war-torn homeland alone
Source: AFP

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SITTWE (Myanmar) − AFP : Five years have passed since Hla Hla Sein was forced into a displacement camp in western Myanmar for Rohingya Muslims, where disease and deprivation are rife and armed guards patrol a barbed-wire perimeter.

But after a crackdown on the international smuggling routes that once offered a dangerous – but viable – escape route, she now sees no way out.

“We have no idea how many years we will have to live like this,” the 40-year-old widow said inside the tiny bamboo hut she shares with her son, tugging nervously at her purple headscarf.

“Our lives are worse than animals ... we are human only in name.”

Deadly sectarian riots in 2012 drove more than 120,000 Rohingya into the camps in Rakhine State, where they live in ramshackle homes and are deprived of adequate food, schools and doctors.

For years human traffickers cashed in on the group’s desperation, ferrying thousands of Rohingya across the Andaman Sea to countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The journeys were defined by danger: from rickety boats on high seas to abuse and even death at the hands of the gangs, who held many victims for ransom in jungle camps on the Thai-Malaysia border.

That route was shuttered by Thailand’s junta in 2015 and few boats have left the camps since, according to residents, aid workers and migration experts.

The move may have spared Hla Hla Sein death at sea or abuse at the hands of smugglers, but it also cut off a way out of a painful limbo.

Hla Hla Sein and her son had tried to escape to Malaysia before the crackdown, but their boat was so overcrowded it started to sink a few hours into the journey, forcing the captain to turn back.

It was only after they returned to shore that she found out the smugglers had planned to sell them as slaves at their destination.

“I was ready to die at sea as we have nothing in this country,” she said.

“Our children cannot get education, even I cannot work. I thought dying would be better.”

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long been chastised for its treatment of the Rohingya, a group of more than a million Muslims whose rights and freedoms have been successively stripped away since the early 1980s.

Drifting in limbo: Rohingya migrants in a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 20 July 2017
Rohingya: Our lives are worse than animals

Read more:
The Star, Published: Monday, 17 July 2017
Sad tales of Rohingya misery

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Hemingway Days Festival

KEY WEST, Fla. − About 160 stocky, white-bearded men resembling Ernest Hemingway have gathered in Florida to compete in the island city’s annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.

The competition began Thursday evening at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, frequented by Hemingway when he lived in Key West during the 1930s.

Judged by former winners, the three-night contest is a highlight of the Hemingway Days festival honoring the late author’s literary prowess and colorful lifestyle.

Many competitors wear sportsman’s garb associated with Hemingway.

Entrants include repeat contender Michael Groover of Savannah, Georgia, husband of celebrity chef Paula Deen. Deen cheered from the audience as her husband made the semifinal round set for Saturday evening.

The second preliminary round is scheduled for Friday evening. The 2017 look-alike winner will be chosen Saturday night.

The festival continues through Sunday.

In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Wally Collins, right, and other past winners of the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest closely examine entrants in the 2017 contest Thursday, July 20, 2017, at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Fla. Some 160 contestants are registered for this year’s competition that is part of Key West’s annual Hemingway Days festival. Another preliminary round is scheduled for Friday, July 21, and the finals are set for Saturday, July 22. Author Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West in the 1930s.
(Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP) (Associated Press)

The Washington Post, Published: July 21 at 3:49 PM
Hemingway look-alikes gather in Key West for annual contest
By Associated Press

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