Why I quit my dream job

ISTARTED my undergraduate year by enrolling for a diploma in Information Technology at Multimedia University (MMU) even though I wanted to do something that would get me a ticket into the world of fashion magazines. In the two years of my study, I remember strolling around campus thinking to myself, “Seriously Min, there’s not a single bone in your body that would enjoy anything related to IT.”

I was just 19 when I finished my diploma, and on the first week of my degree course in MMU, I had to build a robot. A ROBOT? That’s when I knew I had to do something ... I was not going to build robots for a living!

Luckily I got accepted into Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) Mass Communications programme, certainly a step closer to my dream job. This led to an internship at a well-known Malay fashion magazine, the only Malay fashion title in the market at the time.

After six months, I left with a full-time offer in hand. I was graduating from a great school and starting my dream job in an exciting industry for a big company, getting to do what I love all day long, with lots of travelling around the world.

After two years of writing and directing photoshoots, I realised that although being in an editorial squad may be many people’s dream job such as Andy’s (played by Anne Hathaway) in The Devil Wears Prada, − suddenly, it wasn’t my dream job, not anymore.

One Saturday morning, five years into my job as a full-time editor, I was just about to sit down with my girlfriends when I felt the familiar buzz of my phone in my pocket. I pulled it out, already knowing what lay ahead. I turned to my friends and said, “I’m really sorry, guys. I hate to do this, but I have to go. Again.”

This had happened several times before, not just with friends but also, when my family needed me. It struck me that my dream job was not heading in the direction I had imagined it would.

I didn’t want to continue living a life that offered little happiness (well, I was not happy and under a lot of pressure). Looking around, it seemed to me that most editors either succeed in their careers or in their personal lives... but not both. I have never come across one who had a happy personal life and a fantastic career to boot.

So I thought, “Min, let’s find your pursuit of happiness.” That realisation terrified me but it also gave me a sense of relief. Months of stress and anxiety disappeared immediately. While the next step scared me, I knew I had to take it. So I quit my job and entered unchartered waters − and have never looked back.

At least I really enjoyed my five-year ride with the magazine; lots of amazing memories and great friendships! OK, fine, it wasn’t quite that easy. Life isn’t a movie and one epiphany cannot move mountains overnight. I spent a year thinking about my decision before handing in my resignation, recalculating my new budget, and figuring out what I wanted to do in this new career. And, along the way, I picked up a few life lessons.


Coming out of school, I equated success with a fancy title and a fat pay cheque. But for what? What validation was I seeking? What stamp of approval was I looking for to solidify my intelligence and worth? After realising that particular dream wasn’t for me, I saw that success comes in many shapes and sizes.

And as cliched as it sounds, success is truly what you make of it.


I worked upwards of 70 hours a week (yeah, it’s possible) and ate all my meals either at my desk or in my car while driving around town. I didn’t date, could barely take time off to see family, and had zero hobbies. I firmly believe you should be dedicated to your job. And yes, you should take pride in your work but there is a fine line between being dedicated and letting it envelop your life.


Sure, no one’s going to deny that getting paid handsomely is nice. But at what cost? What good is having all that cash if you never leave the office? I can personally attest that having more doesn’t make you any happier. (But yes, I’ll admit that it does make it easier).

Since leaving the magazine industry I’ve actually taken jobs that have paid significantly less. Why? Because I’d rather be working for a job that values a work-life balance, encourages a great office culture, and allows me to do work that’s meaningful to me.

Does looking at my smaller pay cheque make me want to cry? Yes, sometimes, I’m only human. But tears aside, I’ve never regretted my choice. The perks of building your own empire is that your bank account translates directly to how hard you work. More jobs mean a better bank statement.

I’m not indulging in humblebragging by telling you my story. I’m telling you because I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had sat me down before I signed my offer letter and said: “There’s so much more to your career than brand name companies, money, and titles. It’s about working at a place where you feel valued, a place where you’re proud of the work you do and even more proud of the work your company’s doing.”

Because that’s the job I have now, and it feels pretty good.

Paris is my favourite city and it’s nice that I got to travel there when I worked with the magazine.

New Straits Times, Published: 31 Jan 2018
Why I quit my dream job
By Min Luna

I started my senior year of college on a pretty high note. After spending the summer as an investment banking analyst intern, I left with a full-time offer in hand. I remember strolling onto campus and thinking to myself, “Wow, my future is pretty set.”

Here I was, graduating from a great school with a dual degree to move on to this coveted job that paid really well. By societal standards, I had it made. Not to mention, for every finance major, landing a gig on Wall Street at a bulge bracket bank is the equivalent to landing a lead role on Broadway: near impossible.

Fast forward to a very similar Saturday morning a year later and I’m months into my job as a full-time analyst. I was just about to sit down with some out-of-town friends when I felt a familiar haunting buzz of my Blackberry in my coat pocket. I pulled it out, already knowing the fate before me. I turned to my friends, “I’m really sorry guys. I hate to do this, but I have to go into the office. Again.”

While this had happened several times before, it struck me as unacceptable this time around. I didn’t want to go into the office, I didn’t want to leave my friends, and I didn’t want to continue living a life dictated by my phone.

Even though this feeling had been lurking below the surface for weeks now, it bubbled up in full-force that day. Investment banking may be many people’s dream job, but it wasn’t my dream job. At least not anymore.

Having that realization terrified me. But more than that, it relieved me. Months of stress and anxiety disappeared immediately. While the next step scared me, I knew I needed to take it. So I quit my job and entered unchartered waters−never looking back.

OK, fine, it wasn’t quite that easy. Life isn’t a movie and one epiphany doesn’t move mountains overnight. I spent several months thinking about my decision, recalculating my new budget, and honestly, figuring out what it is I even wanted to do in this new career.

And along the way, I picked up a few life lessons. Corny? Yes. True? Incredibly so.

Success Isn’t One-Size Fits All

Coming out of school I equated success with a fancy title and a fat paycheck. But for what? What validation was I seeking? What stamp of approval was I looking for to solidify my intelligence and worth? After realizing that particular dream wasn’t for me, I saw that success comes in many shapes and sizes. One person’s six-figure paycheck is another person’s four-day work week. As corny as it may sound, success is truly what you make of it.

Work-Life Balance Isn’t Nice, It’s Necessary

For my first year out of college I didn’t live in NYC. I lived in my company’s office building on the 32nd floor. My only friends became co-workers. I worked upwards of 80 hours a week (yeah, it’s possible) and ate all of my meals at my desk. I didn’t date, could barely take time off to see family, and had zero hobbies. Now, I firmly believe you should be dedicated to your job. And yes, you should take pride in your work. But there is a fine line between being dedicated to your work and letting it envelop your life.

Both Sides of Your Brain Need a Workout

On Wall Street, I lived in the world of Excel, PowerPoint, financial statements, and the stock market. Numbers all day long. And while I enjoyed that to an extent, I could feel my creativity turning to mush. Everything always added up in my work, and while that’s definitely reassuring, it wasn’t challenging the right side of my brain to create or innovate.

What I’ve discovered since my investment banking days is that finding work that utilizes both sides of the brain has actually improved my performance. In fact, a 2008 study documenting 74 employees participating in creativity training found they “increased their rate of new idea generation by 55%, brought in more than $600,000 in new revenue, and saved about $3.5 million through innovative cost reductions.” So it’s not just me−it’s science.

Money Isn’t Always Worth It
Sure, no one’s going to deny that getting paid handsomely is nice. But at what cost is it really worth it? What good is having all that cash if you never leave the office? I can personally attest that having more doesn’t make you any happier. (But yes, I’ll admit that it does make it easier.)

Since leaving I’ve actually taken jobs that have paid me significantly less. Why? Because I’d rather be working for a company that values work-life balance , encourages a great office culture, and allows me to do work that’s meaningful to me. Does looking at my smaller paycheck make me want to cry? Yes, sometimes−I’m only human. But a few tears aside, I’ve never looked back or regretted my choice.

I’m not telling you my story as a humble-brag, instead I’m telling you this because I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had sat me down before I signed my offer letter and said: “There’s so much more to your career than brand-name companies, money, and titles. It’s about working someplace where you feel that you’re valued and are valuable , a place where you’re proud of the work you do and are even more proud of the work your company’s doing.” Because that’s the job I have now, and it feels pretty damn good.

Why I Quit My Dream Job, Left My Big Salary Behind, and Never Looked Back
After escaping investment banking, Jena spent two years at the New York Stock Exchange, meeting with CEOs and reporting live from the Trading Floor. Now, she helps companies tell their story on The Muse. When she's not hustling away, you can find her running along the Hudson, hosting wine night for her Apostles' church crew, or doing some musing of her own.

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False knowledge and the power of negation

WHEN false information and fake news rule, we develop a “happy consciousness” of our environment. It prevents us from questioning “facts” and we dialectically resist arguments. We end up consuming false knowledge.

I have been using some of the premises under the rubric of what we call a “closed universe of discourse” in some of my earlier columns and other writings. I am taking this further by delving into Herbert Marcuse’s (first published in 1964). Marcuse’s most significant work continues to be as relevant today as the forces of domination in society that he dissected more than five decades ago. Perhaps those forces − populism, fascistic tendencies in some societies, authoritarianism and the techno capitalist hype, etc − had become stronger and more prevalent in recent years. In a prospectus describing his work, Marcuse (18981979) wrote that he deals with certain basic tendencies in contemporary industrial society “which seem to indicate a new phase of civilization”. This new phase could very well be the over-rated but little understood Fourth Industrial Revolution − much of it can be described as a cognitive transformation in how we see ourselves and the world.

Marcuse was then gazing at tendencies that were subversive to contemporary industrial society in the decades preceding the publication of

Those tendencies have engendered a mode of thought and behaviour which undermines, what he described as “the very foundations of the traditional culture”. These are the repression of all values, aspirations and ideas which cannot be defined in terms of the operations and attitudes validated by prevailing forms of rationality. The consequence is the weakening and even the disappearance of all genuinely radical critique. This is because of the disintegration of all opposition in the established system.

If the policy and academic elites are concerned with the latest “Revolution”, what Marcuse saw then was a similar phenomenon in the 1950s and 1960s which he termed as the “advanced industrial society”.

Contains a theory of society that describes how changes in production, consumption, culture and thought have produced an advanced state of conformity in which the production of needs and aspirations by the prevailing societal apparatus integrates individuals into the established societies.

In the Introduction to the Second Edition of the book in 1991 − reprinted five times, the latest in 2007 − sociologist Douglas Kellner emphasised its significance as Marcuse “reflects the stifling conformity of the era and provides a powerful critique of new modes of domination and social control... It is an important work of critical social theory that continues to be relevant today...”. Marcuse articulated his Hegelian-Marxian concept of philosophy and critique of dominant philosophical and intellectual currents: positivism, analytic philosophy, technological rationality and a variety of modes of conformist thinking. His critical social theory and critical philosophy were inspired by his philosophical studies and his work with the Frankfurt School. The latter-day representative of the neo-Marxist School is 90-year-old German philosopher Jϋrgen Habermas, one-time director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World.

The closing of the universe of discourse refers to an uncritical thinking which derives its beliefs, norms and values from existing thought and social practices, while critical thought seeks alternative modes of thought and behaviour from which it creates a standpoint of critique.

This critical standpoint requires developing what Marcuse calls “negative thinking” − the negation of existing forms of thought and reality from the perspectives of higher possibilities. The practice of popular and academic discourse must presuppose the ability to make a distinction between existence and essence, facts and potentiality, and appearance and reality. We need to segregate the immediate and abstract reality; and the concrete and abstract essence.

Marcuse’s dialectical philosophy could promote critical thinking. Our mediated environment, purveying the various levels of discourse, has failed to provide us with discerning thought and reflection. It is significantly relevant to note that connects with the Frankfurt School’s project of developing a Critical Theory of contemporary society, beginning in the 1930s.

In the history of sociology, the Goethe University Frankfurt Institute for Social Research was the earliest in modern history to analyse the new configurations of the state and economy in contemporary capitalist societies. One of the institutions under the scrutiny of its scholars and theorists was mass culture and communications. They were critical of the cultural and information-producing apparatus operating within the capitalistindustrial democratic system especially in the first half of the 20th century.

And so, they analysed new modes of technology and forms of social control, and discussed new modes of socialisation and the decline of the individual in mass society. Marcuse’s is perhaps the fullest and most concrete development of these themes within the tradition of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. One can trace the genesis of the major themes of Marcuse’s magnus opus in his works from the early 1930s until its publication in 1964. In essays from the early 1940s, Marcuse was already describing how tendencies toward technological rationality were producing a system of totalitarian social control and domination. In the 1941 article,

The practice of popular and academic discourse must presuppose the ability to make a distinction between existence and essence, facts and potentiality, and appearance and reality.

Marcuse sketches the historical decline of individualism from the time of the bourgeois revolutions to the rise of modern technological society.

In alluding to the conditions in the post-European Enlightenment, individual rationality, he claimed, was won in the struggle against regnant superstitions, irrationality and domination, and posed the individual in a critical stance against society. He called this a creative principle in society’s advancement. The undermining of rationality, however, and its submission to increasing domination of ideologies − religious, godless and secular, and authorities − have led to a “mechanics of conformity” throughout society − within and external to the campus. The efficiency of power has overwhelmed individuals. We have lost the power of negation. Resonating the story of man in the 13th century Sufi compendium by Najm al-Din Razi, the bondsman, inter alia, sees negation as persistence, not resistance (to power and conformity).

New Sdtraits Times, Published: 31 Jan 2018
False knowledge and the power of negation
By A Murad Merican

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The Power of a swollen 'supermoon'

MIAMI: Many parts of the globe may catch a glimpse Wednesday of a giant crimson moon, thanks to a rare lunar trifecta that combines a blue moon, a super moon and a total eclipse.

The spectacle, which NASA has coined a "super blue blood moon", will grace the pre-dawn skies in the western United States, as the moon crosses into the shadow of the Earth and turns blood red.

"Weather permitting, the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii will have a spectacular view of totality from start to finish," said Gordon Johnston, a lunar expert at NASA.

Other parts of the world, including Australia and Asia, will see it at night, as the moon comes up in the west.

"The last time a complete lunar cover-up took place on the second full Moon of the month was December 30, 1982, at least as reckoned by local time in Europe, Africa, and western Asia − locations where the event could be seen," said Sky and Telescope magazine.

"The last 'blue moon' total lunar eclipse visible from the US and North America happened on March 31, 1866."

The "blue moon" aspect simply means it is the second full moon in a month, not that the moon will appear blue. A blue moon happens on average just under every three years.

It's called a super moon because the moon, in its elliptical orbit, is near its closest point to Earth.

This proximity, or perigee, makes it appear 14% bigger than normal and 30% brighter.

The reddish tint − or blood moon − happens due to "the effect of all the sunrises and sunsets all around the planet reflecting off the moon, which I think is really lovely", said NASA astrophysicist Michelle Thaller.

Sunrises and sunsets appear pink, red and orange because of the long distance light must travel, causing light waves to bounce in different ways, explained Thaller.

"The reason a sunrise or a sunset is red is the sunlight has to pass through a large amount of air on the side of the Earth and that actually scatters away any blue light and just lets the red light come on through," she said.

How to watch

The blood moon will not be visible in much of Europe, Africa and South America.

Viewing will also be a challenge for those on the US East Coast, since the eclipse begins just as the moon is setting in the west and the sun is rising in the east.

But those who are not in the path of totality, or who are experiencing cloudy weather, may catch it anyway, via a live stream broadcast on NASA.gov.

Moon-watching parties for the one-hour-16-minute eclipse were advertised up and down the US West Coast, including at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where the gathering kicks off at 3:45 am.

If you miss this one, the next blue moon total lunar eclipse will happen on Dec 31, 2028, though it won't be quite as large since the moon will not be at its closest point to Earth.

Another will happen on Jan 31, 2037, a total of 17 hours before perigee.

"The red color during a lunar eclipse is very distinctive and it's a rare treat to be able to see a blood red moon," said Brian Rachford, associate professor of physics at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

"One of the great things about a lunar eclipse is you also don't need any special equipment to see it. Anyone can go outside and look at the moon."

A swollen 'supermoon' is seen during the stages of a total eclipse in Caracas on Sept 27, 2015 − but on Wednesday, it will also be a 'blue moon' − a rare trifecta not seen in the US since 1866.

The SunDaily, Posted on 31 January 2018 - 10:42am
Rare lunar eclipse offers glimpse of 'super blue blood moon'

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The 'Power'of durian

The spiky fruit long regarded as a delicacy in Southeast Asia has left a divisive trail – you either love it or hate it – and its odour means it is banned in most hotels and metro trains.

Detractors often describe its intense smell as a mix of gym socks and onions, while enthusiasts liken the creamy texture and intense aroma to blue cheese.

While the bittersweet fruit is usually eaten on its own or as dessert, the Mao Shan Wang cafe in Singapore’s Chinatown district has a special menu with durian in all dishes, even savoury ones.

Customers can opt for chicken nuggets with a durian dip, pizza topped with durian flesh, fries with a side of durian sauce, all washed down with coffee – durian infused, of course.

“Durian is [usually] eaten by itself and as sweets or treats, but what our company wanted to do was put it with savoury stuff like fries and nuggets,” company spokesman Lance Lee said. “We will be looking to expand the offerings as well, with maybe rice, pasta and other things.”

Mao Shan Wang, Chinese for Cat Mountain King, refers to a strain of durian from Kelantan state in neighbouring Malaysia distinguished by its bittersweet taste and small seeds.

While many opted for durian ice cream to beat the muggy tropical heat, the more adventurous customers, most of them tourists, were seen trying the strong-smelling fruit – while wearing gloves.

Many were also waiting in line to buy durian-flavoured confectionery, and even freshly cut up fruit conveniently sealed in vacuum packs for their plane journey.

American tourist Michael Capps, who had been trying fresh durian straight from the husk, said he was a convert.

“It’s hard to explain the taste to it, but it actually has like a sweet taste to it and it’s very good,” he said.

A Singapore eatery centred around the pungent tropical fruit durian has caught a whiff of success as patrons flock to the cafe in droves for a bite of its exotic offerings.

South China Morning Post, Published: PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 12:54pm
Love it or hate it: Singapore’s durian-themed cafe smells winning combination

While the bittersweet fruit is usually eaten on its own or as dessert, the Mao Shan Wang cafe in Singapore’s Chinatown district has a special menu with durian in all dishes

GUESTS at a local hotel recently were nearly evacuated when residents reported the smell of gas.

The fear was that there was a gas leak − the consequences of which could be disastrous. Health and safety engineers were summoned and the first place that they looked was the kitchen.

But everything seemed to be fine. However, the smell persisted and it was becoming worrying, as memories of the Grenfell Tower fire were still fresh in some people’s minds.

The culprit and source of the offensive smell was discovered only the next day. The stench wafted from one of the rooms. It took a Malaysian to discover that the smell, although alarming to the uninitiated, was indeed from our much loved king of fruits, the durian!

The “king” was hibernating in a suitcase to be delivered to a friend, and although the noses of the Customs officers at Heathrow Airport had missed the “foul smelling fruit”, its pungent aroma, which has been associated with smelly socks and rotten cheese (and these are from people being kind), had made itself forcefully known to all and sundry at the hotel.

What is it about our beloved fruit that has been known to cause almost a worldwide panic?

Sydney officials had to evacuate a whole floor of an office building after reports of a gas leak. Nearby, in a warehouse, Malaysian agricultural staff were unloading a shipment of the pungent fruit and the smell had wafted up the ventilation system and reached the 15th floor of the building! Such is the power of the smell and the might of the Musang King!

According to reports, “The staff in the adjoining office, all Caucasians, panicked because they thought there was a gas leak ... they summoned the emergency services. The whole floor was evacuated within minutes.”

In China, whose population is reported to be the biggest consumption of durian, a bus driver in the province of Shandong ordered everybody out of her vehicle when she smelt what she suspected was gas.

A passenger was later discovered enjoying the fruit at the back of the vehicle.

The fruit’s offensive smell, whose genetic makeup and DNA blueprint has become an area of study, had moved some hotels, public places and modes of transportation to post signs stating: “No firearms, no explosives, no durians.”

A video clip from the University of Manchester recently showed students being evacuated and emergency officers inspecting the place. The culprit was later identified as a durian, and no prizes for guessing who brought it in as there are many Malaysian students at the university. An officer was heard to have warned harshly: “Do not bring durians into this building!”

Firefighters were called to a private hospital in Melbourne amid concerns there had been a gas leak in one of the wards.

Six patients were evacuated before it was found that the smell was from a durian brought in by a patient’s well-meaning visitor.

Well, stories of the stench of the durian can be told until the cows come home. Even video clips are made to see the shock and horror registered on faces of people not used to this fruit that we would kill and die for.

The king of fruits has long made its presence felt in the United Kingdom, much to the delight of Malaysians, and they are not unfamiliar to the locals.

Thanks to Matrade, the Musang King had been heralded into supermarkets, albeit with a hefty price tag, that some would and could pay for.

The fruit has a reputation to have caused quite a divide. In our own family, some would rather have us have the offending fruit outside the house. So, it is not only the nostrils of Caucasians that find the smell dreadful.

I have also met with some locals who would do anything to have a taste of durian. At a dining table among dons and academics in their robes at one of the colleges at Cambridge University recently, the conversation strangely turned to durians.

It was with much delight that I discovered not one or two dons unabashedly admitting to being obsessed with the fruit. One even admitted to having a mandatory stopover in Malaysia for his durian fix, before travelling on to his destination for a conference.

Yes, we die-hard fans of the thorny fruit would do anything to have the velvety feel of the flesh that would then release the heaven-like taste and send you off to nirvana. The hotel guest who brought in the durian in his or her suitcase for a friend must be lauded for being such a faithful friend!

Personally, I must admit to doing something unthinkable where durian is concerned. Some years ago, when durian was a rare and precious item which could only be found in Oriental supermarkets, in my moments of weakness, I gave in and bought a carefully-packed durian.

There were only six pieces which I knew wouldn’t have been enough to share with the children.

So, with an accomplice, we sat in her car parked under a tree outside Malaysia Hall. There we were left on our own to enjoy this almost heaven-like experience, naïve in the belief that no one would know.

Suffice to say, the smell, which gave the secret away, is now long gone, but the memory remains and it took years for the children to forgive us.

New Straits Times, Published: January 14, 2018 - 12:58pm
The 'power'of durian

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Abuse is never okay

THANKS to disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, women’s rights have again taken centre stage. The New York Times’ exposé last October that blew the lid off Weinstein’s chronic sexual predation of young starlets has inspired a fresh wave of feminism in Western democracies. And, through the power of social media, it is inevitable this wind of change will soon reach Asian shores.

American women, especially, are resonating with the #Time’s Up and #MeToo social media movements as vehicles to identify and shame sexual predators, many of them celebrities or public officials. Even United States President Donald Trump has not been spared.

More significantly, these movements have added urgency to the larger conversation on women’s rights and gender disparities in income, education, economic status and political power.

There is little doubt that women have had to fight tooth and nail for any level of social equality − from the right to vote, to proving themselves able leaders in business and politics, and smashing the weaker sex stereotype that male-dominated media has long perpetuated with glee.

Yet, it is imperative the tidal wave of feminism battering patriarchy’s tall citadels does not turn vigilante. If the process of social justice for women is opportunistically put on steroids, there is a genuine risk it may end up doing more harm than good.

Take Oxford University for example. Media sources reported that starting last summer, all math and computer science majors were given extra 15 minutes in exams to help “female candidates [who] might be more likely to be adversely affected by time pressure”.

University officials defended the move as necessary to help improve the grades of female students, since men had been drubbing them for years in the number of first-class degrees gained in these disciplines. And, since Oxford enjoys the status of a sacred cow in academia, it is inevitable other colleges around the world will follow suit.

However, on balance, there is a possibility that such policies would turn women into a special-needs category at colleges. And, ultimately, will reinforce many of the gender’s most grotesque stereotypes. It will have the signalling effect of deepening their internalised sense of inferiority that feminists routinely blame patriarchy for.

Two general defences of women have emerged in the aftermath of Oxford’s decision that, while valid, predictably point to institutional failure stemming from gender stereotyping.

One, school teachers habitually lowball girls when assessing their understanding of math and science, which consequently create an “anxiety” in them about these disciplines. Maybe, but Oxford has a rigorous admission process that only passes the best and brightest. Hence, the anxieties of the average female student are irrelevant in this case. If there is sufficient evidence to prove that pre-tertiary level teachers indeed prejudice against girls in these subjects, which over time discourages them from pursuing them professionally, it behooves the government to implement a mandatory retraining regime to remedy the situation.

Two, standardised tests are heavily biased towards male (i.e. individualistic) patterns of thinking, whereas girls do better at collaborative problem solving. Again, group testing is meaningless to establish learning outcomes at a degree level, since the weightage of individual effort is impossible to establish. Social justice is a highly desirable quality in any society, yet we must be wary of rebels without a cause who have injected themselves into the narrative and bring an element of extremism to women’s rights. This will dilute the core message of the movement and even reduce it to a farce.

For me, the sociological value of Oxford’s exam policy rests on two important questions. First, will it advance the pursuit of global gender equality? No, I believe it will pigeonhole women as a special-needs category and concurrently recycle the old sexist stereotype of them as damsels in distress. It not only cheapens the value of the female intellect, it also signals to society they are patently unable to level up mentally or acquire stress-coping mechanisms to succeed in high-pressure situations.

Two, will it present women as the intellectual equal of men? Negative. By publicly declaring exam times have been extended to help women compete, Oxford has in fact passed judgment that they are inferior to men in organising their thoughts and completing tasks in a timely manner.

Male chauvinists, too, are going to have a field day with this, as Oxford’s decision hands them yet another foothold to hammer home the notion that women are scarce at the top rungs of business and politics because they easily crack under pressure. Moreover, one of the cardinal mistakes of the current crop of social justice warriors is to treat men as a gender monolith. For, as studies repeatedly show, men can react poorly to pressure and suffer from contextual anxieties based on their psychological makeup and life experiences. More pertinently, such Band-Aids will not resolve the core issues of gender inequality the way handouts have little impact on eradicating poverty.

For perspective, when we seek sociological solutions to poverty − or beggary specifically −research suggests simply giving money to beggars gradually diminishes their motivation to better themselves. A more sustainable solution is teaching these marginalised individuals a trade or skill that incentivises them to earn a living.

Assuming the desire to appear relevant did not predicate Oxford’s decision, it should require female students to participate in stress-coping workshops where they can develop mental tools to deal with the pressures of education and later, work.

These workshops should be embedded in the core university curriculum for all science disciplines for starters, and offered beginning of freshman year. Likewise, it may also be useful to incorporate in them the life stories of female role models who rose from the depths of despair to put their stamp on the world. J.K. Rowling and Oprah Winfrey come to mind.

Such a holistic approach to college learning will reduce the conditioned inferiority that women have long experienced in society and help them self-actualise without the crutch of pseudo-affirmative action.

New Straits Times, Published: January 31, 2018 - 9:23am
Follies of gender stereotyping
S. Mubashir Noor is an Ipoh-based independent journalist.

I WAS scrolling though my Facebook newsfeed the other day when I came across a video and an accompanying article that grabbed my attention.

What I saw in that video left me livid.

In the video of the incident, which allegedly took place in Penang, a man was seen berating a few women at a bus stop. He was apparently a complete stranger to the women, and was reprimanding some of them for not wearing a headscarf or tudung.

Without warning, he suddenly raised his hand and slapped one of them hard on the face. Some of the other women stood up immediately, and were seen and heard yelling at the man for his audacious behaviour. He then took a few steps back, clearly in fear of retaliation from the women.

The video was then cut off and I had no idea what happened after the ruckus that was recorded and went viral.

I can’t seem to understand why physical abuse is still an issue today, when it should have been something left in the past.

How many times do we need to remind ourselves and others around us that hitting a woman, or any other person for the matter, is never the solution to problems?

It is frightening to come to a realisation that many people these days are so bold in their actions. Most have no regard whatsoever for anyone watching; if they feel like it, they raise their hands. No questions asked.

Clearly, this is nothing to be proud of. A man who raises his hand on a woman or a child is a coward who is too afraid of doing the right thing. Women and children are usually weaker physically, and most would not dream of trying to even the score when a man abuses them. Thus, they end up being punching bags when a man needs to vent his frustration on others.

I am not generalising, nor am I saying that abuse is caused only by men. Not all men are the same, and not all men raise their hands on others. There are many decent men out there who believe that there is nothing more repulsive than physically hurting others. There are also a number of women who abuse their partners and/or children. The only reason why we don’t hear a lot about this is because they are not reported as much.

We pride ourselves on being a country reaching developed status, yet our mentality is no different from that of a nation with no morals and respect for each other.

We pride ourselves on being people who are forward-thinking, yet our actions are no different from those who are narrow-minded and intolerant.

We pride ourselves on being progressive and enlightened, yet our behaviour is no different from one who holds and acts on beliefs that are archaic.

It doesn’t matter what gender you are. Hitting a person is outright wrong and should never be condoned, unless in self-defence. No one has the right to go around slapping or punching others, no matter the circumstances.

If we were in the early 20th century where there was a lack of mutual respect and understanding of human rights, perhaps this wouldn’t have been a big deal. It was quite common then for women to be physically abused because there was no one and most definitely no law that highlighted the wrongness of abuse. Many people then weren’t aware of their basic human rights. Men were okay with raising their hands and women just accepted in painful silence.

However, this is not how the world works today. Things have changed for the better (most things anyway), and people are more aware of what is right and wrong, and how one deserves to be treated. We now dare to speak up when wronged, and are not afraid of standing up for ourselves. Yet, despite this, there are some who still do the unthinkable.

It’s time we stopped keeping mum and start defending our rights.

Report those who abuse and fight for those who are abused.

New Straits Times, Published: January 21, 2018 - 12:12pm
Abuse is never okay
The writer, a lecturer at Sunway College, is a Malaysian-born Eurasian with Scottish/Japanese/
Indian lineage. She believes in a tomorrow where there is no existence of racism and hatred

The former coach of champion Hong Kong hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu has been arrested after he was accused of sexually assaulting the athlete when she was a teenager.

The suspect was detained two months after Lui became the first high-profile woman in socially conservative Hong Kong to speak out against abuse as part of the #MeToo movement exposing sexual misconduct.

In an open letter posted on Facebook on her 23rd birthday in November, she accused her former coach of sexually assaulting her when she was a schoolgirl, prompting the city´s leader Carrie Lam to ask police to investigate.

A 76-year-old man was arrested for "indecent assault" Sunday but has since been released on bail, police confirmed to AFP. Police declined to name him.

The #MeToo campaign spread rapidly in October after multiple accusations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and has since shaken artistic, media and political circles globally.

Lui said she was inspired to speak out by American Olympic gold-winning gymnast McKayla Maroney, one of a number of women who accused former USA Gymnastic team doctor Lawrence Nassar of abusing them.

Nassar was last week sentenced to 40 to 175 years in jail for criminal sexual conduct.

Lui had previously recalled how she thought nothing of it when the coach offered her a massage at his home to relax her muscles, but that he then removed her clothes and molested her.

She did not identify the perpetrator but the school attended by Lui at the time said they had immediately stopped working with the accused coach after she told them of her intention to publicise the incident.

Lui -- who took the gold medal in the 60-metre women's hurdles at the Asian Indoor Games in September -- said she decided to speak out a decade later in hopes of breaking the taboo around the subject in Chinese culture and encouraging other victims of sexual abuse to seek help.

In an open letter posted on Facebook on her 23rd birthday, Lui Lai-yiu did not name the man who abused her as a young teenager, calling him "coach Y"

Mail Online, PUBLISHED: 05:08 GMT, 30 January 2018
Former coach of Hong Kong hurdler arrested for sexual assault
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50th anniversary since 1967

1966 : The establishment of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) as a result of a meeting in Bangkok, 30 November, among the Ministers of Education of Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the then Republic of (South) Vietnam; the Chairperson of UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines; and the Special Adviser to the President of the United States of America. Indonesia was not present at this meeting but accepted the invitation and participated in the 2nd Conference of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education, Manila, 25-28 November 1966.

1966 : The establishment of the first two SEAMEO Regional Centres:
SEAMEO Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics (SEAMEO RECSAM) in Malaysia
SEAMEO Regional Language Centre (SEAMEO RELC) in Singapore.

SEAMEO RECSAM was established in 1967 to help promote and enhance science and mathematics education among the SEAMEO Member Countries. The centre fulfils this mission by engaging in research and development activities to inform pedagogy and policy, designing and implementing effective professional development programmes for science and mathematics educators, convening international conference, seminars, and workshops to pool expertise in science and mathematics education, and serving as a clearinghouse for information on science and mathematics education for the region.

RECSAM History

The Tokyo neighborhood of Jinbocho is a favorite of mine. Mostly known for bookshops, it is a bastion of quaintness amid a metropolis that can be downright oppressive at times.

Right at the heart of Jinbocho, a few steps from the local subway station, is Iwanami Hall. It doesn’t have much of an impact at street level, but its presence has definitely been felt by the country’s film industry. The hall was one of the city’s first art-house cinemas and a pioneer in bringing foreign films to Japan beginning in the late-1960s. Next year it will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

the japantimes, Published: MAY 4, 2017
As it approaches 50, Iwanami Hall remains vital to cinema lovers






 その会長は、敗戦後の焼野原で露天商から身を起こし、現代に至るまで過酷なビジネスの第一線を生き抜いてきた――あるマッキンゼー出身の経営者が「おそるべき人物」と評する――本物中の本物。その人物が「本物」と呼ぶとは、いったいどのような人物なのか? 興味をそそられないはずがなかった。それを察した会長は、数枚の文書をテーブルに置くと、こう言った。











 それが、率直な感想だった。海外で働く日本人は100万人以上いるというが、孤立無援(こりつむえん)、徒手空拳(としゅくうけん)でここまで成功した日本人がいるだろうか? いや、日本人だけではない。世界中で、異国の地でこのような成功をおさめた人物が何人いるだろう? そう思うと、聞きたいことが山のようにあふれ出した。「どんな信条をもっているのか?」「どうやって多くの信頼を勝ち得たのか?」「成功の秘訣は何か?」「数々の苦難をどうやって乗り越えたのか?」「どんな人生観をもっているのか?」……。





どのくらいの広さだろう? サッカー・フィールド2面分は軽く超えるだろう。門扉を過ぎると、両側は広大な庭園。その真ん中をまっすぐ100mほどの石畳の路面が延びている。その先に、フランスの城のような大豪邸が、外灯のおだやかな光に照らし出されていた。車はゆっくりと進み、明るく照らされた玄関前に横付けにされた。





「遠いところを、よく来てくれましたね。疲れたでしょう? どうぞ、腰をかけなさい」



 私たちビジネスパーソンは、そのほとんどが「持たざる者」としてキャリアをスタートさせる。そこから、どうやって成功をつかみ取っていくのか? どうやって充実した人生を切り拓いていくのか? 小西氏は、そんな切実な思いにヒントを与えてくれる、25の教訓を語ってくれた。








 など、若くして異国にわたり、徒手空拳でビジネスを始め、一代で大富豪になった小西氏以外には語りえない「最強の人生訓」だ。重要なのは、そのどれもが「誰でもできること」だったこと。「誰でもできること」を徹底することで、必ず成功をつかみ、充実した人生を切り拓くことができるということだ。 関係者への影響を考え、実名の表記を控えた箇所はあるが、すべて実話で構成されている。本物の大富豪が、その成功の秘訣を明かした稀有な内容を、連載第2回以降、ご紹介していく。

DIAMOND Online, Published: 2017.4.10



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Palm oil issue

KUALA LUMPUR: The visit by the French Defence Minister to Malaysia after the country formed a new government is reflective of Kuala Lumpur’s importance to France’s as its strategic partner in the Asian region.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammudin Hussein said his counterpart, Florence Parly’s first visit to Malaysia to attend the 4th Malaysia-France Defence Joint High Strategic Committee also served to reinforce the bilateral cooperation between Malaysia and France, especially in the areas of global security and defence.

Hishammuddin, who is also Special Functions Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said the meeting also touched on the import ban on palm oil by the European Union (EU), where France pledged to assist Malaysia.

France, Hishammuddin said had made a commitment that it would not discriminate against oil palm-based products, despite the EU having voted to impose a ban on the commodity beginning 2021.

France is member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) member, and one of the founders of the EU.

Parly said the country may be one of EU’s founding members, but that it was also a partner to Malaysia.

She said France had its own stand on the issue, and that her government understood how important the oil palm industry was to the Malaysian economy.

“From the French perspective, it is easy. No alternative oil sources have been sidelined, so this shows that there is no discrimination against palm oil at the national or European level.

“Malaysia can rely on France (to aid Malaysia in the palm oil issue),” she said in a joint press conference with Hishammuddin after the meeting here, adding that France believed that the issue could be resolved through dialogues.

Earlier, Parly also met with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and visited the Subang Royal Malaysian Air Force Base.

She said the ban was also one of the main issues she had discussed with the prime minister during their meeting.

Hishammuddin said France’s stand proved that the relationship between the two countries could help solve the palm oil issue.

“The palm oil industry is important to Malaysia as it involves 650,000 farmers, with more than 1.5 million involved in the entire chain of the sector,” he said.

It has been reported that a cabinet meeting chaired by Najib last week had agreed to review the country’s trade with the EU following the ban on palm oil products.

Last April, the EU Parliament voted to avoid the use of palm biofuels by 2020. On Jan 17, its Parliament voted to phase out palm biofuels from the EU energy mix after 2020, a decision seen as discriminatory against products from Asia.

Also present were Armed Forces chief General Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohammed Noor and France Ambassador to Malaysia Frédéric Laplanche.

Both countries also underscored the importance of their cooperation in areas including political strategies, military cooperation as well as training.

New Straits Times, Published: Parly said the country may be one of EU’s founding members, but that it was also a partner to Malaysia.

She said France had its own stand on the issue, and that her government understood how important the oil palm industry was to the Malaysian economy.

“From the French perspective, it is easy. No alternative oil sources have been sidelined, so this shows that there is no discrimination against palm oil at the national or European level.

“Malaysia can rely on France (to aid Malaysia in the palm oil issue),” she said in a joint press conference with Hishammuddin after the meeting here, adding that France believed that the issue could be resolved through dialogues.

Earlier, Parly also met with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and visited the Subang Royal Malaysian Air Force Base.

She said the ban was also one of the main issues she had discussed with the prime minister during their meeting.

Hishammuddin said France’s stand proved that the relationship between the two countries could help solve the palm oil issue.

“The palm oil industry is important to Malaysia as it involves 650,000 farmers, with more than 1.5 million involved in the entire chain of the sector,” he said.

It has been reported that a cabinet meeting chaired by Najib last week had agreed to review the country’s trade with the EU following the ban on palm oil products.

Last April, the EU Parliament voted to avoid the use of palm biofuels by 2020. On Jan 17, its Parliament voted to phase out palm biofuels from the EU energy mix after 2020, a decision seen as discriminatory against products from Asia.

Also present were Armed Forces chief General Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohammed Noor and France Ambassador to Malaysia Frédéric Laplanche.

Both countries also underscored the importance of their cooperation in areas including political strategies, military cooperation as well as training.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein (right) exchanging minutes of meeting with French Minister of Defence Florence Parly during the 4th Malaysia-France Defence Joint High Strategic Committee at Wisma Perwira today.

New Straits Times, Published: January 29, 2018 - 10:30pm
Malaysia is a strategic partner to France as proven by French Defence Minister's visit: Hishamuddin

Échanges fructueux avec mon homologue japonais M. Onodera : de multiples nouveaux projets identifiés, sur lesquels nous travaillerons à l'avenir - cyber, maritime, espace, équipements
Jan 26

Read more:
The Guardian, Published: Wed 21 Jun 2017 20.03 BST

Macron appoints new faces to senior roles after four ministers resign

MoDem leader among four ministers to have quit in 48 hours, as French president appears to turn back on centrist allies
By Kim Willsher in Paris

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Koreas' Olympic ice hockey team lost in translation

The unified Korean women's ice hockey team faced an unexpected challenge at their first joint training session, reports said Monday -- vastly different hockey terminology on either side of the divided peninsula.

Seven decades of almost total separation after the 1950-53 Korean War, with all ordinary civilian contact blocked between North and South, has seen their once common language diverge in many respects.

The two Koreas still share the same writing system, known as Hangul -- an alphabet developed in the 15th century to replace Chinese characters.

But different words are emerging as they develop separately, and in the capitalist South, ice hockey players adapted the sounds of English words for most sporting terms.

Skating is called "seu-ke-ee-ting" and a "t-push" -- a defensive technique by a goalie -- is "tee-pu-sh".

But the North created its own Korean-language words for each move, calling skating "apuro jee chee gee", while a "t-push" is a "moonjeegee eedong", literally meaning "a move by a gatekeeper".

To overcome communication issues the South's sports authorities put together a list of the different vocabularies and distributed it to the players ahead of their first skate together on Sunday.

It also includes the English pronunciation of the North Korean terms -- apparently for the use of the South Korean team's Canadian coach Sarah Murray.

The list was intended "to help players understand", one official of the Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) told the South's top-selling Chosun daily.

"But people are still in the process of getting used to it, so we hear a mishmash of terms from both sides during practice."

- Three letter code -

The joint team was forged as part of peace efforts by Seoul to use the Pyeongchang Winter Games in the South to ease tension on the flashpoint peninsula.

The atmosphere at the first practice was "serious but amicable", Seoul's News1 news agency said, citing an KIHA official, adding many Northern players had demonstrated "great focus and fighting spirit".

Since the division of the peninsula the two Koreas have only competed as unified teams in 1991, when their women won the team gold at the world table tennis championship in Japan, and their under-19 footballers reached the world championship quarter-finals in Portugal.

North and South have their own three-letter Olympic country codes -- PRK and KOR respectively, for People's Republic of Korea and Korean Republic -- and the unified team has been accorded its own country code, COR, from the French word for Korea, Corée.

The ice hockey squad is made up of 23 South Korean players and 12 Northerners, who crossed the Demilitarized Zone last week. They are scheduled to hold a warm-up match against Sweden on Sunday.

But the last-minute creation of the team sparked controversy among many South Koreans who accused Seoul of using athletes for political purposes and robbing Southern players of opportunities to compete at the Olympics.

The North will send another 10 athletes to take part in the Games in other sports including cross-country skiing and figure skating after its leader Kim Jong-Un announced a plan to join the event in his New Year speech.

North Korean women's ice hockey players, in red, train with their South Korean teammates -- but it has emerged the players use vastly difference terminology

France24, Published: 29 January 2018 - 06H20
Koreas' Olympic ice hockey team lost in translation
[source] AFP

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Fearless Philippine farmers defy volcano anger

GUINOBATAN (Philippines):
As blistering lava spews from the seething volcano nearby, Philippine farmer Jay Balindang leads his buffalo through the ash-strewn paddy fields of the no-go zone, creeping closer to danger in a desperate bid to support his family.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from around the erupting Mayon volcano, as a white-hot cocktail of gas and volcanic debris streaks down its flanks, threatening local communities who rely on the fertile land at its base.

Fearing a significant eruption that could engulf whole swathes of the nearby land in burning rock and lava flows, authorities have cordoned-off a nine kilometre (six mile) danger zone around Mayon.

But that has not stopped defiant farmers like Balindang from tending to crops and livestock that are a crucial part of their livelihoods.

Each day the father-of-eight leaves his children at a government evacuation centre, sneaking past police as he returns to his small farm at the foot of the volcano to feed his precious “carabao” water buffalo.

“I am not afraid of the volcano. We are used to its activity,” the 37-year-old told AFP, at the edge of his rain-lashed rice fields, a few kilometres inside the danger zone.

Farmers make up around 10,000 of the 84,000 people displaced by the eruption of Mayon in Albay province, some 330 kilometres southeast of Manila.

The lush region is famous for its chili peppers, as well as less fiery crops like rice, corn and vegetables.

All are threatened by the volatile volcano, which has gushed molten lava and belched giant clouds of superheated ash since it began erupting two weeks ago.

Local authorities say that beyond the immediate damage to crops caused by the coating of smoldering embers, there are concerns that heavy rainfall could combine with ash and rock to form deadly, fast-moving mudflows that could sweep away entire settlements and block vital rivers.

“This is a new and daunting challenge to our agriculture workers who in the past had to cope with typhoons, landslides and floods,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol said.

Farmers are among the most vulnerable to the meteorological miseries that afflict the Philippines, which is hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year and is in the earthquake-prone volcanic belt around the Pacific known as the “Ring of Fire.”

The 2,460-metre (8,070-foot) Mayon has been both a blessing and a curse to the farmers living near its slopes for generations.

Volcanic ash can kill vegetation immediately after an eruption, but as it seeps into the ground it can also enrich the soil with minerals that sustain future crops.

“If the ash is thin, it would become a fertiliser but if the ash is thick it would mean farmers who had spent money a lot of money to plant the vegetables lose everything,” Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told AFP.

Vegetable prices have already begun to soar in parts of Albay as the eruption hampers access to key crops.

“We are very famous for these dishes wherein the (taro) leaves are being grown just at the foot of Mount Mayon,” Elsa Maranan, chief of the agriculture department’s local breeding station, told AFP.

“If all this will be destroyed then the production of our delicacies and the income of our farmers will be very much affected.”

In a bid to stop farmers from slipping back to tend their own fields, local authorities have set up communal areas, where farmers can graze livestock on ash-free grass.

“We appeal to them not to be stubborn because they are putting the lives of our responders in danger,” Brigadier-General Arnulfo Matanguihan, head of a local task force for the eruption, told AFP.

But many still make a daily hazardous dash back to their own land.

Balindang said the choice was clear – if he ensures that his pigs, carabaos and cows are fed, then his family will also be assured of something to eat.

“It’s very difficult because I don’t know if we will have any rice left to harvest. For now, we have nothing,” he said.

A Filipino villager pulls a water buffalo at the foot of the rumbling Mayon Volcano in the town of Guinobatan, Albay province, Philippines, 29 January 2018.
The Mayon Volcano is located in eastern Philippines and has been active over the last two weeks, spewing fresh lava and ash while the number of evacuees exceeded 80,000 in the face of the threat of an even more potent explosion.
The Philippines, which currently has 23 active volcanoes, is situated on the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire,' an area known for its intense seismic activity which extends from the west coast of the American continent to New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia.

New Straits Times, Published: January 29, 2018 - 1:20pm
Fearless Philippine farmers defy volcano anger
[source] AFP

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Southeast Asia faces a “cooling crisis”

Southeast Asia faces a “cooling crisis” as more and more people crank up inefficient air-conditioning to cope with rising temperatures and worsening air pollution, researchers said.

More than 420 managers and experts from government agencies and multinational companies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam took part in a survey on cooling systems and energy efficiency, conducted by Eco-Business and released at a Bangkok conference on Monday.

Energy demand from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) climbed 70 percent from 2000 to 2016, with air-conditioning accounting for a large part of household electricity demand, the report said.

The trend is likely to continue as populations grow, cities expand and wealth levels increase.

“The domestic aspect of electricity consumption has grown massively - more so than industry and the service sector in ASEAN - and as a result the air-conditioning bill is going through the roof,” said Tim Hill, research director at Eco-Business, a media organisation covering sustainability in Asia.

Electricity for the region’s air-conditioning units is largely provided by coal-fired power stations.

The report urged governments and businesses to adopt new policies and rules to help countries meet global targets to cut planet-warming emissions.

“Governments need to drive this by putting in regulations that enforce more efficient forms of air-conditioning - making sure they’re not dumping grounds for old-fashioned products,” Hill told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The survey’s respondents said manufacturers and suppliers of air-conditioning should focus on producing more energy-efficient systems and educating customers better.

Excessive cooling in public buildings - like offices, shopping centres and cinemas - must also be tackled, while public awareness campaigns would help promote energy efficiency.

Cinema-goers in some Southeast Asian cities bring socks to keep warm, while officer workers wear woolly hats and shoppers in malls can be seen wearing winter jackets to stop the shivers. At street level, air-conditioned shops often keep their doors open to entice buyers.

“Air-con is designed to make people feel more comfortable but it’s actually doing completely the reverse - it’s making people feel more uncomfortable and making them more unproductive by freezing them,” Hill said.

Stricter government regulations that promote or enforce energy-efficient cooling systems, and financial incentives to install such systems in homes would help, the report said.

Consumers, businesses and governments must also work together to manage electricity demand better, reduce emissions and pollutants, and move away from a reliance on coal-fired power stations, said Mark Radka, head of energy, climate and technology at UN Environment in Paris, who also worked on the report.

"The ASEAN countries as a whole should try to up their game," he added.

Reuters, Published: JANUARY 29, 2018 - 9:02 AM
Shivering in the tropics: Southeast Asia faces "cooling crisis"
Reporting by Michael Taylor, editing by Megan Rowling

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There is no time off for doctors.

FINALLY, a week ago I obtained an “okay” from doctors who treated my left shoulder. It took a while to recover as I did not diligently follow the physiotherapy sessions recommended for me. I missed my appointments, too, and lamely blamed it on my other commitments. Simply put, it was my fault. The doctors did just great.

The recent visit to the sports clinic at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (KLH) was one of the follow-ups that was required of me. I had an eight-hour surgery on my shoulder in 2015, and, apparently, it was one of the worst cases of rotator cuff tear.

Prior to the surgery, the last time I was admitted to KLH was to give birth to my second son, who is now 26 years old. The hospital has undergone massive upgrading since, although some of the old façade remains.

Visiting the sports clinic for the first time in 2014 was a new experience for me. The ambience was so different, a bit like a private hospital. The only thing that reminded me that it was a government hospital was the large number of patients waiting to see the doctors.

Physically, there are many more new buildings, but I am more interested in the professionalism showed by the medical staff there. The nurses, doctors and support staff are simply awesome.

I had wanted to write on this earlier, but there were issues that warranted my immediate attention, hence, the subject on HKL sports clinic was kept on the back burner. Despite the delay, I still want to give credit where it is due.

My shoulder injury led me to meet a team of medical consultants. They are busy people, working long hours and in teams to deal with the vast number of cases, which is very typical of government hospitals.

I started having problem lifting my left hand in mid-2014. I did not pay too much attention to it at first, brushing it off as a frozen shoulder. But, as time passed, carrying things with my left hand became bothersome and painful.

I then checked myself at a hospital and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) confirmed there was a complete tear in one of the tendons. Our arm is kept in our shoulder socket by a rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that come together as tendons to form a covering around the shoulder. When one of the tendons is torn, moving your arm will be painful.

When I went to the orthopaedic and traumatology clinic in KLH in May 2015, the doctor who attended to me suggested an operation. However, I waited for several months as there was a long list of patients before me. Finally, I had my surgery in Sept 2015.

I was in pain most of the time after the operation. I had to wear a support for five weeks and could not move my left arm. The doctors recommended several platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections on the left arm due to some issues with my bones. Altogether, I had three PRP injections. PRP uses platelets from my own blood to rebuild the damaged tendon. It has been successful, in not only relieving the pain, but also in jump-starting the healing process.

After the injections, I was sent for physiotherapy sessions. I had undergone about two months of physiotherapy. Even two years after the operation, I was still seen by them to ensure that I fully recovered.

Despite the longer-than-usual recovery, the doctors treated me nicely. It’s so professional of them.

Kudos to the medical team in the unit. I noticed that they worked very well as a team to ensure the success of cases, especially the complicated ones. Benefits of teamwork include increased efficiency, having different minds focusing on the same problem and mutual support. When a team works well, it accomplishes more than individuals who do it alone. In this case, for the benefit of the patients.

There are many good doctors around and there are many efficient medical teams on hand 24-7. But, to be in good health, we need to take care of ourselves. And, in many instances, we have to listen to our doctors and do what they say.

You are not well until they say you are. I know for sure that at the point I am penning off, doctors at the KLH sports clinic have already begun working on new medical cases. It’s work as usual for them. And, literally, there is no time off for these unsung heroes.

There is no time off for doctors. They work long hours and in teams to attend to patients.

New Straits Times, Published: January 30, 2018 - 9:52am
Well-deserved praise
Wan Norliza Wan Mustapha is a former Associate Professor at the Language of Academy Studies, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Shah Alam.

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Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad

The home furnishing giant Ikea, founded in Sweden in 1943, is facing heavy criticism for the logging and clear-cutting of old-growth forests in the north of Russian Karelia by its wholly owned subsidiary Swedwood.

According to leading environmental organisations, such logging is destroying ancient and unique forests that have a high conservation value.

Wood is by far the primary raw material in Ikea's products. Roughly 60 percent of the products stocked in the multinational's 300 department stores around the world contain wood in any form.

For years, the company has used the "We Love Wood" slogan to promote the fact that Ikea only uses wood obtained in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way.

But recent reports and studies prove that this proclamation is a myth.

An investigative report released last month by Swedish public service television found that Swedwood cuts down about 1,400 acres of forest a year.

"We have a (limited) amount of old-growth forest in the north of Russian Karelia with high conservation value. Ikea says they don't operate in old-growth forests but it is not true," Olga Ilina, head of the forest department of the NGO SPOK, the Karelia Regional Nature Conservancy, told IPS.

Now only about 10 percent of the ancient old-growth forests remain in Karelia, according to Ilina.

The Global Forest Coalition, an alliance of NGOs in more than 40 countries, strongly condemned Ikea's activities in Russia.

Protect the Forest, Sweden, a nature conservation organisation, has documented that Ikea, through Swedwood, clear-cut areas of old-growth forest containing 200-600 year-old trees in the northwest of Karelia, near the Finnish border, a process that is having deep ramifications on the invaluable forest ecosystems.

The belt of virgin forest in Russia, together with the tropical rainforests along the equator, performs vital functions for life on earth: forest belts bind huge amounts of carbon dioxide and are home to hundreds of thousands of unique animal and plant species.

The report also stressed that Swedwood is certified by the international forestry organisation Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which claims to ensure "responsibly managed forests".

On paper FSC has strict rules for certification that ensure protection of ancient forests. But in reality there are some gaps in regulation, according to Andrei Ptichnikov, general manager of FSC in Russia.

"You can't say that FSC can protect all forests. If we (claimed) to protect every tree, no company would (register) with FSC. It is not realistic. It is always a compromise," he told Swedish TV journalists recently.

Anders Hildeman, forest manager at Ikea, acknowledged the charges but stood by the company line that Ikea takes high conservation values into account when they plan their logging.

"We will continue to work according to the principles that we agreed on together with Russian environmental organisations like SPOK. Our goal is to develop and improve forest management. Swedwood has played an important role in the advancement of forestry in Karelia," he told IPS.

Hildeman says Swedwood was the first FSC-certified company in Karelia back in 2006. According to him FSC certification is a good basis for responsible forest management.

Ilina said Swedish and Russian NGOs had planned to meet with Ikea officials to discuss the situation in north Karelia but when company only agreed to meet with the Russian organisations, the meeting was called off.

"Swedwood operates in a better way than local Karelian companies but we think they can do much better considering their resources. They could plan their forestry better and make it more ecologically friendly. They should log secondary forests that are not so valuable instead of virgin forestry. Ikea has the means to do this," Ilina told IPS.

Ikea's total profits between 2000 and 2008 amounted to some 30 billion dollars, according to the company's annual financial reports.

The Guardian, Published: Tue 29 May 2012 14.59 BST
IKEA under fire for ancient tree logging

Wholly owned subsidiary Swedwood accused of clear-cutting ancient Russian forests for use in furniture
By Ida Karlsson for IPS, part of the Guardian Environment Network

In 1943, Ingvar Kamprad was a 17-year-old budding entrepreneur selling udder balm, picture frames and other small-town wares from his home in rural Sweden. That year, he founded a mail-order company called Ikea, initials taken after his name and that of his family’s farm. His first employee was his close friend Otto Ullmann, an Austrian Jew about his age whose parents had sent him to Sweden to escape the Nazi takeover in their home country.

Kamprad and Ullmann’s camaraderie was an unlikely one. Around the same time he started Ikea, Kamprad joined Sweden’s fascist movement. He regularly attended meetings with pro-Nazi extremist groups, maintained a long-running friendship with a leading Swedish fascist and, according to some accounts, was an active member of the Swedish version of the Hitler Youth.

By the time he was in his mid-20s, Kamprad, who died Saturday at 91, quietly abandoned his fascist activism and focused on his business, which eventually grew into the multibillion-dollar furniture empire that it is today. His earlier Nazi sympathies weren’t exposed until the 1990s, when a Swedish newspaper published evidence of his role in the fascist movement. Further revelations came to light in a 2011 book by journalist Elisabeth Asbrink that discussed his relationship with Ullmann.

On numerous occasions, the Swedish billionaire admitted he was once involved in the movement and apologized, blaming his activities on youthful “stupidity” and calling them his “greatest mistake.” But his past dogged him until the end of his life. Some detractors accused him of trying to conceal the uglier aspects of his affiliations. Among them was Asbrink, whose book offered evidence that Swedish law enforcement had identified Kamprad as a Nazi.

“He said in 1998 that he would get everything up on the table and that there would be nothing hidden,” Asbrink told the Telegraph in 2011. “Why then didn’t he tell us that he was a member of the worst Nazi party, and that the police found it serious enough to create a file on him?”

Recurring questions about his prior nationalist, anti-Semitic views seemed to frustrate Kamprad and his allies. A chapter in his 1999 autobiography asks, “When is an old man forgiven for the sins of his youth?”

“How long should he suffer for these 50-years-ago happenings,” Lars Göran Petersson, an Ikea employee and friend of Kamprad told the Guardian in 2004. “Is it a lifetime penalty? Is it 50 years? A hundred years? How long?”

The Swedish newspaper Expressen was the first to publish an account of Kamprad’s involvement in Swedish fascism during World War II. In 1994, when Kamprad was in his 60s and long after Ikea had burgeoned into a global business, Expressen ran stories reporting that he had been a follower of Per Engdahl, the leader of a fascist movement that called Adolf Hitler “Europe’s savior” and urged Sweden to enter the war on the side of the Axis Powers. Sweden remained neutral.

Kamprad and Engdahl became close over several years. In 1948, Kamprad bankrolled a book of Engdahl’s political screeds, and two years later, he invited Engdahl to his wedding. Kamprad would later admit that he was lured into the movement by the speeches of another Swedish fascist, Sven Olov Lindholm, according to the Guardian. He was also reported to have been involved with the Nordic Youth, a Swedish pro-fascist group, but has long said he couldn’t recall whether he spent time there.

Expressen’s articles caused a public-relations nightmare for Ikea. Some Jewish groups called for boycotts of the company, although the efforts had little effect on its business. In response, Kamprad wrote an apology letter to the company’s 25,000 employees, saying he had severed ties with fascists by the 1950s and calling the period “part of my life which I bitterly regret.”

“You have been young yourself,” Kamprad wrote. “Perhaps something happened during your own youth which you now, a long time afterward, think was silly. In that case it will be easier for you to understand me.”

He also said that he was enticed by Engdahl’s vision of “a non-Communist, socialist Europe,” according to the New York Times.

A few years later, Kamprad offered an apology in a chapter in his autobiography titled “A Youth and His Errors.” He wrote that he was influenced by his grandmother, who hailed from the Sudetenland, the ethnically German region of the former Czechoslovakia that was annexed to Hitler’s Germany in the run-up to World War II.

A more damning account of Kamprad’s fascist activism came out in 2011 with the publication of Asbrink’s book, “And in Wienerwald the Trees Remain.” The book revolves around Otto Ullmann, who came to live on the Kamprad family farm as a refugee from Nazi Germany, and Sweden’s complex relationship with Germany during the Second World War.

The book alleged that Kamprad was an active member of the Svensk Socialistisk Samling, effectively Sweden’s Nazi party, and even offered his membership number, as the Telegraph described upon its publication. Asbrink found that Swedish authorities had intercepted letters from Kamprad in which he boasted about recruiting new members and said he “misses no opportunity to work for the movement,” according to the Telegraph. The book further alleged that authorities believed Kamprad probably held “some sort of official position within the organization.”

Kamprad never admitted being involved with Svensk Socialistisk Samling. When the book was released, a spokesman dismissed its findings as “old news.”

“Ingvar Kamprad gave a detailed account back in 1994 about what he describes as his ‘youthful sins’ and the ‘biggest mistake of his life,’ apologizing and asking for forgiveness from all parties involved,” the spokesman told the Telegraph in 2011. “The Ikea he created is based on democratic principles and embraces a multicultural society.”

Speaking to the BBC, a spokesman added: “There are no Nazi-sympathizing thoughts in Ingvar’s head whatsoever.”

Though he spent the last two decades of his life denouncing fascism and trying to distance himself from his Nazi links, Kamprad appears to have stood by his relationship with Engdahl, the Swedish fascist leader.

“Per Engdahl was a great man, this I will maintain for as long as I live,” he told Asbrink in an interview for her book, according to the Guardian.

It’s not clear how, as a younger man, Kamprad kept his Nazi connections hidden from Ullmann, whose parents were murdered in the Holocaust. But, as Rabbi Dow Marmur wrote in 2013 for the Toronto Star, when the revelations were first made public in the 1990s, Ullmann was one of the first people Kamprad called to apologize.

The Washington Post, Published: January 29, 2018 at 5:42 AM
Nazi past followed Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad to his death
By Derek Hawkins

posted by fom_club at 12:22| Comment(0) | 日記 | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする

Kamprad, born to a farming family, was 17 years old when he founded IKEA

Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad has died aged 91, the company said Sunday, leaving behind a global business empire built on revolutionary flat-pack furniture but under investigation over its tax practises in the Netherlands.

The company said in a statement that Kamprad "passed away peacefully surrounded by his loved ones" at his home in the southern Swedish region of Smaland on Saturday "following a brief illness".

"Ingvar Kamprad was a unique entrepeneur who has meant a lot for Swedish business and who has made home furnishing available for many people, not just the few," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told TT news agency.

Born in 1926 to a farming family in Smaland, Kamprad, whose 2017 fortune was estimated at 37.3 billion euros (around $46 billion) according to the Swiss economic magazine Bilan, founded the company at the age of 17.

Despite his enormous success and wealth, Kamprad's modest spending habits bordered on the obsessive.

In 1973 he fled Sweden's higher tax structure for Denmark before seeking even lower taxes in Switzerland.

Starting in 2010 Kamprad gradually made way at the helm of the company for his three sons, finally returning to live in Sweden in 2014.

Kamprad announced in 2013 that he would be stepping down from the board of Inter Ikea, owner of the furniture giant's concept and brand, and his youngest son became chairman.

Last year, the European Commission announced that it had launched an investigation into Ikea's tax deals in the Netherlands.

The Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2014 cited leaked tax files from Luxembourg when it identified Ikea as one of the giant multinationals fingered for corporate tax avoidance by shuffling money to tax havens.

The group insists that it complies fully with national and international tax regulations.

Kamprad has faced harsh criticism in the past for his ties to the Nazi youth movement during World War II.

Sweden was neutral in World War II, and its Nazi party remained active after 1945. The Ikea founder said he stopped attending its meetings in 1948.

He later described the period as the "folly of youth" and "the greatest mistake of my life."

- 'Show a good example' -

The story of Ikea -- acronym for Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd (the name of his farm and municipality of origin) began in 1943.

Backed with modest financial support from his father, Kamprad began selling pens, picture frames, typewriters and other goods, delivering orders on his bicycle. His early success arose from squeezing his prices to undercut more established competitors.

In 1947 the young Kamprad started selling furniture made by local artisans, and four years later began publishing the first of his mail order catalogues -- now printed in 200 million copies and 33 languages annually.

Ikea's revolutionary self-assembly model -- which would cut transport and storage costs -- was conceived in 1956 after an employee suggested table legs be removed during freight so the package would fit into a car.

Two years later Kamprad opened Ikea's first store in Almhult, south of his hometown.

He was proud of the egalitarian spirit that his company promoted, telling Sydsvenskan newspaper in 2008, "I belong to the people on the (shop) floor".

"The greatest intelligence within Ikea is on our floors. If I want to know something I don't approach a top manager, I talk to ten sales people," he added.

- Ageing Volvo -

But he had a tough side.

From 1970, Ikea conquered major markets in Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, thriving on the spending power of the emerging middle class in countries like post-Cold War Russia.

The Ikea group now has 403 stores across every continent, employs 190,000 people worldwide and generates annual sales of 38 billion euros ($47 billion).

But Kamprad lived sparingly, reportedly wore clothes from thrift stores, drove an ageing Volvo, and regularly used his supermarket loyalty card.

"If you look at me, I think I do not wear anything that was not bought at a flea market, I want to show a good example," the industrialist told Swedish broadcaster TV4 in 2016.

In 2013, he was forced to hand over billions of dollars to his sons following a bitter family feud, according to a book on Ikea.

Kamprad, born to a farming family, was 17 years old when he founded IKEA

The Ikea group, which Ingvar Kamprad founded, now has 403 stores across every continent, employs 190,000 people worldwide and generates annual sales of 38 billion euros

AFP, Published: 28 Jan 2018
Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad dies aged 91

Ingvar Kamprad, a Swedish entrepreneur who hid his fascist past and became one of the world’s richest men by turning simply-designed, low-cost furniture into the global Ikea empire, died on Saturday at his home in Smaland, Sweden. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by the company in a statement on Sunday.

He grew up on a farm in the lake-dotted province of Smaland, in southern Sweden, a dyslexic boy who milked cows and found it hard to concentrate in school. His family was poor, and he earned money selling matches and pencils in villages. At 17, he registered his mail-order business in household goods, calling it Ikea, formed of his initials and those of his farm, Elmtaryd, and village, Agunnaryd.

Over the next seven decades, Mr. Kamprad built Ikea into the world’s largest furniture retailer − an archipelago of more than 350 stores in 29 countries across Europe, North America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Asia, with sales of 38.3 billion euros ($47.6 billion), more than 930 million store visits and 210 million recipients of catalogs in 32 languages.

It made him wealthy beyond imagining. Bloomberg Billionaires Index listed him as the world’s eighth-richest person, worth $58.7 billion. But his driving ambition led to alcoholism, years of fascination with fascism and, trying to lead his employees by example, into a life of almost monastic frugalities.

All his life, Mr. Kamprad practiced thrift and diligence, and he portrayed those traits as the basis for Ikea’s success. He lived in Switzerland to avoid Sweden’s high taxes, drove an old Volvo, flew only economy class, stayed in budget hotels, ate cheap meals, shopped for bargains and insisted that his home was modest, that he had no real fortune and that Ikea was held by a charitable trust.

It was not exactly so, as reporters found. His home was a villa overlooking Lake Geneva, and he had an estate in Sweden and vineyards in Provence. He drove a Porsche as well as the Volvo. His cut-rate flights, hotels and meals were taken in part as an exemplar to his executives, who were expected to follow suit, to regard employment by Ikea as a life’s commitment − and to write on both sides of a piece of paper.

Ikea was indeed operated through a charitable trust in the Netherlands, and a complex series of holding companies, all controlled by the Kamprad family to avoid any chance that Ikea might be taken public or broken up. It also provided tax shelters and a structure for preserving the company intact after Mr. Kamprad’s death.

He sought to control his work force, too. In 1976, he wrote a manifesto, “The Testament of a Furniture Dealer,” with biblical-style commandments listing simplicity as a virtue and waste as a sin. Employees were expected to absorb “the Ikea spirit,” to be humble, clean-cut and courteous, not just knowledgeable about Ikea’s products but enthusiastic about its corporate ideology − principles to work and live by.

Mr. Kamprad was, like his designer wares, a studied Everyman. He cultivated a provincial openness: curious about everything, but a face lost in the crowd. He was bespectacled and balding, with wisps of graying hair plastered down the sides, jowls and a pointed chin. His blue denim shirts and khaki pants might have been a gardener’s, but there was hard individuality in the dark eyes and compressed lips.

While he lived mostly in seclusion, he traveled to Ikea stores around the world, sometimes strolling in anonymously and questioning employees as if he were a customer, and customers as if he were a solicitous employee. He spoke at Ikea board meetings and occasionally lectured at universities. He rarely gave interviews, but made no secret of his alcoholism, saying he controlled it by drying out three times a year.

To millions of Ikea customers and the general public, he was largely unknown beyond the authorized version of his life and Ikea’s success − his “Leading by Design: The Ikea Story” (1999), written with Bertil Torekull. Its themes had been sounded for decades in Ikea publicity and reiterated in profiles of Mr. Kamprad and the company.

Ikea had been achieved, he said, by frugality: building stores on less costly land outside cities; buying materials at a discount; minimizing sales staff to let customers shop without pressure; putting no finishes on unseen furniture surfaces, and packaging items in flat boxes to be carried away by customers for home assembly (instructions provided).

In 1994, the Stockholm newspaper Expressen uncovered Mr. Kamprad’s name in the archives of Per Engdahl, a Swedish fascist who had recently died. They showed Mr. Kamprad had joined Mr. Engdahl’s fascist movement in 1942, and had attended meetings, raised funds and recruited members. Even after the war’s end in 1945, he remained close to the leader. In a 1950 letter to Mr. Engdahl, Mr. Kamprad said he was proud of his involvement.

Mr. Kamprad responded humbly to the disclosures. In a message to his employees, he said his fascist activities were “a part of my life which I bitterly regret,” and “the most stupid mistake of my life.” He said that he had been influenced by his German grandmother, who fled the Sudetenland before World War II, and that he had been drawn to Mr. Engdahl’s vision of “a non-Communist, socialist Europe.”

For Swedes, the revelations reawakened disquieting memories of World War II. While Sweden was officially neutral, German troops had traveled across the country from occupied Norway, and an unknown number of Swedes were Nazi sympathizers. After the disclosures, Jewish groups called for a boycott of Ikea, but its business suffered little, if at all, and Mr. Kamprad soon returned to themes of frugality.

“Well, I’m known as a very thrifty person, and the stores are meant for people like me,” he told The New York Times in 1997 when asked about his contributions to the culture of Ikea. “I don’t fly first class on the airplanes, and the stores’ executives don’t either.”

Ingvar Feodor Kamprad was born in Pjatteryd, Sweden, on March 30, 1926. He attended local schools and studied business in Goteborg. He founded Ikea in 1943, using money his father gave him for chores to register his mail-order business.

In 1950, he married Kerstin Wadling. They had a daughter, Annika, and divorced in 1960. In 1963, he married Margaretha Sennert. They had three sons, Peter, Jonas and Mathias. His second wife died in 2011. He is survived by his daughter and sons, The Associated Press reported from Stockholm.

In 1953, he opened a showroom in Almhult; in 1958, it became the first Ikea store. In the 1960s, Ikeas opened in Stockholm, elsewhere in Sweden, as well as Denmark and Norway. Alarmed by the company’s growing sales, its competitors organized a boycott by Ikea’s suppliers, but it backfired: Mr. Kamprad went to Poland for materials and manufacturing, which cut costs further.

In the 1970s, Ikeas opened in Switzerland and Canada. In 1985, the first Ikea in the United States opened near Philadelphia. In the 1990s, Ikea became popular across Eastern Europe, and by 2000, there were Ikeas in Russia and China. The company owned the vast majority of its stores, though about 10 percent were franchise operations.

In 1976, Mr. Kamprad moved to Switzerland. In 1982, he transferred control to the Dutch foundation, and in 2013 he stepped down from the board of Inter Ikea Group, a key company within the business, and named his youngest son, Mathias, as its chairman. His other two sons also held key positions. Mr. Kamprad announced his retirement in 1986, but continued traveling to his stores and making major decisions.

“I see my task as serving the majority of people,” he told Forbes in 2000. “The question is, how do you find out what they want, how best to serve them? My answer is to stay close to ordinary people, because at heart I am one of them.”

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the Swedish furniture chain Ikea. All his life, he practiced thrift and diligence, and he saw those traits as the basis for Ikea’s success.
[photo-2] An Ikea store in Hicksville, N.Y.
[photo-3] Mr. Kamprad in 2012.

The New York Times, Published: JAN. 28, 2018
Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of Ikea and Creator of a Global Empire, Dies at 91

posted by fom_club at 11:59| Comment(0) | 日記 | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Robert Kuok, A Memoir

DRAWING lessons from the memoir of Robert Kuok, it dawns on me that age is more than just a number. What is known as "chronological" age is vastly different from "biological" age for example. Or mental and physical age for that matter.

It is important to straighten this out before Malaysia joins the company of ageing societies sooner than we thought. We must first acquire the right attitude otherwise there can be many unintended consequences and injustices due to unkind remarks spewed unnecessarily that humiliate our own "warga emas". To consider elderly people as "decrepit" is offensive. We must be "wiser" than this.

Take Robert who was born in 1923 and hence is 95 years of age, chronologically speaking, that is the time he spent living or being alive. Many have the tendency to write off this age group as "old" – even "senile" by those who are less informed. Nothing can be further from the truth if the memoir of Robert Kuok is anything to go by.

Just by looking at his overall physical persona (as in the photos provided), no one would have guessed that in less than five years Robert will be a centenarian. His hair is still black and thick as compared to some younger people who are fast losing their hair or "greying". So physical age alone can be deceiving, more so when it comes to biological or mental age. In the case of Robert, one can sense that his mental agility outshines his chronological age many times over as demonstrated by his wits in the memoir released late last year.

On the contrary, given the vastness of his experience he seems even "wiser" – much like how vintage wine is valued. The older the better. This is evident from the pearls of wisdom in the almost 400-page book. Some are mesmerising and others "intoxicating" coming from a "wise" Malaysian.

And this is not just coincidental because some of his contemporaries like Lee Kuan Yew and our former prime minister, to name but two, demonstrated similar razor sharp independent thinking, as illustrated in their (auto)biographies. This further suggests that chronological and mental or biological age can be diverse and cannot be stereotyped without coming out as being disrespectful or rude. Worst it is uncalled for.

Until recently the younger aged Donald Trump at 71 years was unfairly alleged to be "mentally unfit" to hold office.

Perhaps so each time he opened his gap especially via twitter.

As it turns out, this is now "fake news". Trump was vindicated by his personal physician claiming that he passed a test for signs of dementia (scoring 30 out of 30) and is in overall "excellent" health.

Summarily to judge the book by its cover is dangerous. And use the "age" to mock someone (just because we do not like what we hear) is far too simplistic. It is unethical and can boomerang back to the accuser as simpletons. So let us be reminded!

Going back to Robert, there are more than ample lessons that can be shared (as soon as we put our prejudices aside) from his memoir. Consider the following rarely heard quotes:

"So I began to differentiate between form and essence. I realised that true human values and human worth have almost zero connection with money (wealth)." p.47

"Bankers live by a simple creed: Lend money to those who do not need to borrow. When you're penniless, your banks will desert you as if you're a leper. That is one irony of the world." p.99 (think Yunus, the Nobel Peace Laureate)

"One of the first things that drove me to make money in business was the humiliation I suffered at the hands of the banks." p.99

"There were a great many decadent Chinese and Europeans around me. I made a few simple resolutions: I would not become a member of the decadent world ..." p.100

"... I can only wish for you to be colonised one day. Then you can understand the indignities suffered by a colonised people. The worst thing in life is not shortage of food; it's human dignity." p.109

"I saw very early on that these symbols (material things) of luxury and pleasure are not real things in life, and that they tend to distract you from focusing on what is important." p.112 (think the corrupt practices)

"Be humble; be straight; don't be crooked; don't take advantage of people." p.146

"I didn't depend on technology for success. People are still making money and people are still losing money, but the floor has gotten much more slippery." p.147

"If you can help a nation, surely it's more satisfying for your heart and soul than just making money for yourself." p.160

"... I'm a Malaysian. I was born and brought up here. It boils down to that. I cannot rape my country or my fellow citizens." p.174

"Why are we suddenly sitting in judgment on the morality of the whole thing when we have been part of these deals?" p.192

"... the ultimate goal of society should be true socialism, where man truly works for all his fellow beings on a totally selfless basis." p.290

There are many others ranging from being simple and humble to valuing employees, from colonial discrimination to being principled, and speaking out to being alert and protecting self-image and dignity.

So think hard before mocking an elderly person. If in doubt a public debate would be timely for the world to judge.

The SunDaily, Posted on 29 January 2018 - 08:34am
Lessons from an elder citizen
By Dzukifli Abdul Razak


The overseas Chinese made enormous contributions to Southeast Asia. They are the unsung heroes of the region: the poor men and women who migrated and blazed trails into the jungle, accessing the timber wealth; Chinese workers who planted and tapped rubber, who opened up the tin mines, who ran the small retail shops. It was the Chinese immigrants who tackled these Herculean tasks, and created a new economy around them. The British were good administrators. Many of them in private enterprise were absentee landlords, sitting in boardrooms or plush offices in London, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. It was the Chinese who helped build up Southeast Asia. The Indians also played a big role, but the Chinese were the dominant force in helping to build the economy.

The transplanted Chinese were born entrepreneurs. The bulk of the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia have their roots in the coastal towns and villages of Fujian and Guangdong provinces – and these have been blessed with some of the best entrepreneurial genes in the world. They came very hungry and eager as immigrants, often barefooted and wearing only singlets and trousers. They would do any work available, as an honest income meant they could have food and shelter. Chinese entrepreneurs are efficient and cost-conscious. When they search for foreign hardware and expertise, they know how to drive hard bargains. They work harder than anyone else and are willing to “eat bitterness”, as the Chinese say. The Chinese are simply the most amazing economic ants on earth.


In the Ming dynasty, the Chinese traded and explored around the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. But, until the middle or latter part of the nineteenth century, the movement of people was only a trickle. Colonisation opened up Southeast Asia. The Europeans brought a semblance of law and order to the region and opened up rubber, mining and trading operations. Millions of Chinese, a tsunami of human migration, went south in search of better opportunities. The majority of overseas Chinese are moral and ethical people who practice fair play and possess a sense of proportion. I will concede that if they are totally penniless, they will do almost anything to get their first seed capital. But once they have some capital, they try very hard to rise above their past and advance their reputations as totally moral, ethical businessmen.

I have not come across any people as loyal as the Chinese. The Japanese have a kind of loyalty, but it’s an uncritical, bushido type of loyalty: they are loyal even if the boss is a skunk. Unlike the Japanese, every Chinese is highly judgmental, from the most educated to the uneducated. In every Chinese village and community, moral values are drilled into each child during his or her family upbringing. They are a very clueful people. They may have lived in a village or small town in China and come to Southeast Asia totally ignorant of the world, but they picked up ideas and strategies very quickly.


If there is any business to be done on earth, you can be sure that the Chinese will be there. They will know whom to see, what to order, how best to save, how to make money. They don’t need expensive equipment or the trappings of office; they just deliver.

If you look at the present generation of achievers in Hong Kong – men like Li Ka-shing of Cheung Kong, Cheng Yu-tung of New World, Li Shau-kee of Henderson Land, the late Kwok Takseng of Sun Hung Kai Properties – they all came from the school of hard knocks. Not one of them went to college. Since I was mainly brought up in the English-speaking world, I am almost an outside observer of the ways of China-born Chinese businessmen who are steeped in the Chinese language and culture.


I can tell you that Chinese businessmen compare notes every waking moment of their lives. There are no true weekends or holidays for them. That’s how they work. Every moment, they are listening, and they have skilfully developed in their own minds – each and every one of them – mental sieves to filter out rubbish and let through valuable information. Good Chinese business management is second to none; the very best of Chinese management is without compare. I haven’t seen others come near to it in my 70-year career.

This doesn’t mean to say that Chinese firms are the wealthiest or the biggest in the world. If you take companies such as GE, or businessmen like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, their successes and wealth dwarf that of Chinese businesses. But Americans operate in the largest economy in the world, caressed by political and social stability, a strong legal system and generally sound institutions. The overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia operate in a much less benevolent environment. Moreover, they flourish without the national, political and financial sponsorship or backing of their host countries. In Southeast Asia, the Chinese are often maltreated and looked down upon. Whether you go to Malaysia, Sumatra or Java, the locals call you Cina – pronounced Chee-na – in a derogatory way.


Around the world, I have seen benevolent governments sponsor and even financially aid their nations’ businessmen so that they can compete overseas. It’s true in the US, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. National banks come to their citizenry’s aid; import-export banks subsidise their exports. In the commodity trade, the French and British governments and banks stand proudly behind their commodity brokers, who have lines of credit that I can only dream of. If the commodity traders’ capital is US$20 million, they receive US$200 million of credit; while if we have US$20 million of paid-up capital, we can barely hope for credit of US$20 million.

When I invested in Sucre et Denree in Paris, I was astonished at the enormous trade facilities Serge Varsano was receiving from the French banks. The Chinese have no fairy godmothers (I exclude here the type of Chinese who connive with leaders peddling cronyism, and therefore rise and fall with such leaders.) Yet, despite facing these odds, the overseas Chinese, through hard work, endeavour and business shrewdness, are able to produce profits of a type that no other ethnic group operating in the same environment could produce.



Why did the overseas Chinese survive, adapt and flourish in Southeast Asia? I say the answer lies in the great cultural strength of the Chinese. When they left their homeland, the overseas Chinese retained the culture of China in the marrow of their bones. I remember my father had coolies who, after humping numerous bags of rice, stank of sour sweat; their clothes were not properly laundered and they couldn’t afford to bathe with perfumed soap. But they were decent human beings at heart and they knew moral values. As a child of three or four years old, I would sometimes sit on their laps and they would regale me with stories of their days in China. Recollecting those stories, I would say they were very cultured people. They knew what was right and what was wrong. Even the most uneducated Chinese, through family education, upbringing and social environment, understands the ingredients and consequences of behaviour such as refinement, humility, understatement, coarseness, bragging and arrogance.


I remember being invited to a brainstorming seminar in Jakarta sponsored by their Centre for Strategic and International Studies, headed by General Ali Mutorpo, Suharto’s head of intelligence. Jakarta was just beginning to stand on its own feet under Suharto. I was interested in further developing my business in Indonesia, and here was a chance to get to know the leaders and to take the economic and political pulse of Indonesia. So I attended.

About thirty of us sat around a big oval table. From Malaysia, there was Ghazali Shafie and myself. From Singapore, there was Devan Nair, who later became President of Singapore. The topic of one session was economic development. When it came to my turn, I spoke into the microphone in front of me: “Gentlemen, I have heard a lot already today from my peers about how Indonesia should develop. Many of you say that we should bring in the multinationals of the world and draw upon their strength to bring up the nation. I beg to differ. European and American multinationals, with their bulldozer-type attitude and mentality, will succeed. I have no doubt of that. But they will also import high inflation and inflationary practices that will enter your bloodstream, into the very marrow of your bones. You will never shake it off! This nation is very poor and cannot afford that style of management.”

I continued, “I want to speak today about the Southeast Asian Chinese. The vast majority of overseas Chinese are decent Chinese. If you go into the smallest Malay kampongs in my country, Malaysia, you will find that a Chinese shopkeeper has set up a tiny provision store. His whole shop may be only 200-300 square feet, but it will be stocked with all the necessities required by that community. If it’s a fishing village, there will be many tins of biscuits and canned foods, flashlights and batteries – the food and essentials to keep a fisherman provisioned out at sea for a few days.” “These men are playing sterling roles everywhere.” I stressed. “They are entrepreneurs blessed with business brains, though many of them lack financial backing. The mark-up on the goods they sell is very small; thus, they play a vital role in the chain of distribution.”

I returned to the subject of Indonesia: “Should not the leaders of this brand-new Indonesian nation harness more of the Chinese entrepreneurs’ energies to develop the country? The Chinese can do it, and they will do it economically, not the bulldozing, multinational way. Use the overseas Chinese, shoestring-economy style and build up your economy like that. That’s my plea.”



I concluded with this: “Now, before I finish, I want to state one strong caveat. Some of these overseas Chinese will become very big crooks, and if you let them run rampant they could ruin your nation. Therefore, it is vital that you also build up an executive monitoring arm, one armed with teeth. What I am saying is that in a laissez-faire economy, you must let business develop freely; but at the same time you must have a very well-trained and highly disciplined monitoring arm. Where there is abuse and crimes being committed, you must come down very fast and very hard and punish the crooks severely. You should make examples of them so that the honest Chinese will help your country and the dishonest ones will be deterred.”

Later, when I went out to the washroom, I passed a room adjoining our meeting room in which tape recorders were whirring. So what I said – what everyone said – was recorded. In the ensuing years, Indonesia (and most other countries in the region) didn’t heed my warning about the need for watchdog institutions with bite. The decent Chinese have helped to build up Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, and made these countries what they are today. But you also had the rise of the unscrupulous and ruthless Chinese, who in turn have devastated many parts of Southeast Asia.

Why were these people allowed to wreak havoc? It is because the leaderships have been weak. If the leaders were strong, all these devils would have disappeared overnight. Singapore had the same number of Chinese crooks, but you try and find one today. They are all hidden, camouflaged, or dormant. The crooks were held on steel leashes by two hands: Lee Kuan Yew’s left hand and Lee Kuan Yew’s right hand. With the unsavoury elements under control, look what Singapore has been able to accomplish by harnessing the energies of the overseas Chinese.

Robert Kuok, A Memoir will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from November 25. It will be released in Malaysia on December 1 and in Indonesia on January 1, 2018

South China Morning post, UPDATED ON 28 NOV 2017

In the fourth extract of Robert Kuok’s memoir, he considers Chinese immigrants. Not only are these unsung heroes hungry, eager and willing to ‘eat bitterness’ – they have cultural strength in the marrow of their bones

By Robert Kuok

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Preparations are gearing up for the annual Thaipusam celebration here as thousands of devotees are expected to throng the Waterfall hilltop temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga to pay homage to Lord Muruga in a three-day celebration beginning tomorrow.

The 124-year-old silver chariot bearing the statue of Lord Muruga is scheduled to start off its journey from Kovil Veedu (temple house) in Lebuh Penang to hilltop temple tomorrow.

The golden chariot carrying the vel (spear of Lord Muruga) which was introduced by Penang Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) last year will make its way to hilltop temple from Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Lebuh Queen.

Buoyed by the large turnout comprising of locals and tourists in previous years, Thaipusam is again set to attract many visitors to the island.

theSun spoke to some workers who were preparing the refreshment stalls (thaneer phantal) and decorations along Jalan Utama.

One of them was V. Anbalagan, 41, who related that he had been working non-stop daily to facilitate six stalls from various companies to be set up along Jalan Utama.

He said many stall owners had already liaised with him as early as June last year for their plans to set up stalls.

"It is about 60% to 70% progress so far and we expect to wrap it up by Monday evening," he added.

A few voluntary staff of First Solar (M) Sdn Bhd, which is based in Kulim Hi-Tech Park, could be seen busy setting up their stall.

AR. Jeyaganesh, the company's plant manager and also the festival's committee chairman, told theSun the company had taken part in the celebration for seven years.

This, he said was a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative and most importantly to create awareness on solar energy.

"Free flow of drinks and food will also be provided to the devotees by Tuesday evening the before chariots arrive," he said, adding the stall will be fully functional by this evening.

Several roads leading to the hilltop temple will be closed in stages to allow devotees to pay homage to Lord Muruga as the chariots pass by.

Police will also be enhancing security along the route to ensure a smooth celebration this year.

SunDaily, Last updated on 28 January 2018 - 08:06pm
Penang all set for Thaipusam celebrations
By Edmund Lee

A visit to Singapore’s Sri Mariamman Temple gives Alan Teh Leam Seng the opportunity to learn more about Thaipusam and why this year’s celebrations will be very different

THAIPUSAM this year will be different as the Jan 31 date coincides with the total lunar eclipse taking place that night,” a middle aged female devotee informs her companion.

Standing within earshot, I continue to listen intently to the conversation between the two saree-clad women.

After a while, it becomes obvious to me that Hindus consider the impending lunar eclipse as inauspicious because Earth’s exact position between the sun and the moon prevents the energy nourishing moonlight from reaching Earth.

As a result of this “unprecedented stellar event”, Hindu temples throughout Singapore, including the Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road, will shutter once darkness sets in that evening.

Taking into account this year’s shortened Thaipusam procession time, devotees will start walking from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and arrive at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road earlier compared to those in the past.

According to the banner on the temple wall, all kavadi and paal kumdam (milk pot) bearers have to start their journey latest by 1pm and must reach their destination by 6.30pm.

This year it is estimated that some 10,000 devotees will be carrying milk pots while the kavadi bearer numbers will be about 600-strong.

Thaipusam is an annual celebration honouring Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power, and is the destroyer of evil.

This annual event usually attracts about 50,000 to 60,000 people, including thousands of tourists, who stand by the road pavements to observe the festival as it proceeds along its four-kilometre long route.


I take leave of the duo and begin my walkabout of the temple, reputed to be the oldest Hindu place of worship in Singapore.

Strategically located right in the middle of the downtown Chinatown district, this agamic temple built in the Dravidian style serves a large majority of Hindu Singaporeans as well as receive crowds of curious tourists daily.

According to the information board nearby, the Sri Mariamman Temple was established by Naraina Pillai in 1827, a mere eight years after Stamford Raffles from the East India Company founded a trading settlement in Singapore.

Pillai, a Penang government clerk, arrived in Singapore with Raffles during his second visit to the island in May 1819.

An entrepreneur at heart, Pillai started looking out for business opportunities the moment he arrived and, within a short period of time, set up Singapore’s first construction company. Sadly, Pillai’s business suffered a huge setback when a fire destroyed his shop on Cross Street in 1822.

Unperturbed, Pillai persevered and thanks to a helping hand from Raffles, he managed to revive his business in Commercial Square (now Raffles Place).

Apart from his initial venture, Pillai also dabbled in the lucrative textile trade. A few years later, he managed to set his business on a firm footing and emerged as one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian community on the island.

Success stories like Pillai and other Indian businessmen in Singapore spread far and wide. Soon, immigrants from the Nagapatnam and Cuddalore districts of South India began arriving at the shores of the growing colony in droves. Their large numbers soon gave rise to a need for a proper place of worship.

The British East India Company had originally allotted a plot of land on Telok Ayer Street for the construction of a Hindu temple but the site was deemed unsuitable as there was no ready supply of freshwater needed for daily religious rituals.

The Indian community continued pressing the Company for a better location and when 1823 came, they found themselves with the present South Bridge Road site.

A temple made of wood and attap (palm fronds) was completed in 1827. Known then as the Mariamman Kovil or Kling Street Temple, the building merely housed a small deity installed by Pillai. Many believe the deity was the Goddess Mariamman who possessed the power to cure illnesses and diseases.

Singapore during Pillai’s time was a far cry from the clean and well structured city we know today. Back then, sanitary services were poorly managed and the general population often resorted to the Singapore River nearby to ease themselves.

This unhealthy practice quickly gave rise to debilitating diseases like typhoid and dysentery. Without much access to basic health care, devotees visited the temple with the hope of seeking divine intervention, to either cure themselves or their affected loved ones.

Other than its main function as a place of worship, the Sri Mariamman Temple was also closely intertwined with the Hindu community in several other aspects.

Until the early part of the 20th century, the temple served as a first place of refuge for newly arrived immigrants, a venue for dispute mediation and also a registry of marriages. Back then, the temple was the only place in Singapore authorised to solemnise Hindu nuptials.


Stepping into the interior, I just cannot help but marvel at the ornate and elaborate detailing on the walls of the main temple building. The painted ceiling of the mandapam (central hall), which leads up to the main shrine, is also another place of beauty. One of my favourite murals here depicts a huge mandala which is a spiritual symbol connoting our known universe.

Further down the elaborately decorated passageway, in the inner sanctum of the main shrine, is the statue of Sri Mariamman. The temple priests only unveil the deity during service and on special occasions.

The sight of such magnificence makes me pause and realise how far this place has progressed since the days when just a simple wood-and-attap structure stood on this same site nearly two centuries ago.

By 1843, the wood-and-attap temple was replaced with a brick structure after the former could no longer accommodate the growing congregation. Thanks to a generous donation in the form of a piece of adjacent land by wealthy land owner Seshasalam Pillai back in 1831, the Indian community soon benefitted from a larger and better planned place of worship.

Despite the many improvements, devotees at that time still felt that the new temple, which was constructed using Indian convict labour, lacked ornate finishings worthy of their pride.

The temple only managed to achieve its present magnificent form in 1862 when skilled Indian and Chinese craftsmen were brought in to create what was, according to a report in a local daily, the “grandest Hindu Temple in the Far East” .

Several domes within the temple grounds were also added during that period. Called vimanam, these tall ornate structures mark the location of shrines or altars beneath them. Like many South Indian temples, the Sri Mariamman Temple has many smaller shrines dedicated to different deities.

Under an especially decorative vimanam close to a side wall, I come across the deity Aravan who is commonly worshipped in villages throughout South India. It is believed that Aravan was the son of the Pandava prince Arjuna in the Hindu epic, Mahabharata.

Many South Indians honour Aravan for his self-sacrifice to the Goddess Kali in order to ensure her favour and victory of the Pandavas in the great Mahabharata war. Legend has it that God Krishna took pity on Aravan and allowed him to witness the entire duration of the battle through the eyes of his severed head.

Until this day, Aravan is worshipped in the form of his severed head and is believed to cure disease and induce pregnancy in childless women. Apart from its own shrine in the temple complex, the image of Aravan is also placed on the corners of temple roofs to guard against evil spirits.


Noticing that it is nearly time for lunch, I start retracing my steps back to the main entrance. Just as I am about to step out onto the sidewalk, I notice a group of Japanese women in deep conversation while gesturing to something above the heavy wooden entrance doors. I look up curiously and immediately experience an awe-inspiring moment.

The majestic gopuram (grand tower entrance) is a highly recommended place to see the temple at its best. If not for the searing noon heat, I could have stood there for a much longer time admiring the countless three-dimensional sculptures of Hindu deities in various poses, mythological beasts and other beings.

Interestingly, even the 19th century Sepoy soldiers in their smart khaki uniforms once graced part of this six-tiered tower. These were, however, replaced with figures wearing traditional Indian costumes during a temple makeover in 1971.

Other note-worthy installations nearby are the eye-catching statues of Shiva and Vishnu flanking both sides of the gopuram. These statues were installed in 1903 when the gopuram was at its original three tiered height. The levels on the gopuram only doubled when the main entrance was rebuilt in the 1930s.

Sri Mariamman Temple, which was gazetted as a national monument on July 6, 1973, should definitely be on the bucket list of any tourist visiting the Lion City.

The sculptures of sacred cows sitting peacefully atop the temple wall bordering Pagoda Street form the last few images of my unforgettable visit. Right at that moment, I vow to return again at the end of this year to experience the Theemithi (fire-walking festival), one of the most important annual festivals celebrated at the temple.

Sri Mariamman Temple,
244 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058793
Tel: +65 6223 4064/Fax: +65 6225 5015
Website: www.smt.org.sg
Email: smt@heb.org.sg

New Straits Times, Published; January 26, 2018 - 12:56pm
Day of penance and thanksgiving
By Alan Teh Leam Seng

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In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world

IN an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, changes are happening at an unprecedented speed.

Therefore, public and private organisations are employing approaches to understand and plan for the future.

This ability to explore the future with imagination and wisdom can be achieved through a structured approach called foresight. Imagine driving a car; the faster you drive, the further ahead you need to see. That ability to look further ahead is foresight.

As a discipline, foresight could be defined as the systematic, participatory, future intelligence gathering part of a medium- to long-term vision-building process.

The effort is conducted to inform present-day decisions and mobilise joint action. Foresight encourages decision-makers − whether in public or private organisations − to think and plan for the long term so that negative futures are avoided (or at least anticipated), as positive alternative futures are identified and promoted.

What futures do we want, do we need, and which do we want to avoid (the “disowned future”)?

With this understanding, we can identify opportunities, risks and threats, thus allowing us to innovate, to capitalise on opportunities, to minimise risks and nullify threats.

The future is not linear, a simple continuation of the past. If we could go back 20, 10 or even just five years, how many of the things we have, of the developments happening now, could most of us imagine?

Such insights require the best understanding of the drivers of change and megatrends. This skill set is needed by policymakers who now have to deal with complex, multi-dimensional issues, many of them interconnected and interdependent.

Despite critical uncertainties, foresight has a vital role in policymaking, where governments are trying to keep up with the growing complexity of their operating environments and the rapidly changing demands of their citizens.

Developed countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Korea, and Japan have emphasised the importance of foresight in strengthening their ability to be agile against the changes and disruptions caused by social, technology, economy, environment and political forces.

Since the 1990s, Malaysia’s use of systematic foresight techniques has been largely in the realm of technology and industrial development, conducted by the likes of Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology.

However, to expand the use of foresight approaches, the Malaysian Foresight Institute (myForesight) was created in 2012 to build the national capacity to use these tools and mainstream their use for better decision-making.

Since its creation, myForesight has been involved with various national initiatives and public institutions.

As part of the Public Service Transformation Programme, a joint initiative of the Public Service Department and the United Nations Development Programme, aptly titled “Future of Public Service 2020 and beyond” was conducted to increase the awareness and knowledge about the foresight methodology and its benefits.

A training module was developed at the National Institute of Public Administration to equip the public sector with foresight and futures thinking capacity.

Working with the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit, a set of guidelines was developed for the public officials on the use of scenario planning.

Today, foresight activities in Malaysia have gained further traction, fuelled by Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) and the global phenomenon of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has also acknowledged the importance of foresight in realising TN50 − providing plausible scenarios after taking into consideration the interplay between major social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is bound to create massive uncertainties and bring many disruptions. Government, business enterprises and educational institutions now looking at how best to respond will be well served by sophisticated foresight methodologies.

Malaysia is one country which has taken serious note of the 4IR and how it would affect our national wellbeing in the future.

Numerous ministries are in various stages of deliberating the kind of actions to be taken to mitigate its impacts. Our efforts have not gone unnoticed.

In a publication released by the World Economic Forum in Davos last week entitled, “Readiness for the Future of Production Report 2018”, Malaysia is listed among 25 “Leading Countries” well-positioned to benefit from Industry 4.0.

All the leading countries are high-income countries except for China and Malaysia.

This assessment corroborates the findings in the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, a report published by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and the US Council on Competitiveness.

The latter report predicts that by 2020, Malaysia is expected to pierce the top 15 nations in the index, based on its ability to provide competitive labour, agile manufacturing capabilities, favourable demographic profiles, market and economic growth.

To move the country forward, however, foresight alone is not enough.

To meet the transformative challenges, to grasp opportunity, to realise our preferred future, we must also take many necessary actions to build our national capacity, especially our human capital.

To quote Joel A. Barker, futurist, filmmaker and author: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.

Foresight activities in Malaysia have gained further traction, fuelled by Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) and the global phenomenon of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

New Straits Times, Published: January 29, 2018 - 10:59am
Policymakers need foresight
TAN SRI DR ZAKRI ABDUL HAMID is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman of the Malaysian Foresight Institute

THERE is no such thing as ‘letting down one’s guard’ for media practitioners working in Penang. After a disaster-filled 2017, this Pearl of the Orient started the new year with a big bang when graft-busters launched a massive investigation into its proposed undersea tunnel project.

Those unfamiliar with the issue may ask: what is the beef with the much-talked-about UST63 scandal?

This term is coined by Penang Barisan Nasional in reference to the RM6.3 billion undersea tunnel scandal, which is a 7.2km undersea tunnel that connects George Town on Penang Island to Butterworth on the mainland and three paired roads.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) launched an investigation into the matter following new evidence submitted by Parti Cinta Malaysia deputy president Datuk Huan Cheng Guan.

To date, four people have been arrested to assist in the investigation.

Seventy-six witnesses had their statements taken and 43 locations, including consultant offices and government agencies in Penang and the Klang Valley, had been raided.

The project has caused controversies in recent months, especially the RM305 million cost for its feasibility study and detailed design (FSDD) component, which critics said was an exorbitant amount, as well as the 21-month delay in completing it.

It has become a bone of contention between the state government and opposition parties in Penang.

The Penang government has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing on its part.

Questions abound from various quarters on the discrepancies and twists in the project but were met with either defensive or inconsistencies by the state government.

The New Straits Times, along with its sister paper, Berita Harian, and two other mainstream media have been threatened with a suit for their coverage.

Critics have argued that it is only right for the DAP-led state government to answer the slew of questions as the tunnel project involves a huge sum of money and is of public interest.

They demand to know:

WHY the state government is super lenient and has not penalised the project’s special purpose vehicle (SPV) despite being almost two years late in finishing reports or four years late in starting any construction? Under the agreement, the company should have finished all the reports by the April 2016 deadline;

WITH Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) no longer in the SPV, this would m ean breaching the financial requirement to have a combined paidup capital of at least RM381 million.

In any normal circumstances, shouldn’t the awarding of the project been null and void?

WHY was land, for the purpose of payment for completion of the FSDD works, alienated as payment on Feb 17, 2015, three months ahead of the completion of the FSDD, which was ready in May 2015, as stated in the answer to the state assembly on May 19, last year?

WHY does the state government continue to say that not a “single sen” and not a “single inch” of land was given as payment to the project’s SPV? and WHY is the cost of completing the reports for a simple 10km paired road with construction cost of RM377 million a staggering RM120 million, while the cost of reports for the much more complicated tunnel costing RM3.6 billion is only RM96 million?

Indeed, these are only the tip of the iceberg with many more questions that the state government needs to answer.

Penang folk are not fools. The state government can ill-afford to take them for a ride.

With time running out and the 14th General Election approaching, this administration has many controversies to answer for.

If there is no reasonable explanation, it will not be an easy task to convince the people.

Until then, the people are waiting with bated breath.

Who else will be hauled up by MACC as its investigation into the project intensifies?

All eyes will be on the politicians, who are alleged to have received large kickbacks for the project.

After a disaster-filled 2017, Penang started the new year with a big bang when graft-busters launched a massive investigation into its proposed undersea tunnel project

New Straits Times, Published: January 29, 2018 - 10:23am
A tunnel of questions

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Protesters calling for greater equality and rights for women

IT is a global phenomenon and no country is spared the scrutiny − that is the issue of women’s role in society and the workplace. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Norwegian counterpart, Erna Solberg, for instance, passionately championed women’s rights and pay equality at the annual state of the world jamboree, the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

In London and in other cities, thousands of women last week marched to mark the first anniversary of the Women’s March London to renew the fight for gender equality and justice, and against sexual harassment in the workplace. Their clarion call is “Time’s Up”− a legal defence fund set up to financially support women who have experienced sexual harassment, assault or abuse in the workplace. Such campaigns the world over, including in Malaysia, are capitalising on the activism precipitated by the #MeToo hashtag on social media in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and stars Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer.

True to form, United States President Donald Trump, celebrating the first anniversary of his presidency, could not desist from tweeting against the marches, including one in Washington D.C. led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, urging them “to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”

In Malaysia, the Association of Women Lawyers, among others, urged Putrajaya to introduce a Sexual Harassment Act, stressing that the Code of Practice for the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace, introduced two decades ago, has made “little impact”. Whether it is sexual harassment, rape as a weapon of war and patriarchy, deprivation of education, domestic violence, pay inequality and the ever-widening gender gap, our newspapers, televisions and social media, have, in the last two years, highlighted a litany of such incidents and reports the world over. They have become so routine, as if society is incapable or unwilling to confront or deal with these issues.

Irrespective of ethnicity, creed, level of development and type of political system, patriarchy and misogyny is as entrenched as ever. Male dominance of society and over women is rooted in the misconception that women need looking after like children because they are weaker and intellectually inferior, which in turn has fuelled an atavistic need to exercise power over women.

Women’s rights and the abuse of women are as old as the antics of the Abrahamic Adam and Eve (Hawa). But, two millennia later, is society slowly starting to see the beginning of the end to patriarchy? Has the exposure of sexual harassment in Hollywood sparked a global workplace revolution? It would be naive to think that the status quo will change overnight. It took British political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (*), leader of the Suffragette Movement, a lifetime to help women win the vote in the Mother of Parliaments in Britain in 1918, a decade before her death in 1928 at the age of 70.

It is encouraging to see a few governments and companies starting to take the issue of workplace equality and harassment seriously. Any attempt to create a “shared future” for men and women would be a generational task, perhaps up to three generations. This is because changing mindset is as much an inter-generational phenomenon as it is a function of the government, law, education, religious establishment, media and society per se.

While 2017 was a year of revelation in terms of workplace abuse and harassment of women, 2018 is set to be a year of promise. But, as Canada’s Trudeau stressed in Davos: “Progress of any kind takes hard work.”

Jacinda Ardern, the premier of New Zealand, is set to become only the second prime minister to have a baby while in office, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1991. It shows young women that holding leadership positions shouldn’t be a barrier to having children. In January, Iceland passed a new law making it illegal for companies to pay native men more than women, and, other ethnic groups for the same job. Canada is following suit later this year, having pioneered the first gender-balance cabinet in 2015.

The US and the United Kingdom lag in this respect, citing the enormous cost it would take in pushing immediate gender equality. BBC’s Carrie Gracie resigned as Editor of the China Department in protest against the pay gap between her and her male colleagues in a similar job. A few days ago, high-earning male BBC broadcasters decided to take a voluntary pay cut, but, the gesture betrays the lack of urgency by the BBC trustees and management in pushing through immediate pay parity. FTSE 100 companies have only six women chief executive officers, albeit, female board members now count for 28 per cent take up.

The cost argument does not hold water. Global advisory firm McKinsey estimates that economic gender parity could add US$150 billion (RM580.7 billion) to the Canadian economy by 2026 and US$1.75 trillion to the US’ gross domestic product. Other research shows that a 30 per cent corporate leadership of women translates into a 15 per cent hike in profitability. The tragedy is that gender equality and equal pay are still measured in terms of cost and not in terms of a fundamental human right.

The theme in Davos bravely espoused “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”. The G7 has also established a Gender Equality Advisory Council to be co-chaired by Melinda Gates and Isabelle Hudon.

It depends on what priority women’s issues are at these top tables of global discourse or whether they would be engulfed by other issues such as migration, international trade, investment, security or making this or that country “great again”.

Protesters calling for greater equality and rights for women

New Straits Times, Published: January 29, 2018 - 9:52am
Women's rights, harassment and pay inequality
By Mushtak Parker
Mushtak Parker is an independent London-based economist and writer.

(*) Emmeline Pankhurst:

Relatives of the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst will next month premiere a choral work commissioned by the BBC to mark 100 years since women won the right to vote.

The writer and women’s rights campaigner Helen Pankhurst and composer Lucy Pankhurst aim to deliver a rallying cry with lyrics that call upon “a sisterhood of sacrifices made along the way”. The Pankhurst Anthem will first be heard on Radio 3’s website on 6 February, the centenary of the passing of the key Representation of the People Act.

“It all resonates now in a particularly eerie way because, in its concerns for equality between the genders, 2018 suddenly feels more like 1918 again,” said Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s great-granddaughter. “Most of us are interested in the centenary of women’s suffrage because of our understanding that we are still on that journey. So the work is divided into two parts. The first, Echoes of Emmeline, celebrates my great-grandmother’s own ideas, while the second, Anthem, is a way for us to mark where we are now.”

The score will be available to download at no cost, and Lucy, a distant relative of the suffragette leader – hopes singers around the UK will join in – creating a vast choir across Britain’s varied communities.

Helen, the lyricist, who works full-time as an adviser with the charity Care International, said her source was a famous Pankhurst speech delivered in 1913 at Hartford, Connecticut, which built to the conclusion: “Power commands much attention, those with no power are ignored!” – lines Emmeline’s great-granddaughter believes will underline a contemporary feminist debate.

“What I was interested in was the power of the words, and the idea of power itself,” Helen said. “There is a danger today that we begin to think that all power in itself is a bad thing, and that it always corrupts. But women have to claim power since it will not be given to us.”

Emmeline and her militant daughters Sylvia, Christabel and Adela remain heroes in the struggle for gender equality, although growing up as a Pankhurst was not always smooth: “As a young girl I found the surname had negative associations with ‘those harridan extremists’,” said Helen. “Now, if anything, there is a tendency to gloss over the suffragettes’ more militant activities and even rose-tint their campaign.

However, it means something that there are still people with the name Pankhurst who are engaged. I am carrying on the legacy and hope my daughter, Laura, may do the same.”

The first performance of the new choral work, by the BBC singers, will be conducted by Hilary Campbell. Radio 3 will broadcast it three days later for the opening of the station’s Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

“Working with Helen has been such a wonderful experience,” said Lucy, who is an award-winning composer. “The stirring words, derived from those of Emmeline, are so powerfully emotive – setting them to music was a very humbling experience.”

The Guardian, Last modified on Sun 21 Jan 2018 01.26 GMT
Pankhurst heirs pen anthem to a century of suffrage

Relatives of the suffragette have written a choral work for Radio 3
By Vanessa Thorpe, Arts and media correspondent

Read more:

I do not come here as an advocate, because whatever position the suffrage movement may occupy in the United States of America, in England it has passed beyond the realm of advocacy and it has entered into the sphere of practical politics. It has become the subject of revolution and civil war, and so tonight I am not here to advocate woman suffrage. American suffragists can do that very well for themselves.

I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain - it seems strange it should have to be explained - what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women. I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field at battle; I am here - and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming - I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all; and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison.

It is not at all difficult if revolutionaries come to you from Russia, if they come to you from China, or from any other part of the world, if they are men. But since I am a woman it is necessary to explain why women have adopted revolutionary methods in order to win the rights of citizenship. We women, in trying to make our case clear, always have to make as part of our argument, and urge upon men in our audience the fact - a very simple fact - that women are human beings.

Suppose the men of Hartford had a grievance, and they laid that grievance before their legislature, and the legislature obstinately refused to listen to them, or to remove their grievance, what would be the proper and the constitutional and the practical way of getting their grievance removed? Well, it is perfectly obvious at the next general election the men of Hartford would turn out that legislature and elect a new one.

But let the men of Hartford imagine that they were not in the position of being voters at all, that they were governed without their consent being obtained, that the legislature turned an absolutely deaf ear to their demands, what would the men of Hartford do then? They couldn't vote the legislature out. They would have to choose; they would have to make a choice of two evils: they would either have to submit indefinitely to an unjust state of affairs, or they would have to rise up and adopt some of the antiquated means by which men in the past got their grievances remedied.

Your forefathers decided that they must have representation for taxation, many, many years ago. When they felt they couldn't wait any longer, when they laid all the arguments before an obstinate British government that they could think of, and when their arguments were absolutely disregarded, when every other means had failed, they began by the tea party at Boston, and they went on until they had won the independence of the United States of America.

It is about eight years since the word militant was first used to describe what we were doing. It was not militant at all, except that it provoked militancy on the part of those who were opposed to it. When women asked questions in political meetings and failed to get answers, they were not doing anything militant. In Great Britain it is a custom, a time-honoured one, to ask questions of candidates for parliament and ask questions of members of the government. No man was ever put out of a public meeting for asking a question. The first people who were put out of a political meeting for asking questions, were women; they were brutally ill-used; they found themselves in jail before 24 hours had expired.

We were called militant, and we were quite willing to accept the name. We were determined to press this question of the enfranchisement of women to the point where we were no longer to be ignored by the politicians.

You have two babies very hungry and wanting to be fed. One baby is a patient baby, and waits indefinitely until its mother is ready to feed it. The other baby is an impatient baby and cries lustily, screams and kicks and makes everybody unpleasant until it is fed. Well, we know perfectly well which baby is attended to first. That is the whole history of politics. You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under.

When you have warfare things happen; people suffer; the noncombatants suffer as well as the combatants. And so it happens in civil war. When your forefathers threw the tea into Boston Harbour, a good many women had to go without their tea. It has always seemed to me an extraordinary thing that you did not follow it up by throwing the whiskey overboard; you sacrificed the women; and there is a good deal of warfare for which men take a great deal of glorification which has involved more practical sacrifice on women than it has on any man. It always has been so. The grievances of those who have got power, the influence of those who have got power commands a great deal of attention; but the wrongs and the grievances of those people who have no power at all are apt to be absolutely ignored. That is the history of humanity right from the beginning.

Well, in our civil war people have suffered, but you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs; you cannot have civil war without damage to something. The great thing is to see that no more damage is done than is absolutely necessary, that you do just as much as will arouse enough feeling to bring about peace, to bring about an honourable peace for the combatants; and that is what we have been doing.

We entirely prevented stockbrokers in London from telegraphing to stockbrokers in Glasgow and vice versa: for one whole day telegraphic communication was entirely stopped. I am not going to tell you how it was done. I am not going to tell you how the women got to the mains and cut the wires; but it was done. It was done, and it was proved to the authorities that weak women, suffrage women, as we are supposed to be, had enough ingenuity to create a situation of that kind. Now, I ask you, if women can do that, is there any limit to what we can do except the limit we put upon ourselves?

If you are dealing with an industrial revolution, if you get the men and women of one class rising up against the men and women of another class, you can locate the difficulty; if there is a great industrial strike, you know exactly where the violence is and how the warfare is going to be waged; but in our war against the government you can't locate it. We wear no mark; we belong to every class; we permeate every class of the community from the highest to the lowest; and so you see in the woman's civil war the dear men of my country are discovering it is absolutely impossible to deal with it: you cannot locate it, and you cannot stop it.

"Put them in prison," they said, "that will stop it." But it didn't stop it at all: instead of the women giving it up, more women did it, and more and more and more women did it until there were 300 women at a time, who had not broken a single law, only "made a nuisance of themselves" as the politicians say.

Then they began to legislate. The British government has passed more stringent laws to deal with this agitation than it ever found necessary during all the history of political agitation in my country. They were able to deal with the revolutionaries of the Chartists' time; they were able to deal with the trades union agitation; they were able to deal with the revolutionaries later on when the Reform Acts were passed: but the ordinary law has not sufficed to curb insurgent women. They had to dip back into the middle ages to find a means of repressing the women in revolt.

They have said to us, government rests upon force, the women haven't force, so they must submit. Well, we are showing them that government does not rest upon force at all: it rests upon consent. As long as women consent to be unjustly governed, they can be, but directly women say: "We withhold our consent, we will not be governed any longer so long as that government is unjust." Not by the forces of civil war can you govern the very weakest woman. You can kill that woman, but she escapes you then; you cannot govern her. No power on earth can govern a human being, however feeble, who withholds his or her consent.

When they put us in prison at first, simply for taking petitions, we submitted; we allowed them to dress us in prison clothes; we allowed them to put us in solitary confinement; we allowed them to put us amongst the most degraded of criminals; we learned of some of the appalling evils of our so-called civilisation that we could not have learned in any other way. It was valuable experience, and we were glad to get it.

I have seen men smile when they heard the words "hunger strike", and yet I think there are very few men today who would be prepared to adopt a "hunger strike" for any cause. It is only people who feel an intolerable sense of oppression who would adopt a means of that kind. It means you refuse food until you are at death's door, and then the authorities have to choose between letting you die, and letting you go; and then they let the women go.

Now, that went on so long that the government felt that they were unable to cope. It was [then] that, to the shame of the British government, they set the example to authorities all over the world of feeding sane, resisting human beings by force. There may be doctors in this meeting: if so, they know it is one thing to feed by force an insane person; but it is quite another thing to feed a sane, resisting human being who resists with every nerve and with every fibre of her body the indignity and the outrage of forcible feeding. Now, that was done in England, and the government thought they had crushed us. But they found that it did not quell the agitation, that more and more women came in and even passed that terrible ordeal, and they were obliged to let them go.

Then came the legislation - the "Cat and Mouse Act". The home secretary said: "Give me the power to let these women go when they are at death's door, and leave them at liberty under license until they have recovered their health again and then bring them back." It was passed to repress the agitation, to make the women yield - because that is what it has really come to, ladies and gentlemen. It has come to a battle between the women and the government as to who shall yield first, whether they will yield and give us the vote, or whether we will give up our agitation.

Well, they little know what women are. Women are very slow to rouse, but once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible. And so this "Cat and Mouse Act" which is being used against women today has failed. There are women lying at death's door, recovering enough strength to undergo operations who have not given in and won't give in, and who will be prepared, as soon as they get up from their sick beds, to go on as before. There are women who are being carried from their sick beds on stretchers into meetings. They are too weak to speak, but they go amongst their fellow workers just to show that their spirits are unquenched, and that their spirit is alive, and they mean to go on as long as life lasts.

Now, I want to say to you who think women cannot succeed, we have brought the government of England to this position, that it has to face this alternative: either women are to be killed or women are to have the vote. I ask American men in this meeting, what would you say if in your state you were faced with that alternative, that you must either kill them or give them their citizenship? Well, there is only one answer to that alternative, there is only one way out - you must give those women the vote.

You won your freedom in America when you had the revolution, by bloodshed, by sacrificing human life. You won the civil war by the sacrifice of human life when you decided to emancipate the negro. You have left it to women in your land, the men of all civilised countries have left it to women, to work out their own salvation. That is the way in which we women of England are doing. Human life for us is sacred, but we say if any life is to be sacrificed it shall be ours; we won't do it ourselves, but we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death.

So here am I. I come in the intervals of prison appearance. I come after having been four times imprisoned under the "Cat and Mouse Act", probably going back to be rearrested as soon as I set my foot on British soil. I come to ask you to help to win this fight. If we win it, this hardest of all fights, then, to be sure, in the future it is going to be made easier for women all over the world to win their fight when their time comes.

The Guardian, Published: Fri 27 Apr 2007 09.00 BST
Great speeches of the 20th century:

Emmeline Pankhurst's Freedom or death

This speech was delivered in Hartford, Connecticut on November 13 1913

Emmeline Pankhurst

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Why society is more unequal than ever

It’s obscene. What kind of world do we live in when the wealth of the world is increasingly being held by a handful of people?

The eight richest people own more wealth than the poorest 50% of the global population. Now, the latest report from anti-poverty charity Oxfam shows that the richest 1% swiped 82% of the wealth created last year. The poorest half of humanity got nothing. (Oxfam is an international confederation of charitable organisations working on alleviating global poverty.)

The fortunes made by the top billionaires last year could end extreme poverty in the world – seven times over. It’s simply scandalous that we allow the misery of poverty to continue.

You’d think that we’ve long progressed from those olden days of sharp wealth divisions, of princes and paupers, feudal lords and serfs, emperors and slaves. But no, the rich are getting richer – billionaire wealth is rising at a much faster rate than the wages of workers.

Today’s “kings” of wealth no longer wear crowns, but hide their obscene riches in faraway offshore islands to avoid paying taxes. Remember the Panama Papers?

Oxfam criticised America’s Donald Trump for creating “a Cabinet of billionaires” and bringing in taxes to benefit the super-rich. But the problem is everywhere. India’s richest 1% bagged almost three-quarters of the national income, according to Oxfam. Singapore is also deeply unequal.

And so is Malaysia. Just 40 super-rich Malaysians raked in 22% of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product), according to the 2013 Malaysia Human Development report from the United Nations.

Meanwhile, half of Malaysians have no financial assets. Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) data shows two in 10 EPF account holders have less than RM8,000 in savings. The median monthly salaries and wages for Malaysians was RM1,700 in 2013, according to data from the Department of Statistics. And workers’ wages are set to decrease over the next few years, according to projections for the year 2020 by Pemandu, the government’s performance management unit. So what’s the point of rising GDP and GNI (gross national income) when most Malaysians won’t see the benefits of these figures? They’re simply meaningless letters and numbers.

An economy that keeps rewarding the rich isn’t just morally wrong. Rising inequality is actually one of the world’s biggest problems. It hampers economic growth and is linked to some of the most pressing social ills.

Homicide rates, the proportion of the population in prison, drug addiction, mental illness, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, obesity and children’s literacy and math scores are all linked to inequality. These were the shocking findings of Richard Wilkinson, professor emeritus of social epidemiology at Britain’s University of Nottingham, who wrote about his research in his book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009). He has also done a TED talk on the subject (ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson) (*).

Wilkinson’s research shows that the more unequal countries are, the worse they fare on these problems. Social ills are not related to how rich countries are, but how unequal they are. Societies that are more equal – Japan, the Scandinavian nations and to a lesser extent, Germany – are healthier and happier; people are also able to trust each other more. Countries with high inequality – such as the United States, Britain or Portugal – have more mental health issues and less social mobility. Indeed, Wilkinson says: “If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.”

Here in Malaysia, inequality presents a real threat to our stability, some economists believe.

“The future does not look rosy for Malaysia; the current policies are encouraging wealth disparity between rich and poor, and between ethnicities,” writes economist Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid in his bestselling book The Colour Of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income And Wealth In Malaysia (2014).

“Unless bold and drastic actions are taken urgently, a harmonious future for Malaysia is uncertain. There must be an urgency to give every Malaysian economic security, a better and sustainable future.”

Muhammed, the managing director of the research and consulting firm DM Analytics Malaysia, has pointed out that contrary to popular belief, most Chinese (70%) are wage-earners, as are most Malays (72%). In fact, the poverty gap between the races has dropped compared to 40 years ago, but there is a gap within races.

Wages are not keeping up with living standards, while companies keep most of the profits rather than give back to workers. Consider the model of Germany, where employers and unions build the company together as Sozialpartner (social partners). Workers have high salaries and benefits – yet Germany has a strong manufacturing economy.

We also need more inheritance taxes. Is it right that we have a moneyed class who go for shopping trips abroad while some in Malaysia don’t have electricity or clean water? Some Malaysians are on the streets because they do not earn enough to rent a home.

Inequality is a rot that ruins societies. As Plutarch, an ancient Greek biographer, said 2000 years ago, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailments of all republics.”

Like some of biggest cities around the world, Kuala Lumpur, too, has its urban hard-core poor. This file picture is of a homeless man sleeping by the side of one of the city’s main arteries, Jalan Raja Laut.

Star2, Published: JANUARY 29, 2018
Inequality is a rot that ruins societies
Mangai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into anything on being human. She has worked with international public health bodies and has a Masters in public health.

(*) Read more:

A lot has happened in the five years since we published our book, The Spirit Level. New Labour were still perhaps too relaxed about people becoming "filthy rich". And there was an assumption that inequality mattered only if it increased poverty, and that for most people "real" poverty was a thing of the past.

But so much has changed. In the aftermath of the financial crash and the emergence of Occupy, there has been a resurgence of interest in inequality. Around 80% of Britons now think the income gap is too large, and the message has been taken up by world leaders.

According to Barack Obama, income inequality is the "defining challenge of our times", while Pope Francis states that "inequality is the roots of social ills".

The unexpected success of The Spirit Level owes more to luck than judgment. Although serious non-fiction books rarely sell well, for a week or so we even outsold Jeremy Clarkson. We now feel a bit like the dog being wagged by its tail: in the past five years, we've given over 700 seminars and conference lectures. We've talked to academics, religious groups, thinktanks of both right and left, and to international agencies such as the UN, WHO, OECD, EU and ILO.

The truth is that human beings have deep-seated psychological responses to inequality and social hierarchy. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to and treat each other.

As we looked at the data, it became clear that, as well as health and violence, almost all the problems that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder are more common in more unequal societies – including mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer wellbeing for children. The effects of inequality are not confined to the poor. A growing body of research shows that inequality damages the social fabric of the whole society. When he found how far up the income scale the health effects of inequality went, Harvard professor Ichiro Kawachi, one of the foremost researchers in this field, described inequality as a social pollutant. The health and social problems we looked at are between twice and 10 times as common in more unequal societies. The differences are so large because inequality affects such a large proportion of the population.

To the political defenders of inequality, the idea that too much inequality was an obstacle to a better society was a monstrous suggestion. They accused us of conjuring up the evidence with smoke and mirrors.

But since our book, research confirming both the basic pattern and the social mechanisms has mushroomed. It's not just rich countries or US states where greater equality is beneficial, it is also important in poorer countries. Even the more equal provinces of China do better than the less equal ones.

Most important has been the rapid accumulation of evidence confirming the psychosocial processes through which inequality gets under the skin. When we were writing, evidence of causality often relied on psychological experiments that showed how extraordinarily sensitive people are to being looked down on and regarded as inferior.

They demonstrated that social relationships, insecurities about social status and how others see us have powerful effects on stress, cognitive performance and the emotions. Almost absent were studies explicitly linking income inequality to these psychological states in whole societies. But new studies have now filled that gap. That inequality damages family life is shown by higher rates of child abuse, and increased status competition is likely to explain the higher rates of bullying confirmed in schools in more unequal countries.

We showed that mental illnesses are more prevalent in more unequal societies: this has now been confirmed by more specific studies of depression and schizophrenia, as well as by evidence that your income ranking is a better predictor of developing illness than your absolute income.

Strengthening community life is hampered by the difficulty of breaking the ice between people, but greater inequality amplifies the impression that some people are worth so much more than others, making us all more anxious about how we are seen and judged. Some are so overcome by lack of confidence that social contact becomes an ordeal. Others try instead to enhance self-presentation and how they appear to others. US data also show that narcissism increased in line with inequality. The economic effects of inequality have also gained more attention. Research has shown that greater inequality leads to shorter spells of economic expansion and more frequent and severe boom-and-bust cycles that make economies more vulnerable to crisis. The International Monetary Fund suggests that reducing inequality and bolstering longer-term economic growth may be "two sides of the same coin". And development experts point out how inequality compromises poverty reduction.

Lastly, inequality is being taken up as an important environmental issue; because it drives status competition, it intensifies consumerism and adds to personal debt.

In Britain, one of the few signs of real progress are the fairness commissions set up by local government in many cities to recommend ways of reducing inequalities. Partly as a result, many local authorities and companies now pay the living wage. But the coalition government has failed to reverse the continuing tendency for the richest 1% to get richer faster than the rest of society. The Equality Trust calculates that the richest 100 people in Britain now have as much wealth as the poorest 30% of households. The top-to-bottom pay ratios of around 300:1 in the FTSE 100 companies is not diminishing.

It is hard to think of a more powerful way of telling people at the bottom that they are almost worthless than to pay them one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets. Politicians must recognise that reducing inequality is about improving the psychosocial wellbeing of the whole society.

The Guardian, Published: Sun 9 Mar 2014 05.30 GMT
The Spirit Level authors: why society is more unequal than ever

Five years after The Spirit Level, authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that research backs up their views on the iniquity of inequality
By Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

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A system that benefits 42 people over 7.5 billion

These days I’m finding it increasingly difficult to ingest the news without jumping up and pulling the hair out of my head and yelling at people. And this week, a report from Oxfam was giving me all the motivation I needed to start yanking my hair out in clumps.

Oxfam is an international confederation of charitable organisations working on alleviating global poverty. Basically, its report stated “world’s richest 1% get 82% of the wealth” created in 2017. Now, this is not that surprising – there are constantly stories in the news about economic inequality. But let’s really think about what this specific report means.

Oxfam reports that the wealth of billionaires has increased 13% a year on average for the period between 2006 and 2015, and that last year, billionaires gained US$762bil (RM2.9trillion). Oxfam also states that 42 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people. And that while 82% of money generated went to the richest 1%, those poorest 3.8 billion people I just mentioned saw no increase at all in income.

Are you pulling your hair out yet?

Maybe, or maybe not.

Maybe you’re wondering why I find this so frustrating?

Think about what could be done with US$762bil.

We live in a world where climate change is already causing upheaval. Just last week Cape Town in South Africa reported they only have three months of water left because of a three-year drought that is said to be a once-in-a-millennia event; guess what the Southern Africa biome will turn into because of climate change? A desert.

The effects of climate change are all around us yet we lack the political will to change the status quo because it will supposedly hurt the economy. I would argue that instead of US$762bil going to 42 people to further solidify their status as crazy uber rich, that money could do a lot of good to smooth over any wrinkles that pop up when transitioning to a clean energy economy.

Or how about the entire refugee crisis in Europe. What if we spent, say … I dunno … US$762bil on programmes to help integrate them, to help screen them, to help train them, so refugees could have a better chance joining European society? Introduce work programmes where they train with Europeans in their jobs to learn skills and learn the new culture.

This would be good for both the refugees and Europeans to get to know each other. It’s easy to speak about other cultures in racist and stereotypical terms when you only know the other culture at arms length – it’s harder to maintain these stereotypes when you actually know someone from that culture.

How about some spending some money – let’s see, how much … uh … like US$762bil, I’m just throwing a number out there – in places like middle America, where the people who have brought the Trump Administration and the renewed fear of nuclear apocalypse to the world live.

It seems that 65% of Americans reported that they feel their children will have fewer opportunities than they had. For the United States, this marks the first time that this many people have felt this hopeless about the future. And when people feel hopeless they do crazy things, like rebel, advocate wars, or say, elect a reality TV star who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth as the most powerful man in the world.

So why not spend some money there? Start a system of Universal Basic Income to stabilise some of these families and then retraining programmes to give these people a chance to feel hopeful for the future again. That could be worthwhile.

And how about the entire idea of poverty in itself? Oxfam reports that the US$762bil that went to the richest 1% could have solved world poverty. Not once. Not twice. But SEVEN times over. But instead, that US$762bil went to making the richest 1% just that much richer.

’Cause, you know, they need it.

I would imagine the richest 1% could donate their incomes to charity every other year and not even notice it, but they won’t do it because our economic system says accumulate but it never says when enough is enough.

“Something is very wrong with the global economy,” says Mark Goldring of Oxfam. “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages.”

Something is wrong indeed.

But how do we get equality?

Walter Scheidel in his book The Great Leveller: Violence And The History Of Inequality From The Stone Age To The Twenty-First Century (2017) (*) argues that there are only a few ways to right economic inequality: Complete collapse of states and economic systems (disaster), epidemics and pandemics (disaster), and world war (really, really big disaster).

Here’s hoping that this can be the first time in history we achieve equality without any of these disastrous events because a system that benefits 42 people over 7.5 billion simply cannot continue.

The Star2, Published: JANUARY 29, 2018
Why don’t the world’s 42 billionaires donate their income to charity every other year?
Avid writer Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming.

(*) Read more:

Be careful what you wish for, historian Walter Scheidel writes: the suppression of inequality was, on the historical evidence, “only ever brought forth in sorrow”. In a scholarly and ambitious book, Scheidel argues that economic inequalities are usually narrowed most effectively as a result of cataclysmic events: war, revolution, the collapse of states and natural disasters.

Scheidel dubs these the “four horsemen” and explores the causal relationships between them and the emergence of mechanisms that significantly redistribute wealth – not just in the societies we think we know, such as western European modernity, but those we rarely consider, such as the pre-conquest Americas, or the dark ages in Europe.

Scheidel’s starting point is welcome: the ways we currently measure inequality are inadequate. The Gini coefficient does not properly measure the incomes of the extremely rich; and the existence of vast, offshore wealth reserves hides the true extremes of wealth inequality. Even on the official measures, wealth concentration is proceeding rapidly – with the number of billionaires controlling the equivalent of half the world’s wealth shrinking from a few hundred to a coachload in less than a decade.

There is, despite this, still a long way to go: the escalating wealth share of the top 1% in the US has only just reached where it was in 1929. And the ratio of Bill Gates’s wealth pile to that of the average US citizen is roughly the same as that of the richest Roman aristocrats in AD400. Scheidel observes that, left to their own devices, most societies – including ancient Rome – seem to reach a demographic and technological limit of inequality. What reverses this is violence – and not just ordinary violence.

“Only specific types of violence have consistently forced down inequality,” Scheidel writes. War has to be total; revolution has to be ultraviolent and socially pervasive; state failure has to lead to violence so intense that “it wipes the slate clean”. Ditto the social effects of pandemics.

This account of the emergence of systemic inequality follows the classic materialist schema: only with the emergence of a durable economic surplus in early societies do you get archaeological evidence of inequality – that is where social status begins to map on to economic status. States, defensible and transferable forms of wealth, hereditary elites and the rituals to endow them with status emerge together, Scheidel’s review of the evidence shows, to create the “original 1%” – from Mesopotamia to the Aztec elite, who wore “feather work and jade ornaments, lived in two-storey houses, ate the flesh of human sacrifices, drank chocolate … kept concubines … and did not pay taxes”.

Observed in the long run, the last 2,000 years produced “twin peaks” of inequality after the original ancient empires collapsed: medieval society on the eve of the Black Death, and modern society on the eve of the first world war. The wipeout of a third of Europe’s population through plague – mirrored in South America by genocidal depopulation – actually suppressed inequality, by raising the price of labour.

But, says Scheidel, it is the modern “Great Compression” – starting with the 1914-18 war and ending with Thatcherism – that holds the biggest implications for future social justice. His argument, a companion to that of Thomas Piketty, is that the reductions of inequality achieved by welfare states, communist revolutions and confiscatory taxes required by world wars were one-offs.

Marketised industrial societies that do not experience revolution, catastrophe or total war are prone to generating the high levels of inequality we are currently approaching. Scheidel concludes that these catastrophic levellers are “gone for now, and unlikely to return any time soon. This casts doubt on the feasibility of future levelling.”

I believe that, on the contrary, it is possible to use the same evidence Scheidel marshals to propose an alternative reading, in which the second of the “twin peaks” turns out to be the last.

First: the proletariat of early industrial societies did turn out to be a different kind of historical subject from all other oppressed classes. Its early revolutions were violently redistributive for the very reason Marx outlined: it had no stake in society but had the means to mobilise itself independent of demagogic factions of the elite. It achieved agency.

As a result, the needs of predatory states and elites changed. In order to persuade the proletariat to go to war, they had to suppress hereditary wealth and indeed confiscate wealth. Where their legitimacy collapsed – as in Russia, China, Cuba and post-1945 eastern Europe – massive temporary suppression of inequality was the outcome, however pitifully stagnant the Comecon countries of 1945-89 became.

But between these two realities grew social democracy – which is actually something very new in history, if placed between the extremes documented in Scheidel’s book. Social democracy wishes to suppress inequality in a controlled, consensual way, using the very state the elite has fashioned to entrench it; heading off pestilence, state failure and violent revolution. The vast wealth being generated in the highly technologically efficient society of the 21st century must, contrary to Scheidel, offer the possibility of an even greater redistributional space in which social democracy can operate.

The only problem is, for 30 years, social democracy lost the will to redistribute (other than upwards to its allies in the yachting and mafia fraternities). Since around 2011, with the mass revolts of technologically empowered and educated people, the world has been offered the possibility of a break from the cycle of relentless inequality. In effect it turned the offer down – and in saying no to a future of social justice it has, for now, opened the door to the past: to kleptocrats, mafiosi, politicians whose imaginations are trapped in that tight space between the golden tower and the golden shower.

When the youth of Europe and America went to the streets saying “we are unstoppable, another world is possible”, in the long run they were right. Only if we accept that the social dynamics of the Aztecs and Mesopotamian elites can coexist with mass access to information and human rights should we adopt the pessimism whose premise pervades this book. I refuse to.

• The Great Leveller is published by Princeton. To order a copy for £23.76 (RRP £27.95) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Massive temporary suppression of inequality … Havana, 1959, during the early days of the Cuban revolution.

The Guardian, Last modified on Wed 29 Nov 2017 09.47 GMT
The Great Leveller by Walter Scheidel review – an end to inequality?

Is economic disparity only ever reduced by war, revolution and catastrophe? Paul Mason is more optimistic: the world can change
By Paul Mason

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GDP: Gross Domestic Problem?

Davos -
It can topple governments, confer international bragging rights and pretty much obsessed the government of China once the country began its long march back to economic prowess.

But is GDP (gross domestic product) outliving its usefulness as a metric of economic size, and is it stoking social and environmental crisis by encouraging growth at any cost?

Debate about whether it is time to adopt a more nuanced calculator has been growing in recent years, and featured anew during discussions at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this week.

"There's emerging agreement that the kind of statistics we've used in the past just aren't working any more," British economist Diane Coyle from the University of Manchester told AFP in Davos.

Coyle is one of several experts who have written books on the subject. Others have detailed proposals such as a "Human Development Index", and a new addition to the literature comes this week from Financial Times journalist David Pilling, entitled "The Growth Delusion".

In Davos, Coyle outlined new thinking that would supplement brute economic data with measurements covering human capital (skills and education), physical infrastructure and "intangible capital" such as computerised data and patents.

They would also cover environmental quality, and "social capital" looking at how united or divided a country is.

Ascribing a value to data is particularly pressing as companies and customers increasingly transact their lives "in the cloud". To take one example, a globally accessible and hugely useful resource like Wikipedia is worth precisely zero in traditional GDP accounting models.

Neither does GDP encompass the black market, omitting a huge source of activity and income in many developing countries, including in Africa and Latin America.

- The politics of GDP -

Notably, GDP cannot measure the distribution of wealth within a country. So while its total value can go up, gains are all too often skewed to top earners. Those lower down the ladder can fall further behind in relative terms.

That is exactly what has been playing out in the United States, powering a populist backlash that elected Donald Trump, and influencing the British people's decision to quit the European Union.

After the Brexit referendum campaign, pro-EU campaigner Anand Menon wrote that he was trying to explain at one event about the hit to GDP that he felt would come if Britons voted to leave the bloc.

He said that one woman in the audience in Newcastle, northern England, shouted back "that's your bloody GDP, not ours".

Developed in 1934 by economist Simon Kuznets to help the United States chart an escape from the Great Depression, GDP measures the total value of a country's goods and services over quarters and years.

Woe betide a government that heads into an election on the back of a recession -- usually defined as two consecutive quarters of decline in its GDP.

But even where there is growth, disenchantment with how it is shared out can be seen vividly in Brexit-bound Britain, according to Inga Beale, chief executive of Lloyd's of London, the insurance market.

"We´ve got to find another mechanism to include much bigger parts of the population, and use different metrics to measure success of a country," she told CNBC television.

- World's richest nation? Norway -

GDP is widely seen as a blunt instrument to measure growth, and has attracted criticism from Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, among others.

But countries that do execute sustained rises in GDP can use the accreted wealth to transform their standing.

Exhibit A is China, which after decades of pell-mell growth is now the world's second-biggest economy as measured by GDP, awarding it the kind of international prestige and influence that it has not enjoyed for centuries.

But even in China the GDP debate is intensifying as President Xi Jinping vies to prioritise quality over quantity in the economy's expansion.

So what are the alternatives to GDP?

Dissident thinkers are calling for a holistic approach that calibrates not just economic inputs but human capital along with quality-of-life issues.

With the planet warming and some resources already exploited to near-exhaustion, including many fisheries, the WEF this week proposed a broader measure of growth called the Inclusive Development Index that accounts for such factors.

On that basis, Norway is the world's richest country and the rest of the top 10 comprises small European countries and Australia. Germany is in 12th position, the United States is 23rd and China 26th.

In any case, professor Coyle said, countries do not drastically have to overhaul their national accounting to take stock of environmental degradation caused by the rush for growth.

"You just need to breathe the air in Beijing to feel the cost," she said.

China is the world's second-biggest economy as measured by GDP -- but the GDP debate is intensifying as Beijing vies to prioritise quality over quantity in the knowledge that the rush for growth can come at massive environmental cost

Mail Online: PUBLISHED: 01:48 GMT, 25 January 2018
GDP: Gross Domestic Problem?

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Jakarta, the world's worst traffic

JAKARTA’S traffic seems to never get any better, except for a brief period during holidays when people leave the city.

App-based transportation firm Uber, in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, has released a study revealing that drivers in Jakarta spend an average of 22 days a year in traffic – significantly higher than drivers in other Asian major cities.

As the capital will co-host the 2018 Asian Games in August, along with Palembang, South Sumatra, some worry that a gridlock may push back the tight schedule for the top quadrennial sporting event in Asia.

This Q&A compiles published facts and figures in an attempt to identify and answer related concerns.

What causes traffic jams?

Jakarta is home to 10 million people, according to the Central Statistics Agency’s estimate. A 2015 survey revealed that 2.43 million commuters travel within, into and out of the city daily, and of these, 1.38 million commuters travel from Jakarta’s outskirts. This adds significant strain to the city’s roads, as 70% of commuters from outside Jakarta take private cars or motorcycles, rather than public transportation.

The Jakarta Transportation Agency has revealed that only 20% of all journeys in the capital were made using public transportation, partly because of the lack of infrastructure and adequate public transportation services.

What is the economic cost of traffic congestion?

National Development Planning Minister/National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) head Bambang Brodjonegoro said that traffic congestion cost the capital US$5bil (RM20bil) annually, as kompas.com reported in October last year.

Traffic jams raise health issues and costs, too. University of Indonesia climate change researcher Budi Haryanto found that the transportation sector accounted for 80% of air pollution. The problem was only becoming worse, with the pollution index increasing at 6% to 8% annually, he said.

What has the government done to alleviate congestion?

Jakarta is developing its public transportation system to accommodate the burgeoning population. The two major projects are Mass Rapid Transit and Light Rapid Transit. However, the ongoing construction for these projects is often blamed for worsening the already bad traffic by minimising road capacity.

Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)

The MRT feasibility study was already available in the 1990s but development was initiated only a few years ago. The project was previously considered to be financially unfeasible, requiring a huge investment in infrastructure. Expected to be finished by next year, the MRT will reduce both traffic and its economic losses – losses incurred as a result of longer travel times and greater fuel consumption.

The ongoing construction is for the first phase of the North-South line, which connects Lebak Bulus in South Jakarta and the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta. The construction has significantly reduced road capacity on Jl. Sudirman and Jl. Fatmawati. The second phase will link the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle with Kampung Bandan, completing the North-South line, to be followed by the last phase for the West-East line.

The MRT construction was also blamed for causing floods but MRT secretary Tubagus Hikmatullah refuted this, claiming that it followed proper regulations in its implementation, including maintaining temporary on-site drainage systems.

Light Rapid Transit (LRT)

Jakarta traffic also comes from its satellite cities, through daily commuters and cargo trucks traveling to and from North Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port. Authorities are now building an LRT system connecting Jakarta and its neighbouring cities to accommodate daily commutes. Unfortunately, the project has exacerbated congestion along Jakarta’s toll roads, as some LRT sections occupy the shoulder of toll roads.

There have been other efforts to restrict trucks on the toll road, such as a ban during the morning rush hour and building an urban logistics transport system. The Greater Jakarta Transportation Agency has encouraged business owners to transport cargo by rail instead. So far, only 2% of logistics services uses trains.

The Greater Jakarta LRT will depart from Bogor, Bekasi, Cawang and Kuningan to terminate at Sudirman Station, while the Jakarta LRT will depart from Kelapa Gading, Rawamangun and Manggarai to also terminate at Sudirman Station. It remains undecided whether the two lines will converge at Sudirman Station.

The capital also has other projects constructing overpasses and underpasses as well as miscellaneous facilities, including ojek parking lots near stations and toll road infrastructure for the cashless system.

Will congestion affect the 2018 Asian Games?

Jakarta is home to 40 Asian Games venues, 20 of which are located within the Gelora Bung Karno sports complex in Senayan, Central Jakarta. The remaining venues are spread across North, East and South Jakarta.

The Jakarta administration has promised to provide designated lanes for athletes and divert traffic during the Asian Games to ensure that participants will arrive on time at event venues. The Organising Committee of Asia has set standards that the travel time from the athletes’ village in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, to event venues may not exceed 34 minutes.

However, the city administration’s preliminary simulation showed that travelling from the athletes’ village to the venues would take at least 50 minutes, owing to traffic jams.

A coordination meeting involving related agencies has been held to try and find a solution. Jakarta Transportation Agency head Andri Yansyah said the administration planned to provide special lanes for vehicles transporting athletes; Transjakarta bus lanes might also be used. There have been talks about scheduling school holidays and office hours for civil servants around the Games to ease traffic.

Daily hassle: Taxis and motorcyclists fighting for space during the afternoon rush hour in Jakarta.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 28 Jan 2018
Traffic trouble in Jakarta
By Devina Heriyanto, The Jakarta Post

The average Jakartan spends 10 years of their life in traffic, wrote novelist Seno Gumira Ajidarma, and you don’t have to spend long in the Indonesian capital to believe it.

Three and a half million people a day commute into this hot and humid city from the wider metropolitan area of Greater Jakarta and many come by car, attracted by the status and the air-conditioning. Their cars, though, are motionless in macet (gridlock) during most of the 5am to 8am and 5pm to 8pm rush hours, and for much of the day.

Jakarta was named the world city with the worst traffic in one index last year based on satellite navigation data, which found the average driver starting and stopping more than 33,000 times in a year. An estimated 70% of the city’s air pollution comes from vehicles.

It typically takes two hours to drive 25 miles to the centre from Bogor, the largest of the satellite cities, where many office workers live. A bad journey can take three hours. As cars idle in endless queues, scooters slalom past, missing by inches. It seems there are often more passengers on the bikes than in the cars.

Efforts to reduce car use are limited to an odd/even scheme on the main thoroughfare of Sudirman and few other key routes during rush hour: vehicles with odd numbered plates are allowed on odd dates, with even plates on even dates. Odd/even came in after a three-in-one car-pooling rule was scrapped in April after years of abuse. “Jockeys” would stand at the side of the road, offering themselves for rent so the driver could get the required two passengers; many were children, who took huge risks getting into the vehicles of strangers.

With the population of Greater Jakarta expected to increase from about 30 million today to more than 40 million by 2040 , wasting hours trapped in traffic looks set to become even more of a daily frustration for residents. Is Jakarta destined to be jammed forever, or does the city have an alternative?

Scooter city: ‘You can get anything delivered by bike here’

“Motorbikes are twice the speed of a car in Jakarta, they use a 10th of the fuel, are a 10th of the cost and use far less space,” says Nadiem Makarim, founder and chief executive of Go-Jek, the city’s two-wheeled version of Uber. “Motorbikes are much more efficient. There’s no reason for cars to exist in this city at all.”

Since Makarim’s company revolutionised the motorcycle taxi – or ojek – industry with the launch of a smartphone app last year, numbers have risen dramatically. Along with Malaysian rival Grab, and Uber’s Motor service, they have driven down fares – to the anger of some drivers.

The app has been downloaded 25 million times. As well as getting around, customers can get a massage therapist or a cleaner delivered to their door within 90 minutes. His food delivery business is now Asia’s largest outside China, and the Go-Jek also offers makeovers, theatre tickets, flowers, prescription medicines …

“It’s pretty hard to find something you can’t get by motorbike delivery,” says Makarim. “You don’t need to waste time in traffic to get what you want. We bring everything to you. If you didn’t want to you wouldn’t have to leave your apartment.”

Some in the city, though, are concerned the rise of motorbike taxi apps could tempt people away from buses and trains. “Motorcycle taxis kill public transport,” says Yoga Adiwinarto, country director of ITDP-Indonesia, the local branch of the non-profit Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Makarim doesn’t see it that way. “Our customers are smartphone users,” he says. “They are middle class people switching from private cars. They wouldn’t have travelled on buses anyway.”

The largest south-east Asian city without a metro

Regional rivals Manila (1984), Singapore (1987), Kuala Lumpur (1995) and Bangkok (2004), all got there first. But four decades after it was first mooted, construction has at last begun on Jakarta’s $1.7bn (£1.4bn) metro line, known as Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).

Difficulties acquiring land rights in the south of the city have delayed the overground section of the project but, when the first stage opens in 2019, it is set to halve the hour it takes to travel 12 miles from Lebak Bulus to Bunderan Hotel Indonesia in the centre by car.

A northern extension to Kampung Bandan near the waterfront is set to open in 2020. A second line running east-west, where many journeys are made, is under consideration.

A long-awaited link from the airport is set to start operating next year and the first phase of a light rail system is due to open in 2018, in time for the Asian Games. The new network should boost rail capacity from 800,000 to 1.2 million passengers a day.

Jakarta’s ageing Commuter Line trains make the journey from Bogor to the city centre in 55 minutes – twice as fast as the car. Excess passengers no longer ride on the roof or hang out of the doors after a recent crackdown, but inside the carriages the rush hour crush is as bad as ever.

The metro, light rail, airport link – and a planned bullet train from Bandung 100 miles to the east – will centre on a new hub at Dukuh Atas. The inevitable swanky shopping mall is being planned.

But is there a faster way to transform public transport in the city? Yoga says Jakarta’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which the ITDP helped promote and design, took just two years to set up and the bill to the city was a fraction of the cost of the metro.

Bus Rapid Transit: ‘It’s quicker than cars for sure’

Twelve years ago Jakarta became the first south-east Asian city to open a BRT, inspired by visits from former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa.

The 120-mile Transjakarta network gives good coverage, within the city at least, and carries 350,000 people a day. Buses are air conditioned, with a separate section for women at the front, and 10 pink women-only buses have recently started operation.

“Within Jakarta itself the BRT is quite good,” says Yoga. “It’s quicker than cars for sure – and sometimes it’s quicker than motorcycle – but only within the city of Jakarta.”

Commuters trying to get to and from the outer cities of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi find the dedicated lanes stop as soon as they leave the city limits. A rush-hour BRT from Bogor to the centre takes two or three hours, and in Jakarta itself police officers turn a blind eye to cars and motorbikes using bus lanes when gridlock strikes.

Better links to the wider Great Jakarta area are vital to get more people on BRT, says Yoga. “Getting links to the outer city is problematic, with businesses pushing back and the government lacking political will. The city government is much more progressive in terms of mobility – they’re bringing in MRT, pushing public transport, charging for parking – but the national government never takes any action.”

Cycling: ‘Cars are usually stopped so they’re ok’

Every Sunday morning thousands of people take to the main drags of Sudirman and Thamrin to take advantage of Jakarta’s car-free day.

Spotting cyclists on other days is harder. One is Gandrie Ramadhan, who rides 10 miles a day to work as a transport associate at the ITDP. He uses smaller side streets where he can but says major roads are unavoidable.

He takes me on a cycle around the expensive embassy district of Menteng, where light traffic and shady tree-lined streets make for a pleasant ride, but as soon as we get on the main thoroughfare of Sudirman it quickly gets more serious. Worst are the unpredictable, battered green Kopaja and orange/blue MetroMini buses which belch black smoke from poorly maintained diesel engines.

“Cars are usually stopped so they’re ok but it is motorbikes which make it most dangerous,” says Gandrie. “Cycling has low status, and because we are seen as slow, the motorbikes always want to overtake us and get to the front. The Kopaja and MetroMinis are the worst, though. They make it horrible.”

Jakarta’s existing three cycle lanes are painted a foot or two wide – and ignored by motorists. Gandrie believes installing protected bike infrastructure is the only way to get more people cycling in the city. “And more offices with showers,” he adds.

Can Jakarta escape its nightmare traffic?

Instead of providing showers, most companies are more concerned with subsidising parking for their employees, says Yoga. Meanwhile, the government has approved plans for six new elevated toll highways crisscrossing the centre of the city, and its Low Cost Green Car initiative encourages car use by offering zero deposit and low interest on small-engined vehicles.

“Jakarta’s moving in the right direction but it’s not enough,” Yoga says. “The government is allowing low-density development outside the city, and the wider metro area is spreading. That makes it difficult for public transport because there isn’t the coverage. We need high density development where your first option is walking or cycling, and for longer journeys you can use the bus or metro.”

That may seem a long way from the current reality in Jakarta, but the government has a target to increase the share of trips on public transport from 23% to 60% by 2030 – and there is an incentive. As Yoga says: “Four hours every day wasted in a car is really not that pleasant.”

A motorcycle taxi for smartphone app Go-Jek picks up a customer.

A commuter train in East Jakarta in 2012. A recent crackdown means excess passengers no longer ride on the roof, or hang out of the doors, but inside the carriages the rush hour crush is as bad as ever.

Passengers on a bus in Jakarta.

Jakarta’s weekly car-free mornings are hugely popular.

The Guardian, Last modified on Wed 23 Nov 2016 11.26 GMT
The world's worst traffic: can Jakarta find an alternative to the car?

Attracted by the air-conditioning and the status, many of the 3.5 million people who commute into the hot and humid Indonesian capital come by car. With four hours in traffic not unusual, Jakarta is searching for solutions
By Nick Van Mead in Jakarta

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Trump at Davos

There is a disarming and almost touchingly naive belief among the presenters and the government delegations in the cloistered mountain village of Davos that “creating a shared future in a fractured world” – the title of this year’s World Economic Forum – is actually possible.

To the outside world, the panels and speeches fleetingly catch the news cycle, doing little to alter the perception that it’s just a gathering of elites and billionaires. But inside the forum, political leaders mingle with entrepreneurs, scientists and humanists. It’s a menagerie of power, money, brains and innovative thinking mainly, though not exclusively, being channeled toward social good.

So what happens when the “leader of the free world” walks into the room and promotes a form of isolationism as his recommended method for creating that shared future?

Universal values meets ‘America First’

Like Trump, this year was my first at Davos. But my reason for being there was markedly different.

As the director of the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, I was invited to present “new dimensions in testimony,” a collaborative project that aims to bring the stories of Holocaust and other genocide survivors to three-dimensional life by using articial intelligence to simulate a conversation.

On a typical day teaching on Holocaust and genocide, I would never have the chance to speak with Iraqi clerics or Saudi journalists. The distance is just too great physically, intellectually and emotionally.

Not so at Davos. In the last few days, for example, I have had detailed conversations with members of the United Arab Emirates government who agreed that Holocaust testimony could be used to teach universal human values at home. Davos allows such boundaries to be crossed.

Enter Donald Trump, the “America First” president whose rhetorical track record at first glance seems at odds with the Davos globalists. In a keynote address on Jan. 26, Trump chose his words carefully and stuck to the script, ostensibly encouraging collaboration.

“Together let us resolve to use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes and to empower their dreams,” he said.

Trump described himself as America’s “cheerleader,” but the effect was more salesman, as he anchored his speech in the revival of the American economy, reassuring investors that their money is safe with him.

While Trump’s critics saw his speech as out of touch, the globalist gathering at Davos is known for embracing a broad spectrum of political, social and fiscal perspectives. It could be argued that Trump’s rumbustious isolationist rhetoric adds a healthy disruption to the remarkably polite company at Davos, but it is also a fact that the United States is by no means the only power here, a point not lost on the Davos die-hards.

Los Angeles Post, Published: Saturday, January 27, 2018
What Trump’s every-country-for-itself rhetoric gets wrong about Davos
By Contributor

President Trump, who warned as a candidate about “the false song of globalism,” is marching straight into the maw of the global beast this week − and he is singing his own tune.

Trump is attending the global economic conclave in Davos, Switzerland, not because he has come around to the views broadly shared by the sort of international financial elite, government figures and academics who gather annually in a Swiss ski town.

He is going because he wants to say, “I told you so.”

After a year in office, “America first,” the nativist cry that helped propel Trump to the presidency, is the backbone of a Trump economic and foreign policy Trump is expected to argue has benefited the United States exactly the way he said it would.

As he does at home, Trump will crow about a soaring stock market, low unemployment, the return of some jobs from overseas and the passage of his tax cut package.

Among the plutocrats at the World Economic Forum, Trump will also try to turn on the salesman’s charm.

“President Trump will reiterate that a prosperous America benefits the world. When the United States grows, so does the world,” White House economic adviser Gary Cohn told reporters ahead of the trip.

“The president is going to Davos to speak to world leaders about investing in the United States, moving businesses to the United States, hiring American workers, changing the direction of our economy to be one of the biggest and best and most efficient economies in the world.”

Trump − a self-proclaimed billionaire who has few qualms about hobnobbing with the wealthy − is the first U.S. president to attend since Bill Clinton swept through in 2000, his last year in office. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both sent delegations but skipped to avoid publicly rubbing shoulders with the richest of the rich.

Trump is hosting a dinner at Davos on Thursday for the heads of several European companies to encourage investment and expansion in the United States. He is also being feted at a reception with other world leaders attending the four-day session.

Trump’s speech, scheduled for Friday afternoon, is the capstone of the event. If his presence has a skunk-at-the-party quality, some economists suggested, it also makes sense at this point in Trump’s tenure.

“It’s an opportunity to demonstrate that he’s not reluctant to take on adversaries, including other world leaders,” trade specialist William Reinsch wrote in an essay for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Second, it’s an opportunity for him to articulate a coherent, cogent trade philosophy. Trade is not rocket science, but neither is it kindergarten, and making a convincing case requires more than making policy by tweet.”

Last year’s headliner was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke about global engagement and responsibility just days before Trump’s dark and inward-looking inaugural address.

Xi was celebrated at Davos for being what pundits called the “global grown-up” stepping into the void left by looming U.S. protectionism under Trump.

As a candidate, Trump had accused other nations of taking advantage of the United States and “laughing at” the trade terms Washington had been willing to accept. With Xi’s embrace of globalization still making headlines, Trump made one of his first acts as president the fulfillment of a campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade deal negotiated under Obama. China is widely seen as the biggest beneficiary of that withdrawal.

In the year since, however, Trump’s rhetoric has been more protectionist and populist than his record. Exhibit A: The lopsided benefits for the very rich in his tax cut package.

At Davos this year, Trump will stress “America first” is not “America alone,” Cohn said Tuesday, while insisting on evenhanded trade relationships. It is a somewhat softer version of economic nationalism than Trump sometimes projects on the campaign stump and one designed to entice investors.

At the same time, Trump has hardly gone over to what his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon once dismissively called “the party of Davos.” The president approved new tariffs this week on foreign-made washing machines and solar panels. The actions Monday amounted to the largest trade move he has made since his first days as president.

Nonetheless, Cohn argued, Trump’s message is inclusive.

“The president believes we can have truly win-win agreements,” Cohn said. “He’s going to talk to world leaders about making sure we all respect each other, we all abide by the laws, we all have free, fair, open, and reciprocal trade. And if we live in a world where there are not artificial barriers, we will all grow, and we will all help each other grow.”

Trump’s selling points − a strengthening U.S. economy and an offer of renegotiated trade arrangements − may not go as far as he thinks, said former Obama special adviser David Axelrod.

Multilateralism “helped pull the world out of the morass” of the global financial crisis a decade ago, Axelrod said.

“Secondly, it won’t be lost on the people there, a fairly sophisticated audience, that the rest of the world is doing at least as well,” as the United States. “So I’m not sure they’re going to be that impressed with his approach.”

Trump will hold sit-down meetings with at least four world leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while mingling with others at the reception Thursday.

“I’m going to Davos right now to get people to invest in the United States,” Trump said Wednesday. “I’m going to say: ‘Come into the United States. You have plenty of money.’ ”

Such international investment is already happening “at a very fast clip,” Trump added.

As outlined by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Trump’s calendar does not include separate meetings with many of the other notable leaders attending, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In her address Wednesday, Merkel warned of the dangers of protectionism. Macron spoke of a “shared framework” and shared responsibilities.

McMaster said Trump will see Rwandan leader and African Union chairman Paul Kagame. The meeting comes some two weeks after Trump’s vulgar dismissal of African nations during an Oval Office meeting on immigration.

He will also see the Swiss president and the original “Davos man,” World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab.

“In all of his meetings, the president hopes to increase economic opportunities for the American people, to build partnership to address common security goals, and to find new ways of reforming international and regional organizations to make them more effective and more accountable,” McMaster said.

The Washington Post, Published: January 24, 2018
Trump will tell globalists at Davos that his nationalist agenda is working
By Anne Gearan, White House reporter for The Washington Post.

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Davos one more time

SO another month has ended for the world in Davos and another year for Davos in the world, the international talkfest held at the Swiss Alpine resort each January.

Once more, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has provided a platform for the hallowed and the ballyhooed to strut their stuff and to shower their sagacity and also some media material for a slow news week.

There was the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, King Abdullah II of Jordan, professional celebrities and politicians. Most of the G7 leaders were there.

In lurching towards a sense of global equity perhaps, it involved not only the big, the powerful and the rich. Also there were Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe as well as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece.

The entertainment world wasn’t left out either – Elton John was there too, as was a sprinkling of the Hollywood glitterati. These gigs used to have Bono, the cocktail activist known to have sung some songs.

The Pope even sent a message: he asked the assembly of notables to build inclusive, just and supportive societies. It was not clear if they would, could, or even listened.

It seemed only the Dalai Lama was not heard from; perhaps next year.

Thus the good, the great, the glorious and the gay had something to say, all of it important, urgent, or which the participants at least thought so.

The themes and issues are usually what ail, concern and fascinate the rich and famous in particular: financial meltdowns, the digital economy, the gender pay gap, artificial intelligence and climate change.

Other issues of equal or greater significance are seldom if ever entertained: transnational crime, piracy, terrorism, genocide, and what some Third World officials call “not ethnic cleansing”.

The plight of the destitute anywhere and the roots of their global misery are glossed over if not ignored, as these may well spoil the mood of the lavish gala. Delicate hors d’oeuvre can “go off” easily in the wrong setting.

And thus participants nibbled on canapés and sipped champagne while they made small talk about big issues, posturing grandiosely and collectively over grave matters beyond their individual control.

The WEF bash began in 1972 by Swiss economist and founding chairman Professor Klaus Schwab for promoting public-private partnerships to improve the state of the world.

Alas, this temporal sphere is also a world of states, so for political leaders as for businessmen, expediency rules – whatever the official slogans and the rhetoric.

Davos this year was particularly heavy on attendance by national leaders, yet neither the content nor the delivery of their speeches impressed.

Their mutual rivalry for foreign investment and a general lack of vision and imagination took their toll. Their apparent distraction by national challenges back home reportedly also made a dent.

Still, the WEF machinery trundles on regardless, even if serious activists and concerned policymakers are more anxious to address challenges than talk about them.

As a simple test of efficacy, what have 46 years of pontification at a luxury winter resort done for the world or its inhabitants – particularly the needy?

Only more reasons to have more of such posh confabs, especially since none of the previous ones delivered completely if at all. And so it goes on.

Another irony lies in Davos offering itself to those who still need reforming to present themselves as leading reformists. And those who seriously need reforming do not bother to go.

The first sitting US President to attend was Bill Clinton in 2000, becoming a serial attendee since. Both generations of George Bushes never attended.

For those who do, Davos is something of a coming-out party, a graduation ceremony or valedictory ball for rising stars.

The star of last year’s show was Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose nationalism from the East China Sea and the South China Sea to Doklam seemed clear enough.

Yet Xi’s chosen themes of free trade and open markets with an eye on climate change at Davos 2017 proved timely and rewarding. These contrasted with what continues to be perceived as US insularity.

The ultra-nationalism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no secret. Yet this year it was Modi’s time to shine as the star turn, pressing home the point about the need for globalisation.

Modi’s speech avoided any reference to India’s trade protectionist policies, however. At last, Third World leaders have learned from their Western counterparts to say wonderful things to foreign leaders at festive party occasions regardless of the reality on the ground.

Not least, much speculation during the week centred on whether US President Donald Trump would attend. The prevailing wisdom was that he would certainly not.

The WEF might have taken some dubious credit for that kind of expectation. Among the predictions of Davos 2016 was that Trump would lose the presidential election later that year.

So to confound critics and pundits alike once again, Trump swept into Davos from across the Atlantic like the Westerlies, the anti-trades winds, in turns gusty and gutsy.

After all, the WEF involves talking a lot about many things by assorted blowhards and diehards, whether or not the stated commitments would actually materialise. How could Trump resist such an opportunity?

Some sceptics have argued that Davos was ill-suited to Trump, that attendees were somehow not his “natural constituency”. In reality he and they may have more in common than any of them would like to admit.

After the recent East Asean Summit which many had also predicted Trump would not attend, but which he did, with some gusto, he seemed to have found his rhythm. This whole conference thing totally seems like fun.

Meanwhile, some Chinese and US media analysts have been debating the extent of Xi’s influence on this year’s proceedings.

Chinese media pundits may be obliged to highlight it while their US counterparts may instinctively reject it. Nonetheless the main themes Xi expounded in 2017 were echoed this year – because of the staying power of the issues themselves.

Few, however, noticed how Modi’s opening address at Davos 2018 contained a reference to Indian democracy as a stabilising factor, which some took as a subtle dig at Chinese authoritarianism.

Still, such subtleties are easily lost at these grand soirées. Who can be in the mood to dissect nuances when everyone is too busy competing to mouth blandishments from motherhood and apple-pie to pie in the sky?

The technology for teleconferencing has been improving in leaps and bounds for decades, but – like the gross destitution that persists in marginalised communities – nobody seems to have noticed.

And so the clamour for the next WEF at Davos continues. Jetsetters will be spending more days at the next intercontinental party, using up more jet fuel to campaign righteously against emissions and global warming.

They will continue to moan about such sins, like a confessional for its cathartic effect, only to commit the same acts again because it’s not sinful when they do it.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 28 Jan 2018
Davos one more time
By Bunn Nagara, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

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Inequality gap widens

The development charity Oxfam has called for action to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor as it launched a new report showing that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population.

In a report published on Monday to coincide with the gathering of some of the world’s richest people at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam said billionaires had been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past 12 months, at a time when the bottom 50% of the world’s population had seen no increase in wealth. It added that 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.

The charity said it was “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

Booming global stock markets have been the main reason for the increase in wealth of those holding financial assets during 2017. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saw his wealth rise by $6bn (£4.3bn) in the first 10 days of 2017 as a result of a bull market on Wall Street, making him the world’s richest man.

Oxfam said it had made changes to its wealth calculations as a result of new data from the bank Credit Suisse. Under the revised figures, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. At the time of last year’s report, Oxfam said that eight billionaires held the same wealth as half the world’s population.

The charity added that the wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (£550bn) in 2017 enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. It said nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

Goldring said: “For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against. If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay.”

An Oxfam survey of 70,000 people in 10 countries, including the UK, showed support for action to tackle inequality. Nearly two-thirds of people – 72% in the UK – said they want their government to urgently address the income gap between rich and poor in their country.

In the UK, when asked what a typical British chief executive earned in comparison with an unskilled worker, people guessed 33 times as much. When asked what the ideal ratio should be, they said 7:1. Oxfam said that FTSE 100 bosses earned on average 120 times more than the average employee.

Goldring said it was time to rethink a global economy in which there was excessive corporate influence on policymaking, erosion of workers’ rights and a relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors.

Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Oxfam is promoting a race to the bottom. Richer people are already highly taxed people – reducing their wealth beyond a certain point won’t lead to redistribution, it will destroy it to the benefit of no one. Higher minimum wages would also likely lead to disappearing jobs, harming the very people Oxfam intend to help.”

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and world’s richest man, arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe awards.

The Guardian, Last modified on Mon 22 Jan 2018 18.07 GMT
Inequality gap widens as 42 people hold same wealth as 3.7bn poorest

Oxfam calls for action on gap as wealthiest people gather at World Economic Forum in Davos
By Larry Elliott, Economics editor

In the prewar era that my father was born to, divisions ran deep between class, wealth and race, with upper class Englishmen at one end and migrant Asian coolies at the other.

My father sought to cross such divisions, and he did, through hard work and education. As a doctor, he never considered if patients were first or third class; only the patient in front of him mattered.

We’ve come a long way since then. And yet, in some ways, we haven’t.

The world is still desperately unequal and an aching burden of poverty still hangs over us.

Half the world’s wealth is now in the hands of just 1% of the global population, says a new report this month by Credit Suisse. The richest 10% own close to 90% of wealth. While global poverty has declined with economic growth in Asia and Africa, inequality is nevertheless growing.

Consider this statistic from the charity Oxfam: the richest 85 people in the world own more wealth than the poorer half of the entire global population. With the current trend, Oxfam warns that 200 million people will be “trapped” in extreme poverty.

A similar picture continues here. The wealth of just 40 super rich Malaysians constitutes 22% of the country’s GDP, according to the 2013 Malaysia Human Development Report from the United Nations Development Programme.

The report, authored by Malaysian economists, found only 20% of Malaysians can be classified as “middle class” and half of Malaysian households have no financial assets. Rural areas and certain states fare poorly; among the most impoverished are bumiputras from Sabah. Upward mobility is limited. Income inequality is one of the worst in the region and has not changed since 1990.

Life sucks. For the poor. Still.

Is it right that some of us should be born to privilege? To me it seems absurdly unfair, the notion that it’s plain bad luck to be born in a slumhole, destined for a lifetime of misery and servility.

There is growing concern about the state of this inequitable world, even from the most eminent of experts.

This week, the Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to Angus Deaton, a distinguished academic noted for his work on poverty and inequality, among other things.

In his book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth And The Origins Of Inequality, he warns that extreme inequality threatens democracy.

Critical of the super rich, he noted: “The very wealthy have little need for state-provided education or health care.

“They will oppose any regulation of banks that restricts profits, even if it helps those who cannot cover their mortgages or protects the public against predatory lending, deceptive advertising, or even a repetition of the financial crash.”

He added: “To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the wellbeing of everyone else.”

Inequality is a threat to humanity.

In the United States, The Economist reports that the share of national income going to the top 0.01% has quadrupled in the last few decades. According to a Pew Research Centre report, more than half of Americans say family incomes are falling behind the cost of living. Further, 45% say they have experienced one or more serious financial hardships, such as paying for healthcare or a debt, over the past year.

Those are shocking statistics from one of the world’s richest nations.

Closer to home, consider migrant workers. Singaporean historian Thum Ping Tjin recently observed that the exploitation endured by Singapore’s early pioneers was similar to what migrants today face.

No doubt, the humongous salaries given to some top executives exacerbates the problem. Plus corporations find ways to avoid paying taxes, cheating governments out of trillions. Tax havens don’t help.

This world of haves and have-nots does not bode well for the future, creating not only social and political problems, but economic ones. More migrants will flee from have-not nations to richer ones.

How did we get here, after so much effort to turn the tide against inequality in the 20th century? I just hope my children inherit a far more equitable world than the one that their grandfather was born into.

A Bangladeshi villager walks between homes in the village of Kalai some 300km north-west of Dhaka. A world of haves and have-nots does not bode well for the future.

The Star2, Published: OCTOBER 18, 2015
Growing inequality between the haves and the have-nots

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Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Bill Richardson, the veteran US diplomat, has resigned from an international panel on the Rohingya crisis, calling it a “whitewash” and accusing the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership”.

Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member, quit as the 10-member advisory board was making its first visit to Rakhine state, from where nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled in recent months.

“The main reason I am resigning is that this advisory board is a whitewash,” Richardson told Reuters in an interview, adding he did not want to be part of “a cheerleading squad for the government”.

Richardson said he got into an argument with Suu Kyi during a meeting on Monday with other members of the board, when he brought up the case of two Reuters reporters who are on trial accused of breaching the country’s secrets act.

He said Suu Kyi’s response was “furious”, saying the case of the reporters “was not part of the work of the advisory board”. The argument continued at a dinner later that evening, the former New Mexico governor said.

In a statement, the Myanmar government challenged Richardson’s version of events, saying the diplomat had not intended to provide advice at the meeting “but to pursue his own agenda”.

“In view of the difference of opinion that developed, the government decided that his continued participation on the board would not be in the best interest of all concerned,” the statement added.

Reporters Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of the crisis in Rakhine, from where 688,000 Rohingya have fled an army crackdown on insurgents since late August, according to estimates by the United Nations.

They were detained on 12 December after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner in Yangon. The government has cited police as saying they were arrested for possessing secret documents relating to the security situation in Rakhine.

Heather Nauert, a US state department spokeswoman, called Richardson’s decision to resign from the board and his reasons for doing so “cause for concern”, but noted he had been acting as a private citizen in joining the board and visiting Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

The advisory board was set up by Myanmar last year, to advise on enacting the findings of an earlier commission headed by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The armed forces have been accused by Rohingya witnesses and human rights activists of carrying out killings, rapes and arson in a campaign senior officials in the UN and US have described as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar rejects that label and has denied nearly all the allegations.

Richardson said he was also “taken aback by the vigour with which the media, the UN, human rights groups and in general the international community were disparaged” during the last three days of meetings the board held with Myanmar officials.

“She’s not getting good advice from her team,” Richardson said of Suu Kyi, whom he said he has known since the 1980s. “I like her enormously and respect her. But she has not shown moral leadership on the Rakhine issue and the allegations made, and I regret that.”

Suu Kyi’s national security adviser, Thaung Tun, told Reuters he had escorted the other board members on a trip to Rakhine on Wednesday, but that Richardson had not taken part.

“He said he was unhappy about the situation but I am not sure what he was unhappy about,” he said. “This is just the initial stage, this is the start of a whole year of business so I don’t know what happened to make him feel like that.”

Before Richardson quit the advisory board had 10 members, including five from overseas, chaired by former Thai deputy prime minister, Surakiart Sathirathai.
Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN and energy secretary in the Clinton administration, also had harsh words for Surakiart.

The board chairman, he said, was not “genuinely committed” to implementing recommendations regarding the issues of Rohingya safety, citizenship, peace, stability and development.

Surakiart was travelling with other members of the board in Rakhine and did not respond to requests for comment.

Another board member, former South African Defence Minister Roelof Meyer, told Reuters the visit to Rakhine had been “very constructive”.

“If anybody would say that we are just a rubber stamp or a voice on behalf of the government that would be completely untrue, unfair,” he said.

Myanmar’s military said earlier this month its soldiers had taken part in the killings of 10 captured Muslim “terrorists” at the beginning of September, after Buddhist villagers had forced the captured men into a grave the villagers had dug.

It was a rare acknowledgment of wrongdoing during its operations in Rakhine by the Myanmar military, which said legal action would be taken against members of the security forces who violated their rules of engagement and the villagers involved.

Richardson said he has asked the board to recommend that the Myanmar government set up an independent investigation into “the mass grave issue, especially as it pertained to ... the involvement of the military”. He did not say how the board had responded.

Bill Richardson, who has resigned from Myanmar’s advisory panel on the Rohingya refugee crisis.

The Guardian, Last modified on Thu 25 Jan 2018 22.00 GMT
Aung San Suu Kyi lacks 'moral leadership', says US diplomat as he quits Rohingya panel

Bill Richardson claims Myanmar advisory board is a ‘whitewash’ and a ‘cheerleading squad for the government’
By Reuters

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, heavily criticised abroad for failing to stand up for largely stateless Rohingya Muslims, that she shouldn’t bother about rights activists as they are “just a noisy bunch”.

Duterte said he made the remarks in a speech at the Philippines-India Business Forum in New Delhi where Duterte and Suu Kyi are attending a summit of Southeast Asian countries.

“We were talking about our country, the interest of our country ... and I said ‘do not mind the human rights’ (activists), they are just a noisy bunch actually,” Duterte said.

Suu Kyi is facing international criticism for failing to address the plight of the Rohingya, more than 655,500 of whom have fled to Bangladesh to escape a crackdown by the Myanmar military.

Many people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The United Nations described Myanmar’s crackdown as ethnic cleansing, which Myanmar denies.

“I pity her because she seems to be caught in the middle of being a Nobel Prize winner for peace and this is now the ruckus, she is heavily criticised,” Duterte said in his speech.

Human rights groups have also strongly criticised Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign during which more than 3,900 suspected drug users and peddlers have been killed in what the police called self-defence after armed suspects resisted arrest.

Critics dispute that and say executions are taking place with zero accountability, allegations the police reject.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, leave after attending the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, India January 26, 2018.

Reuters, Published: JANUARY 26, 2018 - 5:24 PM
Duterte tells Suu Kyi rights activists are 'just a noisy bunch'
Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Karen Lema; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie

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Singapore students

SINGAPORE - Primary 4 pupils in Singapore have emerged second in an international test that measured how well they can read, out of 58 territories.

The results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which was released last month, also found that pupils here outperformed their peers in other countries in reading and navigating online text.

Singapore pupils came up tops - surpassing 13 other territories such as the United States - in the online task, which required them to answer questions related to information on the Web.

This is the first time that the study - which has been administered every five years since 2001 - has included a component to assess how pupils understand online information, to capture the changing nature of how young people gather and process information in a digital age.

About 6,500 pupils from all 177 primary schools here took part in the test in 2016. More than 319,000 pupils worldwide took part.

Russia was top out of 58 education systems in this round, while Hong Kong was third, Ireland fourth and Finland fifth.

Singapore was fourth out of 45 education systems previously in 2011.

The test, sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, evaluated pupils' reading and comprehension skills, such as retrieving and connecting pieces of information, and making inferences from text.

Pupils were given two reading passages - narrative fiction as well as information-based texts such as news articles - and had to answer multiple-choice and written-response questions.

More than a quarter - or 29 per cent - of Singapore pupils achieved the “advanced” benchmark - the highest level of attainment in the 2016 study, similar to 2011’s results. The international proportion of such pupils was only 10 per cent.

The results mean that the pupils did well in higher-order skills such as interpreting and evaluating information.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) attributed Singapore's improvement in literacy performance to changes in the way the English language has been taught in schools in the past decade.

These include the introduction of the Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading (Stellar) in primary schools.

Under the Stellar programme, grammar and vocabulary are taught through children's stories and text, instead of textbooks and worksheets.

Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said: "We are heartened that the curricular strategies - such as Stellar - which are engaging and factor in our local diverse context, have shown success.

"Our students have displayed stronger literacy as well as communication and higher-order reading skills, which will ensure they are confident and well positioned to navigate today's ever-changing society."

Weaker pupils showed a marked improvement as well. Only 3 per cent of pupils here performed below the “low” benchmark in reading in 2016, compared with 14 per cent across all participating education systems.

In 2011, Singapore’s proportion of such pupils was also 3 per cent, but the figure was 10 per cent in 2001.

Ms Sofia Gita Parkash, head of the English language department at Fairfield Methodist Primary School, said that Singapore has a high standard of English language, and students benefit from a strong national curriculum.

She said her school is constantly thinking of ways to imbue pupils with a love for reading, especially among those who may not have been exposed to the English language at home, as well as improving their comprehension and speaking skills.

In its daily Buddy Reading Programme, upper primary pupils pair up with Primary 1 pupils who are weaker in the language, to listen to them read storybooks, help them along the way and explain the meaning of certain words if necessary.

The school has also started to train selected pupils to be reporters and ambassadors for their school, with the aim of getting them to use communication skills in authentic settings.

This means hosting school visitors and leading them on tours of the school compound, learning to use a software to put together news video clips, and writing for a school publication.

About 120 pupils are currently part of this programme, which started three to four years ago.

Ms Parkash said that communication skills are important when it comes to the English language. "We're not just concerned about the conventions of grammar. We want pupils to learn how to greet people, how to code switch, how to react to different situations, cultures and contexts."

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study also found that parents play an important role in their children's reading literacy.

Children whose parents engaged them frequently in activities such as reading or talking when they were younger, or sang to them, did better than their peers who did not get the same level of exposure, even if they came from similar home backgrounds.

Primary 6 pupil Nathaniel Tang said that his father, a 44-year-old manager in a telecommunications company, read picture books to him every day when he was younger.

"Now it's become a habit. Whenever I have free time, I will read," said the 11-year-old, who likes reading novels, National Geographic and military magazines.

Similarly, Ms Kam Sook Wei has exposed her Primary 2 daughter and Kindergarten 2 son to a daily routine of reading from as young as four months old.

“I read to them every night, whether or not they were listening. At that time (four months), it was more about voice recognition,” said the 35-year-old who runs her own business.

“In the car, I also play audio books, turn on the BBC, and we have books in the car for them to read.”

But beyond doing well in comprehension and language tests, more can be done to encourage children to be spontaneous in situations, said Ms Kam.

“I find that our children don’t do very well in answering off-the-cuff questions," she said.

Fairfield Methodist Primary School constantly thinks of ways to imbue pupils with a love for reading, especially among those who may not have been exposed to the English language at home.

Straits Times, UPDATED: JAN 22, 2018, 8:27 PM
Primary school pupils in Singapore second in global reading literacy study
By Amelia Teng

SINGAPORE - Singapore students are the world's best in mathematics and science, according to a global benchmarking study released on Tuesday (Nov 29).

Primary 4 pupils and Secondary 2 students here topped both subjects in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a widely recognised achievement test by policymakers and educators worldwide.

Around 12,600 students here took part in the latest test which was conducted in Singapore in October 2014. Students across all schools - 179 primary schools and 167 secondary schools - as well as streams were included in the sample.

Primary 4 pupils achieved the highest mean score of 618 in mathematics, with Hong Kong coming in second with a score of 615. The same pupils also attained the highest score of 590 in science, ahead of South Korea which had 589.

Secondary 2 students who took the test were also ranked first with top scores of 621 and 597 for mathematics and science respectively, beating South Korea and Japan.

The results also showed improvements by Singapore students on various fronts from reasoning and application abilities to progress made by weaker students. This is the second time that students here outdid all other countries across all four categories in the study, which takes place every four years. The last time it did so was in 2003.

In a statement on Tuesday (Nov 29), the Ministry of Education (MOE) said that the findings show that schools' efforts to impart higher-order thinking skills to students and programmes that cater to their learning needs are bearing fruit.

MOE said the test results also highlighted the progress made by academically weaker students. The proportion of students with the lowest score of below 400 was much smaller than the international average. For example, in the Primary 4 mathematics test, only 1 per cent of Singapore students scored below 400. The international average was 7 per cent.

The latest round of TIMSS by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement tested more than 582,000 students from 64 education systems.

Singapore has taken part in every cycle of TIMSS since its inception in 1995.

Here are some sample questions from the study:

Primary 4 pupils and Secondary 2 students here topped both subjects in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

Straits Times, UPDATED: NOV 29, 2016, 10:13 PM
Singapore students top global achievement test in mathematics and science
By Amelia Teng

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World’s smallest woman and world’s tallest man

THE world’s tallest man and the world’s shortest woman have met up in Egypt.

Sultan Kosen, from Turkey is the tallest man on earth according to the Guinness World Records, towering over the rest of us at a height of 8 feet 1 inch.

Jyoti Amge, from India, by contrast holds the title for world's shortest woman at just over 2 ft tall.

The mismatched pair posed in front of the historic Giza Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, today after being invited by the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board.

The two Guinness World Records holders will be touring Cairo’s most famous touristic sites, in addition to taking part in a conference in the Fairmont Nile City hotel, Cairo.

Both record-holders won their records in 2011.

Kosen, 35, was first measured in Ankara, Turkey in 2011 and was the first to be measured by Guinness in over 20 years, according to the Guinness World Records official website.

Guinness World Records only has 10 confirmed people in history to reach 8 ft or more.

Kosen took the title from Chinese Xi Shun, who measured 7ft 8.95 inches in 2005, he is also the proud owner of the world’s biggest hands.

Amge was born in Nagpur, Maharashtra in 1993 and took the record after her 18th birthday in 2011.

She currently works as an actress, in addition to co-hosting a show called Lo Show Dei Record in 2012, according to the Guinness World Records official website.

The world's tallest man and the world's shortest women have met up in Egypt

The pair posed in front of the pyramids as part of the Egyptian tourist boards latest campaign

Jyoti Amge, from India, holds the title for world's shortest woman at just over 2 ft tall

Sultan Kosen, from Turkey is the tallest man on earth according to the Guinness World Records, with towering over the rest of us at a height of 8 feet 1 inch

The Sun hangs out with world's tallest man, 8ft 3in Sultan Kosen and world's shortest man, 1ft 9in Chandra Bahadur Dangi

The Sun, Updated: 27th January 2018, 10:19 pm
World’s smallest woman who stands at 2ft meets 8.2ft world’s tallest man for incredible photoshoot in Egypt

Sultan Kosen, from Turkey and Jyoti Amge, from India posed in front of the historic Giza Pyramids in Cairo today
By Guy Birchall

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100 years ago in Manchester

Women’s emancipation, 11 February 1918

The extension of the Parliamentary vote to six millions of women by the passing of the Representation of the People Bill on Wednesday was celebrated at the Manchester Reform Club on Saturday by a reception given by Mr. William Royle and Mr. GG Armstrong to a large gathering of workers in the women’s suffrage movement in the Manchester district.

Mr. W. Royle, who presided, said that although not a bell had been rung or a flag hoisted, except by one spirited lady, a mighty revolution had just taken place – one of the greatest events in the political history of the country. The bounds of freedom and liberty had been enlarged. Manchester was largely responsible for the launching of the great cause of women’s suffrage on the stormy sea of political strife, and therefore had special reason for rejoicing that the ship had come sanely into port. (Hear, hear.) That afternoon they had two unseen guests among them – Lydia Becker and Jacob Bright, – whose names would be associated with this great movement to the last day of history. (Cheers.)

Councillor Margaret Ashton said that a great victory had been won, but it was only the beginning, not the end. Women had at last the weapon in their hands which would bring real victory – that equal suffrage which was the watchword of the old National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. When that was obtained we should be able to speak of democracy in this country for the first time. Women were awakening all the world over and trying to came out into the open and take their share in politics. The present crisis had shown how necessary it was for men and women to go forward together. Women had not the ideals of force to the same extent as men had. It was striking in this time of fearful trial how men had turned to women for help and had recognised how readily and well it had been given. This gave hope for the future. A stable civilisation necessitated a reorganisation of existing social conditions, and it was these conditions that women were most interested. Women, too, could have a tremendous effect internationally, because they were not divided in national feeling to the same extent as men.

A chapter of history

Mr. CP Scott said it was one of the glories of Manchester that it had stood amongst the first in this country in the prosecution of the cause the success of which they were celebrating. One name which had not been mentioned, and which should not be forgotten, was that of John Stuart Mill. (Hear, hear.) No more epoch-making book on social reform was ever written than The Subjection of Women. (Hear, hear.) Since its publication much had been done to remedy the injustices which excited Mill’s deep and justifiable indignation. Women, for example, could hold property now, and could be the guardians of their children. Formerly, all they had was their husbands’, and even after their husbands’ death the children were not theirs.

It was not until about 35 years later that the real political movement began, but one of the great handicaps and injustices to which women were subjected was immediately taken in hand. The first women’s college was established at Hitchin in the autumn of the year in which the book was published – 1869,– and about the same time the High School for Girls in Manchester was established. (Hear, hear.) Up to that time there had been no public secondary or grammar schools for girls. From such schools, the universities, and the professions women were barred. The doors of these had been opened since. And it was only then that the political movement for the suffrage became active and effective. It was this which had made the reform of to-day possible. (Hear, hear.)

The winning of the suffrage was not merely the beginning of legislative justice but of a great social change. The vote was not an instrument for extorting concessions from the male sex, but a symbol of that association of the sexes, the recognition of that equality and comradeship, which should be the basis of all social relations. There were some who feared that women would be unsexed by being given larger scope. Nothing could be more absurd.

Editorial: The suffrage celebration

Manchester has done well to be the first city to celebrate by a meeting of rejoicing the passing of women’s suffrage into law. It is in truth a great and transforming event, and is destined to have deeper effects on the life of the country than the war out of which it partly sprang. Manchester, moreover, is the home of the suffrage movement. Jacob Bright headed that movement, just as John Bright headed the earlier movement for democratising the electorate of men. But John Bright, mighty and successful as was his advocacy, never added so many male electors to the roll as have now been added women.

Strangely enough, Manchester was the first home of both branches of the suffrage movement, profoundly as these were opposed in spirit and in policy, and though no militants took part in yesterday’s celebration, Manchester none the less gave birth to their movement. It is a great victory, and the stepping-stone, it may be, to greater. For the vote in itself is nothing; it is valuable only for what it symbolises and may bring. It is first and foremost a signal recognition of human equality – let no one object that women have not even yet got the vote on quite the same terms as men; that battle is even now virtually won, – and, like every such recognition, will bring strength and sweetness in its train. Many good reforms, we doubt not, will follow from it; many inequalities and injustices will be redressed. But above and beyond all such partial gains will stand the fact that the woman enters for the first time as full partner with the man into the life and economy of the State. From that everything follows – her dignity, her usefulness, the means for full self-development.

Votes for Women

A woman voting for the first time in the general election of 1918.

The Guardian, Last modified on Fri 26 Jan 2018 11.39 GMT
Manchester celebrates women gaining the vote - February 1918

How the Guardian reported celebrations in Manchester, home of the suffrage movement, to mark the passing of the Representation of the People Act, 100 years ago
By Richard Nelsson

It has been 7 decades since women in Japan won the right to vote. But the number of female politicians in Japan remains low compared to most countries.

Despite the passage of time, women still make up less than 10 percent of the Lower House. That's almost the same proportion as 70 years ago.

A recent Inter-Parliamentary Union survey on female members put Japan in 156th position out of 191 countries.

The women's suffrage movement in Japan began in earnest in the 1920s. It took journalist Fusae Ichikawa and her fellow campaigners more than 20 years to finally achieve their goal.

Women won the right to vote just after the end of World War 2. Ichikawa's reaction to the achievement was captured in a TV interview in November 1945.

"Women's suffrage will help improve the distribution of food rations and definitely enhance women's status in society," she said.

The first election women took part in, was held on April 10th, 1946. Life was difficult at the time, with shortages of food and clothing. But more than two-thirds of women of voting age still showed up at the polls.

Thirty-nine women were elected to the Lower House.

At age 26, Kiyoko Sato was the youngest of those first female members. She is now 96-years-old, and is the only one of the first female Diet members still alive. She remembers that time clearly.

"I told myself, my time has come at last!" she says. "The era when women endured even their husbands' reckless behavior and had to accept their unreasonable demands was over. When men made mistakes, women were finally entitled to openly point out the errors."

Sato worked to introduce a law to protect women with children who lost their husbands in the war, and those who were forced to turn to prostitution because of poverty. She served for one term in the Lower House.

"Women should recognize that they are the stakeholders and speak up," she says. "But in reality, many were content letting others do the job."


NHK World, Published: Apr. 7, 2016
Japanese Women Seek Bigger Role

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Celebrate your roots

WHILE we admire the strengths and achievements of other nations, let us not dismiss what our own has to offer nor be ashamed of where we come from.

It is truly unfortunate if one goes through life not being proud of one’s roots. Whoever you are, be proud of where you come from even if it may be from humble beginnings.

I am shocked to know that there are people within our society who belittle those who have no experience studying overseas, implying that to study locally, one must be of a lesser calibre. Studying abroad is a privilege not everyone can afford − it is not a measure of intelligence or success.

In a conversation with Dr Murni Wan Mohd Nor, a lecturer at University Putra Malaysia, I was surprised to discover that she receives many condescending remarks when she tells people she has been educated locally all her life and obtained her undergraduate degree, master’s degree and PhD from the same institution.

Having spoken to other Malaysian academics, it has been brought to my knowledge that local lecturers are not given as much recognition as their counterparts in other countries.

Even in the field of Islamic scholarship, for example, many Malaysians tend to fawn over scholars that come from abroad more than they do with our local scholars.

Of course, this is their right and freedom to do so as we all have our preferences and, perhaps, there are some of us who prefer to hear sermons in the English language.

However, when I was in Melaka last year to attend Rihla, a three-week Islamic programme, run by an American-based organisation called Deen Intensive, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they have benefitted greatly from local Muslim scholars.

One of the names that came up quite frequently was Tan Sri Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, whose publications such as Islam & Secularisation and On Justice and The Nature of Man have helped to reorient their worldview and broaden their minds.

Professor Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud, founder-director of Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam (CASIS), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, was also invited to teach at the programme and he was well-received. Out of all the teachers and scholars present, he was the only one I recalled having received a thunderous ovation.

Most of the students at the programme were from the United States and Europe, and they had many questions to ask Wan Daud. There was hardly a time he was not asked to sign a copy of his book, The Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas.

There are many brilliant minds in Malaysian society and they exist in every field you can think of. For philanthropy, we have Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood. For entrepreneurship, we have Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Tan Sri Vincent Tan. For film directorship, we have the late Yasmin Ahmad, whose films have become classics.

While some of Malaysia’s most successful have been educated abroad, many others aren’t.

It is sad that there are people who feel embarrassed about their roots, or even worse, they are made to feel inadequate for wanting to give back to the country they were raised in.

I notice that people tend to show more curiosity towards those who have been educated abroad. I also notice that some people show disinterest when someone says that he or she studied locally, as if their academic credentials carry less weight.

It is not a shame to be a product of local education. It is not a shame to be a product of a completely Malaysian upbringing either. Having pride and respect for where I came from was something I had to learn when I was studying in England. There were times I received snarky comments about being a Malaysian Muslim due to the stereotypes that were associated with being Asian and Muslim. I have to assert, however, that those were just isolated events and most of my English friends were accepting of my background.

I was reading the book, Leaving One Dream to Achieve Another: One Lecturer’s PhD’s Journey, by Dr Murni Wan Mohd Nor, and in one of the chapters, she mentioned the discouragement she experienced when she told people that she was pursuing her doctoral degree locally.

In her book, she says: “People looked at me with pity in their eyes.”

“I was so tired with the typical Malaysian mindset that anything local (which included local graduates) must be of lesser quality. Why do we have no confidence in ourselves? Why can’t we believe that we are just as good as others? It saddened me that people kept trying to bring me down with their discouraging remarks.”

“It is not about what institution you are from, but it is about what you make of yourself. And with that, my attitude changed and I was even more motivated to succeed.”

Having no confidence in ourselves is what allows others to dominate how we think and live our lives. If we claim we are from an independent country, let our mentality reflect that. If we cannot take pride in our roots, then, perhaps, our minds are still colonised and we have a long way to go to being free.

If a strong and mighty tree depends on its roots to stay anchored to the ground, then surely we are bound to fall by uprooting ours.

Many Malaysians tend to fawn over scholars that come from abroad more than they do with our local scholars.

New Straits Times, Published: January 27, 2018 - 8:50am
Celebrate your roots

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From the threat of nuclear war to abandonment of refugees, "the world has gone in reverse."

A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future.

Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat of nuclear catastrophe and the rise in nationalism and xenophobia.

“In fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse,” said Guterres to the General Assembly.

“At the beginning of 2018, we must recognize the many ways in which the international
community is failing and falling short.”

Among the major concerns is the ongoing and heightened nuclear tensions.

Guterres noted that there are small signs of hope, including North Korea’s participation in the upcoming winter Olympics as well as the reopening of inter-Korean communication channels.

“War is avoidable−what I’m worried is that I’m not yet sure peace is guaranteed, and that is why we are so strongly engaged,” he said.

Despite UN sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to surrender the country’s development and stockpile of nuclear missiles.

During a meeting in Canada, United States’ officials warned of military action if the Northeast Asian nation does not negotiate.

“It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told foreign ministers.

A recently released nuclear strategy also outlines the U.S. administration’s proposal to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian and Chinese military threats which may only sustain global tensions.

Guterres has also pinpointed migration and refugee protection as priorities for the year.

Though arrivals have dropped, refugees and migrants from Honduras to Myanmar still embark on dangerous journeys in search of economic opportunity or even just safety. However, they are still often met with hostility.

“We need to have mutual respect with all people in the world. In particular, migration is a positive aspect−the respect for migrants and diversity is a fundamental pillar of the UN and it will be a fundamental pillar of the actions of the Secretary-General,” Guterres said.

The UN Global Compact for Migration is set to be adopted later this year after months of negotiations. The U.S. however has since withdrawn from the compact and is seemingly increasingly abandoning its commitments to migrants and refugees.

Most recently, U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly made offensive comments about immigrants from Caribbean and African nations.

The African Group of UN Ambassadors issued a statement condemning the “outrageous, racist, and xenophobic remarks” and demanded an apology.

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville echoed similar sentiments, stating: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Guterres expressed particular concern about U.S. cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) which has served more than five million registered refugees for almost 70 years.

“UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugee population…those services are extremely important not only for the wellbeing of these populations−and there is a serious humanitarian concern here−but also it is an important factor of stability,” he said.

Just a day after the Secretary-General’s briefing, the U.S. administration announced that it will cut over half of its planned funding to the agency.

Former UN Undersecretary-General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland urged the government to reconsider its decision.”

“Cutting aid to innocent refugee children due to political disagreements among well-fed grown men and women is a really bad politicization of humanitarian aid,” he said in a tweet.

In light of the range of challenges, Guterres called for bold leadership in the world.

“We need less hatred, more dialogue, and deeper international cooperation. With unity in 2018, we can make this pivotal year that sets the world on a better course,” he concluded.

Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the General Assembly on his priorities for 2018.

IPS, Published: Jan 18, 2018
“The World Has Gone in Reverse”
By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Though 2017 was marked by stories of humanitarian disasters around the world, many crises remain under the radar with devastating consequences for those affected, a new report says.

While crises from the United States to Myanmar made global headlines, a report by the international aid organization CARE aims to shine a spotlight on the humanitarian crises that have been largely neglected by the international community.

“We all know that a single photo can make the world turn its attention to an issue. But the people in the countries featured in CARE’s report are far away from the cameras and microphones of this world,” said CARE International’s Interim Secretary General Laurie Lee.

“We rarely hear about people suffering in parts of the world that are not popular tourist destinations, considered a low priority for global security or simply too hard to reach,” CARE’s global humanitarian communications coordinator Johanna Mitscherlich added to IPS.

Though news media face daunting challenges from dwindling funds to a rapid news cycle, she pointed to the importance of telling the stories of people “facing their darkest hours.”

While much of the focus has been on nuclear tensions, the report ‘Suffering in Silence’ found that North Korea’s humanitarian situation has been overlooked by the media.

The UN estimates that 18 million North Koreans, or 70 percent of the population, are food-insecure and are dependent on food aid while two in five people are undernourished.

Coupled with the country’s political regime is its frequent natural disasters such as prolonged droughts which have exacerbated the humanitarian situation.

In July 2017, North Korea experienced the worst drought since 2001, affecting crop production and food security.

Among the most vulnerable are women and children. Nearly one-third of all pregnant and lactating mothers and more than 200,000 children are estimated to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Out of the 10 crises that the report highlights, seven of them are in Africa and among them is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has seen a surge in violence and a dramatic deterioration of humanitarian situation.

“What we have now are all the ingredients for a humanitarian catastrophe,” said CARE’s DRC Country Director Pierre Bry. “If the international community doesn’t react quickly, it will be too late.”

Over four million Congolese are displaced, two million of which fled their homes in 2017 alone.

The conflict has destroyed schools, clinics, water infrastructure, and farms and has left almost nine million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a figure that is expected to increase to over 13 million in 2018.

Almost two million children also suffer from severe malnutrition, making up 12 percent of the world’s acutely malnourished children.

The lack of crisis coverage not only affects public awareness, but it also directly impacts the level of humanitarian funding and thus the lives of those affected, Mitscherlich told IPS.

Of the 10 most under-reported crises this year, six are also on the UN’s list of most underfunded emergencies in 2017.

For instance, Central African Republic received just 39 percent of its funding appeal while North Korea received 31 percent.

“When we speak about forgotten crises, we speak about forgotten people…those with a voice in public, from media representatives to politicians and organizations like CARE, have a social and moral responsibility to shine a light on crises that are mostly off the radar,” Mitscherlich said.

With a global humanitarian appeal of nearly 23 billion dollars to assist 91 million people around the world, CARE noted that media attention can help focus public support for those needs.

However, the responsibility of improving crises coverage not only lies on the media but also on aid actors, governments, and other actors working to facilitate media access.

Among the report’s recommendations are for NGOs to invest in trained communications and media specialists to tell the media and thus the public of the realities on the ground and to call for action.

By keeping media informed, a crisis is less likely to be forgotten and facilitate a push for political change.

“It is important for all actors – including the media, aid agencies, donors and other institutions – to continue to work together and make sure that humanitarian crises globally receive the attention they need,” Mitscherlich concluded.

Families queue up to receive food rations in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo on the 25th November 2012. Rebels claimed control of Goma in eastern DRC, causing thousands of people to flee, many of whom had already been displaced by years of fighting.

IPS, Published: 0Jan 24 2018 (IPS)
Aid Group Shines Spotlight on the Neglected
By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

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Increasing inequality

As the ‘masters of the universe’ gather for their annual retreat at Davos, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has just published its Inclusive Development Index (IDI) for the second time.

After moderating from the 1920s until the 1970s, inequality has grown with a vengeance from the 1980s as neoliberal ascendance unleashing regressive reforms on various fronts.

Sensing the growing outrage at earlier neo-liberal reforms and their consequences, as well as the financial sector bail-outs and fiscal austerity after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, politicians and business leaders have expressed concerns about inequality’s resurgence.

The record is more nuanced. While national level inequalities have grown in most economies over the last four decades, international income disparities between North and South have actually narrowed, largely due to growth accelerations in much of the latter.

But while income inequality trends have been mixed, wealth concentration has picked up steam, recently enabled by the low cost of credit, thanks to ‘unconventional monetary policies’ in the North.

According to the World Inequality Report 2018, the top 1% in the world had twice as much income growth as the bottom half since 1980. Meanwhile, income growth has been sluggish or even flat for those with incomes between the bottom half and the top 1%. Oxfam’s new Reward Work, Not Wealth report reveals that the world’s wealthiest 1% got 82% of the wealth generated in 2017, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all!

The world’s 500 richest, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, became US$1 trillion richer during 2017, “more than four times” the gain in 2016, as their wealth increased by 23%, taking their combined fortunes to US$5.3 trillion. According to the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017, there are now 1,542 US dollar billionaires in the world, after 145 more joined their ranks in 2016.

Worsening the wealth inequality

Meanwhile, the latest Credit Suisse Report found that the world’s richest 1% increased their share of total wealth from 42.5% at the height of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017, or US$140 trillion.

It shows that the bottom half together owned less than 1% of global wealth, while the richest 10% owned 88% of all wealth, and the top 1% alone accounted for half of all assets. Thus, global household debt rose by nearly 5% in 2017 despite total wealth increasing by US$16.7 trillion, or 6.4%.

The Report attributes this to uneven asset price inflation with financial asset prices growing much faster than non-financial asset values. Recent unconventional monetary policies of the world’s major central banks contributed to such asset price inflation.

The European Central Bank has acknowledged that quantitative easing (QE) has fuelled asset price inflation. Kevin Warsh, a former US Federal Reserve Board member, has argued that QE has only worked through the ‘asset price channel’, enriching those who own financial assets, not the 96% who mainly rely on income from labour.

An IMF study found that ‘fiscal consolidation’, typically involving austerity, has significantly worsened inequality, depressed labour income shares and increased long-term unemployment.

Another IMF research report shows that capital account liberalization − typically recommended to attract foreign capital inflows without due attention to the consequences of sudden outflows − has generally significantly and persistently increased national-level inequalities.

The World Inequality Report 2018 also observed that rising income inequality has largely been driven by unequal wealth ownership. Privatization in most countries since the 1980s has resulted in negative ‘public wealth’ − public assets minus public debt − in rich countries, even as national wealth has grown substantially. Over recent decades, countries have become richer as governments have become poorer, constraining governments’ ability to address inequality by increasing public provisioning of essential services.

An earlier IMF study also noted that the neoliberal reforms − promoting privatization, cutting government spending, and strictly limiting fiscal deficits and government debt − have also increased economic inequality.

On average, net private wealth in most rich countries rose from 200–350% of national income in 1970 to 400-700% recently as marginal tax rates for the rich and super-rich have fallen. The Oxfam report identifies tax evasion, corporate capture of public policy, erosion of workers’ rights and cost cutting as major contributors to widening inequalities.

The IMF’s recent Fiscal Monitor acknowledges that regressive tax reforms have caused tax incidence to be far less progressive, if not regressive, while failure to tax the rich more has increased inequality. Besides new tax evasion opportunities and much lower marginal income tax rates, capital gains are hardly taxed, encouraging top executives to pay themselves with stock options.


It is quite remarkable how increasing wealth concentration has been described and presented to the public. For example, the Allianz Global Wealth Report 2016 has described the trends as ‘inclusive inequality’, claiming a growing global middle class even as inequality has been rising.

Similarly, the Credit Suisse Report argues that wealth distribution is shifting as the world becomes wealthier, thus lowering barriers to wealth acquisition. Increasing wealth and income inequality are thus merely reflecting faster asset accumulation, including the pace at which new millionaires are being created.

Josef Stadler, UBS head of global ultra-high net worth and lead author of the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017, decries “the perception that billionaires make money for themselves at the expense of the wider population” as incorrect, attributing billionaires’ fortunes to the strong performance of their companies and investments.

Besides their philanthropic contributions and patronage of the arts, culture and sports, 98% of billionaires’ wealth are said by him to contribute to society as the world’s super-rich employed 27.7 million people. Rather than making money from their employees’ efforts, billionaires apparently make private welfare payments to them out of the goodness of their hearts!

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally.

Mozambique’s capital city Maputo has street names after socialist and communist leaders, however, the country has a huge wealth disparity.

Inter Press Service (IPS), Published: Jan 23 2018
Wealth Concentration Continues to Increase
By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

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Is the Business World All About Greed?

DAVOS, Switzerland − When I visit university campuses, I’m periodically asked if students who seek jobs in the business world are immoral, money-grubbing sellouts.

I don’t think they are, for businesses can be a hugely important force for progress. Can be, but usually aren’t. Swirling in the air here in Davos at the World Economic Forum, along with snowflakes, is an important discussion of how companies must do far more to benefit the 99 percent, not just the 1 percent. Enriching shareholders is not enough.

We interrupt this column for a paragraph of cynicism. Tycoons always claim to cherish ordinary people’s best interests even as they rip them off. American tobacco executives have killed more people than Stalin managed to, and pharma executives recklessly peddling opioids may have killed as many people as Colombian drug lords, yet these business leaders sometimes seem to get moist-eyed describing the work they do.

But the business toolbox is too important to give up on. To me, the most interesting people in Davos aren’t the presidents or celebrities, but the social entrepreneurs − those using business tools to address social problems − and their work offers an inspiring window into what can be accomplished.

Christopher Mikkelsen works with two dozen companies, including cellphone operators and Facebook, to help refugees find lost members of their families. His organization, Refunite, once helped two Congolese sisters find each other after 16 years; they turned out to be living just a few miles apart in Nairobi.

Refunite is now helping more than one million refugees search for missing family members. It has already helped 40,000 of them connect, and Mikkelsen says this would never be possible if it were just an aid group rather than a hybrid piggybacking on business networks.

Sasha Kramer works in Haiti to address two fundamental problems: a lack of toilets and declining soil fertility. Her organization, SOIL, charges customers a few dollars a month to provide and service composting toilets that turn human waste into safe agricultural fertilizer. The cost is one-third of what a sewage system would cost to operate.

With water shortages around the world, there’s growing interest in that approach, so Haiti may become a model for other nations in the developing world.

In Kenya, Christie Peacock tackles a huge problem for farmers: Much of the feed, medicine and other agricultural supplies for sale are fake or substandard, including about 60 percent of the fertilizer. When farmers buy fake seeds, their crops fail, and they go hungry.

Peacock previously worked in the aid world, but, she says, “I got disillusioned with the NGO model,” so her company, Sidai, is a for-profit venture founded with start-up capital from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It now serves 200,000 Kenyan farmers.

That’s the advantage of a business approach: It is often more sustainable and scalable than a charity. By working with African farmers to improve coffee production, Starbucks helps lift more people out of poverty than any number of aid efforts.

Among the giant corporations, there’s at least more of the right kind of talk. Laurence Fink, the chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock and one of the biggest investors in the world, shook the business world last week with an implicit threat to punish small-minded companies that “only deliver financial performance” without “a positive contribution to society.”

What’s driving the rethink isn’t a tingling of the tycoon conscience but brutal self-interest. Millennials want to work for ethical companies, patronize brands that make them feel good and invest in socially responsible companies.

Some of this is shallow and some is deep, but it’s authentic: Doing good is no longer a matter of writing a few checks at the end of the year, as it was for my generation; for many young people, it’s an ethos that governs where they work, shop and invest.

C.E.O.s tell me that this forces their hand. If companies protect groping scumbags, that hurts recruitment and they lose in the war for talent. Increasingly, a company that ignores social value loses shareholder value.

I believe the best industries for doing good are law (pro bono work) and certain pharmaceuticals (drug donation programs). That’s because they are held accountable by metrics: Big law firms are ranked by American Lawyer for their pro bono work (Jenner & Block is top of the list), and pharma donations are rated by the Access to Medicines Index (GSK is No. 1).

Other companies hailed as model global citizens include Unilever, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Mastercard, Danone and Chobani. (What is it with yogurt companies? Their culture?)

When companies with hundreds of thousands of employees elevate women, fight for Dreamers, adopt environment-friendly packaging, when they serve not only shareholders but also the larger society, the impact can be transformational. But enough with the gauzy rhetoric. It’s time for businesses to walk the talk.

Not everything about the World Economic Forum in Davos is about globalism and the power elite.

In Haiti, a woman sits next to her composting toilet, which is provided by a nonprofit organization, SOIL.

The New York Times, Published: JAN. 24, 2018
Is the Business World All About Greed?
By Nicholas Kristof

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The trash: You or me?

On a recent Monday night in San Francisco, as I lounged in the living room watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” out of the corner of my eye I also watched my husband, Josh, march around our house as he does every Monday night, collecting pails and tying plastic bags.

Next, he dons his headlamp (which underscores: serious business), grabs his Leatherman and spends the next 15 minutes or so outside in the dark fending off raccoons and annihilating the latest crop of Amazon Prime boxes; cramming the week’s wine bottles and every last LaCroix can into the blue bin; dumping eggshells and avocado rinds and our kids’ abandoned crusts into the green compost bin; and bungee-ing the filled-to-the-brim black garbage bin. And then bu-bump-ing-bu-bump-ing the trio one by one, down the entryway to the curb. Eventually Josh returns, washes his hands, and joins me, cozy on the couch.

This is our weekly ritual. There’s no acknowledgment of the obvious inequity. No you-do-it-next-time admonishment. He accepts his role without a hint of bitterness. (In a way I do not when it comes to, say, driving car pool or coordinating play dates.) Every Monday around 9 p.m., I feel a tinge of guilt, except … not really.

Almost every woman I know who lives with a man shirks this chore. It’s as if all hard-won equality in the home is tossed on trash night. It may be the last bastion of accepted 1950s behavior. And in this case − and this case alone − women are fine with that.

As one friend pointed out: “Women deal with the rest of the garbage.”

For many, it’s the simple ick factor. “I don’t do trash juices,” said Gabriela Herman, 36, a photographer who lives with her husband and 17-month-old daughter in a brownstone in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Continue reading the main story
“Ew, it’s the actual bins,” said Ashita Trika, 39, a senior product manager with an M.B.A. who lives in a single-family home in San Francisco with her three children and husband, Noble Athimattathil. “I have no idea what he does, I just know it gets done,” she said of the garbage procedure. “Sometimes I’ll see the empties on the curb − but I don’t bring them in or anything. Noble owns trash end to end. He takes the mental load and the physical load. It’s freeing.”

Mr. Athimattathil, 40, grew up in Yonkers, where he said his father always took out the trash, until he passed the job down. “My sister and I would both be sitting on the couch watching TV,” he recalled. “And my dad would always say: ‘Noble, take out the garbage.’ Why not my sister? She had two arms and two legs!”

Nancy Casey, 41, a nurse practitioner in Portland, Ore., isn’t fazed by garbage. (“Eh, I’m up in vaginas all day.”) Still, it’s her husband’s job. “I do everything else,” Ms. Casey said.

Trash night in Portland is especially taxing, she said, because it occurs only once every other week. Moreover, the standard bin is half the size of the compost and recycling, which are picked up weekly. “It’s the liberal hippie thing. There must have been some kind of movement,” said Ms. Casey, who grew up in Chicago.

She added: “If we ever have extra space in our can it’s like Christmas! And we start running around the house looking for things to throw in.”

Rarely is “Who’s on Trash?” an actual discussion among couples. The division of labor just happens. But Deya Warren and her husband, Gus, likely talked about it, she said, if only because they were given a book before getting married called “The Hard Questions,” which offers discussion topics like: “Do we eat out a lot? Or a little?” “What kind of bed do we sleep on? A king size? A water bed?” (Water beds?)

“The whole idea was that you should talk about the little things because, over time, they inevitably become bigger things,” said Ms. Warren, a 39-year-old entrepreneur and mother of three in Bronxville, N.Y. “Trash beyond grosses me out. I know it’s a gender stereotype, but I don’t care. I’m the one with the drill! I’ve dismantled our broken dishwasher and put it back together! I’m confident enough in my defiance of traditional roles. Gus can take out the garbage.”

What about all the single ladies, that highly scrutinized cohort?

Sophie Galant, 24, a consultant, lives with female roommates in a San Francisco apartment and routinely passes the honor of trash duty to guy friends who come for dinner. “I always ask them to take it out on their way out,” she said. “It smells. And I don’t want it to drip on me.”

Laura Manzano, 26, who moved from her college dorm in Virginia to a three-unit building in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, has never dealt with the trash. “Anthony does it all,” she said matter-of-factly, referring to her superintendent. “We don’t even tip him. Maybe I should start?” (Yes.)

Elizabeth Hand, 41, a stay-at-home mother in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, long had a helpful neighbor. “This elderly Italian man named Augie who’d lived here forever,” she said. “He would just do it for us. I had no idea how much work it was, until he passed away. We miss him.”

Trash chutes in the hallways can make the task easier for apartment dwellers, though some still struggle. “Tom has a habit of taking the trash out from under the kitchen sink, tying the tall bag, then just leaving it on the floor, in the garbage can − but obviously unusable, now that it’s tied,” said Jenny Patt, a lawyer who lives in Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan, referring to her partner. “As though that counts for something.”

When quarters are close, there are often heated battles over bins, on whose property they should reside, and who lugs them out each week.

In a recent thread on Nextdoor, the regional social network, a man in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn asked people to petition the city to change their collection time from morning rush hour to off-peak hours. This set off impassioned, paragraphs-long responses, including complaints over noise; comparisons to Europe; scorn at the offense of commuting by car; and the general sentiment that bags are more efficient than bins, and that the city’s metal trash cans of yore were barbaric.

(But are Manhattan’s Hefty mountains any better? Apparently people think so. Rats seem to like them as well.)

Recycling has added to the burden. “It’s insane how much cardboard we generate,” Ms. Herman said. “We get Amazon, like, daily. Fresh Direct, Blue Apron … We have a whole staging area! Sometimes, it’s stacked to the ceiling.” Some admit to such anxiety about box breakdown that they get packages sent to work.

Dawn Perry, 38, the food director at Real Simple magazine, is a self-proclaimed recycling Nazi. “I went to Boulder,” she said, referring to the eco-conscious college in Colorado. When Ms. Perry and her husband, Matt Duckor, moved to a garden apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, they started seeing some “crazy behavior in the trash bins,” she said. Like plastic where clearly only paper should be. (And don’t even get her started about the lack of curbside composting.)

“One day I semi-aggressively said to a neighbor: ‘Are you going to break that down?’” Ms. Perry said. Mr. Duckor furthermore printed (and laminated) diagramed recycling directions to post above the shared bins. He also mentioned a recent maggot issue. “All he had to say was ‘maggots,’” Ms. Perry said, “and people listened.”

Last year, Danielle Fennoy, 37, and her family moved from a 45-unit building in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, to a triplex in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “It was the biggest wake-up call on the planet,” said Ms. Fennoy, the co-owner of Revamp Interior Design. “I thought: ‘Seriously? Now I’m the trash lady?’” An early riser, she would put out the bags before work, a method that avoided rodent, or human, invasion. “I’d be out there in my jammies, with my neighbors. That part was nice. The camaraderie. ‘Like, here we are … trash day, again.’”

Until one trash day, she had a revelation: “I woke up and said, ‘You know what? I’ve got enough on my plate.’” She told her husband to take over trash. “And he was, like, ‘O.K.’”

Lauren Gersick, 36, a college counselor in San Francisco who shares the chore with her wife, believes that garbage night’s gender divide isn’t so much about women eschewing heavy bins or leaky bags. It’s not about a fear of rats or raccoons, or some sort of contrarian feministic stance.

It’s about men’s desire to get out of the house, Ms. Gersick thinks; a sanctioned opportunity to step out, away from the children and the chaos, into the dark solitude of night.

“I know at least when I do it,” she said, “I’m like, ‘Bye! I’m going to do the trash.’”

The New York Times, Published: DEC. 29, 2017
Taking Out the Trash?
That’s Still a Man’s Job, Even for the Liberal Coastal Elite

Rachel Levin’s first book, LOOK BIG: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds, will be published in April by Ten Speed Press.

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We can learn from Singapore flats

WE have had low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur for a long time, well before the city was transformed into another condominium enclave.

They are noted for being haunts for drug addicts, vandals and petty criminals but Jan 15 shall go down as perhaps the darkest day in the annals of such flats when a 15-year-old boy was killed by a chair thrown from the 21st floor of a People's Housing Project flat in Pantai Dalam.

What a horrible crime.

Ten days after the tragedy, the police are still looking for the person who had the gall to dump the office chair out of his flat with the full knowledge that it would kill someone who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And the police have rightly said that a charge of murder awaits the culprit.

Those of us who have had the occasion to visit such flats can't help but be struck by the notion they are generally badly maintained, as residents are out most of the time working or trading.

One common complaint about the flats is the condition of the lifts which regularly break down due to high wear and tear as well as water supply woes.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall that owns or manages many flats is immune to complaints of rubbish being thrown from balconies but nothing like the chair-throwing tragedy.

I have in a few columns urged our local authorities that manage flats to learn from the Singapore experience as most people in our southern neighbour live in flats.

I don't know whether any of our officials have made educational visits to the island republic's Housing Development Board (HDB) flats but I was invited by a Singapore Member of Parliament to a Family Day three years ago.

In his parliamentary ward near the Johor Causeway, there are 141 blocks of flats with over 50,000 residents!

And these flats are so well kept with hardly any form of petty crime or vandalism.

There are eight residents' committees to oversee the duties and responsibilities of flat dwellers and it is such education that is apparently the missing link in our flats where improper rubbish disposal is reportedly rampant.

Following the flat tragedy, I emailed a Q & A to the Sembawang Town Council in Singapore wanting to know more about how it manages its flats in such pristine condition so that Malaysians can learn from their success story.

In this town council, there are 220 blocks of flats with 87,000 residents.

Its general manager, Soon Min Sin, promptly responded to my queries.

"The recent incident in KL is very sad and tragic. Indeed, there are many lessons both our countries can learn from one another to deter such reckless and fatal acts especially from our high-rise flats," he wrote.

"First of all, it reminds us not to be complacent and to continue to press on to educate our residents to be always mindful of such dangerous acts in our midst."

Soon said in Singapore, the residents committees (RCs) play an important role to look out for such potential dangers by working closely with town councils to remove all potential hazards or to seek the councils' timely help where the dangerous objects are hard to reach or remove in the higher level of the building.

"Indeed, our RCs are our crucial partner or additional pairs of eyes and ears as we wage a constant war against this social hazard," he said.

In Singapore, members of the public are encouraged to report to the police any killer litter act while the town councils remain vigilant and take pre-emptive action, such as timely removal of all potential killer litter items found in precarious positions like common corridor ledges or walls before they become weapons of havoc to the public.

Another measure is that the Ministry of National Development which oversees public housing in Singapore also audits the town councils' work in this area by sending its own independent inspectors to spot and report to the TCs for urgent immediate attention.

"The war against this social hazard is ongoing and the need for constant vigilance, collaboration by all stakeholders with timely pre-emptive action cannot be over-emphasised," said Soon.

At the end of his reply, Soon pointed out that the KL flat tragedy serves as a potent reminder to Singaporeans as well in not to let down their guard even as we learn from one another how best to handle this social hazard.

I must thank Soon and let's hope that it shall not be business as usual at our flats and there won't be another tragedy.

The SunDaily, Posted on 26 January 2018 - 09:15am
We can learn from Singapore flats
By Azman Ujang

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Resolutions and reality checks

NOW that we have a whole year in front of us, greetings are still plentiful, and the mood makes me feel that we are all one big family with a single vision.

Some weeks have passed since and I thought it will be a good time for us to do a reality check on our resolutions and how we are coping with them.

We have a tough year ahead with a significant event looming over us. Dates are being bandied about and I am sure a lot of time and effort is being spent on negating rumours while the mudslinging keeps the media busy.

In the background, as commoners and wage earners we would have come up with New Year resolutions which may not be new but a repeat of those we weren't able to keep. We know that when the first week goes by, the days and nights would be dismembered and thrown in every direction and promises we make for ourselves would seem out of context.

Hence, the art of making a resolution and keeping it would be to first question if one is needed at all. If yes, make it simple, achievable and work on it with commitment and do a self-check regularly.

Put in place corrective measures if things are not flowing in the right direction and if you had been able to keep your resolutions, start with the next immediately.

As for me, I keep it straight and simple: to make a difference in whatever I do. Going the extra mile always helps in achieving this without compromising on other responsibilities.

If you are one of those who has fallen back on your resolution, you are not alone and that should make you feel better.

According to surveys and statistics from the US, the three top resolutions people usually make are on weight loss, exercise and to stop smoking. It has also been found that 75% of the resolutions are maintained past the first week and it drops to 71% after the second week and 64% after a month and it nose-dives after six months. The statistics reveal disturbing trends after the third quarter and we shall leave it as unknown, what we do not know will not hurt us.

As a nation, does Malaysia have a resolution? The politicians and the government servants should have a mutual resolution for the country and its people.

With ballot boxes being the focus, promises galore is in season. Do we blame the politicians or the people for believing what appears too good to be true? Regardless of party, politicians have one thing in common which is self-interest.

Malaysia sorely needs changes to make it a country that truly cares. Healthcare, for example, is a major misnomer. Walk into any government hospital, especially in densely populated areas, you will be drowned in shame looking at the long hours one has to wait to seek medical attention.

Retirees spend the entire day in hospital on their appointment day, hobbling from building to building doing various tests and getting medications. Connections between buildings are poorly planned and some hospitals haven't looked at the need for seamless wheelchair connectivity within the hospital.

At the emergency section, to see the doctor and complete the cycle can take anything up to four hours.

Some will and allocation will go a long way in addressing this situation at hospitals. The country has grown, and we have a huge unaccounted-for number of foreigners draining our resources and allocations are not increasing.

Just the resolve to make a difference in the way we serve the people can change the status quo and healthcare is just one of the many areas in which we need to streamline our attention for a nation that screams of inclusivity that isn't happening.

The SunDaily, Posted on 26 January 2018 - 09:18am
Resolutions and reality checks
By Bhavani Krishna Iyer

IS man by nature consumed in greed and has greed any limitations? How much is enough and what will we do when we have scraped the bottom? Where do we go next?

These are rhetorical questions that play in our minds every time we see a wrongdoing from man's desire to keep wanting more and more that results in colossal and irreversible damage to our environment and when the buzz dies, the issue fizzles away like a bad morning.

When the uprising goes away, sometimes too prematurely, the issue mostly comes back with a vengeance, more violently this time.

They say time heals and that sometimes works against our favour. When something adverse hits us viciously, we console ourselves with the same catch-phrase that time will heal. While it heals, time is also detrimental to urgent issues needing attention as with time people tend to move on with life forgetting that what was left behind had not seen any resolution.

The thought about how man has become perilous to his own environment came to me when I read a simple poem written by Raymond Wilson, an English poet. The poem, Poisoned Talk, is being read as a compulsory text for Literature in Form 3 (*).

The poem is so plain in its approach and yet dynamic in the way the message gets to the readers. And aptly, I am happy that the poem has been made essential reading for teenagers as the teen years are the right time to sow the seeds of responsibility and accountability.

The first stanza opens with a punchy question, all at once demanding for someone to own up to the heinous crime of killing the bird. Immediately, the worm admits his wrongdoing. Apart from the cock robin, the tree seems to be also in danger of dying and it came from the soil which had apparently been poisoned too. So we have a spiteful cascading effect beginning with the soil, the worm, the tree and the cock robin:

Who killed cock robin?
I, said the worm,
I did him great harm.
He died on the branch of a withered tree
From the acid soil that poisoned me.

Pollutions of various kinds are discussed in similar style in the following stanzas, from water in the lake to all creatures feeding off the lake to the air pollution and finally the forest suffocating against the evil forces of man. The damage and destruction goes in a cycle, we have the worm in the first stanza and the earthworm closing in the final stanza.

The mood in the poem is grim and glum with solutions looking long and complex. The lethal and arsenic effect of environmental pollution is damning and will leave a frightening void in our sustainability if we do not heed the warning signs.

In recent years, there have been incidents of industrial pollution where our waterways were polluted leaving thousands of people without water for days and weeks. It came as a buzz and disappeared in a huff, only to recur, with more serious impact.

I think poems such as this which are relevant to our existence and wellbeing make excellent reading material and it is important for teachers to relate to literature as a live subject.

The theme of pollution in Poisoned Talk is very much a live topic that concerns each and every one of us in some way. Pollution is a life-threatening issue and there is no easy solution.

Incidentally, it may come as no surprise that exposure to toxic pollutant, chemical substances and heavy metals is hazardous to your health. But according to two recent studies that examined the relationship between exposure to toxins and aggressive behaviour, such exposure which is usually preventable has been linked to violence in society.

This perhaps explains why we have very angry people who kill each other for no other reason except in momentary madness.

Additionally, the numbers are sobering as more than 5.5 million people die prematurely each year as the result of household and outdoor air pollution, according to new research presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The study found more than half of these deaths occur in China and India, two of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Malaysia is not far with the prolonged haze spells paying us visits yearly, each time over-staying and then the menace gets blown away from attention, unceremoniously.

The bottom line is, saving the earth and the environment is our collective responsibility and hence, how we live matters and remember, depletion equals deletion.

The SunDaily, Posted on 6 March 2017 - 08:31pm
Will we ever have enough for greed?
By Bhavani Krishna Iyer
The writer believes that the Malaysian education system will reach greater heights with a strong antidote to revolutionise just about everything.

(*) Poisoned Talk by Raymond Wilson

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The science behind overeating

We tend to think that we stop eating when our stomachs are full. Science shows otherwise. Here are five reasons we often overeat without realising it.

1. Portion size

Visual aspects of a meal, such as portion size, have been shown to influence how much we eat. In an American study on satiety, participants were seated at a table and instructed to eat soup. Half of the bowls were slowly and imperceptibly refilled, via a tube beneath the table, as their contents were consumed. The participants whose bowls were covertly refilled consumed 73% more soup than those who refilled the bowls themselves, but they didn’t believe they had consumed more, nor did they feel more full than those eating from normal bowls.

It’s unlikely that someone is secretly refilling your bowl under the table, but it’s important to be aware that you are likely to eat however much food is on your plate.

2. Variety

Usually, when eating, we get used to the taste of the food, which means we get less pleasure from it and so stop eating. This effect is called “sensory-specific satiety”. It essentially means we get full for that specific taste. However, when we eat a varied plate of food, switching between the foods continues to renew their palatability.

When researchers tested this effect, they found people ate four times as much when given multiple different foods. The sensory-specific satiety effect tends to be enhanced the more different the foods are to each other. This variety means you will enjoy the food for longer and keep the feeling of being full at bay.

Although nutritional advice suggests a varied diet for good health, you should be wary of situations that result in lots of different food items on your plate at the same time, such as buffet meals.

3. Distraction

People often eat while doing other things, such as watching TV, working or catching up on social media. But eating while distracted interferes with mechanisms that normally stop an eating session, such as liking a food less after consuming a certain amount of it, meaning that it will take longer to feel full. Also, when distracted you are less aware of becoming full and so need to consume more food to reduce hunger.

You’ve probably already heard that eating while distracted tends to increase intake, but what you might not know is that this effect continues throughout the day. Distraction can disrupt both your awareness of fullness when eating and your memory of the food eaten, which makes you more likely to eat more later in the day.

4. Alcohol

Alcohol increases the likelihood of overeating for several reasons, including reduced self-control and increased impulsivity. It can even make food tastier. Recent research suggests it may also disrupt your ability to monitor your body’s signals, so-called interoception.

Interoception can be measured by a heartbeat tracking task. People who are better at this task are more likely to be a healthy weight and have healthy eating habits. Just two alcoholic drinks significantly decreases a person’s ability to track their own heartbeat on this task.

5. Eating with others

Eating a meal with other people increases the amount you are likely to eat. The foods you choose to eat are also likely to be influenced – you are more likely to choose similar food to those around you.

This effect is enhanced when we have close relationships with the people we are eating with as we feel a stronger need to identify with them. This is primarily a social effect, where we use others’ eating behaviour as a guide for our own. However, recent research suggests this phenomenon may also affect your experience of eating. If people you identify with are enjoying a particular food, it suggests to you that the food will taste good. Expecting a food to taste good increases how much it is liked which in turn increases the amount eaten.

So, what can we do to combat overeating if we are not aware of it. Research shows that eating attentively (focusing on the food without any distractions) reduces current and subsequent intake by increasing awareness and memory for the food eaten. Other research has shown that a smartphone-based attentive eating app, which involved photographing, answering questions and being reminded about food consumed, can help with weight loss. So, even when it is not possible to eat attentively at the time of eating, it might still be worth taking a photo of your food to avoid overeating throughout the day.

The Independent, Published: Wednesday 10 January 2018 12:32 GMT
The Science behind why we overeat

Feeding frenzy: researchers found that people ate four times as much when given multiple different foods

Understanding the psychology behind why we overeat can help us to consume less
Jenny Morris is a PhD candidate at the University of Sussex. This article first appeared on The Conversation (theconversation.com)

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Jane Fonda and Elton John

Sex kitten, Oscar-winner, peacenik, fitness guru, fashion model, cancer patient, feminist and political activist -- Jane Fonda has spent her life confounding labels and surprising people.

Since she burst into the American consciousness in the 1960s, she has lived a life of controversy, tragedy, and self-discovery -- all in the public eye.

The 80-year-old actress bares her soul in "Jane Fonda in Five Acts," a startlingly candid documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday.

"It's about the importance of being brave and taking leaps of faith," she said on the red carpet ahead of the screening in Utah's Park City ski resort.

"And it's very hopeful because it shows how somebody that was kind of vacuous can become someone who has a more purposeful and meaningful life."

The film mixes talking-head commentary from friends and ex-husbands, archive clips and Fonda's own first-person account of her life, culled from 21 hours of interviews.

Set to air later this year on HBO, the film's first four acts bear the names of the key men in Fonda's life, from her film star father Henry through her husbands: Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted Turner.

It's in the fifth act -- "Jane" -- that the real Fonda emerges, and we see the one-time ingenue as a fully-rounded public figure who has become one of America's leading political activists.

The actress arrived on the Sundance red carpet fresh from addressing crowds as part of a nationwide Women's March opposing President Donald Trump.

"I'm older and wiser, clearer and more focused. I'm more able, I think, to know what has to be done at a certain time," she told AFP, asked how her politics have changed over the years.

"That's why today at the march I spoke about the importance of going beyond protest to organizing on the ground."

- Democracy 'being stolen' -

Fonda talked about taking back American democracy which she said was "being stolen from us" as the planet was "being destroyed."

The documentary explores the pain of her mother's suicide, 30 years of bulimia and three marriages to high-profile, sometimes difficult men.

"The hardest (part) is always to talk about the things that are more difficult in your life -- painful, emotional, difficult," she said.

"But it's not going to be a useful documentary that people can learn from unless I talk about the good as well as the bad."

Born in New York in 1937, Fonda rose to global prominence in the 1960s starring in films such as "Barefoot in the Park" opposite Sundance founder Robert Redford.

Her big breakthrough came in Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and she won her first of two Academy Awards for Alan J. Pakula's "Klute."

She is still perhaps best known, however, for her earlier work in her first husband's 1968 erotic sci-fi romp "Barbarella."

Fonda's political awakening came on the streets of Paris -- her home for a short while -- where she saw mass protests against the government of President Charles de Gaulle in 1968.

The documentary looks at her role as a leading figure in the anti-Vietnam war movement, including her 1972 trip to Hanoi when she outraged Americans by being photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun.

Beyond her peace campaigning, "Hanoi Jane" has long been a campaigner for women's rights and recently stood up for native Americans protesting the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

- Life lessons -

She hailed female directors such as Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, and Dee Rees, all of whom have made acclaimed movies over the last year, voicing hope that Hollywood was in a moment that would "amplify from here forward."

"Women see things differently, we experience things differently, and if you don't hear our tales, our narrative, then you are missing half the narrative and men are losers as well as women," she said.

Sporting a bandaged face, she also opened up about her battle with skin cancer, days after revealing she'd had a growth removed from her lower lip.

"You live long enough or you're a sun worshipper, you get cancer. So I'm dealing with it," said the actress, who underwent a lumpectomy for breast cancer in 2010.

Fonda, whose Netflix series "Grace and Frankie" is about to begin its fourth season, was accompanied on the red carpet by Troy Garity, her son with Hayden and one of the film's interviewees.

"She's not insane but she moves through life at a furious pace and because of that has experienced a lot and learned a lot," he told AFP.

"And I think the film has good lessons that we can all live by."

Asked if watching the premiere was going to be a difficult experience, he added: "I think I'll enjoy it more than 'Barbarella.'"

Since bursting into the American consciousness in the 1960s, Jane Fonda has lived a life of controversy, tragedy, and self-discovery -- all in the public eye

The documentary explores the pain of her mother's suicide, 30 years of bulimia and three marriages to high-profile, sometimes difficult men

Mail Online, PUBLISHED: 09:35 GMT, 21 January 2018
Jane Fonda: from 'vacuous' bombshell to leading activist

Elton John has said he will be retiring from touring, 50 years on from the launch of his enormously successful pop career.

In an event at New York City’s Gotham Hall on Wednesday, John announced his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, a three-year, five-continent outing that will feature more than 300 concerts, and will be the last of his career. “It’s time to come off the road so I can fully embrace the next important chapter of my life,” he said. “I need to dedicate more time to raising my children.”

The name of the tour takes its inspiration from John’s 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. On the title track, the singer meditated on fame and celebrity, referring to the music as his “back-to-my-roots” phase: “When are you going to come down? When are you going to land?,” he sings in the first verse. With the unveiling of his final stretch of concerts, the singer seems to have finally answered that question.

The tour will begin in Pennsylvania in September 2018, and will visit 10 cities across the UK in 2020.

In the gold-leafed grand ballroom of Gotham Hall, once the Greenwich Savings Bank, John’s name and logo – a giant E with a star in lieu of the middle stripe – shone on the granite walls of the atrium.

His arrival was preceded by a short introduction by CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper, and then a virtual reality installation that guided audience members through the highlights of his storied career. When the video ended and the headsets were removed, Sir Elton surfaced at his piano and began to play two of his biggest hits, Tiny Dancer and – appropriately – I’m Still Standing.

After his performance, John officially announced the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, and addressed speculation that the announcement had anything to do with his health, saying, “if you’re going to do 300 shows, you’re not in ill health.” The reasoning, instead, is that the singer would like to spend more time with his two children.

“When I stop, they will be 10 and eight and that’s a very important time in their lives. I don’t want to miss them, and I don’t want them to miss me,” said John, wearing an embellished blazer with the words “Gucci Loves Elton” engraved on the back. The fashion brand, whose creative director Alessandro Michele reminded John of his “dear friend” Gianni Versace, will be designing all of the outfits for the Farewell tour.

“It’s going to be the most produced, fantastic show I’ve ever done,” added the singer. “It’s a way of saying thank you and going out with a bang. I don’t want to go out with a whimper.”

Speaking to The Guardian after Wednesday’s event, John added that the announcement served as the culmination of discussions he had with partner David Furnish in 2015 about the pair’s children. “We had taken them around everywhere when they were little, because they were very portable,” he said. “But then they weren’t so portable and we had to have a big discussion about what I wanted to do with my life, the children and my career. And I said I’d like to end with a big tour and spend the rest of my life with my children.”

John was quick to note, though, that the last leg of his touring career is not meant to signal an end to all creative endeavours. “I’m not stopping music,” he said. “I will hopefully be making more records, writing more music. Mostly I’ll be taking my kids to soccer games. But I’ll be creative, hopefully, until the day I die.”

John joked that the day had “been like D-Day, like a military operation,” and added that he’s “not one to do things by half.” In organizing the Farewell tour he and his team encountered logistical issues they hadn’t before, not least because of the geographical scope of the tour. John said that due to school he won’t be taking his two sons to every date, but that he wants to show them Japan and the Far East in particular.

John’s announcement comes exactly 50 years after he met longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, who wrote lyrics for Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, Bennie and the Jets, and Candle in the Wind. The 1997 rerelease of the latter, a tribute to the late Princess Diana, is potentially either the first or second bestselling worldwide single of all time, the uncertainty owing to the dearth of sales information for Bing Crosby’s song White Christmas.

On Monday, John appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he received a Crystal award in recognition of his work with the Elton John Aids Foundation, which has raised more than $200m (£140m) since the singer established the charity in 1992. “The world needs to be changed,” John said while accepting his award alongside fellow honourees Cate Blanchett and Shah Rukh Khan. “The inequality in this world is, to be honest with you, disgraceful.”


In addition to the announcement of his world tour, John also recently extended his Las Vegas residency The Million Dollar Piano, adding dates at the Colosseum until May 2018, bringing the total number of shows to 207. John’s Caesars Palace residency began in February 2004 with The Red Piano, which lasted for 248 shows until March 2009 and grossed more than $169m.

In 2016, John announced that he would be releasing his first autobiography, Crazy Life (written in conjunction with the Guardian music critic Alexis Petridis) in 2019, to be published by Henry Holt in the US and Pan Macmillan in the UK. The singer has hinted at some of the book’s contents, calling it a “no-holds-barred account” of his distinguished half-century in music.

In 2014, shortly after the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK, he married his longtime partner David Furnish. The pair have two sons, Elijah (five) and Zachary (seven). John is also a godparent to the children of various famous friends, including David and Victoria Beckham, and Yoko Ono and John Lennon.

The singer told The Guardian that fans can expect to hear a medley of his greatest hits, but also songs that he hasn’t played live for decades. “For your own sanity you have to play some things you haven’t played for a long time; chestnuts I call them,” John said, referencing the songs Have Mercy on the Criminal, from his 1970 album Tumbleweed Connection, and Street Kids, from Rock of the Westies.

“Most people I know that did world tours would come back and do another one,” John said when asked if he’d renege on his curtain call and tour again years from now. “And, really, you’ll have to shoot me...I’ve done 4,000 shows. I’ve been in a van since I was 17.”

Elton John performing at the press conference for his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour.

Elton John talks with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, in Davos this week.

The Guardian, Last modified on Thu 25 Jan 2018 00.55 GMT
Elton John retires from touring … with 300-date world tour

After a 50-year career Elton John is embarking on his final tour, which will take him to five continents over three years
By Jake Nevins

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Rape of our forests

RAPE normally solicits anger and uproar. But, a rape of another sort has been going on for some years, but neither anger nor uproar is heard.

Only thuds from felled timber, and that too, to ears that care to listen. Merbau, meranti and other premium woods are being illegally felled and smuggled out of the country in covered lorries under the shroud of darkness.

Run by syndicates of foreign plunderers with some help from greedy locals, they appear almost foolproof. We have travelled this trail before; we have witnessed their ruinous rampage earlier, too.

On Aug 15 last year, the deputy natural resources and environment minister told Dewan Negara that between 2006 and 2016, 256 illegal logging cases were recorded, which led to 229 arrests.

The Malaysia Civil Defence Force (APM) has prepared a comprehensive report with names and places where this dastardly acts are being perpetrated. It is not just the issue of loss of revenue, but the sustainability of the environment that is at stake here. This is a rape of our nation’s flora and fauna.

Many of our endangered animal species live in these threatened forests. The loss of logs today will cause the death of lives tomorrow. Forests protect us from the devastating effects of climate change by acting as a carbon sink, extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. On the economic front too, Malaysia loses millions to illegal logging. On Oct 27, 2014 this paper quoted an MACC task force set up to investigate illegal logging in Sarawak as saying that the state lost RM45 million in just four months.

We must not be passive witnesses. We must marshal our resources to fight this scourge that bedevils us, now and then. Because, if we lose this canopy, we lose a roof over our heads, so to speak.

For starters, we may need to tweak some laws to give them a better bite. Some integration and coordination among enforcement agencies may help turn the bark into bites.

Manpower may be an issue, but, we can call in aid unmanned machines such as drones to do some real-time monitoring at macro- and micro-levels. Our Forestry Department had already armed itself with this technology in 2016. More unmanned aerial vehicles will certainly help. Granted that half of Malaysia is covered by forests, it may be difficult to be at that many hot spots. But, drones can do what man cannot.

A leaf from the book of the United States Air Force may help, too. Their unmanned vehicles patrol the skies above Afghanistan but are controlled by pilots sitting in front of screens in the US thousands of kilometres away. Kandahar may not be Kuala Krai, but you get the drift.

These whirring machines can be the weapon of choice for our men who are fighting to keep the merbau and meranti where they are.

Merbau, meranti and other premium woods are being illegally felled and smuggled out of the country in covered lorries under the shroud of darkness.

New Strait Times, Published: January 26, 2018 - 9:20am
Rape of our forests

Healthy catchments protect rivers, dams and the environment. They provide clean drinking water, habitats for plants and animals, healthy vegetation and waterways.

Professor Dr Chan Ngai Weng of Universiti Sains Malaysia says logging exposes land, making it susceptible to erosion. Splash erosion and surface erosion wash sediments into the rivers, causing water pollution and shallowing of riverbeds.

Logging in water catchment areas, like Ulu Muda Forest in Sik, Merapoh Forest in Kuala Lipis, and Bukit Ulu Sat and Bukit Tapong in Pasir Puteh, has polluted rivers and threatened water supply, as well as wildlife.

Uncontrolled logging can hurt the efficacy of water catchments and jeopardise the economies of affected areas.

For example, water from the Muda Dam catchment area at the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve is pumped into Pedu Dam, and this is primarily used for cultivating about 97,000ha of padi under the Muda irrigation scheme.

Uncontrolled logging has caused massive landslides. In 2015, landslides occurred at Km52.4 of the Karak Highway, near Lentang-Bukit Tinggi.

The destruction of watershed areas will result in floods. Deforestation is the culprit.

Deforestation eliminates trees and undergrowth that prevent sediment run-offs.

In 2014, the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia was hit by one of the worst floods in history due to uncontrolled logging. Uncontrolled logging in water catchments also affects the quality of water due to the deposition of sediments. The water becomes murky and muddy. Many people rely on natural highland water sources for their daily use.

For example, Orang Asli in Gua Musang use natural water sources for cooking, bathing and other potable uses. However, due to the uncontrolled clearing of forests, the water catchment areas in Lojing Highlands have been destroyed.

Logging also affects water temperatures. It wipes out trees that provide shelter and thermal cover, raising water temperatures and pH levels, as well as degrading the chemical and ecological conditions and food webs that fish depend on for survival.

Besides that, uncontrolled logging can alter the local microclimate, resulting in hotter and drier conditions, which contribute to global warming and quicken climate change.

Uncontrolled logging in water catchments should be taken seriously as such areas are shrinking.

In Kedah, water catchment areas were reduced by 87.3 per cent, from 98,400ha in 1969 to 12,484ha last year.

More and more illegal and uncontrolled logging has occurred in other parts of water catchments in Malaysia, such as in Ulu Tembeling and Lojing.

Safe and high-quality drinking water begins with safe and healthy water catchments. Uncontrolled logging must be stopped so that consumers can have safe drinking water from safe sources.

Logging in water catchment areas, like Merapoh Forest in Kuala Lipis, has polluted rivers and threatened water supply, as well as wildlife.

Letter to the New Straits Times, Published: January 25, 2018 - 10:30am
Logging can hurt water sources
By NUR IMANI ABDULLAH, Secretary, Forum Air Malaysia

IPOH: Hikers in forest reserve areas will have to apply for permits from the state Forestry Department or face fines or jail terms for violating the regulation.

Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department deputy director-general (Policy and Planning) Datuk Roslan Ariffin said this was because entering forest reserve areas without a permit was an offence under Section 47 of the National Forestry Act 1984, which carries a maximum fine of RM10,000, or a maximum of three years in jail if found guilty.

"Most of the mountain climbing areas in Peninsular Malaysia are closed forestry reserve which needed permit to enter the forest.

"If any untoward incident occurs, the Forestry Department could provide the emergency assistance while the insurance company could compensate climbers," he told reporters after a briefing and dialogue on the Environmental Quality Order 2015, here today.

He said individuals who wished to climb in forest reserve areas would have to pay between RM10 to RM30, as well as comply with the conditions of the respective state Forestry Departments.

Picture used for representational purposes only.

The SunDaily, Posted on 25 January 2018 - 11:27pm
An offence to enter forest reserve without permit – Forestry Dept
[Source] Bernama

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Do you love what you do?

You have perhaps experienced what many term the “Monday Blues”.

My social media feed is often swamped with people making reference to this term, at the start of each workweek.

Author of the book “Leading with Happiness”, Alexander Kjerulf (*), who is also an international speaker on happiness at work, describes this as a set of negative emotions that many people get at the beginning of the week if they're not happy at work.

He suggests that it contains elements of depression, tiredness, hopelessness, but most significantly the feeling that work is unpleasant, but unavoidable.

Perhaps, this is what the saying “…choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life” actually hopes to explain. The saying itself has been attributed to various historical figures including Confucius, Marc Antony, and Mark Twain.

I think it doesn’t really matter who coined this adage. What is arguably more pertinent is its deeper significance for all of us.

My remit as a consultant, leadership coach and management trainer regularly includes the instruction from the owner of a business, or the chief executive of a company, to make their staff connect with their jobs, more effectively.

How do you get connected with your work?

Through my work, I have noticed that if you are passionate about what you are doing, then you will wake up in the morning looking forward to your day, even if it is a Monday. And your nine to five job, does not feel like tedious work.

It does follow that if you love what you do, you will do it better, and with greater passion.

Let me give you an example of why you need to discover your true passion.

This week, I was really privileged to spend some time with a culinary hero of mine, the world renowned celebrity chef, David Rocco (**).

A Canadian of Italian heritage, he is also a best-selling author, and host of several internationally syndicated television series, including the now legendary “David Rocco’s Dolce Vita”.

His television shows air in over 150 countries worldwide, including on the Food Network, BBC Food, Discovery Travel, Nat Geo Adventure Channel, and Fox Life.

I was curious to find out what he attributes his success to, considering he isn’t a classically trained chef.

For someone with such a huge following worldwide, I found him very approachable, warm, and genuinely interested in people. After I got over my fan-boy moment, I mustered up enough dignity to hold a meaningful conversation with him.

He started by explaining to me that he didn’t just like food. He absolutely loved it. And, in essence this was the reason for all his success as a chef, television personality, author, wine maker, and restaurateur.

David Rocco’s belief is that because of his deep love for food, he is able to connect with ingredients, and somehow, they magically talk to him.

As eccentric as this sounded, I completely understood him.

To give you some context, I met him because I was fortunate to be invited as a guest for an upcoming television show that he is in.

As part of this production, he was tasked to recreate an authentic but complex Malaysian dish that he had never attempted to cook, before.

He had no prior knowledge of the ingredients, and was given very little time to understand the nuances of the dish.

I had the pleasure of tasting the final product. To my amazement, he nailed it completely. Not only did he recreate a genuine local delicacy, he was able to deftly infuse it with his own touch.

There is no doubt that this would not have been possible, without a passionate love of food.

In preparing the dish, I noticed his connection with the local sous chefs, he was given. In a really short time, he was able to connect, and have meaningful relationships, with them. This increased their engagement, and consequently they worked really well with him. This showed in the dish.

When showcasing the plate of food, he explained his unique take on this famous dish. In describing how he came to present his version to us, David Rocco exhibited a remarkable sense of understanding that what we were eating was a comfort food in Malaysia. And, he was able to draw parallels from his travels, and even paid homage to our multi-cultural heritage.

Most of all, I saw self-mastery. He was honestly satisfied that he was able present a worthy rendition of well-liked Malaysian favorite, to his audience.

People who love their jobs tend to have three things in common.

They make an impact by being able to forge proper connections with their work, and the people they work with;
they understand what is expected of them, and diligently deliver results;
and they have an unfeigned sense of pride in their accomplishments.

David Rocco exhibits all these traits. There is no doubt in my mind that these are the main reasons why he’s seen such huge success in his professional life.

Do you love what you do, like David Rocco?

Hong Kong Superstar, Nicholas Tse with Celebrity Chef, David Rocco at Exclusive Launch Event of New Cooking Programme by FOX Networks Group Asia in Sunway Vellocity Mall.

New Straits Times, Published: January 26, 2018 - 8:54am
Do you love what you do?
By Shankar R. Santhiram
Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”

(*) Alexander Kjerulf
Alexander is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Woohoo inc and one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work. He is an author and speaker, presenting and conducting workshops on happiness at work at businesses and conferences in over 30 countries. His clients include companies like Hilton, Microsoft, IKEA, Shell, HP and IBM.

(**) David Rocco
David brings his passion for food and life to millions of kitchens every day through his worldwide hit television programs. Airing in more than 150 countries, David Rocco’s Dolce Vita, David Rocco’s Amalfi Getaway, David Rocco’s Dolce India, and David Rocco's Dolce Napoli are each the perfect combination of food, travel and a celebration of the sweet life.

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Nurturing pool of talent


[photo] Mt Fuji

Diamond Online, Published: 2018.1.26

ASEAN is projected to become the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030. The region’s gross domestic product is predicted to be around US$4.7 trillion (RM18.3 trillion) by 2020, double its current size. This is supported by the region’s key economic achievements. For example, its average annual real growth rate is 5.3 per cent and total trade increased by US$700 billion between 2007 and 2015.

However, greater efforts should be made to harness the full potential of Asean’s labour force.

The region has the third largest population in the world with more than half under the age of 30. Despite its vibrant demographics, a shortage of industry-ready skilled workers poses a great challenge to realise Asean’s economic vision.

The challenges on the skills front vary widely among Asean countries. It is important, therefore, to determine the workforce characteristics of each country to respond to industry’s demands of job-specific skills.

According to a joint study by J.P. Morgan and Singapore Management University , the five core members of Asean − Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines − are confronted by a shortage of industry-ready skilled workers. This challenge should be the region’s main concern, especially because of Asean Economic Community’s vision of fostering robust productivity growth through human resource development.

The study also said that Asean-5 represented one of the most promising growth regions in the world, which meant equipping their labour force with job-specific skills was necessary to increase the region’s competitive edge in higher-technology and knowledge-intensive industries.

Singapore is a high-income economy, but presently faces a tight labour market because it relies heavily on foreign labour. Nevertheless, the country has a largely skilled and educated workforce to pursue an innovation-driven growth strategy. It is impressive to know that business leaders, training institutions and labour unions all participate in Industry Skills and Training Councils to determine industry-specific demands.

However, a study by the International Labour Organisation said Singapore was facing the challenge of strengthening the role of innovation in its educational and training institutions, especially in keeping up with the latest technology for the workforce.

Meanwhile, Malaysia and Thailand are moving towards technology- and knowledge-intensive industries to break out of the middle-income trap.

The study noted that both countries faced similar challenge of equipping their workforce with the necessary engineering and science skills. There is also a need to broaden the appeal of technical education to students.

Indonesia and the Philippines, on the other hand, have a young and growing workforce but faces a challenge of equipping them with the basic knowledge and skills required by key industries. Because of this, high youth unemployment rate is persistent in both countries. There is also an exodus of workers from both countries that can potentially reduce their supply of skilled workers.

More attention should also be given to other Asean countries. Brunei acknowledges that its future requires moving away from an oil-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, according to ILO’s study. However, the country faces the challenge of equipping its workforce with skills in innovation and research and development.

Meanwhile, the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam) need to have a more coherent technical and vocational education and training system for industrial development.

Both the public and private sectors have key roles to play in strengthening the skills of Asean’s labour force. The public sector should coordinate with the industry to help companies meet their skills’ demands.

This role should be in the form of being a facilitator that will help private companies to meet their needs. Government facilitation should be in the form of providing incentives to companies which provide training schemes for their employees.

The study recommended that governments work with the private sector and educational institutions to develop a comprehensive roadmap for skills development. The roadmap should provide a projection of supply and demand for skills needed in key industries of each Asean member state.

Another way to step up the skills of the labour force is through upgrading the skills of the SME workforce. These enterprises are undeniably important in the Asean economy because they provide between 60 and 97 per cent of total employment in the region. This can be done by encouraging multinational companies and corporations to provide training schemes for the workforce, especially since some of these enterprises supply component parts to international manufacturers.

Emphasising the importance of TVET education must be also prioritised in all Asean member states. According to the study, educational curriculum should increase the emphasis on TVET and STEM education (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) to help the youth acquire industry-specific technical skills. It should also address the problem of youth unemployment in the region due to skills mismatch.

It is stated in the AEC Blueprint (2016-2025) that Asean’s long-term competitiveness rests on the labour productivity of member states. Hence, Asean should invest in human capital development to prepare the region’s labour force to meet industry-specific skills’ demands. Doing this is critical for Asean to become innovative and competitive, which will allow member states to respond to the trends that continually reshape the demand for skills.

As Asean approaches its 51st anniversary this year, greater efforts should be made to improve the region’s labour productivity. Skills development must be prioritised to realise Asean’s economic vision of productivity-driven growth.

Despite its vibrant demographics, a shortage of industry-ready skilled workers poses a great challenge to realise Asean’s economic vision.

New Straits Times, Published: January 26, 2018 - 9:37am
Nurturing pool of talent
Phidel Vineles is a senior analyst with the Centre for Multilateralism Studies (CMS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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Freezing Tokyo

TOKYO (AFP) - Tokyo's ambulance service has experienced its busiest day in more than 80 years, officials said on Thursday (Jan 25), amid icy conditions as the Japanese capital shivers through its coldest temperatures in decades.

The Tokyo fire department, which runs the ambulance service, said it had responded to 2,826 calls on Wednesday, following rare and heavy snow that sparked chaos in one of the world's most populous cities.

"Generally, we receive more calls in winter. But we think the combination of influenza, heavy snow and cold weather contributed to the record high number," a fire department spokesman told AFP.

The number of emergency call-outs was the highest since the service began in 1936 and well above the average of around 2,000.

The annual number of emergency calls has been on the rise for the past eight years in Tokyo, the spokesman added.

As a cold snap grips Japan, the mercury in Tokyo dropped to minus 4 deg C, the coldest in 48 years, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency.

And the government warned that the glacial conditions in Tokyo would continue.

"The weather agency has issued a low temperature warning for Tokyo for the first time in 33 years... The cold weather will continue until Saturday," deputy government spokesman Kotaro Nogami told reporters.

A rare heavy blanket of snow in Tokyo on Tuesday left thousands of travellers stranded and scores injured.

Japan's weather agency recorded as much as 23cm of snow in some parts of Tokyo, the biggest snowfall since February 2014.

The weather paralysed Monday evening's commute as millions of workers battled to get home on the city's famously crowded transport system.

A rare heavy blanket of snow in Tokyo on Jan 23 left thousands of travellers stranded and scores injured.

The Straits Times, Published: JAN 25, 2018, 5:51 PM SGT
Freezing Tokyo sees highest number of ambulance calls in 80 years

A government-sponsored exhibition highlighting Japanese sovereignty over islands with disputed claims by China and South Korea opened its doors Thursday, in the Municipal Research Building located in Tokyo.

While the exhibition is likely to draw praise from right-leaning politicians, the opening takes place at a delicate time for Japan’s relations with South Korea, which have undergone see-sawing developments in recent weeks − the positive development of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to visit South Korea for the Olympics, but also the re-emergence of the comfort women dispute.

The collection displays historical documents − including maps, letters and newspaper articles − highlighting the government’s official position that the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima are inherent parts of Japanese territory. Accompanying the documents are supplementary explanations in both Japanese and English.

Tetsuma Esaki, the minister in charge of territorial disputes, also made an appearance to mark the opening of the exhibition.

A 70-year-old resident of Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, commented on the materials presented as he looked over some documents. “It is important to debate these topics from an objective point of view using facts,” he said.

The Takeshima islets have in the past created friction between the South Korean and Japanese governments. Controlled by South Korea and referred to as Dokdo, the last major incident regarding the territory took place in 2012 when South Korea President Lee Myung-bak visited one of the islets.

The Senkaku Islands, known to the Chinese as Diaoyu, are effectively controlled by the Japanese government and have remained a flash point in Sino-Japanese relations since the attempted purchase in 2012 of the islands by the former governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have backed Japan’s territorial claims to the Senkakus.

In response to increased presence of Chinese patrols around disputed areas, Japan has shifted its Self-Defense Forces to new patrols and other diplomatic measures, according to Center of Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington D.C.

The exhibition was created by the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination on Territory and Sovereignty, which was created in 2012 “in order to promote a correct understanding, at home and abroad, of relevant facts and Japan’s position concerning Japan’s territorial integrity,” according to the organization’s website. “We have every intention to keep it open to the public for an indefinite period of time,” said a government official assigned to the project.

The exhibition is housed in a historical building built in 1929, which is currently occupied by a library and a research group that focuses on municipal research.

“I get the feeling that with all of this evidence Japan has a strong basis for their claims. But it is a difficult problem to solve as in South Korea they also have their own claims,” said a 21-year-old university student.

Tetsuma Esaki (right), minister in charge of territorial issues, is guided through an exhibit at Tokyo's National Museum of Territory and Sovereignty following an opening ceremony at the facility on Thursday.

Japan Times, Published: JAN 25, 2018
Japan opens permanent exhibition on territorial disputes over Senkakus and Takeshima

South Korea on Thursday demanded the "immediate closure" of a new Tokyo museum devoted to two sets of disputed islands -- just hours after it opened.

The museum, run by the Japanese government, displays documents and photographs defending Japan's claims over the islands.

Japan has a longstanding dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. They are administered by Japan, where they are known as "Senkaku", but also claimed by China, which calls them "Diaoyu."

Tokyo also claims islands in the Sea of Japan that are controlled by South Korea. They are known as "Dokdo" in Korean and "Takeshima" in Japanese.

"We hope this will be a key facility that deepens understanding on the Takeshima and Senkaku islands," said Tetsuma Esaki, minister in charge of territorial issues, as he opened the museum, according to local media.

But Seoul reacted promptly, with the foreign ministry lodging an immediate protest over what it described as Japan's "unjustifiable claims" to its "inherent territory".

"We demand its immediate closure," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The Japanese government should stop immediately its hopeless attempt to claim Dokdo, which is historically, geographically and under international laws a part of our territory," the ministry added.

The museum's opening is also likely to anger China and comes after Japan recently spotted a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine prowling in waters surrounding the Tokyo-administered isles.

The Japanese government has long complained about China's routine dispatch of coastguard ships to Japan's territorial waters surrounding the islands.

Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012 when Tokyo "nationalised" some of the islets.

Since then, the two top Asian economies have taken gradual steps to mend fences but relations remain tense.

Both China and Japan claim the tiny islets

Yahoo News, Published: 25 January 2018
South Korea demands Japan close museum on disputed islands
[Source] AFP

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Snowed under

In Pictures: Heavy snowfall in central Tokyo on Jan 22, 2018.

Heavy snowfall in central Tokyo causes traffic congestion, train delays and flight cancellations, and it is expected to continue through Tuesday (Jan 23) morning according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

[photo-1] The Imperial Palace.
[photo-2] People wait in a queue for taxis at Akihabara station.
[photo-3] Snow falls as the National Diet building stands.
[photo-4] A man rides a bicycle in the heavy snow.
[photo-5] A man holding an umbrella makes his way in the heavy snow at the Imperial Palace.
[photo-6] A woman and a dog make their way in the heavy snow at the Imperial Palace.
[photo-7] People holding umbrellas make their way in the heavy snow at the Imperial Palace.
[photo-8] Pedestrians cross a street in central Tokyo, Japan
[photo-9] Snow falls over the Imperial Palace.
[photo-10] Snow falls over the Imperial Palace
[photo-11] Visitors congregate as snow falls over the Imperial Palace

The Straits Times, PUBLISHED: JAN 23, 2018, 8:49 AM SGT

Snowed under

Zermatt, Switzerland -- Switzerland, I thought, would be safe. For the past three years, vacation trips with my family have been disasters. Literally. Natural disasters, to be precise, as we’ve been hit by typhoons on trips to Taiwan and Japan. So this year we decided to play it safe. Switzerland. No typhoon danger there. Just great skiing in the picturesque Alps.

We forgot about the avalanches.

I arrived in Zermatt with my girlfriend and daughter on January 3rd, in the middle of a snowstorm. What more could a skier and two snowboarder chicks want? There was a bit too much of the good stuff, so we couldn’t hit the slopes that day. Or the next. But then two days of heavenly turns under blue skies. Then another storm hit on Monday, January 8th, so the lifts closed early.

The next day, we along with the rest of the town woke up at 5:30 am to a huge roar.

I ski a lot, so I guessed that the noise was an avalanche, but thought it was a controlled one (when authorities deliberately set off avalanches to make the slopes or roads beneath them safe). “Wow, they’re really working early today,” I thought as I glanced at my phone and saw the time. But something was off -- for one it sounded really close and instead of the usual one or two loud bangs that normally accompany such controls, there were five roars.

Turned out it was an avalanche that buried the highway and train tracks, trapping everyone inside the picturesque resort.

Then I noticed that the power was out. I looked outside. The whole town was dark. The hotel we were in didn’t have a backup generator, just emergency lighting in the corridor. It was still snowing heavily, so I went back to bed, grumbling to myself that the lifts will probably be closed again because of the weather.

The power was still out when we woke up a few hours later. We showered by the light from our mobile phones and went down to have breakfast. Most of the other guests were already down there, questioning the hotel staff, who were showing a video of the monster avalanche, taken with CCTV cameras, that the local radio station posted to its website. Everyone was laughing at this one guy, who appeared to be tipsy and returning home from a night out when the avalanche struck, forcing him to run like the wind.

That’s when we got the news -- the town had been cut off; there would be no skiing because all the lifts were closed and this was the first time in 20 years that the avalanche warning was this high (level 5 out of 5). We had two more nights booked, so we weren’t too worried about departure. About six other guests were quite upset at not being able to leave to catch their flights. The remaining guests seemed to be Russian and not too bothered about anything.

As soon as I heard that the town was cut off I switched from my vacation skier mode to my journalist working mode. I grabbed my travel camera and my only lens and walked down to the train station. It was chaos.

The trains had stopped running at 5 pm the previous day because of the heavy snow, so the station was filled with tourists just waiting for news of their trains. They had already checked out of their hotels, so they had nowhere else to go.

Emergency crews were working at the station trying to remove the snow from the tracks, while other crews blocked the roads leading to the area hit by the avalanche.

The shops opened around 10 am, people began to come out and the restaurants quickly filled up. The shops did great business that day, as they had a market of some 13,000 bored people with little else to do.

I spent the day shooting photos and videos while my family wandered around town, shopping. Most people were chill.

The next day, Wednesday January 10, people began to get frustrated. Especially when the first train due to leave town at 11:15 am was cancelled. That’s when people began to drag their luggage to the helicopter pad. Taxis became rare, as most people waited inside their taxis on the road leading to the heliport, rather than wait outside in the cold.

Covering a natural disaster in style

I have covered lots of natural disasters, including earthquakes in China and Japan, floods in various countries, hurricanes and wildfires in the US. But this time was a bit different. This was the first time that I was able to shoot people evacuating, and then head to one of Zermatt’s Italian restaurants, to be served an incredible meal and a bottle of excellent Tuscan wine. Covering a disaster in style.

I have to say, being trapped in the picturesque resort at the foot of the iconic Matterhorn peak was not as strenuous as one may expect. The locals were quite accommodating. The shops, which usually close for a siesta between noon and 2 pm, stayed open to cater to the tourists, who had nothing else to do. Restaurants and bars did a booming trade, and it was very hard to find a table.

Our hotel staff smiled sweetly, told us to relax and write some postcards. My 17-year-old daughter kept her friends at home up to date via her phone.

Those upset the most seemed to be the skiers. All they could do is look up at all that fresh snow, just waiting for turns -- because of the high avalanche risk, all the slopes were closed.

Some people managed to get a helicopter out on Tuesday afternoon, but not many, as the weather was still bad. More flights became available on Wednesday morning, but since the lines were long, many people gave up and just waited for the trains, which resumed service later that night.

Disaster of a ski holiday

We left on Thursday as planned but the trip took all day. We took a train to Tasch (the normally 12-minute journey took an hour), then rushed to get a place on the bus that took us down to the train station at Visp, where we caught a train to Zurich. We ended up spending the night at Zurich and were treated as mini rock stars by the locals when we told them that we had come from Zermatt.

Overall, it was a disaster of a ski holiday. Out of nine days, we ended up skiing only two full days and three half-days. In the middle of it all, my boss was nice enough to text me something along the lines of “Remind me never to go on vacation with you, disaster will surely strike.”

Then again the restaurants and the quality of the food helped ease the pain somewhat. And the stoic Swiss, with their ‘what do you expect, it’s winter, go write some postcards’ attitude helped keep frustrations under control. It was an easier disaster to deal with than, say, a hurricane or earthquake.

Next year, I think we’ll ski in California, where we have blue skies and man-made snow. But with my reputation for vacation disasters, I might be going it alone...

This blog was written with Yana Dlugy in Paris.

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Makrifat Cinta and Think Big Big

MARKING his film directorial debut with Makrifat Cinta, director Kamal G takes pride in sharing the success story of a real-life businessman friend with cinemagoers.

The rags-to-riches story scored several “firsts” in Malaysian cinema history, including the song Maula Wa Sallim by Oscar-winning A. R. Rahman. It is the South Indian composer’s first single to be used in a Malaysian film’s soundtrack.

A frequent collaborator with Rahman, Indian hip-hop singer Blaze, also made his debut in the film’s soundtrack, where he performed a duet with one of the main actors, Singaporean Datuk Adi Putra, titled Duniawi.

Kamal, 33, said the tune, which received good airplay here, was set to enter the British Broadcasting Corporation’s radio charts next week.

“Makrifat Cinta may be a personal ‘first’ for me in terms of filmmaking, but it is making Ma-laysian history. This is our first film with songs by Rahman and Blaze, and our first to be screened in the United Arab Emirates,” the Ipoh-born told the New Straits Times yesterday.

Kamal, who has eight years’ experience making short films and television dramas, said the 108-minute action-adventure movie would have plenty of drama, but more importantly, it would be a “total Bollywood experience” for cinemagoers.

“Almost all ingredients that make a good Bollywood film are present − music, action, drama, comedy and character development,” he said, adding that the film crew was from Mumbai.

“India’s award-winning editor Praveen K. L., who worked on Kabali, is involved in Makrifat Cinta.”

The movie, which cost RM4 million to make, stars Syamsul Yusof, Adi, Nora Danish and Nabila Huda.

“Working with the dedicated and talented ensemble was a blast, and I am confident it will do well at the box office.”

Kamal’s next project will also be an action movie, but one which sees a mixed cast Malaysian and Indian actors.

Produced by Dhananwoodd Films Sdn Bhd, Makrifat Cinta opens in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei on Feb 1.

Stars of Makrifat Cinta, Adi Putra (left) and Syamsul Yusof.

New Straits Times, Published: January 25, 2018 - 9:33am
Movie scores 'firsts' in Malaysian cinema history
By Dennis Chua

Read more:

Makrifat Cinta is the first feature film from locally-based Dhananwoodd Films...

The Star 2, Published: JANUARY 4, 2017
This local movie features a fancy red helicopter
Read more at https://www.star2.com/entertainment/movies/movie-news/2017/01/04/makrifat-cinta/

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 − This Chinese New Year, famed local director Chiu Keng Guan is making a return with his fifth movie, Think Big Big.

The movie focuses on Moon, a plus-sized girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. She lives a happy, care-free life working as a mascot until one day, debts force her to join a weight-loss competition that requires her to share her fitness journey on social media.

“This is a story about loving yourself unconditionally,” said Chiu regarding the message of his latest movie, which also touches on how social media has changed today’s society.

The director was present at the movie’s launch on Monday at Thai Thai Restaurant, Sunway Pyramid, along with his six-member all-female main cast: Miss Astro alums Serene Lim and Vivienne Oon, singer Ruby Yap, Moon Yoong, Joanne Lau, and Keigrey Kam.

“As a filmmaker, I like to challenge myself to do something different,” Chiu told Cinema Online about his decision to focus on female characters this time around, which, he admitted at the event, is a subject he is not well-versed in.

The director didn’t seem to have any problem helming the cast, however, as everyone seems to share a special bond after working on the movie. Jokes were aplenty in the conversations between the director and his cast, and the cast has even come up with a ‘shoulder-shaking’ dance they said they like to do whenever they got bored on set.

The movie was filmed mostly in Bukit Pelanduk, Kuala Lumpur area and in a secondary school in Seremban. Having previously lived in Bukit Pelanduk himself, the director stated that as his reason of picking the place as the setting for his latest movie.

Think Big Big is opening in cinemas on February 15, 2018.

Director Chiu Keng Guan and his all-female ‘Think Big Big’ cast.

Malay Mail Online Published: Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:29 PM GMT+8
Chiu Keng Guan returns this Chinese New Year with ‘Think Big Big’

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The Shape of Water

Fantasy romance "The Shape of Water" topped the Oscars nominations list on Tuesday with 13 nods, one shy of the record, as the Academy also gave a rare nomination to a woman in the directing category.

In second place was tense World War II epic "Dunkirk," with eight nods, while crime drama "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," generally thought to be the favorite in the best picture category, picked up seven nominations.

But "The Shape of Water," Guillermo del Toro's Cold War-set story of love between a mute cleaning woman and a mystery merman-like creature, dominated the competition.

It scored nods for best picture, best director and best actress for its star Sally Hawkins.

Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer each scored nominations in the supporting acting categories, and the film was also nominated for best original screenplay, with the rest of its nods coming in technical categories.

The haul fell one short of the record for most nominations ever, held jointly by "La La Land," "Titanic" and "All About Eve."

"This nomination is for every one of us who brought our hearts to this film," Hawkins said in a statement retweeted by the movie's official Twitter account.

"I'm here because of the greatness of others. I stand on the shoulders of giants."

The 90th Academy Awards -- the climax of Hollywood's awards season, to be hosted by late night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel -- will be held on March 4.

Organizers will be looking to rebound after last year's flubbed announcement of the best picture winner -- the trophy was initially given to "La La Land," when the actual winner was "Moonlight."

- Women filmmakers recognized -

In a departure from previous years, there are very few clear frontrunners, making the major categories a genuine sprint to the finish line rather than the perfunctory coronation sometimes inflicted on viewers.

The announcements were seen as an opportunity for the industry to support female filmmaking, with the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns against sexual misconduct and gender inequality a mainstay of the 2018 awards circuit.

Female filmmakers were snubbed at the Golden Globes, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be seen as having righted that wrong to some degree, with its nod for Greta Gerwig, the director of "Lady Bird."

Before Tuesday, just four women had been nominated for best director since 1927.

In the best director category, Gerwig and Del Toro take on Christopher Nolan ("Dunkirk"), Jordan Peele ("Get Out") and Paul Thomas Anderson ("Phantom Thread").

On Tuesday, there was also the first nod for a female cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, who shot Dee Rees's racial drama "Mudbound."

"Between Patty Jenkins and Sofia Coppola and Maggie Betts and Kathryn Bigelow and Angelina Jolie, the number of women who are making really interesting films and the desire to shine a spotlight on them... that's the thing I'm heartened by," Gerwig said on a recent episode of Variety's "Playback" podcast.

- Streep, Day-Lewis in the hunt -

"The Shape of Water" will vie for best picture honors with eight other films, including "Dunkirk," "Three Billboards," coming-of-age movies "Call Me By Your Name" and "Lady Bird," and Winston Churchill saga "Darkest Hour."

Others in the coveted top category are dark satire "Get Out," Daniel Day-Lewis's apparent final film "Phantom Thread" -- he has announced his retirement -- and Pentagon Papers thriller "The Post."

"Three Billboards" -- buoyed by strong showings at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards -- goes into the final weeks of Oscars campaigning in pole position, according to the Gold Derby awards prediction website.

For best actor, Day-Lewis will battle for a golden statuette with Timothee Chalamet ("Call Me by Your Name"), Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out"), Gary Oldman ("Darkest Hour") and Denzel Washington ("Roman J. Israel, Esq.").

In the best actress category, Hawkins has competition from Frances McDormand ("Three Billboards"), Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya"), Saoirse Ronan ("Lady Bird") and Meryl Streep ("The Post").

Best supporting actor pits Jenkins against Christopher Plummer, a last-minute stand-in for Kevin Spacey, who was dropped from "All the Money in the World" after being accused of numerous cases of sexual misconduct.

The other nominees were Willem Dafoe ("The Florida Project"), Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell (both "Three Billboards").

The Oscars cap a difficult few months for the film industry, which has faced widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault, sparking a period of soul-searching that has cast a shadow over the normally joyous awards season.

A flood of allegations since October have led to the downfall of numerous powerful figures including Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Tambor and Brett Ratner.

James Franco ("The Disaster Artist"), a popular contender for best actor, joined Spacey in seeing his Oscar hopes shot down in flames after becoming tainted by scandal.

The foreign films nominated are "A Fantastic Woman" (Chile), "The Insult" (Lebanon), "Loveless" (Russia), "On Body and Soul" (Hungary) and "The Square" (Sweden).

"I wanted to make a provocative film that will not only wildly entertain people but also make them reflect -- thank you for helping me to share this film with more audiences throughout the world," Ruben Ostlund, the writer and director of "The Square," said in a statement.

"The Shape of Water" by director Guillermo del Toro -- shown here at the film's premiere in November -- is leading the race for the Oscars with 13 nominations

Greta Gerwig is only the fifth woman nominated for best director, for her coming-of-age film "Lady Bird"

Best actor nominees (L to R): Timothee Chalamet, Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Daniel Kaluuya and Daniel Day-Lewis

Best actress nominees (L to R): Margot Robbie, Sally Hawkins, Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan

AFP, Published: 23 Jan 2018
'The Shape of Water' scores big with 13 Oscar nominations

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3 major events in Peninsular Malaysia's history

RECENTLY, a speaker at a convention spotlighted his idiosyncratic view of three major events in Peninsular Malaysia's history – the Japanese Occupation, the struggle for Independence and the Emergency.

At the Rise of the Ummah Convention on Jan 13, Ummah chairman Ismail Mina Ahmad was reported to have said only the Malay community resisted the British colonialists, Japanese occupiers and the Communists.

Ummah is a coalition of conservative Muslim groups.

Ismail's purported speech was challenged by the National Patriots Association, the Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association, several columnists and individuals.

One day, after Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi reiterated the battle against the communists involved various ethnic groups and that it was unfair to say only the Malays fought in the name of the nation, Ummah secretariat head Aminuddin Yahya denied newspaper reports about Ismail's remarks.

"(Ismail) never said 'only the Malays' fought and he did not deny the support made by non-Malay soldiers and police officers after Independence in fighting the Communists," Aminuddin said.

Overlooked in the controversy about Ismail's supposed remarks are two salient facts. First, how many in this country are aware the Malayan Chinese community was the targeted recipient of the greatest brutality by the Japanese?

Thousands of Malayan Chinese were killed by the Japanese – particularly through the use of sook ching (purification through suffering) screening operations – while the community was also forced to pay US$50 million to the Japanese as penance for supporting China's war of resistance against the Land of the Rising Sun.

Information about the number of Malayan Chinese killed during the Japanese Occupation is often scanty.

In A History of Malaysia, Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya wrote "the numbers of those who died varied, but estimates range from 6,000 to 40,000" – the latter figure is also given by T. N. Harper in his book, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya.

More hair-raising, though possibly biased, figures are provided by Elaine Tan in the China Daily Asia.

"In just five short months, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Chinese people were killed" in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, she wrote, adding 1,474 men, women and children were also decimated in the Yu Lang Lang massacre – only 35 individuals survived. Yu Lang Lang is an area that adjoins Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan.

Unlike China, where seminal events like the Rape of Nanking are seared into the memories of its denizens today through historical accounts, films as well as a dedicated museum, the misery suffered by many during the Japanese Occupation in this country is infrequently detailed, let alone discussed.

In A History of Modern Malaya and Singapore, K. G. Tregonning's description of the Japanese Occupation is sparse: "But whether in the colonies or in the towns, the two characteristics of the Occupation remained: hardship and Japanese brutality …"

Another frequently glossed-over fact – during the Emergency, many Malayan Chinese were often caught in the crosshairs of the fight between British security forces and the Malayan Communist Party.

Forcibly relocated to new villages to deny the communists a supply of food and information, many rural Chinese suffered a drop in earnings and physical hardship in their new homes while all Malayans were pummelled by higher food prices as the acreage of cultivated land shrank drastically.

In 1951 alone, Johor's acreage under vegetables dropped by more than half, Harper noted.

Additionally, to inhibit support for the MCA, on April 10, 1949, the communists threw two hand grenades in Ipoh at its President Tun Tan Cheng Lock whom they labelled "Number One Big Dog of the British Imperialists".

Second, Malaysians' lack of knowledge about seminal events is compounded by some museums' selectivity.

For example, the Memorial Kemerdekaan in Malacca, now renamed Memorial Pengisytiharan Kemerdekaan, used to house several personal artefacts, including hand-written speeches belonging to MCA founder Tun Tan.

A few years ago, when I visited this museum, I was shocked to find all items belonging to Tun Tan and the write-up about his role in fighting for Malaya's Independence – together with Tunku Abdul Rahman and several other leaders – had been removed.

When I asked the whereabouts of Tun Tan's handwritten speeches and whether these papers and his personal belongings could be returned to the Tan family, I was informed all these items were kept by Arkib Negara; no reason was given for their removal or whether these could be returned to the Tan family.

This episode prompted two questions.
≫ Are there other museums in this country like the Memorial Pengisytiharan Kemerdekaan in Malacca?
≫ Do textbooks for schoolchildren offer a multi-ethnic view of Malaysian history?

Denigrating the speaker's lop-sided view is easy. Far more difficult is ensuring future generations of young Malaysians are inculcated with a multifaceted view of their country's history. Lacking this broad perspective, racial harmony in Malaysia could be seriously endangered.

The SunDaily, Posted on 25 January 2018 - 08:51am
Getting Malaysian history right
By Tan Siok Choo

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Glaciers dangerously unstable

When 247 million cubic feet of snow and ice collapsed off a glacier in the dry, mountainous region of western Tibet in 2016, the roiling mass took with it nine human lives and hundreds of animals, spreading more than five miles in three minutes at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour. The event surprised scientists, who had seen a collapse that big and that fast only once before.

And then it happened again, three months later, on a neighboring glacier, though without fatalities. Glaciologists hadn’t quite believed that glaciers could behave this way, and suddenly they had witnessed two similar collapses in a year.

An analysis of the events, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that climate change was the culprit in both collapses. The study suggests that in addition to the known risks posed by a warming climate, such as sea level rise, we may also be in line for some cataclysmic surprises.

To understand what the researchers found, it helps to know that generally there are two kinds of mountain glaciers: flat and steep. When a flat glacier collapses, it can move a lot of snow and ice, but in slow motion. These “surges” can last weeks and even years, but move no more than a few hundred feet a day.

Steep glaciers appear perilously affixed to mountain walls, and when they do collapse they create avalanches with speeds up to 250 m.p.h. Those avalanches may imperil mountain climbers, but over all they don’t move as much snow and ice.

In Tibet, however, researchers saw a frightening hybrid of the two. “It was a flat glacier, but it produced speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour,” or 186 m.p.h., said Andreas Kääb, a professor of geosciences at the University of Oslo in Norway and lead author of the study.

On top of the speed, each of the collapses moved enough snow and ice to fill one million freight train cars stretching 7,500 miles, Dr. Kääb said. That’s roughly the distance between New York City and Shanghai.

The only other comparable event scientists have recorded was the 2002 collapse of the Kolka glacier in the Caucasus Mountains. That collapse tumbled eight miles downriver, reaching speeds of 179 m.p.h. and killing more than 120 people in the North Ossetia region of southwestern Russia.

“It happened during the second Chechen war, very close to the boundary to Chechnya, so there were a lot of refugees camping,” Dr. Kääb said.

Researchers thought that collapse was linked to factors specific to the region − the glacial equivalent of a freak accident. Then came the first collapse in Tibet.

“We were thinking, ‘It happened again. It’s not only in the Caucasus. This is crazy, it can happen somewhere else,’” Dr. Kääb said. “We were not even finished thinking that, then the second one came down.”

It’s not certain what caused the Caucasus collapse. But scientists say the driving factor in Tibet was climate change.

Normally, the cold air in the Tibetan plateau can’t hold much moisture. But warmer air caused by climate change − the region has warmed 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade since the 1960s − holds more moisture, leading to more winter snowfall. While many glaciers around the world are in retreat because warmer temperatures are melting them, the Tibetan glaciers that collapsed are among those that are growing because of more snow.

In the summer months, there has also been more rain. That water created crevices through the glacier and saturated the ground below, acting as a kind of lubricant. With more weight on top and less friction to hold the glacier in place on the bottom, it collapsed.

“You have a thicker glacier soaked with water,” said Dr. Kääb. “That’s two climate change impacts that contributed to making the glaciers unstable.”

Lonnie G. Thompson, a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University, said the underlying mountain range didn’t help, either. “The bedrock of this mountain range was laminated shales and sandstone, which are not extremely resistant to start with,” said Dr. Thompson, who was not a part of the study but by chance was in Tibet when the first glacier collapsed.

Dr. Kääb said he hoped that the study would be a wake-up call to people living near mountain glaciers that this kind of collapse, though rare, can happen. “The travel of the Tibetan avalanches was eight, nine kilometers. The one in the Caucasus traveled 18 kilometers. If you draw an 18-kilometer-diameter circle around glaciers of the world you see that even cities are within this reach,” he said.

“If this happens in areas that are not as loosely populated as Tibet, this is a huge disaster.”

A satellite image showing the aftermath of two avalanches in western Tibet in 2016, when two glaciers on the Aru range collapsed and spread across five miles. Researchers say this unusual event was due to climate change.

The glacier after the second collapse in Tibet in September 2016.

Another view from July 2016, left, showing the aftermath of one of the avalanches. The image at right is from June 2016, before both glaciers collapsed.

The New York Times, Published: JAN. 23, 2018
Bigger, Faster Avalanches, Triggered by Climate Change

A deadly 2016 glacier collapse in Tibet surpassed scientists’ expectations − until it happened again. They worry it’s only the beginning.

Read more:
The New York Times, Published: JAN. 11, 2018
Of 21 Winter Olympic Cities, Many May Soon Be Too Warm to Host the Games

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Mount Mayon

The number of people displaced by an erupting Philippine volcano soared to more than 61,000 by Wednesday (Jan 24), the South-east Asian country's disaster agency said, as Mount Mayon ejected lava that produced an ash plume 5km high.

The alert remains just one notch below the highest level of 5 after five more episodes of "intense but sporadic lava fountaining" from the summit crater over a 19-hour period from Tuesday morning, state volcanologists said.

Lava fountains 500-600 metres (1,640-1,970 feet) high lasted between seven minutes and more than an hour and generated ash plumes 3-5 km (2-3 miles) above the crater, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.

Schools were shut in 17 cities and municipalities in Albay and nearby Camarines Sur province, which was also affected by ashfall. Some 56 flights were cancelled because of Mayon, the Philippines' most active and most picturesque volcano.

There were 55,068 residents in temporary shelters, a substantial increase from about 40,000 on Monday. Some 6,165 evacuees were staying elsewhere.

The number of displaced increased after the provincial government expanded the danger zone around the 2,462-metre (8,077-foot) volcano to a radius of 9 km from the Phivolcs-recommended 8 km no-go zone.

Mayon's sporadic eruption, which began on Jan 13, has affected 54 villages in Albay, with a combined population of 71,373 people.

Mount Mayon shot up a giant mushroom-shaped cloud as it continues to erupt near Camalig town, on Jan 22, 2018.

The Straits Times, PUBLISHED: JAN 24, 2018, 2:27 PM SGT
Thousands more Filipinos displaced as volcanic lava fires ash 5km high
[Source] Reuters





Yahoo! JAPANニュース、1/24(水) 22:19配信
<草津白根山噴火>気象庁、警戒レベル上げ伝えず 草津町に
[Source] 毎日新聞、山本有紀

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Palestinian resistance

PORTRAYED as the modern-day Joan of Arc, Ahed Tamimi, who is only 16, is a Palestinian prisoner who was arrested after a video went viral depicting her confrontation with two Israeli soldiers outside her home.

The village of Nabi Saleh, where Ahed and her family live, is in the occupied West Bank, an area that has been under Israeli occupation for 50 years. Land theft, illegal settlements, home demolitions, checkpoint closures, arrests, detentions, walls that cut off farmers from their lands, killings, and abnormal images of dead bodies held by grieving families are frequent reporting.

The foreign occupation outraged Ahed since an early age. At 11, she was pictured confronting Israelis soldiers as well, defending her home with just “her bare hands”. Her strong-spirit and courage, followed by arrest and detention have caused a revival hope for her people as she is portrayed as a hero of their nationalist struggle, akin to Joan of Arc in the digital age. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a French teenage heroine who rose from obscurity to champion Charles VII of France at the age of 17, leading the French army to important victories during the 100 Years’ War against the English occupiers. Two years later, she was captured and burned at the stake for heresy.

Ahed and Joan of Arc share similar characteristics, although born roughly 600 years apart. Whilst many commented on their striking physical resemblance, Ahed, like Joan is from a peasant family. Foreign occupation caused both teenagers to set out to fight. They were captured, imprisoned and prosecuted by the foreign occupiers. Their courage brought the renewal of hope amongst their oppressed people.

History does not portray Joan of Arc as a terrorist. She was, in fact, canonised a saint in 1920. Yet, Israelis are now trying their utmost to paint Ahed as a terrorist, all for the “crime” of slapping an Israeli soldier after her 14-year-old cousin was shot in the face by a rubber-coated steel bullet. This was a wound that necessitated the boy to be placed under a medically induced coma during which the projectile was surgically extracted from his skull.

Like Joan of Arc, Ahed was indicted on 12 charges. These include assault, incitement and past instances of stone-throwing. Other charges included insulting Israeli soldiers in which she called them “child murderers, Nazis and thieves”. None of the charges consists of the use of weapons although “biting” a soldier who detained her younger brother has been reported. She once said: “Our strength is in our stones, and I hope that the world will unite to liberate Palestine”. Ahed’s next hearing will be on Jan 31, the day she turns 17. Ahed’s family members did not expect any justice from the Israel’s legal system that had long been accepted as a system to oppress and charge the Palestinians. For them, “this is Israel’s goal: destroy Palestinians’ childhood”. Just like the prosecution of Joan of Arc who was charged on trial staged by the English occupiers, Ahed’s lawyer said that “the real task of this military court (in occupation) is not to enact justice, but to perpetuate occupation”.

However, a moral victory is ensured, whatever t he outcome. According to the Defence for Children International, Palestine (DCIP) rights group: “Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military courts. Israeli civilian courts deny bail to Israeli children in only 18 per cent of cases. In contrast, Israel’s military courts refuse bail to Palestinian children in 70 per cent of cases.”

DCIP has reported that at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in Israel’s military courts since 2000.

Fair-skinned and blonde, Ahed is a clear departure from previous impressions of Palestinian resistance with women in hijab and bearded men. The feisty blonde activist challenged not only the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its violent oppression methods, but more importantly, “rebrand” a kind of resistance in Palestine.

There is also a growing concern among Islamist movements that reliable “secular” opposition is finally reaching a solid foothold and is organising itself into credible and popular movements. Cultural symbols of resistance such as Dabkeh (Palestinian line dance), dancing Kanafa street food vendors and campaigns reinstating the Palestinianism of authentic foods, like hummus and falafel, are among many other modern and more peaceful resistance initiatives to oppose the occupation and tell the Israelis to “get out”.

With a sharp tongue, strong youthful bare hands and a couple of stones, Ahed’s image has circulated in the media globally, widening the reach of this new generation’s “secular” Palestinian resistance against Israel’s multiple moral crimes independent of religious motivation. Ahed’s fight to defend her home ultimately exposes this new brand’s authenticity of resistance through courage and unrelenting human spirit.

Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi (R) enters a military courtroom escorted by Israeli Prison Service personnel at Ofer Prison, near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

New Straits Times, Published: January 24, 2018 - 8:51am
Palestine's Joan of Arc
The writer, a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, is a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow

FAR from the forbidden items conventionally smuggled out of jail, the Palestinians have been smuggling “sperm” from Israeli’s prisons for almost six years to continue the baby boom culture. Since the first in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) birth by an inmate’s wife was reported, about 50 children have been born via IVF, with sperm from Palestinian prisoners.

Having babies conceived from smuggled sperm is both a source of hope and a form of protest for the prisoners and their families. All these babies born are, as one Palestinian states, “definitely a victory for their family and for all Palestinians fighting the occupation”.

The prisoners’ wives who underwent IVF were impressed after watching televised news in August 2012 of Ammar Al-Zebin’s wife, who gave birth to a baby through this process. She spoke triumphantly to local and international press, dedicating her baby “to the Palestinian people, namely prisoners and their families” and paving the way for dozens of other prisoners’ wives to do the same.

Al-Zebin, serving 27 life sentences, has been held in prison since 1998. He is the first inmate to have had his sperm smuggled out of an Israeli prison. His wife gave birth to their first-born, Mohannad, on Aug 13, 2012.

Sperm smuggling is a safety net for long-serving inmates to ensure their wives stay faithful and lead meaningful lives. Families and friends have to be on board to ensure the reputation of Muslim wives is intact and the children born are a result of advancement in science and not an act of “sin”.

As a form of political dissent, the prisoners are breaking the barriers between them and the Israeli authorities. To defeat the aspect of being imprisoned, which traditionally prevented prisoners from procreation, was a way to triumph over Israeli occupation.

Some 750,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned since 1967. There are more than 6,150 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Due to the restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, visiting relatives who are jailed in Israeli territory is not an easy undertaking for families. They need to apply for permits from the Israeli authorities, which Israel has been known to revoke or deny on security grounds.

Smuggled sperm samples arrive at the Razan Medical Centre in the West Bank town of Nablus in many forms, including candy wrappers, plastic pens and even a pitted date. The sperm remains alive for around 12 hours, though it depends on the quality of the sperm and the conditions of its transmission. Razan Medical Centre head Dr Saleem Abu Khaizaran said: “I don’t know how they do it and I don’t want to know. When they come to us, we cannot deny them treatment.”

Staff members at the centre’s lab are on call 24 hours a day. Once a sperm sample arrives, sometimes in the middle of the night and is deemed usable, it is preserved in sub-zero storage tubes. Not all the samples are suitable for IVF. They must be delivered within 48 hours in order to be frozen. Dr Abu Khaizaran claimed that 50 children had been born via the treatment.

He offers the service for free in solidarity with the prisoners despite the odds and risks.

“The prisoners’ wives are suffering. They feel lonely because their husbands are behind bars, some for the rest of their lives. They are eager to have babies to make a difference in their lives.”

Politicians have hailed the procedure as an important contribution to the Palestinian resistance movement. Both Hamas and Fatah representatives have offered to donate money to the Razan clinic, but Dr Abu Khaizaran has refused, saying his interest is humanitarian, not political.

The Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council approved the procedure on condition that the prisoners’ wives opted for IVF only if their husbands served long sentences.

“IVF clinics are prevalent in the Middle East and fertility treatment is permissible under Islamic law.”

By the time the birth of babies conceived using smuggled sperm peaked in 2015, the Israelis had tightened visitation rights. To make the situation difficult, they denied identification documents or legal status of any kind to babies claimed to be born from smuggled sperms.

When the Associated Press contacted Jennifer Kulp Makarov, a fertility expert at the Maimonides Medical Center in New York, about the feasibility of sperm smuggling, she suggested the
stories could be accurate since IVF treatments only required “a few viable sperm” to succeed.

IVF has become the new form of Palestinian resistance which reflects a moral victory for prisoners. Having a son or daughter through IVF means they have to overcome the walls, borders and barbed wire of the Israelis and their illegal occupation.

For the parents and doctors involved, this has become a “national mission”, a soft revolution to warn the Israelis that “life” and “bloodline” continue for these Palestinian families.

Sperm samples that arrive at the Razan Medical Centre can stay alive for around 12 hours depending on their quality and conditions of transmission.

New Straits Times, Published: January 4, 2018 - 10:03am
IVF is the new form of Palestinian resistance

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I love reading biographies.

I lOVE reading biographies. My last one was on Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Now I am devouring Robert Kuok - A Memoir. A really pleasant read. An eye- and mind-opener that is a "must read" for all Malaysians. No one can come close to this personality as a "true blue" Malaysian. Most will pale against his experience and contributions as a citizen to the nation.

For one he gained the trust of the first prime minister (whom he caricaturised as "a late starter") and the next two, especially, the second and his deputy too. Also, of leaders across the causeway as a proxy to Malaysia, and later leaders of Communist China including the "unrepentant capitalist roader" – Deng Xiaoping who turned China on its head. For sure no other can claim such a feat.

Robert is of the pre-Merdeka vintage of the 1920s which has its own vantage points. Most of us were not even born yet. Those who were, and survived, are not as "lucky" and "savvy". He might pin this down to "karma" which for him is foretold. The journey is "predetermined" as it were. This includes being fortunate enough to be exposed to the then local Malayan "real" multicultural experiences during his growing-up days especially through the local school system allowing him to move "seamlessly across culture".

This continued through to Raffles College in Singapore where he intermingled with many future leaders. The fact that he prefers the term "Chinese Malaysian" (which I advocate) in his memoir, instead of the "usual" reverse, marks his highly discerning capacity and empathy for change as compared to the current generation given their "defective" understanding of multicultural Malaysia. Thanks to the current schooling system(s). It only means that the future generation will not fathom Robert's wisdom, no matter how successful they are in comparison (which is unlikely to date).

This makes the memoir a gem of insights that most will not be able to savour in real life due to changing times and mindsets. We can only view this through the window that Robert chose to make public in a most frank manner some of his invaluable and unique predispositions (going even into his married life).

Perhaps as a billionaire and living in "exile" pass 90 years of age, he is more courageous in recounting experiences and thoughts without fear and favour. It is for this reason that the memoir remains relevant and eloquent for Malaysia and Malaysians to articulate a common future together.

To me this is a bonus because the name "Kuok" (though not Robert in particular) is familiar enough. It goes way back to my university days to a well-known foundation that provides financial aid to needy students. Later as I helmed the students affairs division, and more so the university, I got to know the Kuok Foundation better depicting well the principles advocated in the memoir. Humility being the most profound.

The foundation offered one of the most generous financial assistance with no fanfare. Unlike today where the publicity is heavy and often accompanied by political invitees, Robert is almost media shy, directing his sincere gesture more to the recipients rather than to himself. This is certainly a refreshing perspective that we ought to humbly (re)consider. There are others of course that are pertinent to us now. One is his insistence that Malaysians must be in the "driving" seats and not leave them to "foreigners". This he voiced out to the third prime minister: "The days of colonialism are over". And that "We are running the show", otherwise the foreigners "drove our country helter-skelter".

Consistent with this he advocated that Malaysians must first embrace "integrity", and must be of "the highest integrity" – without a "whiff of corruption or scandal". Next, there must be "ability; and with it comes capability". Lastly, hard work; "people who are willing to work long hours". He believed that character is more important than mere qualifications which resonates well with me. From my limited experience the latter can be taught but it is never easy for the former once it is not there.

To this extent Robert warned of "the need for watchdog institutions with bite". He raised this in the context of "the rise of the unscrupulous and ruthless Chinese" reportedly during a high-level brainstorming seminar in Indonesia. He reckoned this is "because the leaderships have been weak". Otherwise, "all these devils would have disappeared overnight" as Lee Kuan Yew ably demonstrated by keeping "the unsavoury elements under control". It is also not a coincidence that Lee was more enlightened about the psyche involved and took the bull by the horns ahead of time as compared to his non-Chinese counterparts in the Asean region which remains so (think One Belt, One Road).

Not surprising therefore Robert himself (thanks to his mother) is strict in adhering to principles rather than compromising them. In the section "at government service", the memoir amply illustrates this when he was called to serve in various roles and capacities.
The mantra: integrity, ability/capacity and hardwork! After trying his level best, and still not getting what was expected of him, he would not hesitate to pull out. Again not like what we witness today. Only if there is no violation of principles or integrity, did he opt to be flexible to push the process to its fruition.

The above are just random tips of the iceberg (limited to his Malaysia experience) to be (re)learned given the somewhat similar situations we are in today.

There are many more that we will revisit in the coming weeks. Meanwhile thanks to Robert for the reflections.

The SunDaily, Posted on 24 January 2018 - 10:12am
Reflections from a memoir
By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

Read more:
In summary, the message my father left behind is that peace starts with me, with each of us. By nurturing inner peace and sensitizing our conscience, we can work collectively to actualize global peace.

SGI (The Soka Gakkai International), June 15, 2017
Nurturing a Conscience of Peace
By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

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Walter Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein

Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography
by Walter Isaacson
Simon & Schuster £25.50

In 1501, desperate for Leonardo to paint her portrait, the immensely rich Isabella d’Este employed a friar to act as go-between. The friar met Leonardo in Florence but found his lifestyle “irregular and uncertain” and couldn’t pin him down. “Mathematical experiments have absorbed his thoughts so entirely that he cannot bear the sight of a paintbrush,” Isabella was told. With promises he’d get round to it eventually, Leonardo kept her dangling for another three years. Pushy to the end, she changed tack and asked him for a painting of Jesus instead. Even then, he didn’t come up with the goods.

The story encapsulates contrasting versions of Leonardo that have been in play ever since Vasari extolled him in his Lives of the Artists. On the one hand, the lofty genius who wouldn’t kowtow to affluent patrons; on the other, the feckless fantasist who failed to fulfil his commissions. On the one hand, the Renaissance Man to whom maths and science were as important as painting; on the other, the artist who “left posterity the poorer” (Kenneth Clark’s phrase) by pursuing hobbies – engineering, architecture, pageantry, military strategy, cartography, etc – on which his talents were wasted. He achieved so much. But did multitasking prevent him achieving more?

Walter Isaacson has no doubt about the answer. The subjects of his previous books – Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Ada Lovelace and Steve Jobs, among others – were all blue-sky thinkers, with the ability “to make connections across the disciplines” and “to marry observation and imagination”. His life of Leonardo (rather cheekily subtitled “The Biography”, as if there were no others) doesn’t neglect the paintings. But it’s more fascinated by the notebooks, with their 7,200 pages of sketches and ideas. Isaacson’s premise is that Leonardo’s scientific interests nourished his art – that only through the work he put into dissecting corpses and studying muscles was he capable of painting the Mona Lisa’s smile.

Gay, vegetarian, flamboyant in dress (with a preference for pink), erratic in his work habits and astute when it came to self-promotion, Leonardo would have felt at home among the hipsters of today. Being illegitimate was no great stigma: it meant he grew up with two mothers (which Freud thought explained a lot). It also saved him from becoming a notary, a profession closed to sons born out of wedlock. His lack of a formal education was no handicap, either. Self-taught, he derided “puffed up” scholars who relied on received ideas: “He who can go to the fountain does not go to the water-jar.” Experience was what counted, he said – that and a relentless curiosity.

At 14, he was apprenticed to the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, who was (so Vasari claimed) “astonished” by his talent and with whom he collaborated before producing at least two early masterpieces, The Annunciation and (his first non-religious effort, and one to rank with the Mona Lisa) Ginevra de’ Benci. A charge of sodomy, involving a 17-year-old, might have halted his progress by landing him in prison or worse. But one of the four young men with whom he was accused had connections with the Medici family and the case was dropped.

His attitude to sex was ambivalent: “Whoever does not curb lustful desires puts himself on the level of beasts,” he wrote, with conventional piety, but he also acknowledged that the penis “possesses a life and an intelligence separate from the man”. His companion of many years – servant, pupil and the subject of many drawings – was the rascally Salai, who came to him at the age of 10. At some point they probably became lovers. Later, in his mid-50s, Leonardo adopted another young man, Francesco Melzi, whom he loved as a son.

Not surprisingly, his depictions of men are more erotic than those of women. He described the act of coitus as “repulsive”; only the beauty of human faces redeemed the ugliness of genitalia. His lack of desire for women is perhaps what makes his paintings of them so tender and attentive: by objectifying less (and leaving their clothes on), he sees more. Some of his men look feminine, too. The angel in Virgin of the Rocks – intended to be Gabriel or Uriel – is often mistaken for a woman. A later drawing of an angel, either by Leonardo or by someone in his studio, showed a figure with breasts and an erect penis. Androgyny appealed to him. His men lack the muscularity of Michelangelo’s nudes, which he dismissed as looking like “a sack of walnuts rather than a human figure”.

The rise of Michelangelo (20-odd years his junior) may have been a factor in his preference for Milan: having spent much of his 30s and 40s there, he returned in his mid-50s. It was a bigger city than Florence and was well stocked with intellectuals and scientists (less so with artists). Later he moved to Rome and later still, leaving Italy for the first time, to France. But it was Milan that encouraged the odd mixture of the practical and the fantastical that went into his inventions – his schemes for flying machines, giant crossbows, scythed chariots, needle grinders, screw jacks and so on. As Isaacson sees it, his inventions and ideas occupy an important place in the history of science and technology, anticipating the discoveries of Galileo and Newton. He contributed to medical knowledge too: by dissecting the body of a 100-year-old man, he came up with the first description of arteriosclerosis as an outcome of the ageing process. Even his wackiest ideas (such as the plan to protect Venice with a team of underwater divers wearing breathing apparatus) had potential, though it was several more centuries before scuba gear came along.

Anatomy was his abiding specialism. Other artists might aspire to get the measure of man but he went about it literally, computing the right proportions (“from the top of the ear to the top of the head is equal to the distance from the bottom of the chin to the duct of the eye”, etc). This kind of perfectionism underlaid his reluctance to complete his paintings, notably The Last Supper, to which he’d sometimes add just a couple of brush strokes before knocking off for the day (serious artists occasionally “accomplish most when they work least”, he told the impatient duke who’d commissioned it), and the Mona Lisa, with which he fiddled on and off for 15 years and which was still in his studio when he died.

Like almost everyone who has written about it, Isaacson is reverential towards the Mona Lisa, though not as much as Walter Pater (“hers is the head upon which all the ends of the world are come”) and not without using it to underline one of his main themes – Leonardo’s sfumato technique, whereby lines are blurred and boundaries (like those between art and science) disappear. More illuminating is his account of the recent controversies over two other paintings attributed to Leonardo, La Bella Principessa and Salvator Mundi: through carbon dating and digital magnification, experts have assessed the key evidence (palm prints, left-handed brush strokes, stitching holes), but whether they’re the genuine article remains a matter of dispute.

Five hundred years on, you’d have thought that everything it’s possible to know about Leonardo would now be known, but authentication of his work remains an issue and surprises still keep turning up – a lost drawing of Saint Sebastian in 2016 and new details about the identity of his mother Caterina only this year. Isaacson doesn’t claim to make any fresh discoveries, but his book is intelligently organised, simply written and beautifully illustrated, and it ends with a kind of mental gymnastics programme that suggests how we can learn from Leonardo (Be curious, Think visually, Go down rabbit holes, Indulge fantasy, Respect facts, etc).

Leonardo’s notebooks are full of similar exhortations: “Get a master of hydraulics to tell you how to repair a lock … Observe the goose’s foot … Describe the tongue of the woodpecker.” In his thirst for knowledge, he was like a small child endlessly asking “Why?” His last drawings were turbulent images of water and wind. You can read them as metaphors for apocalypse and death (he’d had a stroke by then). Or as the culmination of a lifelong drive to find connections between natural phenomena – to link the curve of waves to a curl of human hair. Either way, Isaacson’s claim that no other figure in history “was as creative in so many different fields” doesn’t seem far-fetched.

The Guardian, Published: Sat 16 Dec 2017 07.30 GMT
Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography by Walter Isaacson review – unparalleled creative genius

Flamboyant, illegitimate and self taught, he was unreliable and an unashamed self-publicist. He was also one of the most gifted and inventive men in history
By Blake Morrison

Einstein: His Life and Universe
by Walter Isaacson
Simon & Schuster £25, pp675

In 2005, astronomers and cosmologists celebrated - in style - the 100th anniversary of their annus mirabilis: 1905. This was the year in which Albert Einstein wrote a set of scientific papers, including one containing the equation E=mc2 that changed our understanding of the universe and became the cornerstones of quantum mechanics and general relativity - the twin intellectual pinnacles of the 20th century. Not bad for a 26-year-old patent office clerk.

You can therefore understand what all the fuss was about. Journals, biographies, exhibitions, even plays and operas, were produced to mark the centenary. Every utterance, every scrap of paper produced by the great man was examined and debated in 2005. Nothing, surely, could have been left out, you would have thought. Certainly, another telling of Einstein's life story, only a couple of years later, must surely seem unnecessary and ambitious.

Yet Isaacson, a former chief executive of CNN and biographer of both Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Franklin, has triumphed over expectation, producing a thorough exploration of his subject's life, a skilful piece of scientific literature and a thumping good read.

According to Isaacson, we should regard Einstein not as an august scientific priest, but 'as a rebel with reverence for the harmony of nature', a scientist who rated imagination far higher than knowledge and an individual whose motto, at least in his early years, was 'Long live impudence! It is my guardian angel.'

On this last point, Einstein was probably misguided. Yes, he had an insolent streak, no one could doubt that, but it cost him dearly, though not without long-term beneficial consequences. Having displayed 'a sassy attitude' at the Zurich Polytechnic, where he studied physics, Einstein was his year's only graduate not to be offered a job. So he spent months applying unsuccessfully for academic posts across Europe. 'I will soon have graced every physicist from the North Sea to the southern tip of Italy with my offer,' he wrote mournfully on one occasion. He was even rejected by the Swiss army for having flat feet and varicose veins. In the end, he made do with the Swiss patent office.

And a good thing too, says Isaacson. 'Had he been consigned instead to the job of an assistant to a professor, he might have felt compelled to be overly cautious in challenging accepted notions.' Instead, Einstein did his day's work in a couple of hours and then sat back in his 'worldly cloister' and indulged in a merry scepticism in order to create some of the most beautiful, challenging ideas of modern science: the special theory of relativity and the idea that light behaves like particles, for example. 'Physics was to be upended, and Einstein was poised to be the one to do it,' says Isaacson.

It's one of the greatest stories of modern science and to his credit and my surprise, Isaacson has done a first-rate job in telling it. This is, quite simply, a riveting read.

The Guardian, Published: Sun 10 Jun 2007 00.01 BST
Walter Isaacson's Einstein retells science's greatest story, says Robin McKie

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