PARIS: Christopher Tolkien, the son of J R R Tolkien who was responsible for publishing many of his father's works, has died aged 95, the Tolkien Society said.
Christopher, a former lecturer in Old and Middle English as well as Old Icelandic at the University of Oxford, is credited with drawing the 1954 map of Middle-earth for his father's novel The Lord of the Rings.
He also spent years compiling and editing the works of his father - who died in 1973 - before publishing many of them, including The Silmarillion in 1977 and The Fall of Gondolin in 2018.
"We have lost a titan and he will be sorely missed," Tolkien Society chairman Shaun Gunner said in a statement Thursday.
"Christopher's commitment to his father's works has seen dozens of publications released, and his own work as an academic in Oxford demonstrates his ability and skill as a scholar," Gunner added.
"Millions of people around the world will be forever grateful to Christopher for bringing us The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, The History of Middle-earth series and many others."
His death was confirmed by Daniel Klass, Christopher's brother-in-law, according to the New York Times.
He died in Draguignan, southeastern France, local newspaper Var-Matin said.
Christopher was critical of the "commercialisation" of his father's work in a 2012 interview with French newspaper Le Monde.
"Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time," Christopher Tolkien was reported as saying.
"The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work and what it has become has overwhelmed me. The commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.
"There is only one solution for me: To turn my head away."
Christopher was born in Leeds, Britain, on Nov 21, 1924. He joined the Royal Air Force during World War II and was stationed in South Africa.
SINGAPORE: A resident at Eight Riversuites condominium who "intentionally caused harassment" to a security officer has been given a stern warning, the police said in a statement on Friday (Jan 17).
Eight Riversuites condominium has been in the spotlight since a video of 44-year-old Ramesh Erramalli verbally abusing a security officer over a parking dispute went viral.
The police's statement reads as follows:
"The Police have concluded investigations against Mr Erramalli Ramesh. In consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Police have administered a stern warning to Mr Erramalli for intentionally causing harassment to a security officer who was deployed at Eight Riversuites Condominium.
"Mr Erramalli had also received harassing and threatening messages from unknown parties following the incident. Although Mr Erramalli had expressed his wish to Police not to pursue the matter, the Police had nevertheless initiated investigations into this, as a few of the messages threatened Mr Erramalli and his family with death and violence (even rape).
"In consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Police have administered a stern warning to two men, aged 41 and 47, for causing intentional harassment to Mr Erramalli. The Police have also administered a 12-month conditional warning to two other men, aged 19 and 56, who threatened Mr Erramalli and his family with death and violence."
No cancer cells detected: First major step to recovery for British boy in Singapore for experimental treatment
SINGAPORE: No cancer cells have been detected in the blood of a British boy who is undergoing experimental treatment in Singapore for an aggressive form of leukaemia that would have killed him in months.
First test results that came in late Wednesday night (Jan 15) show that five-year-old Oscar Saxelby-Lee is now MRD (minimal residual disease) negative, which means there are no cancer cells in him.
His mum Olivia told reporters it represents the first major step towards a full recovery.
It is the first time his body has been free of cancer cells since he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in December 2018.
All forms of treatment in the UK had failed, including intensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. He had run out of options there.
But in November last year, Oscar arrived in Singapore for an experimental treatment at the National University Hospital that only one other child in the world has had.
Olivia said while it was still “early days” for Oscar, the latest results are hugely promising.
“This is more promising than any other treatment so far because this is the first time he has been (MRD) negative,” she explained.
It was only on Wednesday afternoon that Oscar had gone through yet another surgery.
“We are trembling with pride. Our hearts were torn only yesterday afternoon to then groundbreaking news that patched us up again,” Olivia said on Thursday.
“We are unbelievably proud of everyone who have helped us get here and cannot thank them enough.
“Oscar is beyond happy. He’s ecstatic that he’s one step closer to being well again.”
The five-year-old will need a bone marrow transplant for his next stage of recovery, his mum said.
“His blood is clear from leukaemia but as his marrow recovers the (cancer) cells can find a way back in so that’s why we are also transplanting him - for a long-term cure,” Olivia said.
“We are staying optimistic because it’s the only thing we’ve got left and we have faith.”
The treatment in Singapore was Oscar’s last hope. All other treatments had failed to rid Oscar of the cancer cells - he was still MRD positive even after a stem cell transplant.
The boy from Worcester, England had flown here after crowdfunding £500,000 (S$885,000) for a new form of treatment, in which immune cells from a patient’s blood is drawn and equipped with a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR-T).
The receptor binds itself to a specific protein on the cancer cell and activates the CAR-T cells to kill the cancer cells.
This particular form of CAR-T treatment is different and more difficult because the leukaemia cells resemble Oscar’s immunity system, Associate Professor Allen Yeoh, head of paediatric oncology at NUH, explained previously.
This is compassionate treatment, which means it is not even in the medical trial stage yet.
Oscar was given the new cells on Christmas Eve, and after more than three weeks of gruelling fevers, lethargy, countless injections and blood and platelet transfusions, his family has received their best possible set of results.
“(It has been) one huge rollercoaster that hoops every time things begin to go well,” Olivia said.
“We are on a journey like no other that keeps swinging curve balls but Oscar is smashing it and doing amazingly well."
SYDNEY: Rain fell across parts of bushfire-ravaged eastern Australia on Thursday (Jan 16) and more wet weather was forecast, giving some relief following months of catastrophic blazes fuelled by climate change.
The fires, unprecedented for Australia in terms of duration and intensity, have claimed 28 lives and killed an estimated one billion animals.
Sustained hot weather and only very rare periods of light rain in the affected areas have deepened the crisis.
So authorities had been looking forward to this week's rain hoping it would help contain or even extinguish some fires.
In the state of New South Wales, where many of the worst fires have burnt, there were "good falls" on some blazes early Thursday, the local meteorology bureau reported.
In the southern city of Melbourne, thunderstorms late on Wednesday helped to clear bushfire smoke that had choked the city since the start of the week and disrupted the build-up to next week's Australian Open tennis tournament.
"Storms have improved air quality in most parts of the state," the Victorian Environment Protection Agency said
More rain was forecast until the weekend which, if it does occur, would be the most sustained period of wet weather since the crisis began in September last year.
"This will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one. Fingers crossed," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said early this week in reference to the forecast wet weather.
Officials warned, however, that short, intense thunderstorms could lead to flash flooding, while lightning brought the risk of new fires being ignited.
"We're expecting unsettled weather for the next four or five days or so at least," Jake Phillips, a senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology told ABC radio.
"The rainfall in some areas might be useful and in other spots it might only be a millimetre or two.
"There are risks associated with it, so it's not always necessarily a great thing, particularly if we get the rainfall really quickly. What we really need is soaking, steady rain."
The fires have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and burnt 10 million hectares of land - an area larger than South Korea or Portugal.
In New South Wales alone, 30 blazes were still burning out of control on Thursday, according to the state's rural fire service.
Australia endures bushfires every year but they started much earlier than normal last year and have lasted far longer.
Forests and farming land were already extremely dry due to a prolonged drought, providing the foundations for the fire crisis when extreme hot weather hit well before the southern summer.
Australia experienced its driest and hottest year on record in 2019, with its highest average maximum temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius recorded in mid-December.
Scientists say the bushfires are the type of extreme disasters the world can expect more of as global warming intensifies.
The past decade was the hottest on record globally, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
"What's happening is persistent, not a fluke due to some weather phenomenon," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which provided one of the datasets for the UN report.
"We know that the long-term trends are being driven by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
SINGAPORE: Last year was Singapore’s joint warmest year, with an annual mean temperature of 28.4 degrees Celsius, the Meteorological Service (MSS) said on Thursday (Jan 16).
That is the same as the annual mean temperature in 2016 and 0.9 degrees Celsius higher than the 1981 to 2010 long-term average.
Last year was also “particularly dry”, with “below average annual total rainfall” at most places across the island, making it the third driest year ever recorded since 1869 when rainfall records began, said MSS.
For example, 1368mm of rainfall was recorded at Changi climate station, 37 per cent below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average.
At 27.94 degrees Celsius, the mean temperature for 2010 to 2019 surpassed the previous warmest decade from 2009 to 2018, said MSS in a media release. Temperature records started in 1929.
Above-average temperatures were also recorded in all months of 2019, with August and September breaking records for those months.
Contributing to 2019’s higher temperatures was the development of one of the strongest, positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) events since the 1960s, which “contributed significantly” to the below-average rainfall and higher temperatures observed, especially during the third quarter, said MSS. A positive IOD typically contributes to drier and warmer conditions over Singapore from June to September.
MSS said that these temperature trends are “in general agreement” with the latest World Meteorological Organization Statement on the State of the Global Climate, which confirmed that 2019 was the second warmest year on record globally.
SINGAPORE: Members from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on Thursday (Jan 16) failed in a bid to have their case against Manpower Minister Josephine Teo heard in open court.
Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan, chairman Paul Tambyah and vice-chairman John Tan arrived in court early on Thursday morning for the in-chamber hearing for the case that is linked to directions under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
Thursday's hearing had initially been set for a hearing in chambers, and was the party's next step after they failed to get correction directions from Mrs Teo cancelled.
The minister had rejected SDP's application to cancel correction directions she issued under the new Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) for three posts SDP had made online regarding local employment.
However, the party indicated that it intended to apply for its summons against Mrs Teo heard in open court, where the public can attend.
Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair told reporters outside the court that Justice Ang Cheng Hock had rejected SDP's application as he did not think there was "any special reason" for it to be heard in open court.
Senior Counsel Nair said the test for it to be heard in open court was not public interest, but whether there were any special reasons.
He explained that all originating summons - which the in-chamber hearing aginst Mrs Teo was meant for - are heard in chambers.
This is except for a specific list of originating summons, which today's POFMA case did not fall under.
Dr Chee told the media that the outcome was "very disappointing".
He said this case involves "Singaporeans' very survival", and said he had argued on the back of "survey after survey" on Singaporeans' employability, as well as "the fact that foreigners, especially foreign PMETs, are in Singapore in such numbers".
He referred also to the "immense public interest" in the case, which should be heard in open court.
"You will hear back and forth about statistics," he said. "MOM's case is that there are interpretations and opinions ... that being the case, the public should be able to attend and hear both sides," he said.
"The fact that MOM has not publicly stated its reasons for rejecting (our application) ... all the more the public should be able to hear for themselves."
SDP made three main arguments to have the hearing in open court: First, that the matter involved a government ministry and a political party contesting in the next election; that members of the public should be able to attend and listen to arguments for themselves as it is important that there be trust in institutions including the courts; and that there is legal precedence for the hearing to be heard in open court.
SDP's summons against Mrs Teo will now resume in chambers in the High Court on Thursday, with the AGC representing the ministry.
The case drew interest, with a small crowd gathering outside the courtroom on Thursday morning. They include The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu, social activist Jolovan Wham and veteran journalist Bertha Henson.
HOW IT STARTED
The latest episode in the saga stems from two Facebook posts and an article on SDP's website titled: "SDP Population Policy: Hire Singaporeans First, Retrench Singaporeans Last".
In the article, SDP claimed that its proposal came "amidst a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) getting retrenched".
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in December instructed the POFMA Office to issue SDP with three correction directions for the "false statements made in two Facebook posts and a website article".
The office is part of the Infocomm Media Development Authority and oversees the administration of POFMA, which came into effect in October.
The ministry said a graphic contained in one of the Facebook posts showed a graph depicting plunging local PMET employment, which it said was wrong, as such employment had risen steadily since 2015 according to its Comprehensive Labour Force Survey.
It clarified that there was no rising trend of local PMET retrenchments, and said the figure for 2018 was the lowest since 2014.
In response, SDP called for Mrs Teo to retract the correction directions, standing by its posts and saying they were correct.
It said MOM had accused it of “making statements that we did not make or cited different sets of data which it then used to accuse the SDP's post as false”, and alleged that the ministry was abusing POFMA for political-partisan purposes to stymie legitimate criticism of the PAP's foreign PMET policy.
SDP complied with the orders by posting correction notices, but added statements online to say it would be applying to have the correction directions cancelled.
Since POFMA came into effect in October last year, several correction directions have been issued.
These include: One to opposition party founder and lawyer Lim Tean by the Ministry of Education over the ministry's spending on local and foreign students; another to Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer by the Minister of Finance over issues including the independence of Temasek and GIC; and a direction by the Home Affairs Minister to the States Times Review.
Correction directions are issued to people who communicate falsehoods affecting public interest, and the order does not impose criminal sanctions, the POFMA Office previously said.
The laws under POFMA provide for penalties including jail terms and fines of up to S$1 million for varying offences.
WASHINGTON: Changes in US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) procedures meant to speed approvals for medications may have resulted in less exacting standards, a new analysis suggests.
Congressional acts that changed the way the FDA evaluates drugs have led to less rigorous evaluations, with drug approvals being based on fewer and/or earlier-stage clinical trials that may not be randomised, controlled, blinded or based on traditional measures of efficacy, experts noted in the article published in JAMA.
For example, the proportion of new drug approvals supported by at least two so-called pivotal trials - the clinical trials the FDA primarily relies on for its approval decisions - decreased from 80.6 per cent in 1995-1997 to 52.8 per cent in 2015-2017.
Those changes may lead to less confidence in the FDA's approval process, said lead author Jonathan Darrow of Harvard Medical School in Boston and Brigham & Women's Hospital Division of Pharmacoepidemiology & Pharmacoeconomics.
If drugs approved with less evidence turn out to be problematic it may lead to "an erosion of the 'FDA approved' brand", Darrow said.
Darrow said the FDA didn't always have a stringent review process. In 1962, when researchers determined that thalidomide, an anti-nausea drug given to pregnant women, caused birth defects, the agency's mandate to test the efficacy and safety of new drugs was stepped up.
But over the last four decades, a number of laws have led to looser standards in some cases, Darrow said. One example is the Orphan Drug Act, which was aimed at fostering research on drugs for diseases that impact fewer than 200,000 Americans.
"If the standards are different than they were in the past, it's important for patients and physicians to be aware of that," Darrow said. "Patients and physicians need to focus on the evidence and not the fact of FDA approval. How big are the benefits, and how certain are we of the benefits?"
Darrow is even more concerned about the FDA's most basic standard for drug approval. "It just has to be better than nothing," he said. Because the comparison is to no treatment at all, it's possible that an older drug might be more effective than a newly approved one, Darrow said.
Despite those issues, more drugs have been approved in recent years, especially in the category of biologics, which are often used to treat autoimmune diseases.
The average annual number of new drug approvals, including biologics, was 34 from 1990-1999, 25 from 2000-2009 and 41 from 2010-2018.
The proportion of drugs approved with the Orphan Drug Act designation increased from 18 per cent in 1984-1995 to 41 per cent in 2008-2018.
One major bright spot is that the median annual number of generic drugs approved rose from 284 prior to the Generic Drug User Fee Act of 2012 to 488 from 2013-2018, Darrow said.
The new report provides both good and bad news, said Dr. Albert Wu, an internist and a professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore.
In the good news category, Wu points to the increased number of orphan drugs that have been approved.
"Who doesn't love breakthrough treatments for rare and incurable diseases?" Wu said in an email.
"Over the last 40 years, there has been a series of reforms which have given the FDA more control over the approval process - the goals being to speed the development and marketing of new medications for devastating diseases like spinal muscular atrophy," Wu said.
"They have done this by shortening the time it takes to review a new drug, accepting less data for a drug to be approved, and requiring fewer outcome measures."
Then there's the bad news.
"Faster in this case means that less data gets collected," Wu said. "Some drugs may get accelerated approval, on thinner evidence, and wind up not being any better than existing and often cheaper alternatives."
Moreover, changes in the way the FDA works have led indirectly to higher drug prices, Wu said, pointing to the fact that the agency has slowed approvals of certain generic drugs that would be competing with new ones.
Singaporean accused of filming women in toilet: Court urged to lift gag order, stop his return to top UK uni
SINGAPORE - A student from a top university in Britain who allegedly filmed women while they were inside toilets should not be allowed to leave Singapore, the prosecution argued in court on Tuesday (Jan 14).
This came after the prosecution said it was alerted to text messages last Friday between the 22-year-old Singaporean and a "trusted friend", in which the former discussed his plans to abscond and seek asylum in another country.
According to the prosecution, the conversation occurred before she realised that she was also one of his alleged victims.
In addition, the prosecution also sought for the court to lift its gag order on the student's identity, arguing that it is in the public interest for his identity to be published by the media.
These were the latest developments in the case involving the student, who was first charged with two counts of insulting a woman's modesty in October last year, for filming women using the toilet and taking a shower.
He cannot be named due to a gag order to protect the women's identities. His university's name cannot be disclosed either, as the information could lead to his being identified.
The man, who is represented by lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan, was then granted permission to leave Singapore to go back to the university in October last year.
Last week, he sought for permission from the court to leave Singapore again to return to the university.
He now faces a total of 19 counts of insulting a woman's modesty by filming them using the toilet, showering and changing at various locations from as early as Dec 2, 2015, and one count of possession of obscene films.
On Tuesday, however, the request to leave Singapore was opposed by Deputy Public Prosecutor Foo Shi Hao, who presented text messages that were exchanged between the man and a friend on Oct 2.
In the messages, the man talked about a "masterplan" involving seeking asylum in another country.
In one of the messages, the man said: "I could stay here, but that would be a certain metaphorical death."
When the friend asked if he was certain he would be granted asylum, he replied: "Well, that's in the masterplan."
He also talked about a "decision-making rubric". "Stay for certain destruction... Or leave, and everything is uncertain, but potentially averting this problem," he told the friend.
DPP Foo argued that the text messages showed that the man is afraid of facing justice, and has a carefully considered plan to evade justice.
"As a man with a plan to abscond, we say that he is a flight risk... If he is allowed to leave Singapore again, he will have one more chance to execute his 'masterplan'," said DPP Foo.
He added that this would have a "heavy" impact on the 12 women who have been identified so far as victims of the man's alleged offences.
Meanwhile, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhi Hao urged the court to amend its gag order such that the man's identity will be revealed to the public, without revealing the nature of relationships between the man and the 12 identified women.
"The gag order only extends to accused persons in very narrow circumstances, where the revealing of the name of the accused would likely lead to the identification of the victim," said DPP Tan.
He added that 10 of the 12 women have requested that the man's identity to be made known to the public.
Of the remaining two women, one was hesitant, while the other has not been consulted at the request of her family, said DPP Tan.
While the pool of potential victims may be narrowed through disclosing the man's name, it remains "sufficiently difficult" to identify a victim, he added.
"The public interest in this case far outweighs the risk to these potential victims... The foundations of criminal justice - transparency and openness - these aims cannot be met if the accused hides behind the gag order," said DPP Tan.
In response, the man's lawyer, Mr Kalidass, argued that his client was undergoing "deep anguish" and experiencing suicidal thoughts at the time of the text messages with his friend.
"He said certain things like he came up with a masterplan. He was in fact alluding to killing himself. That's why the word 'death' was constantly being used," said Mr Kalidass.
The defence counsel added that his client had also talked about having suicidal thoughts with another friend. In one message, he wrote: "I need to die."
Mr Kalidass added that the Samaritans of Singapore, a non-profit organisation that provides emotional support to individuals, had also e-mailed his client the following day to follow up on a call he had made to the organisation about his "very strong suicidal thoughts".
In turn, the prosecution questioned why the man would have discussed asylum in the text messages if he had only intended to kill himself.
District Judge Adam Nakhoda is expected to make a decision on the prosecution's requests on Thursday.
A Singaporean man was sentenced to 33 months in jail yesterday for funding Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) activities.
Imran Kassim, 36, was convicted of transferring $450 through remittance company Western Union to Mohamad Alsaied Alhmidan in Turkey on Oct 31, 2014, for the publication of ISIS propaganda.
Although he admitted in his trial on Monday that he made the transfer, Imran insisted he did not break the law as he did not recognise Singapore law and recognised only Syariah law.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Nicholas Khoo and Foo Shi Hao sought a sentence of 32 to 33 months' jail.
They argued a lengthy imprisonment term would send a signal to like-minded potential offenders not to go down the same path.
They said: "Terrorism, whether in the form of acts or ideals, is globally condemned, and it is in the public interest of Singapore to ensure that the financing of terrorism is dealt with firmly."
In 2014, Imran saw a Facebook post by Alsaied calling for donations and he messaged him via Facebook saying he wanted to make a donation.
Alsaied told Imran to download an encrypted mobile application and provided him with details to make the transfer.
Imran had claimed trial to his charge under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. He is the first Singaporean here to be charged with terror financing.
The DPPs also noted that Imran had carried out the offence deliberately and had taken steps to avoid detection.
Imran started taking an interest in ISIS in 2013, following the group's videos on executions.
In early 2014, he even tried to join ISIS under the cover of providing humanitarian aid. That same year, he posted his pledge of allegiance to them on his Facebook account.
Imran's younger brother, who did not want to be named, gave a statement on behalf of the family, describing Imran as a kind person and principled man.
The brother said: "However, let me be clear that we stand with Singapore against Imran's actions.
"He ultimately wanted to protect people, to save civilians and not kill them.
"But he sided with an enemy of Singapore known for using fear, intimidation and manipulation as a means to their end."
LONDON: Bushfires ravaging Australia have provided a foretaste of the kinds of conditions that could become normal unless the world moves rapidly to curb emissions of the greenhouse gases driving global warming, scientists have warned.
Although Australia's government and parts of its media have attempted to downplay the role of man-made climate change in making the country more vulnerable to wildfires, a review of 57 scientific papers published since 2013 suggested clear links.
"We're not going to reverse climate change on any conceivable timescale. So the conditions that are happening now, they won't go away," Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre, who co-authored the review, told a news conference in London on Monday (Jan 13).
The review found that climate change had led to an increase in the frequency and severity of what scientists call "fire weather" - periods with a high fire risk due to some combination of hotter temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and strong winds.
The effects had not only been observed in Australia, but from the western United States and Canada, to southern Europe, Scandinavia, the Amazon and Siberia, the review found.
Globally, fire weather seasons have lengthened across about 25 per cent of the Earth's vegetated surface, resulting in about a 20 per cent increase in the mean length of the fire weather season, according to observational data.
Betts said Australia was particularly vulnerable to fires since its land area had warmed by more than the rise in average global temperature of about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.
The World Meteorological Organization says the global temperature increase could hit 3-5 degrees Celsius this century - more than three times limits agreed in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement - if nothing is done to stop rising emissions.
"Temperature conditions in Australia are extreme at the moment but they are what we expect to happen on average in a world of three degrees of global warming," Betts said. "It brings it home to you what climate change means."
The review was carried out using ScienceBrief.org, a new online research platform set up by Britain's University of East Anglia and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
At least 28 people have been killed in the Australian fires that have destroyed 2,000 homes and razed 11.2 million hectares, nearly half the area of the United Kingdom.
After weeks of criticism over his handling of the crisis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday he would propose a high-powered inquiry into the disaster, including the impact of climate change.