Meet the sandman

HIS hands move swiftly across the table. Multiple gestures like flicking, swiping and doting are made to produce an image.

Bee Ghee Leng doesn’t work with brushes, paint or any other tool typically associated with an artist, but what he creates is without a doubt art.

He calls it sand animation, and after completing a picture, he continues to scatter layers of sand to create a new image, which tells a story.

With such evocative artwork, it is hard to believe Bee is entirely self-taught.

“Everything started when I saw a performance by China artist Su Dabao on a TV talk show in early 2010,” said the 39-year-old who is a hairstylist by profession.

“I was fascinated to discover art could exist in this form, and I was motivated to learn more about it.”

It wasn’t easy, though. There was no one in the country that could teach him, so he went online to research and observe other sand artists at work. 

“After that, I still couldn’t practise without the proper equipment, which are not sold locally.

“Thankfully, I know of a carpenter who fulfilled my strange request in making the tools required. I travelled to Morib beach in Banting, to take sand.”

Learning the craft daily for a month by imitating other sand artists on YouTube, he later began doing things his way, creating his own stories.

“Music is important to give the stories an emotional appeal. The film Titanic was ideal for me to combine imagery and sound.

“My first project combined the film’s key points to make vivid sand art.”

Bee started uploading many of his works to YouTube, where he received positive comments. As people took notice, they hired him to perform at their events.

“I didn’t start this to make money. It was just a hobby.

“But I’m thankful that people constantly approach me to do work for them.

“With greater exposure and my clients’ recommendations, I easily have eight to 10 gigs at a peak period.”

For his performances, a video camera is installed above a customised table to record the process.

It is also shown “live” on a big screen, and Bee enjoys witnessing the audiences’ responses.

“They find it special since it’s a rare performance. I believe that sand animation is an emotional journey that enthralls people.”

Continuing with his passion, he explores his creativity using new approaches and techniques. 

“Whenever people approach me after my performance and praised my work, it gives me a sense of accomplishment because they leave feeling satisfed.

“I will only slow down when I’m old. Then I will dedicate my time to spread the knowledge to aspiring artists.”


Hero to leprosy patients

WIDELY regarded as a social activist, Datuk Edward John Lawrence was best known for his work in the rehabilitation and empowerment of poor people suffering from leprosy.

From a modest beginning he rose to a position of eminence, acknowledged throughout Malaysia and beyond.

A big man, built around his six-feet-two-inch frame, he played badminton and hockey as a Methodist Boys School Sentul student and there was a certain toughness that matched his macho outlook.

Lawrence nonetheless came abundantly to merit the description as “best friend and father of leprosy patients.”

His life journey wound through decades of tumultuous and enduring changes globally in the battle against leprosy and his passing in Kuala Lumpur on July 20, aged 83, left an indelible mark in the field of the ailment, through a sage of grit, love and endurance.

It was during a time when leprosy carried a social stigma — sufferers were disowned by their families due to a widespread misbelief the disease was highly contagious.

Lawrence strove to dispel that notion while working closely with patients, educating society that leprosy was not infectious.

His love for charity and the less fortunate started with the Lion’s Club of Malaysia. This was the beginning of his affection for the inmates of Sungai Buloh where the influence of Senator Tan Sri T.H. Tan left a big impact on his life.

Together they launched the Malaysian Leprosy Relief Association (MaLRA) in the early 50s.

As founding secretary-general of the association in 1959 and for his outstanding work he was presented the prestigious International Gandhi Award by president Shri Ramaswami Venkataramanon of India on Jan 30, 1992.

Malaysia also honoured him with AMN in 1966, KMN in 1980, Datukship in 1980 and PJK in 2000.

He was also the first Malaysian to be awarded the Rehabilitation International (RI) Presidential Citation in Tokyo in October 1988 for his service in the campaign against disablement.

Born Edward John Lawrence on Oct 30, 1933, he lost his father J.P. Edwards when he was 10 years old, leaving him in care of his mother who was the centre of his universe.

Also known as EJ, he instilled in his children and grandchildren the need to remember the most important four people in life: “mother, father, teacher and God — for it was your mother who carried you in her womb for nine months and your father raised you, while the teacher taught you about the world and finally you are in this world because of God.”

The dedication he showed patients earned him their undying love and respect. He always had words of kindness and comfort for them, irrespective of their deformities and distress.

These were patients shunned not only by the general public but also by their next of kin because of their disfigurement or foul-smelling ulcers, but this did not stop Lawrence from touching their faces and their heads with a smile and without any hesitance.

Lawrence revelled in such service and yet he would never admit that it was a service. He called it a privilege, while some referred to him as ‘Mr Leprosy.’

A devout Roman Catholic, his uncommon courage and compassion put him on the front lines of the disease.

Eldest son and fellow lawyer Vincent, 59, eulogising his father at his memorial service at the Assumption Church in Petaling Jaya on July 23 told the large congregation his father ensured as many inmates were present at his home every Christmas morning to join the family for breakfast prepared by his mother.

That was among his Christmas Day highlights and after breakfast, his legendary Christmas parties began.

After starting out as a teacher at the Victoria Institution (VI) in Kuala Lumpur, Lawrence trained in law in the United Kingdom. He developed a successful legal practice for nearly 30 years when he belonged to the post-war generation of concerned lawyers who turned human rights into legal issues.

Vincent also narrated the occasion when as teacher at VI, Lawrence slapped his student, a royalty. The next day, the royalty’s father sent his aide to meet Lawrence bringing along with him a cane which he gave Lawrence and a message from the royalty’s father saying: “The next time don’t use your hands, use this.”

A strict disciplinarian at home, as well, Lawrence pushed his four children — girls Monica and Helena and boys Vincent and Anthony — towards achieving the best they could.

He loved good food and a drink was never too far from his hands in the company of good friends.

It was to the less privileged, however, that he gave most of his time.

Lawrence married twice. Both his wives Josephine and Maligah, predeceased him.

He is survived by his four children and grandchildren — boys Paul Pravin Ambu, Jeevandra Jeevaratnam, Nicholas Navin Ambu and girls Ann Josephine, Elizabeth Jane, Jacalyn Joana and Pavithra Jeevaratnam.


Dhyan’s call to action

AS founder and chairman of non-profit organisation Friends to Mankind, Dhyan Vimal inspires people to empower others. The idea behind the movement is simple — the world is a better place with friends.

“The idea is to help companies and individuals to act as a friend to human being. Our motto is ‘to do what you can from where you are,’” he said, adding that the organisation, headquartered in Canada, was established in 2004 and has representatives in 15 countries.

Dhyan also started “Project Dignity” to empower individuals to learn life skills through mentorship programmes, internships, practical training and workshops in various fields of work.

It is this drive to empower others that made working on Temuan Takdir — his first feature film which opens in cinemas this week — a joy for the cast and crew. The action film stars Vanidah Imran and Datuk Zahim Albakry, and revolves around the themes of duty, love and brotherhood while solving crimes centred around a security van heist.

The film also features first-time actors such as Miss Malaysia 2009 Thanuja Ananthan, TV host Azura Zainal and Kiranjit Kaur, as well as a host of behind-the-scenes apprentices, most of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds and looking to get a foot in the door of the film industry.

Malay Mail chats with the first-time director and producer on his outlook on life.

MM: What moved you to get into social work?

Dhyan: I grew up in a fishing village in Mersing, Johor where I was exposed to many cultural aspects and I had an adoptive father figure whom I adored. Pak Man took me in and taught me martial arts.

Through him, I learned how to be a good human being and to pass on what I have today to people around me. Sadly he passed away two years ago.

How do you define success?

I think people are too willing to tolerate and do wrong in the name of pursuing success. Being a “friend to mankind” means weighing if your success is a success for everybody or if it just benefits you and be a loss for everyone else.

Pursue success, but let it be a responsible success. We need to raise awareness that somebody’s “success” should not be set as a standard for others to strive for — success is subjective.

Financial success has started to become how we define our lives that we no longer care how somebody becomes rich. We should question that.

When you only celebrate (financial) success, you are not being a friend, you are being an enemy to somebody else.

How does Friends to Mankind inspire people?

We mobilise people worldwide who want to do something for the community.

We want people to take up a project they are passionate about — individuals or a group without much central governance. That means we don’t want to control their work.

As for ‘Project Dignity’, I always believe that people must find ways to contribute back to the world and community and only then will they have dignity. I realised that many people don’t have the opportunity to learn how to contribute and give back to the community, hence we created this project.

How does the community benefit from ‘Project Dignity’?

We teach various skills, ranging from photography to cooking. We have cooking classes for housewives where they learn to cook like a chef and be able to set up their own catering business.

The film Temuan Takdir became part of ‘Project Dignity’ where it served as a platform and opened up chances to people who love to be part of film-making but never had the chance to do so.

It was so much more than a filming process — a bunch of people were guided through the process from pre-production up to post-production, including marketing and branding.

It’s an ambitious project. A lot of people joined in, became interns and apprentices and had their chance to break into the industry.

Did you ever think you would direct a feature film?

I never thought I would one day sit in the director’s chair and produce my very own feature film.

I was always fascinated with the behind-the-scenes process in film-making but to actually do it was an amazing experience. I learned a lot in a short time and I had fun with my team — even when we were making mistakes and correcting it. It has been a very enriching journey so far.

What is your favourite movie genre?

I like films that convey a good message to its audience.

Movies are a good platform to educate and inspire the public to get involved in making the country better for future generations. Regardless of genre, the most important aspect in film is the message it will pass on.

What is the message you’re trying to convey through Temuan Takdir?

It’s all about making wise choices and the right decisions in life. It’s in the title — you are master of your fate.

Are there more films in your future?

Yes. We are working on two more films. One film is about human trafficking while another is a romantic comedy.

I am now in the midst of completing a film that involves collaboration with Hollywood. It will be a big budget film and is expected to be released in 2018.


Long road to success

THOMAS YIP is living proof that dreams do come true, if you are willing to work hard and grab every opportunity — even if it takes 30 years.

As a 14-year-old, Yip woke up at 5am to catch a bus to the old Tanjung Rambutan bus station in Ipoh from his home in Taman Cempaka.

From there, he would walk 2km to his workplace in Jalan Kampar — a coffee shop where he was a waiter from 7am to 5pm everyday. This was his ritual for seven weeks during the school holidays, and it was all to buy a book.

“I came from a humble family and we struggled financially. My father worked as a carpenter while my mother stayed at home to look after my younger sister and me,” said Yip.

“When I was in Form Two, I wanted to buy a book titled Write Better, Speak Better by Reader’s Digest. It carried a hefty price tag of RM53. My mother told me that we could not afford it.

“When I asked her if I could get a job to earn that sum, she arranged for me to work at a coffee shop. For my entire duration of work, I earned a princely sum of RM50. I still had to scrape up RM3.

“I am 48 years old now and the book is still with me. It is one of my prized possessions.”

After having a taste of earning his own money, the following year, Yip worked as a gardener in an orchid farm.

Every school holiday would see Yip toiling for extra pocket money, whether it was as a door-to-door salesman touting English language improvement tapes or selling windscreen wipers at petrol stations.

“After Form Six, I stuffed cotton pillows and laid carpets for offices. Shortly after that, an opportunity arose for me to work in Singapore as a factory operator and I took it.

After the stint in Singapore, Yip returned to Ipoh and joined a construction company, working his way up from a show house sales personnel to site supervisor.

The pay was not great but Yip said: “It was during this period that my friend and I moonlighted as sub-contractors renovating new houses and installing marble floorings. Surprisingly, the side income regularly exceeded our monthly salary of RM350.”

Yip saved up all the money he earned to last him two years to pursue an education in Singapore. Not only did he manage to obtain a placement at the French Singapore Institute, he was also granted a scholarship of S$300 a month (RM893) for the duration of his studies.

“I remembered working very hard and graduated as the second top student of my batch. Because of that, I was selected to represent 200 students to deliver a graduation speech.

“Thinking back, I was only a mediocre student. My uncle enrolled me into one of the best schools in Ipoh and I was placed in a class full of high achievers.

“During my primary years, I was always at the bottom of the class even though my grades were respectable.

“In secondary school, my results improved but I was still not good enough compared to my classmates. My best achievement was number seven one year and that greatly boosted my confidence.”

When Yip graduated from the French Singapore Institute, he was the only one from his batch to be retained as a research assistant and was offered to pursue a master’s degree equivalent.

As much as he wanted to accept the offer, he declined due to financial constraints.

Yip then joined the workforce in Singapore, taking on 12-hour shift work. Despite the long hours, he and some friends involved themselves in industrial automation projects.

Soon, Yip relocated to Kuala Lumpur to set up an industrial automation company with friends.

One day, his company wanted to bid for a mega project but due to lack of time to prepare, Yip wrote a software, Electra, that sped up the process of preparing the proposal.

Yip’s company failed to secure the project, but he realised he had a solid software on his hands.

It was a silver lining he did not expect. The electrical computer-aided design software allows engineers to design circuits up to five times faster compared to conventional software, mostly by automating tedious tasks, so they can focus on safety and design rather than drafting.

Yip began to market the software under his company, Radica Software, and today, the software is used by thousands of engineers in more than 48 countries.

With its success, Yip finally realised his dream of being an entrepreneur; a dream he has harboured since he was 17.

Knowing first hand the struggles that budding entrepreneurs have to face, Yip is a coach at Cradle Malaysia’s Coach and Grow Programme where he helps early-stage companies grow.

He also gets invited regularly to local startup programmes where he “shares our experiences to encourage local entrepreneurs to dream big”.

“At the same time, our company runs various programmes for staff to encourage personal growth within our team. It is only when they grow that the company continues to scale greater heights.

“Being selected to go to Silicon Valley last year for the e@Stanford programme by MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) provided us with an opportunity to learn from the best companies in the world and from Stanford University.

“I hope to apply this new knowledge not only on myself but also share with everyone I come in contact with.”

Radica, which is now based in Ipoh, is currently in the final process of releasing a cloud diagramming tool called Vecta, which will allow everyday users to create beautiful diagrams, accurately and just as easily.

Even as Yip continues to create products for global use, this Ipoh boy intends to stay local. He aims to make Radica the best place to work and play in Ipoh while creating an impact at the international level.


‘Living in Malaysia was on our bucket list’

KARACHI native Rafay Ali Khan, 29, and his wife Sahar Niaz, 30, have always found joy living and working in different places.

“Living in Malaysia was definitely on our bucket list,” said Rafay, who works for an international consulting firm.

Prior to moving to Malaysia, Rafay lived in the United Kingdom for four years as a postgraduate student while Sahar, born and raised in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, also spent many years in Canada, where her parents chose to retire.

She moved to Kuala Lumpur last September after marrying Rafay, who has been working here since 2013.

“I was excited, I had been to Malaysia when I was younger but I didn’t remember. It’s a completely new experience. Before this I lived in places I was already familiar with so this was a nice way to start a different journey,” said the Business English teacher who met her husband through family.

Sahar, a food lover who enjoys entertaining at their apartment in the heart of the city, said she was always “interested in finding out more about the food in Malaysia” and how Malaysians eat and interact with one another, given its multicultural society.

Her husband thought she would be hesitant but Sahar was not one of those expatriates who was afraid of new surroundings — she hopped on the LRT, figured out shortcuts and even shopped in wet markets like locals do.

“When I moved here, it took me a while to get used to the city — I took taxis.

“But she just took the LRT and I was thinking ‘How do you even know these places!’” said Rafay.

“The warmth and hospitality that people show you here is phenomenal; they are very appreciative of other people coming and visiting their country,” he said.

Once, he left his bag containing his passport, boarding pass and credit cards on board the KLIA Express train when he was on the way to the klia2 airport. He was returning to Pakistan to meet Sahar for the very first time.

“I went back to the train station and the lady at the counter helped me call the airport but no one was picking up.

“Meanwhile, the train came back but my bag wasn’t on the seat where I left it. Suddenly a guy appears in front of me and asks me ‘Is this your bag? I was sitting in front of you and you forgot about it, here you go.’”

For Rafay, Malaysia has given him a fresh perspective on how different races live and work together.

Living in a diverse society only guarantees endless celebrations such as Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya — Sahar is enjoying every moment of it.

“It was similar in Canada but not to this extent; I love the fact that every type of food is here and people aren’t afraid to try new things.

“When I walk to the train stations, there are all these women selling food and I was so amazed because I’ve never seen that before,” said Sahar, who used to work for the Canadian government.

Asked if there was something the lovebirds were still getting used to in Kuala Lumpur, they both agreed they still have not gotten the hang of the unpredictable weather and traffic jams.

Sahar said she was still getting used to the transportation system as “it’s too packed” as well as certain systems that were not in place.

“It took us a while to get a bank account, several weeks actually. And sometimes people are not sure how to answer your questions so they go to the next person in charge.”

For the most part, the couple are enjoying their time in Kuala Lumpur, often spending weekends trying out myriads of cuisines and catching up with local friends and fellow expats.

“We also like to find new places to eat in the city,” said Sahar, before rattling off a list of their favourite establishments, ranging from hotels to mamak shops.

During Ramadan, they pushed through the crowds at the city’s many food bazaars and fell in love with street grub like roti boom.

“It was crowded but it was so interesting!” said Sahar, who is also a fan of craft markets.

Travel-wise, options abound for the duo who love visiting new sights.

“We are still in the midst of exploring Malaysia. So far we have been to Malacca, Ipoh, Fraser’s Hill and Langkawi — I don’t think we will ever stop exploring,” said Rafay.


Burning Faith

AS the 15th night of the seventh lunar month arrives, the gates of Hell will be open and Tai Su Yeah, the King of Hades will emerge and roam the Earth.

The Taoists believe on this day the spirits of their ancestors will roam among the living, being watch over by the King of Hades.

During the period, the living would make offerings of food, prayers and entertainment.

The living will also perform a ritual to help absolve the suffering of the deceased.

This is done by burning hellbank notes, joss sticks, prayer paraphernalia and paper clothes, houses, cars, fine goods and more.

When their time is up, the spirits will be sent back to Hell ushered by the Tai Su Yeah whose giant effigy will be burnt to symbolise his departure.

In Bukit Mertajam, Penang, the King of Hades was sent off in style recently with a grand festival where hundreds of devotees pray as the 8.23m effigy went up in flames.

The festival, lasting five hours, started with dance performances before a prayer session.

The effigy was then moved to a safe location and set on fire.


Iran’s paranoia over game isn’t entirely crazy

IT was only a matter of time before some country banned Pokemon Go, the addictive location-based game. Now, Iran has claimed that distinction. Others will surely seek to regulate the augmented-reality game too, for a simple reason: Pokemon Go poses too many questions that do not have satisfactory answers yet.

Iran may have had some Islam-related reasons to ban Pokemon Go: a fatwa, or religious ruling, was issued against earlier Pokemon games. It rejected, among other things, the basic idea one could speed up the creatures’ mutation to make them more powerful as it hints at evolutionary theory. But Abolhasan Firouzabadi, the country’s Internet czar, has been quoted as saying security concerns prompted the ban.

The Israeli Army has also banned Pokemon Go for security reasons. The game, it argued, activates phone cameras and location services, and could betray base locations to someone watching. The United States military has gone for softer warnings, only saying the game was “not authorised” in restricted areas.

In China, there are concerns — unofficial at this point, since the game hasn’t even been released there — it might compromise the security of military installations.

In Russia, the pro-Kremlin website Politonline published a rant about Pokemon Go as a tool for “controlling the world created by a former US State Department employee”. (John Hanke, chief executive officer of Niantic, the company which rolled out the game, did work for the US government once). A Russian legislator has suggested the game could also be used to organise a flash mass gathering as a “provocation” for “mass disturbances”.

These concerns may be overblown, but they are by no means unfounded on technical grounds. Niantic can indeed make people go where it wants by setting up a Pokemon gym at a specific location or sending a rare Pokemon. It has been able to populate locations with various types of creatures based on their closeness to water and other parameters, so it has a certain amount of control over what Pokemon appear where.

Just as Uber has demonstrated the ability to track any client, any other app which uses personalised location tracking — and identities in the game are based on Google data, arguably the closest tech equivalent to a passport — can, in theory, do the same.

It’s natural to disbelieve scenarios that look like something from a cheap dystopia. Yet Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t tape over his laptop camera for nothing. If you have a reason to suspect somebody might be after you — billionaire Zuckerberg does, and so certainly do some militaries and repressive governments — it’s reasonable to be doubly paranoid.

Consumer advocates are also worried the game cannot be played anonymously. Why exactly does Niantic need a player’s identity from Google or a social network? If the monetisation model is to sell various virtual items, as the user agreement appears to suggest, or if it’s advertising-based, that’s not necessary.

All of these concerns aren’t limited to Pokemon Go. It’s only a harbinger of a soon-to-come augmented reality revolution: Phones — at least Android ones — will soon hold numerous apps that can change the way we experience physical locations, ranging from our own homes to museums and restaurants. They will all make it possible to track or direct us, as well as gather our personal data. True, many apps already do that, but ones that combine location with filming capabilities and identification are especially troubling.

As usual, a US-based disruptor is offering an exciting technology to the rest of the world — but isn’t worried about the consequences. That’s OK during the initial rollout, but as the experience of Uber and Airbnb shows, regulation and bans come quickly on the heels of that first rush of excitement. One could see it as meddlesome governments and lawyers clipping the wings of a fairytale innovation — or as concerned citizens and officials rushing to stop the dystopia. — Bloomberg


Pokemon Go players just want to have fun

LAST WEEK, two very monumental, life-changing events occurred. People from around the world united to witness the beginning of this year’s Olympics, and the pinnacles of the careers of potential-filled athletes taking the stage. Also, Pokemon Go was released in Malaysia.

And while the Olympics is major, I’m not exactly into the world of sports. So, I’m going to talk about the latter of the two events.

With the release of the now-viral app came a lot of backlash. I’m not going into the political side of the whole picture, but rather the backlash which came from those among the older generations who would almost always find something wrong with anything and everything us youth are into.

There has always been criticism on how “kids these days” spend their time, playing video games indoors all day without any physical contact with the outside world. Gaming has been perceived to be time-wasting and non-beneficial, and some even attribute it to making people more violent. But now, we have a game that forces people to go outside, is relatively lacking in violence (unless you think throwing a plastic ball at cutesy virtual creatures is a violent activity) and even that isn’t good enough.

You just can’t make everyone happy, can you? You don’t go outside and the new generation are lazy couch potatoes with no ambition. Go outside to play video games and suddenly, we should be staying inside and working.

Stop being such party-poopers and let others have fun for once. This is the new hopscotch. People are even getting exercise from running around to hatch their in-game eggs, so it’s not as if it’s a physically unhealthy thing.

There has been a number of people who caused serious injuries to themselves and there are those who are not aware of their surroundings when playing. However, there have also been those who did the same from not being aware when cooking, or driving, or while doing anything else for that matter. That still doesn’t stop people from making pasta for dinner or driving to work in the morning.

The good of having this game around outweighs the bad. I’ve never seen people socialise like this before. They’re out, having fun, while spending time with old friends and making new ones in the process. Gaming has become much more than a virtual experience, and so many people have found happiness through something as small as an app. Isn’t the overall goal in life to be happy?

Happiness isn’t found only through achieving huge goals, like making it to the Olympics. Happiness is found in small everyday feats, like having a good cup of coffee on a rainy day or finally getting that Pikachu you wanted.

So, to all those naysayers, I can only express how sorry I am you have to spend your days being bitter about how much fun us kids (and older gamers) are having. Now, if you excuse me, I’ve got to go back to my Pokemon Go.

Amirah is a 16-year-old who aspires to leave a mark on the world.


Transgender athletes and unfair advantage at Olympics

IN this Olympics season, I wasn’t surprised the subject of transgender athletes came up in my recent online chat, specifically transwomen competing against those “born female,” as the writer described. The issue: With new Olympic guidelines in place, do transwomen athletes have an unfair advantage?

“I’m LBGTQ-friendly (use the bathroom of your gender identity, marry the person you love etc), but the one issue I can’t quite resolve in my head is athletics. Transgender females — biologically, they would tend to be taller, faster and stronger than those born female, particularly if they are not taking any hormones (although there is a spectrum of these strengths across both genders). What are your thoughts?”

Indeed, there was a time when all this seemed pretty simple. We had men and women, boys and girls — but we now know gender is anything but simple.

This charged debate is timely because of a landmark rule change instituted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this year.

In Rio, transgender men (female-to-male athletes) will be allowed to compete without any restrictions (based on the sexist assumption, I suppose, transmen could never dominate their sports). Transwomen, meanwhile, are no longer required to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to compete in female divisions, and the previously mandated two-year wait after transitioning has been jettisoned.

To compete, a transwoman athlete is required only to declare her gender as “female” and have testosterone levels comparable to or below those of cisgender women. (Cisgender refers to folk whose biological sex matches their gender identity, the opposite of transgender.) These long-awaited changes are a big step forward in creating an equitable playing field — and they bring the IOC in line with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which invoked a similar policy for college athletes.

Still, I understand why this rule change is so controversial, especially for female athletes. In my mind, I first imagined a young Bruce Jenner, tall and muscular, competing as Caitlyn Jenner and snaring all the gold medals in the women’s events. I imagined wrong, as it turns out, because I was unaware of the medical science behind the IOC decision.

One competitive cisgender female runner, who did not want her name used, explained how “incredibly unfair” this is to her, attributing the rule change to the IOC’s “trying to be politically correct”. Another cisgender female athlete, former Olympic judo competitor Ronda Rousey, went further when she complained to the media about her competitor Fallon Fox, a transwoman, claiming: “She can try hormones but it’s still the same bone structure a man has. It’s an advantage. I don’t think it’s fair.”

But here’s why we all had it wrong: The first-ever study of transgender athletes showed the hormone therapy which facilitates male-to-female transition does more than just suppress testosterone. Published last year in the Journal of Sporting Cultures and Identities, a study showed as testosterone levels approach female norms, trans-women experience a decrease in muscle mass, bone density and other physical characteristics.

“Together these changes lead to a loss of speed, strength and endurance — all key components of athleticism,” the study’s author, Joanna Harper, wrote in The Washington Post. Harper, who is chief medical physicist at Oregon’s Providence Portland Medical Centre, a trans-athlete and a participant in the IOC meeting which overhauled the trans guidelines, explained to me “it’s not the anatomy that matters, it’s the hormones.” After a year of hormone therapy, for example, female trans distance runners completely lose their speed advantage over cisgender women.

Okay, so science is science, but are the new rules fair? The IOC, no pushover when it comes to hormones and meds, said it wanted to make sure “trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition” and that the overriding objective is “the guarantee of fair competition.” But what constitutes fair in sport?

“Every athlete, whether cisgender or transgender, has advantages and disadvantages,” said Cyd Zeigler, author of Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes Are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports and a co-founder of Outsports.

Chris Mosier, the first out transman to compete on the men’s US national team at the International Triathlon Union Duathlon World Championship in June, expanded on that: “People come in all shapes and sizes,” he said.

“We don’t disqualify Michael Phelps for having super-long arms; that’s just a competitive advantage he has in his sport. We don’t regulate height in the WNBA or NBA; being tall is just an advantage for a centre. For as long as sports have been around, there have been people who have had advantages over others. A universal level playing field does not exist.”

Still, the controversy and trans-shaming continue. Although there are well over 40 openly gay and lesbian athletes competing in the Summer Games, neither of the two reported trans-athletes has come out publicly. Until anti-trans stigma is fully erased, they are eligible to compete, but, Mosier said, that doesn’t mean “everybody is ready to accept us.”

Now I ask you: Is that fair? — The Washington Post


Clinton vows to stand up to China

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton said she would defend United States interests against China and reject the proposed Pacific trade agreement, as she struck a tough tone on global economic issues.

She was speaking to a crowd in Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, just three days after presidential rival Donald Trump laid out his own economic plan, and she sought to highlight their fundamental differences.

The former secretary of state, leading in national polls with less than three months before the election, also sought to expose the “myth” New York billionaire Trump would punish the rich and side with working-and middle-class Americans when it comes to economic policy.

“Now, there is a myth out there he will stick it to the rich and powerful because somehow he’s really on the side of the little guy,” she told the crowd in Warren.

“Don’t believe it,” she said.

“He would give trillions in tax cuts to big corporations, millionaires and Wall Street money managers,” she said.

In Michigan, Hillary adopted a firm tone, pledging to get tough with Beijing saying: “I will stand up to China and anyone else who tries to take advantage of American workers and companies,” she said. And when nations break the rules, “we won’t hesitate to impose targeted tariffs.”

Clinton said protecting US interests did not require Americans “cut ourselves off from the world.”

“I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”

Clinton’s position on trade is a vulnerability in the election. In 1993, her husband Bill signed Nafta into law. It became unpopular in some communities as companies relocated to Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labour, a result Trump routinely highlights at campaign stops.

Clinton also admonished Trump for claiming she and President Barack Obama were the founders of the Islamic State group.

“No, Barack Obama is not the founder of ISIS,” Clinton tweeted as she accused her 2016 election rival of a “smear” against the president.

A furious Democratic National Committee on Thursday called on the real estate mogul to “apologise for his outrageous, unhinged and patently false suggestions”. — AFP

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