Isnin, 23 Mei 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Tune into the Amazing Adventures of the Sofa Spudniks

Posted: 23 May 2011 07:38 PM PDT

In the world of the idiot box, anybody can be your friend. They come in different shapes, sizes and persuasions ... which makes life that much more exciting.

WE'VE worked together for several years now, and we've shared numerous tales with each other, lived through births and deaths, marriages and divorce, friendships and fights. The one mainstay of our "relationship" is ... wait for it ... television! Shallow as that may seem, some of our best times/talks have revolved around the boob tube.

We love television and have spent a good part of our lives looking up to, learning from, scoffing at and being inspired by the people who inhabit our goggle boxes. Indeed, our lives would be oh-so-different had it not been for John Logie Baird and his incredible invention in 1925.

In this first episode of our fortnightly column, which we've christened The Amazing Adventures Of The Sofa Spudniks, we wax lyrical about our chums on TV. Here we go. Press play, sit back, enjoy and hopefully, you'll tune in again in two weeks!

I AM in love with a serial killer. And the owner of a diner. And a mean but brilliant doctor. And a theoretical physicist. I think I may even love two neurotic women named Edina and Patsy. Arrest that frown of yours and suspend your judgment, please. Lest you think I'm wanton, let me assure you that I am never going to act on my feelings ... never mind that it's because I can't!

Let me introduce you to my TV friends: there's Dexter Morgan, the blood splatter analyst from Dexter; Luke Danes, the diner guy from Gilmore Girls; Dr Gregory House from House M.D; Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory (this series hasn't made its way here yet but perhaps if I keep writing about it, that will change); and Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone from Absolutely Fabulous. I love my TV friends. They complete me. I'm not a social outcast with no real-people friends. But, let's face it, the friends you make on TV are a lot easier to deal with than many people you encounter in real life. Also, they're dependable (I know exactly when and where to find them), they're never late and they're consistent – well, mostly anyhow. Here's why these six are my favourites.

Let's start with Dexter (played by Michael C. Hall). A serial killer may seem like the least likely character to relate to but Dexter is my perfect imperfect man. The poor fella had a really traumatic childhood. He watched his mother get killed when he was just a toddler and was left to sit in her blood for days until the police came to rescue him and his older brother (who also turned into a serial killer). Does that give him the licence to kill? Well no, but Dexter kills only bad people. He's a vigilante. Besides, apart from the killing, Dexter is a really nice guy (of course, he doesn't admit this). He's a great big brother, a loving husband (though emotionally crippled) and a doting dad and stepdad. He is troubled and his inner monologue – the way he rationalises his killing – makes him human. OK, so it's a little bit unbelievable how he never gets caught (despite quite a few close calls), but hey, its TeeVee.

Now, Luke Danes (Scott Patterson) I like because, well, he's a hunka chunk of burning love. He's a man's man (he builds boats AND cooks) but he's also really sensitive and loyal to boot. OK. This is getting soppy. Suffice to say, he's pretty much what you'd think an ideal guy would be (yeah, he wears flannel all the time, but so what?).

And then there's Dr House (Hugh Laurie). He's brilliant, no doubt about it. He's also very obnoxious and I think a lot of his appeal is because he doesn't suffer fools easily. Sure, a large part of his appeal is also because Hugh Laurie is quite the dish ... yum. Now, isn't there a part of you that wishes you could be like House? That you could deliver a snarky (and smart) line or two to a know-it-all colleague? An obnoxious stranger? An irreverent neighbour? Perhaps, I am living out my fantasies vicariously through House. Well I was, until Season Seven where, honestly, I don't even recognise the House I once loved anymore. That's enough, or I might give away some spoilers.

You may not have know Sheldon Cooper ... sorry, Dr Sheldon Cooper, but he's the easiest person to love. I think he brings out my maternal instincts (egad! is this a sign of ageing?). He's awkward, he's adorable, he's super smart, he's a geek, he is bitingly funny, he's obnoxious and he's introduced a new word to my lexicon: Bazinga! Smarts with Sheldon is the new kind of cool.

Lastly, my two all-time favourite women on TV are the completely inappropriate (in every way) but Absolutely Fabulous duo. Drunk almost all of the time, Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) never fail to make me smile ... no, make that LOL. They're vulgar, tasteless and without an ounce of political correctness. They're the people you want to be around but don't want to be seen with. Thank goodness they are on TV, eh? – S.I.

I (heart) television, and I always have. As far back as when I was five or six, I remember pretending Rodney Harrington (Ryan O'Neal in the 1960s TV series Peyton Place) lived on my street. I was prone to idle confabulations revolving him and me.

As I grew up, I started making new (fictional) friends, some of whom I have had life-long relationships with. One such example is Fox Mulder – whom I'm sure I must have known in another life. The X-Files was a huge part of my 1990s. I close my eyes and I can immediately hear him saying things in that oh-so Mulder way of his. If not for my kinship with Mulder, how else can you explain the reason I know strange factoids – like a reticulan's skin tone is grey or that Barney may be the most heinous and evil force of the 20th century? And what about my e-mail password? For the longest time it was TRUSTNO1, just like Mulder's. I even have a poster in my bedroom that says "I want to believe", for crying out loud. One doesn't form liaisons like that for no reason.

Before my days of Mulder, I remember being totally smitten by David Addison (Bruce Willis in the 1980s TV serial Moonlighting). I'd go weak in the knees if he so much as cracked a joke or sang a riff of Manfred Mann's Doo Wah Diddy, and I imagined I would someday meet a non-fictional character just like him. I am still waiting, and worse, I'm starting to feel like the lyrics of a certain Bob Marley song.

Most of my TV pals in the past were the mystery-solving types, mainly inspired by Ellery Queen, I think (Jim Hutton in the 1975 series of the same title). Queen would lay out all the clues as the case presented itself and invite the audience to share in the solving process with him. It was mystery bliss for me. I loved it! I got my weekly dose of playing sleuth (the occupation of choice at the time). What more could a seven-year-old ask for?

These days, my telly-mates have become all the more attractive, starring in TV shows that combine all my favourite genres in one heady mix – mystery, comedy, mysticism, sci-fi, writing and crime all in one. Super-duper! The last few years have found me racing home to spend time with Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles in Supernatural), Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson in Fringe) and Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion in Castle).

And when I'm not in the mood for anything too cerebral, there are always folks like Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother) or Earl Hickey (Jason Lee from My Name Is Earl) to soothe my senses and get a chuckle or two out of me.

If I need to feel empowered (despite the fact that I'm a woman living in a man's world, who has a craving for all things sugary sweet), I know I am not alone, because Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johson (Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer) is always there for me to turn to; and if she can get by, so can I!

And when those hunger pangs strike at the oddest hours of the day, my go-to people are always Jamie Oliver, Michael Smith (Chef At Home) and yes, even Nigella Lawson – who always seem to whip up incredible meals and morsels of information that manage to satiate me somehow.

I love my TV friends ... they're always just a click away. – A.M.C.

> The Amazing Adventures Of The Sofa Spudniks is for the inertia-stricken.

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

French left can still beat Sarkozy in 2012 - poll

Posted: 23 May 2011 08:47 PM PDT

PARIS (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy would be beaten by either of the two French Socialists expected to run for president in 2012 after the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the earlier favourite, according to a poll published on Tuesday.

The poll, conducted after former IMF chief Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York on attempted rape charges which he denies, shows Sarkozy losing by a sizeable margin to either of the likely left-wing challengers -- Francois Hollande or Martine Aubry.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) is seen at Novacarb's plant in the northeastern city of Laneuville-devant-Nancy May 17, 2011. Sarkozy would be beaten by either of the two French Socialists expected to run for president in 2012 after the fall of Strauss-Kahn, the earlier favourite, according to a poll. (REUTERS/Lionel Bonaventure/Pool/Files)

The BVA polling institute said its survey, conducted on May 20-21, a week after the arrest of the man who was the runaway favourite for 2012, suggested that those now expected to fill his shoes would do just about as well.

Hollande, a grassroots Socialist Party veteran who has never held government office, would win the first round of the 2012 presidential contest with a score of 27 percent, versus 21 percent for Sarkozy.

Aubry, Socialist Party leader, would score 24 percent of the first round votes versus 22 percent for Sarkozy, if she rather than Hollande is the challenger chosen in the Socialist Party's selection contest.

"Martine Aubry and Francois Hollande are taking DSK's place in voters' hearts for now," BVA analyst Gael Sliman said.

In a second-round runoff, Hollande would crush Sarkozy, taking 62 percent of the vote versus 38 percent for the incumbent of the Elysee Palace, which is a poll prediction roughly on a par with the scores given to Strauss-Kahn in opinion surveys before his arrest.

Aubry too would beat Sarkozy convincingly. The BVA poll had her winning with 59 percent versus 41 percent for Sarkozy.

The Socialists are organising a primary contest to pick a challenger in next year's presidential election, where Sarkozy is expected to seek a second term. The election takes place in two rounds on April 22 and May 6.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, tipped by several opinion polls to beat Sarkozy to make it to the runoff round, did less well in the latest BVA survey.

"Neither Nicolas Sarkozy nor Marine Le Pen are benefitting from the political climate in the wake of the DSK affair," said Sliman, deputy managing director of BVA.

Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister, was widely expected to be the Socialists' candidate in 2012. He was arrested on May 14 and has been charged with attempting to rape a maid at the Sofitel hotel in New York. He has quit as head of the International Monetary Fund and vowed to fight the charges.

(Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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CORRECTED - Strauss-Kahn under house arrest in New York

Posted: 23 May 2011 08:16 PM PDT

(Corrects May 21 story's second graph to say Strauss-Kahn will defend himself against charges of attempting to rape a maid, not charges of raping a maid)

An American flag is seen in front of the building where Dominique Strauss-Kahn is currently staying on house arrest in New York City May 21, 2011. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

By Michelle Nichols and Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn remained under house arrest and armed guard on Saturday in an apartment in New York's financial district that has become a tourist attraction.

Strauss-Kahn, who was released from jail on Friday, was expected to stay in the apartment in Manhattan for a few days until permanent housing could be found, as he defends himself against charges of attempting to rape a maid in a New York hotel.

A trial may be six months or more away.

The temporary housing was arranged by a private security company that is guarding Strauss-Kahn at an estimated cost of $200,000 a month, which he is responsible for paying.

Satellite trucks lined the block outside the apartment, and scores of reporters and photographers waited for a glimpse of the man who until a week ago was one of the most powerful financial figures in the world.

Once a strong contender to be the next president of France, Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was seen as the leading contender to succeed him.

Strauss-Kahn was detained by police in New York a week ago, just hours after the alleged attack at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan. He is due to reappear in court on June 6, when he will formally answer the charges.

He denies the sexual assault accusations made by the maid, a 32-year-old widow from Guinea. If convicted, he could face 25 years in prison.

Word of the new tenant at 71 Broadway quickly spread. Curious pedestrians questioned police officers stationed at the entrance and took pictures of the media.

A guide on a tour bus heading down the street could be heard on a microphone pointing out the building as the one where Strauss-Kahn was staying.

Some neighbors seemed less than thrilled, complaining about the added security and throngs of media.

"I don't like all of this," said Ian Horowitz, 29, a resident who works in finance. "I don't like all the attention and all the people outside."

A deal to have Strauss-Kahn stay in an apartment on the city's Upper East Side fell through after the media besieged the building.


He is only allowed to leave his apartment to travel within Manhattan for court appearances, meetings with his lawyers, medical appointments and a weekly religious observance.

His legal team has informally sought public relations advice from a Washington consulting firm, TD International, run by former CIA officers and U.S. diplomats. A source said if the firm signs on, its role will be helping in crisis management.

In France, Le Monde reported Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have employed Guidepost Solutions, a global investigations firm headed by Bart Schwartz, former criminal division chief in the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Other company officers include the former global head of security for IBM and a former federal prosecutor and U.S. Secret Service special agent.

Also in France, feminist organizations published a petition saying they were "stunned by the daily flood of misogynist comments by public figures" since Strauss-Kahn was detained.

They said his friends and allies have downplayed the plight of the alleged victim -- former French culture minister Jack Lang said Strauss-Kahn should have been released earlier, considering "nobody has died."

"We are witnessing a sudden rise of sexist and reactionary reflexes, so quick to surface among part of the French elite," the groups said in a statement on the website of the newspaper.


With the sudden vacancy in the IMF's top job, its board has said the process for finding a new chief would be completed by June 30. With the euro zone debt crisis still far from controlled, European and U.S. officials want to move quickly.

The chair of the IMF's main advisory panel, the International Monetary and Financial Committee, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also Singapore's finance minister, said it was imperative that the process be open and transparent.

"The challenges we face are pressing and an early conclusion to the selection process will be advantageous," he said in a statement on Saturday.

Lagarde, backed by many European governments, has been praised for her role in tackling the European debt crisis and the handling of demands of advanced and developing economies through France's presidency of the Group of 20 this year.

But developing countries, with growing clout in the world economy, were keeping pressure on Europe and the United States to avoid a backroom deal over the appointment.

The IMF has been run by a European ever since it was created at the end of World War Two.

Lagarde, who headed U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie in Chicago before joining the French government in 2005, would be the first woman to head the IMF.

Former Turkish economy minister Kemal Dervis had been seen as another frontrunner, but he ruled himself out on Friday, putting pressure on emerging nations to find a consensus candidate.

(Additional reporting by Leslie Wroughton in Washington and Jessica Rinaldi in New York; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Christopher Wilson and Paul Simao)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Japan's Tepco confirms meltdowns of 2 more Fukushima reactors

Posted: 23 May 2011 07:15 PM PDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disabled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, confirmed on Tuesday that there were meltdowns of fuel rods at three of the plant's reactors early in the crisis.

It had said earlier this month that fuel rods in the No.1 reactor had melted, but officials of the utility, known as Tepco, confirmed at a news conference that there were also meltdowns of fuel rods at the plant's No.2 and No.3 reactors early in the crisis.

The logo of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is seen at its headquarters in Tokyo May 12, 2011. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files)

Engineers are battling to plug radiation leaks and bring the plant northeast of Tokyo under control more than two months after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and deadly tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan's coastline and tipped the economy into recession.

The disaster has triggered a drop of more than 80 percent in Tokyo Electric's share price and forced the company to seek government aid as it faces compensation liabilities that some analysts say could top $100 billion.

The Tepco officials said damage to the No.2 reactor fuel rods began three days after the quake, with much of the fuel rods eventually melting and collecting at the bottom of the pressure vessel containing them.

Fuel rods in the No.3 reactor were damaged by the afternoon of March 13, they said.

They repeated that the tsunami that followed soon after the quake disabled power to the reactors, knocking out their cooling capabilities.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Michael Watson)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

US, European, Asian stocks plunge on European debt worries

Posted: 23 May 2011 06:16 PM PDT

NEW YORK: After three days of bad news about Europe's debt crisis sent Asian and European markets down Monday, it was Wall Street's turn.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell as many as 180 points before paring back some of its losses. Another steep downgrade of Greece's credit rating, a warning on Italy's debt and a major defeat of Spain's ruling party caused new worries about Europe's debt crisis.

That sent the euro lower against the dollar. A stronger dollar makes it more expensive for other countries to buy U.S. exports, hurting U.S. companies that sell goods abroad. Fears that Europe's debt troubles could escalate, as they did last year when Greece melted down, sent stocks tumbling across the globe.

The dollar rose 0.6 percent against an index of global currencies Monday. The euro dipped briefly to its lowest level against the dollar in two months.

The bad news began late Friday, when the Fitch ratings agency downgraded Greece's debt further into junk status. That gave investors more reason to fear that the country will need more help managing its debts beyond the emergency loan package it received last year.

Then Standard & Poor's said Saturday that Italy was in danger of having its debt rating lowered if it could not reduce its borrowing and improve economic growth. The next day, Spain's ruling Socialist party was roundly defeated in local elections, potentially jeopardizing the country's deficit-cutting program.

The Dow fell 130.78 points, or 1.1 percent, to close at 12,381.26.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 15.9, or 1.2 percent, to 1,317.37 All but a handful of stocks in the S&P 500 fell.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 44.42, or 1.6 percent, to 2,758.9.

Four stocks fell for each one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was 3.4 billion shares.

European markets also closed sharply lower.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares fell 1.9 percent.

Germany's DAX lost 2 percent.

The CAC-40 in France was 2 percent lower.

While stocks are reacting strongly to the weekend's headlines, investors are not selling corporate bonds. If they were, it would signal that investors were growing wary of risk, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank.

"There's a short-term perception of risk, but I'm not viewing it as necessarily lasting," said Ablin.

Still, as investors sought safer assets, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note went as low as 3.10 percent, its lowest level of the year.

The yield moved back up to 3.13 percent in afternoon trading, slightly below the 3.15 percent it traded at late Friday. Bond yields fall when their prices rise.

Some analysts think a downturn in stocks was overdue. Markets have wobbled over the past few weeks, but the Dow is still up 7 percent this year.

The index has shrugged off revolutions in the Arab world, attempts by China and other emerging markets to slow growth and the nuclear crisis in Japan. Now that the U.S. corporate earnings season is over, global news has become the focus.

"There's not a lot of good news," said Randy Bateman, president of Huntington Asset Advisors. "Investors needed an excuse to pull back."

Downgrades of sovereign debt can shock world markets when they're first announced.

Recently, debt downgrades have had a short-term effect. Moody's downgraded Spain's debt on March 10. The Ibex 35 sank 1.3 percent on the news, but recovered its losses within days.

S&P downgraded its debt outlook for the U.S. on April 17 from stable to negative, meaning it could lower the country's debt rating in the future.

The warning sent the Dow down 240 points in morning trading, but it recovered the next day.

The retreat was evident in Asia earlier, where Japan's Nikkei 225 slid 1.5 percent to close at 9,460.63.

South Korea's Kospi tumbled 2.6 percent to 2,055.71.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 2.1 percent to 22,711.02.

Mainland Chinese shares dropped almost 3 percent Monday, the most in more than four months, as news that an international stock trading board may be launched in Shanghai soon added to worries over a possible shortage of funds.

A relatively weak Chinese manufacturing survey also raised fears about economic growth in the world's second-largest economy.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index sank 2.9 percent to 2,774.57, while the Shenzhen Composite Index of China's smaller, second exchange lost 3.6 percent to 1,149.39.

Shares in chemicals, textiles and paper processing companies weakened. - AP

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Oil settles below US$98

Posted: 23 May 2011 06:12 PM PDT

NEW YORK: Oil dropped more than 2 percent Monday as the dollar strengthened and an energy research group said it expected the growth in Chinese demand for oil to slow later this year.

Benchmark crude for July delivery lost $2.40, or 2.4 percent, to settle at $97.70 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In London, Brent crude gave up $2.29 or 2 percent, to settle at $110.10 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Crude dropped as the dollar rose against other currencies. Oil is priced in dollars, and it tends to fall as the dollar rises and makes crude more expensive for investors holding foreign money. The U.S. Dollar Index, which measures the dollar against other major currencies, rose 0.7 percent amid concerns about Europe's debt crisis.

Last week credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Greece again and Standard & Poor's lowered Italy's ratings outlook. The euro tanked on a combination of credit rating downgrades, a big election defeat for Spain's governing party and disagreements among top European officials on how to deal with the financial crisis.

Meanwhile Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., reported Monday that the rapid rise in China's oil consumption slowed in April. China consumed 9.37 million barrels per day in April, up 8.3 percent from the same period last year, but down from the 10 percent average growth in the first quarter of this year.

A decelerating economy and high oil prices were "denting end-user demand" in China, Platts said. China is the second biggest petroleum consumer in the world behind the U.S.

Other government and industry data show that gasoline demand in the U.S. has declined for two months as pump prices rose above $4 per gallon in many states. The Platts report suggests that international gasoline demand also has been hurt by higher prices.

"You have to ask how unrealistic it's been that prices have been pushed up to this level," analyst and trader Stephen Schork said. "There could be further weakness in this market."

In other Nymex trading, heating oil lost 7.12 cents to settle at $2.8471 per gallon and gasoline futures added 0.23 cent to settle at $2.9381 per gallon. Natural gas gained 10.3 cents to settle at $4.393 per 1,000 cubic feet. - AP

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Copper falls on news of slower China manufacturing

Posted: 23 May 2011 06:05 PM PDT

NEW YORK: Copper prices fell Monday after a survey showed China's manufacturing sector slowed in May, an indication that the pace of growth may be easing in the world's-second largest economy.

Copper also was pressured by a decline in Chinese imports and a stronger dollar. It headed a parade of falling prices for most commodities as fears continued to grow about Europe's effort to resolve its debt problems.

China is a huge importer of commodities, from copper to oil. Investors are concerned the government's efforts to control inflation could hurt demand.

The preliminary HSBC Flash China Purchasing Managers' Index for May fell to 51.1 from 51.8 in April, marking the slowest pace of growth in 10 months, Barclays Capital analysts said in a client report.

In addition, China's refined copper imports in April fell by 48 percent and concentrate imports fell by 23 percent from the previous year, the analysts said. Scrap imports increased 2 percent from a year ago.

Meanwhile, Italy was drawn into Europe's widespread debt problems after Standard & Poor's lowered its outlook Saturday for the country's debt to negative from stable. That means there is a one-in-three chance that S&P would downgrade Italy's debt rating in the next two years.

Some investors are concerned that Italy could join Greece, Portugal and Ireland on the list of European countries with serious debt problems.

"The bottom line here is we are starting to see concerns or fears of a slowdown in China and obviously in Europe," said Dave Meger, vice president of metals trading at Vision Financial Markets.

In metals contracts for July delivery, copper fell 13 cents to settle at $3.9915 a pound, silver dropped 18.3 cents to $34.904 an ounce and platinum lost $13.50 to $1,755.90 an ounce. June palladium settled down $3.70 at $731.80 an ounce.

Gold was one of the few commodities to gain as investors sought safety. Gold for June delivery rose $6.50 to settle at $1,515.40 an ounce.

Most commodities were hurt by a stronger dollar. Commodities are priced in dollars so a stronger dollar means they become more expensive for buyers using other currencies.

In other trading, oil prices settled down 2.4 percent on ongoing concerns about Chinese demand.

Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., said Monday China consumed 9.37 million barrels per day in April compared with 8.3 percent from the same period last year. The total was down from the 10 percent average growth in the first quarter of this year.

Benchmark crude for July delivery fell $2.40 to settle at $97.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex contracts for June, heating oil dropped 7.12 cents to settle at $2.8471 per gallon, gasoline rose 0.23 cent to $2.9381 a gallon and natural gas gained 10.3 cents to $4.393 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Grains and beans fell.

In contracts for July delivery, wheat fell 3.5 cents to settle at $8.03 a bushel, corn dropped 5.5 cents to $7.54 a bushel and soybeans fell 6.5 cents to $13.7375 a bushel. - AP

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Tracie leaps into the reckoning

Posted: 23 May 2011 06:45 PM PDT

Tuesday May 24, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: Artistic gymnast Tracie Ang was once on the verge of quitting the sport because of injuries.

But after winning two back-to-back awards in a five-month period, she is more than motivated to qualify for her first Olympic Games.

On Friday, the 18-year-old underlined her status as the top ranked artistic gymnast in the country when she bagged the Malacca Most Promising Sportswoman Award. It was her second accolade.

* Full story in The Star today.

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Couples, Wargo out with back troubles

Posted: 23 May 2011 05:50 PM PDT

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) - Citing back problems, Fred Couples has withdrawn from the Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla.

Couples, winner of the 1992 Masters, was replaced by Blaine McCallister.

Earlier on Monday, Tom Wargo also dropped out because of a bad back and was replaced by John Harris. Wargo is the last PGA club pro to win the Senior PGA.

Steve Pate, who turns 50 on Thursday, the first day of competition, will be making his senior debut at the tournament.

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Breeze for Djokovic

Posted: 23 May 2011 05:45 PM PDT

FRENCH Open title hopefuls Novak Djokovic and Francesca Schiavone gave the Roland Garros crowd a glimpse only of their abilities yesterday as they sped into the second round on a hot, sunny day.

World No.3 Roger Federer also cruised past Spain's Feliciano Lopez yesterday in a gentle reminder that there is more to Roland Garros this year than Rafael Nadal and Djokovic.

Federer, the record 16-time Grand Slam title-winner and 2009 Roland Garros champion, clinched a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) first-round win, his ninth victory in nine outings against the stylish left-hander.

The world number three, playing at his lowest seeding in eight years at a Grand Slam, is taking part in his 46th consecutive Grand Slam tournament.

Second seed Djokovic extended his winning streak to 40 matches with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 dismissal of Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker while defending champion Schiavone raced past American Melanie Oudin 6-2, 6-0.

Only three hours into the action-packed day in Paris, third seed Roger Federer was already warming up on court Philippe Chatrier for his first-round match against Feliciano Lopez of Spain.

Djokovic, unbeaten this year, had already made light work of the talented De Bakker, peppering the court with forehand winners and mixing his game with cunning drop shots.

The Serbian, who has beaten five-times French Open champion Rafael Nadal twice on clay this season, faces a possible third-round encounter with 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

The Argentine, who has been recovering from a torn hip muscle, recovered from a shaky start to down Croatian Ivo Karlovic 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

Schiavone was as convincing as Djokovic.

Following a low-key start to the tournament with none of the top six seeds in action on Sunday in both draws, the fifth seed was the first on court and she wasted no time.

The Italian needed just over an hour to dispatch world number 88 Oudin, quickly finding her groove after conceding an early break.

Fans were still queueing outside Roland Garros and the Philippe Chatrier stands were far from full when Schiavone waved the crowd goodbye with a big smile on her face.

"I'm still shaking a little bit. A lot of adrenaline. I felt really happy to be there," the 30-year-old said.

Third seed Vera Zvonareva of Russia put up a solid performance to beat Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-3, 6-3.

World number one Caroline Wozniacki begins her bid for a first Grand Slam title when the Dane faces Japan's Kimiko Date Krumm on Court One.

Date Krumm, 40, caused a stir last year at Roland Garros when she knocked out former world number one Dinara Safina. — Reuters

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The Star Online: Nation

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Tian Chua loses appeal to set aside conviction that he bit a cop

Posted: 23 May 2011 05:02 AM PDT

PUTRAJAYA: Batu MP Tian Chua has lost his appeal at the Court of Appeal here to set aside his conviction in 2009 of causing hurt to a police constable and stopping him from discharging his duty four years ago.

This came after a Court of Appeal Panel, comprising Justices Zaleha Zahari, Clement Allan Skinner and Balia Yusof Wahi, allowed a preliminary objection raised by the prosecution.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the preliminary objection raised by the prosecution, that Tian Chua's appeal had been filed too late, was well founded.

"We find the appeal incompetent. The appeal is dismissed," said Justice Balia, who handed down the judgment.

The prosecution, led by deputy public prosecutor Mohd Hanafiah Zakaria, had raised the objection stating that Tian Chua should have filed his appeal within 14 days, after he was granted leave to appeal on Aug 30, last year.

However, his notice of appeal was only filed on Oct 6, last year, which was beyond the time allocated for him to appeal.

Tian Chua's lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad, however, argued that the notice of appeal was actually filed within time on Sept 6, but it had been filed at the wrong registry.

In Oct 2009, Tian Chua, whose full name is Chua Tian Chang, was convicted in the magistrate's court of hurting constable Rosyaidi Anuar, 21, at the entrance to Parliament House at 10.45am on Dec 11, 2007.

He was sentenced to six months jail and a fine of RM3,000, but was granted a stay of execution pending his appeal to the High Court.

In June 2010, the High Court maintained his conviction, but reduced his sentence to only a fine of RM2,000 to avoid Tian Chua losing his seat, which would have resulted in a by-election then.

According to Article 48 of the Federal Constitution, a lawmaker will be disqualified only if he or she is sentenced to not less than one year jail or fined not less than RM2,000 and had not received a pardon.

However, the High Court's ruling still caused confusion over Tian Chua's status as to whether he remained as MP or not, as veteran lawyers took on differing interpretations on the law.

Parliament Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia announced a few days later that Tian Chua would remain MP for Batu until a motion was passed in the Dewan Rakyat to disqualify him.

More in The Star on Tuesday

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PWD: Hulu Langat orphanage area categorised as unsafe

Posted: 23 May 2011 04:16 AM PDT

*PWD says three days of heavy rain and tree-cutting had weakened the soil causing the landslide.

*PWD has asked the local authority to monitor the housing areas around here as they are also exposed to the same risk

KUALA LUMPUR: The Hulu Langat orphanage area hit by a landslide has been categorised as unsafe.

"There is still some soil movement here and rain can cause another landslide, so we've categorised this area as unsafe," said Public Works Department's (PWD) Hillslope Engineering senior director Datuk Ir Ashaari Mohamad.

He said that unusually heavy rain over three days and tree-cutting had weakened the soil structure, resulting in the landslide that hit the Hidayah Madrasah Al-Taqwa Orphanage in Hulu Langat and claiming 16 lives last Saturday.

He said that there had been 29mm of rainfall last Thursday, 41mm on Friday, rising sharply to 80mm on Saturday (day of landslide) in the area.

"The amount of rainfall on that day was extraordinary because the normal level is around 20mm. With such heavy rain, a lot of water would seep into the soil, causing the structure to be weak and prone to a landslide."

He said this when briefing the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, on the devastating landslide before the Sultan handed over contributions from the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MUIS), Selangor Zakat Board (SZB) and the state government for the victims and their families.

Ashaari said that PWD inspected the landslide site and hilltop area close by and noticed water channels on the hill slope in the direction of the landslide site, while the cutting of trees in the area had also contributed to the problem during a downpour.

He said that based on information received, the orphanage was also too close; only about seven metres away from the hillslope of 25 metres to 30 metres high.

"We estimate that about 3,500 cubic metres or 600 lorry loads of soil had slipped and hit the orphanage, leaving a mound of loose soil of about four metres high and 54m wide."

Ashaari said the hill slope near the orphanage had also been cut, causing further soil instability.

"Today, we want to closely examine the soil condition in the area and see how we can improve the soil structure.

"We are also asking the local authority to monitor the housing areas around here as they are also exposed to the same risk," he added.

From the contribution of RM217,000 from MUIS and SZB, each family or beneficiary of the 16 landslide victims who died received RM5,000 while the survivors received RM1,000 each, and the orphanage, RM100,000.

The Selangor government also gave RM5,000 to each of the beneficiaries. - Bernama

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Subsidy rationalisation to be announced this week: Ismail Sabri

Posted: 23 May 2011 04:03 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The government is expected to announce this week, subsidy rationalisation measures, including streamlining petroleum prices.

Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government, however, would come out with the most suitable formula in order to lessen the people's burden.

"Wait (for the announcement) within this one week....we will decide whether to continue with the petrol, diesel and gas subsidies, considering the amount of subsidies being borne by the government having risen from RM8bil to RM18bil a year," he said when asked to comment on speculations that the government would be reviewing petroleum product prices including for RON95.

Ismail Sabri said the governmet felt that the huge amount spent on subsidies should instead go to financing projects that would benefit the people more like poverty-eradication programmes and building homes for the people.

Earlier, he had launched the three-day Federal Territory Cooperatives Carnival 2011 held at Medan Tuanku, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, here, Monday.

The price of RON95 petrol is now RM1.90 per litre compared to that for RON97 which has increased to RM2.90 per litre after the price floatation.

On May 16, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin reportedly said that the amount of subsidies to be borne by the government this year would balloon to RM20.58bil from RM10.3bil last year due to the rise in world crude oil price. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Malick's 'Tree of Life' wins top Cannes fest honor

Posted: 22 May 2011 05:10 PM PDT

CANNES, France (AP): American director Terrence Malick's expansive drama "The Tree of Life" won the top honor at the Cannes Film Festival, while Kirsten Dunst took the best-actress prize for the apocalyptic saga "Melancholia."

The Palme d'Or prize was accepted Sunday by two "Tree of Life" producers, Dede Gardner and Bill Pohlad, for the notoriously press-shy Malick, who has skipped all public events at the glamorous Cannes festival.

"I know he would be thrilled with this," Pohlad said.

"Why isn't he here? I'm not saying it's an easy question to answer, but he personally is a very humble guy and a very shy guy," Pohlad said after the awards ceremony. "He just very sincerely wants the work to speak for itself."

Gardner said when it came to the prospect of Cannes prizes, Malick had been "very sweet. He said, 'If we were that lucky, I'd like to thank my wife Becky and my parents."'

"The Tree of Life," which opens Friday in the United States, stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain in a far-flung story of family life that plays out against a cosmic backdrop, including glorious visuals of the creation of the universe and the era of dinosaurs.

Dunst won for her role in the end-of-the-world tale "Melancholia," whose director, Denmark's Lars von Trier, was banned from the festival after sympathetic remarks for Adolf Hitler at a movie press conference.

"Wow, what a week it's been," said Dunst, who plays a deeply depressed woman coping with her family's foibles as a rogue planet bears down on a possible collision course with Earth.

"It's an honor that is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for an actress," said Dunst, who thanked festival organizers for allowing "Melancholia" to remain in the competition after von Trier's Nazi remarks and offered warm words for her director. "I want to thank Lars for giving me the opportunity to be so brave."

Von Trier was not allowed to attend Sunday's ceremony.

Jean Dujardin claimed the best-actor prize for the silent film "The Artist," in which he plays a 1920s Hollywood star whose career crumbles as talking pictures become the norm. In keeping with his singing, hoofing character, Dujardin did a little tap dance as he took to the Cannes stage.

Dujardin said he wanted to share his prize with co-star Berenice Bejo, who stood up and blew kisses at him on stage. The film was directed by Bejo's husband, French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, who also directed Dujardin in the "OSS 117" spy spoofs.

"I hope to make other silent films with you," Dujardin told Hazanavicius.

Several well-received films, among them Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's horror thriller "The Skin I Live In" and British filmmaker Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" went home empty-handed.

Malick, who has made only five films in a nearly 40-year career, previously won the directing prize in 1979 for "Days of Heaven" on his last trip to Cannes. "The Tree of Life" was shot three years ago and festival organizers had hoped to premiere it at Cannes last year, but it was not ready in time.

Prizes were awarded by a nine-member jury headed by Robert De Niro that included actors Uma Thurman and Jude Law.

"The Tree of Life" was the first American film to win top honors at Cannes since back-to-back recipients in 2003 (Gus Van Sant's "Elephant") and 2004 (Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11").

De Niro told reporters choosing the top winner was difficult because of the range and "great qualities" among the 20 competing titles but that "The Tree of Life" ultimately fit the bill.

"It had the size, the importance, the intention, whatever you want to call it, that seemed to fit the prize," De Niro said. "Most of us felt the movie was terrific."

The second-place grand prize was shared by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two-time winners of the Palme d'Or, for their troubled-youth drama "The Kid With a Bike," and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan for his meditative saga "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia."

The third-place jury prize went to French actress-turned-director Maiwenn's child-protection drama "Polisse."

Despite a so-so reception from critics, von Trier's "Melancholia" found favor with Cannes jurors.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best films. I think it's a great film," said French director Olivier Assayas, a juror.

Von Trier provoked a firestorm at the film's press conference when he delivered rambling remarks about his German heritage in which he said he understood and sympathized with Hitler.

He also made wisecracks about Jews, comments that brought condemnation from Jewish and Holocaust groups and prompted Cannes organizers to boot him out, an unprecedented punishment for a filmmaker who won the Palme d'Or in 2000 with "Dancer in the Dark."

Another Danish filmmaker, Nicolas Winding Refn, won the directing award for "Drive," his action thriller starring Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver caught up in a heist gone wrong. Refn gushed thanks for Gosling, who producers allowed to choose which director he wanted.

"He really wanted to make the movie and he really wanted to make it with me," Refn said.

The screenplay award went to Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar for "Footnote," his tale of rival father and son Talmudic scholars.

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The Star Online: Metro: Central

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City Watch

Posted: 23 May 2011 04:42 AM PDT


The customer service centre at the Ayer Keroh toll plaza will be closed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The closure is to facilitate the current Ayer Keroh toll plaza upgrading work and to ensure smoother traffic flow on weekends. Users are advised to reload their Touch'n'Go cards at the Petronas station at the Ayer Keroh rest and service area (northbound) or the Simpang Ampat toll plaza reload lane or the Yong Peng north toll plaza customer service centre or any of the customer service centre along the expressway. For more information contact the PLUSline at 1800880000.


Kraftangan Malaysia will be organising a wedding expo from May 26 till June 6 from 10am to 8pm at the Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur Jalan Conlay. There will be handicraft exhibitions, fashion shows on bridal costumes, a mass wedding ceremony of 100 couples, pre-wedding course, handicraft demonstrations and wedding consultation services. For details, call 03-2161 3793 or log on to


In conjunction with World Refugees Day on June 20, essential items such as rice, sugar, infant milk, milk powder, biscuits, coffee, tea, Milo, and cooking oil are needed for the Sri Lanka Tamil refugees here. To donate, contact 016-688 0455 (Eashvara Lingam, Sri Lanka Tamil Refugees Humanitarian Programme coordinator).


Hospice Klang is organising a 'Charity Treasure Hunt' on June 12 at 8am. The hunt will take place around the Klang district. Hospice Klang was established in 1995 to help care for the cancer patients with terminal disease. For details, visit or call 03-3324 4740 (Hong)


There will be a blood donation drive at the concourse area of Sungei Wang Plaza Bukit Bintang today from 11pm to 5pm onwards. For details, log on to or call 03-2695 5557/8.


Babies and toddlers (newborns to four years old) can learn singing, dancing, listening and moving to music, tonal and rhythm patterns at Plaza Mont Kiara every Friday, 2pm and Saturday, 10.30am. For details, call 019-233 2968 or visit


The Han's Art Gallery is having an art exhibition featuring Chong Buck Tee's Chinese landscape paintings. The exhibition runs until May 29 at L320, 3rd Floor, Amcorp Mall, 18, Persiaran Barat, Petaling Jaya. The gallery is open from 11am to 7pm. The gallery is closed on Mondays. For details, call 03-7954 0805.

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UGAT win Parliament Cup

Posted: 23 May 2011 04:42 AM PDT

Monday May 23, 2011

UGAT FC won the Setiawangsa Parliament Cup when they defeated Anak Dagang FC on penalties in the final at the Kementah Stadium in Kuala Lumpur recently.

As the champions of the event, held for the ninth season, Ugat FC received RM1,500 while Anak Dagang FC settled for RM700.

Thirty-two teams took part in the two-day competition. Setiawangsa MP Datuk Seri Zulhasnan Rafique (in white) was present for the final. He also gave away the prizes to the winning teams.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

The global reach

Posted: 22 May 2011 11:55 PM PDT

The Rainforest World Music Festival has grown from an obscure event to one that is generating ample interest and income. This year's edition could be an even bigger draw for various reasons.

Ever since Womad Singapore slipped into cold storage three years ago this month, there has been a gap to be plugged in South-East Asia's world music circuit. Womad (World of Music, Arts and Dance festival), which was founded principally by British musician Peter Gabriel, pioneered the globalisation of music. Since its 1982 debut in England, Womad branched out around the world to spread its gospel. In the Asia Pacific region, Australia (Adelaide) has been hosting Womadelaide since 1992 while New Zealand's Taranaki Arts Festival Trust has been in partnership with Womad since 2003.

As Womad Singapore's sabbatical – which was supposed to have ended last year – continues, the region is starved of a rich serving of the premier world music festival.

Intrepid music fans here often turn to the jazz festivals in Thailand and Indonesia but for those who have savoured the idiosyncratic experience of Womad, these substitutes merely appease and not completely answer the yearning.

There are not many world class festivals in Asia that offer the planet's most invigorating "alternative" artistes and an electrifying outdoors party ambience. In its current issue, the prominent bi-monthly British trade journal Songlines listed only three festivals in Asia as worthy of mention in their top 25 list of the best international festivals.

The Ulsan World Music Festival (South Korea) and India's Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) are notable entries.

Gaining recognition

The third is the Rainforest World Music Festival in Santubong (a 45-minute drive from Kuching) in Sarawak. The upcoming edition at the Sarawak Cultural Village, between July 8 and 10, has quietly moved into its 14th year and is possibly the closest match to Womad Singapore.

While it may be short on the high wattage line-up that the latter had made its calling card until its last few years, the Rainforest Festival supplies a precious platform for international music alongside local cultural identity that Kuala Lumpur or any other city in the Peninsular could only aspire to rival.

Has the Rainforest Festival come of age with such significant global acclaim?

"I think the festival is almost there. For me the top 25 (in Songlines) is good but I think we could be in the top five festivals with not too much work. We certainly have all the parts, we just need some more adjusting to get it there," said Randy Raine-Reusch, the artistic director of the Rainforest World Music Festival in an interview last week.

Undoubtedly, the Rainforest Music Festival has taken considerable dents to its reputation. In view of its beginning in 1998, the outstanding acts to have graced it – for those who know their tango from their mambo – are probably few and far between. Highly acclaimed acts are hard to come by – with the exception of the Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu and the fiery roots-driven Tarika from Madagascar – and the arena has been clogged with budget acts and cunningly disguised "star" attractions.

Attracting the masses

Yet, there is certainly a greater charm than low-cost amber beverages that has fuelled the longevity of the festival. At the turn of this decade, the Rainforest Festival survived a bid from Womad to remodel it under their brand and went on a remarkable expansion itself.

It is estimated that the festival pulls in a current average of 30,000 people (over three days), which is a massive climb from the 400 people who had turned up for it in its first two years.

An even more impressive statistic was revealed in January: according to Sarawak's then Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri George Chan, the upcoming festival is to contribute an estimated RM20mil for the domestic tourism industry.

If this figure is achieved, it registers an increase of RM7mil on last year's earnings on the back of aggressive promotions spearheaded by the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) in Singapore, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong.

The scope of the campaign too, it was reported, was to be expanded to include Europe to swell the previous foreign concertgoer share of 40% to 70% and the aim is likely to be secured. STB's confidence has also been fired up by online ticket sales: all 1,000 special packages that were released last October were snapped up while limited discounted tickets introduced in March were also fully taken up by bargain hunters.

The bottomline and rebranding exercises have arguably become the focus of the festival in the local media. Many serial festival-goers have voiced out disatisfaction over the gradual commercialisation of the Rainforest Festival (including ticket price increases in recent editions). In the 2002 edition, a three-day pass was RM70 while this year the same three-day pass is RM300.

Has the holistic approach to the festival (the music first policy, free-spirited crowd, friendly atmosphere, green awareness) of the early years been overtaken by the slick marketing machinery, rowdy crowds and inebriated tourists?

"To be honest to have the good happy fun loving festival, you need a hot marketing team, so hopefully this will be a happy marriage. But rest assured, if it doesn't work, we will fix it. The atmosphere of the fest will only change for the better, and we are actively working on moving the festival in a direction that will allow the old family friendly programming to grow while still allowing for the young night-time crowds. As we get wiser the fest will get better, so if you have not been, you are missing something amazing," added Raine-Reusch.

Credible line-up

As far as an amazing line-up is concerned, the upcoming Rainforest Festival can boast several highlights. There is the rare added incentive of catching two first-liners in the same festival this year. Paris-based DuOud and Poland's Warsaw Village Band are major draws since they are still top of their game in the fusion music genre.

Jean-Pierre Smadja and Mehdi Haddab, the Tunisian and Algerian that make up DuOud, are accomplished oud (North African and Middle Eastern lute) players broadly credited for rebooting the ancient instrument for modern times. The duo's Wild Serenade album is essentially an exchange of ideas between tradition and technology with their North African roots distinct despite the jazz influences and break beats. DuOud's debut earned a nomination at the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music 2003 and the duo's experiments have continued with Ping Kong, which released two years ago.

Similar to DuOud, the Warsaw Village Band pays homage to Polish folk music while widening the genre with the infusion of electronica and hip hop elements. The sextet has evolved to include such varied performers as deejays and rock bassists, following the breakthrough Uplifting and sequel Upmixing which hoisted the band as the Best Newcomer in the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music 2003.

"I have made a concerted effort in the last three years to raise the level of the groups coming to the festival. The challenge is often not money but to convince a group in a busy touring season to take a week or more out of their time to travel to Sarawak. Once they do they kick themselves for not taking two or three weeks, as they realise that Sarawak is one of those magical places on earth that is hard to describe, but once you are there you know its special. Word has gotten out and more and more famous groups are wanting to come," revealed Raine-Reusch.

This year's festival features 20 international acts across three days of evening performances and daytime workshops. Among the notables joining DuOud and Warsaw Village Band are Kissmet (India/England), Pacific Curls (New Zealand), Mamak Khadem (Iran), The Blue Canyon Boys and Lisa Haley & The Zydekats (both the United States), Frigg (Finland), Hanggai (China), Paddy Keenan Trio (Ireland), Kenge Kenge (Kenya) and our very own Agungbeat. Pre-festival activities and related events have been planned to boost the festival's profile in the coming weeks.

>Daily tickets for the Rainforest Music Festival at Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong from July 8-10 are priced at RM110 per adult and RM55 per child (aged three to 12) and a three-day pass costs RM300 and RM150 for adults and children respectively. For fest line-up and more details: For tickets: or call 03-9222 8811.

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The empire strikes back

Posted: 22 May 2011 11:03 PM PDT

Bittersweet may have taken some tentative steps since its debut, but Ipoh's favourite indie sons are putting the pedal to the metal with its second album Empire's Transition.

NOT everything is what it appears to be. Just when it seemed the future couldn't have possibly looked rosier, Ipoh's brightest indie hope Bittersweet was dealt with the cruel blow of losing more than half its band.

The proverbial "musical differences" and "moving on to other pursuits" loomed large as the death knell sounded for the sextet, but the boys with the new wave duds and Beatles-eque ambitions were not to be outdone by the flippant attitude of some of its personnel, even though head honcho/guitarist Herri and keyboardist Emai were the last two left standing.

From the time the band began to comb the indie landscape with its tightly woven pop nuggets, inspired no doubt by the likes of The Fab Four and The Verve, all of six odd years ago, Bittersweet was a genuine title contender for the accolade of the freshest sounding act in a while.

The boys had the looks, the style and the substance – necessary ingredients in a scene that appreciates these essentials in equal parts.

With the unceremonious departures of vocalist Pijie, guitarist Hafiez and bassist Dinie, the likes of Fizan, Moon and Tiger have come in to fill the void. Evolution, as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, will find a way.

But moving on was never going to be easy, yet, the boys from the nga choi kai (bean sprouts chicken) capital of the nation have even managed a sophomore album in the process, and Empire's Transition stands tall as the vanguard of perseverance.

"Phew!" Herri begins to attempt to answer how the band got back on its feet again, with the short response saying so much in so little.

"It was tough, and it's especially so when you lose your frontman. People knew Pijie as the lead vocalist and frontman," he conceded, admitting that the frontman is always the vocal point of a band.

Naturally, the lack of monetary returns disillusioned some of the band's members. "Seeing as we didn't really get the returns we were hoping for since we released our debut Perfect Match in 2006, some of the guys just felt that this wasn't worth their while," Herri admitted during an interview and a round of roti bakar with the band in Petaling Jaya, Selangor recently.

Contrary to the usual rock n' roll legend, finding the replacements wasn't as arduous a task as expected – in fact many of them were already operating in the same circle.

"I've known Fizan since 2006. I'd seen him with his then band Dance To The Radio, and he looked like a natural fit, seeing as we also share common influences. Emai and Moon (formerly of The Times) have known each other since their school days and Tiger was from our jamming scene," Herri explained.

The Bittersweet story actually began in the early 2000s when Herri hooked up with original singer Zabil, sharing a love for all things The Beatles and The Stone Roses. That combo never saw the light of day, though.

But in 2008, the band announced its arrival for the big time when its tune Capital E, off its debut, was featured in the hit movie KAMI: The Movie. A series of successful shows followed, spreading the gospel of Bittersweet further before the band hit the skids.

The current line up of Bittersweet has gelled together like epoxy, so much so, the boys describe their relationship between each other as "more than just bandmates."

Singer Fizan offered: "We're now like brothers," as the others nodded in agreement, beaming from ear to ear.

"It's important to have chemistry in and out of the band," he insisted.

The band's latest contribution to the indie scene, Empire's Transition, is quintessential Bittersweet.

It's a sonic mish mash of everything that's come to define the band – jangly guitars, melodic, angular, reverb-drenched riffs, atonal vocals, all underpinned by a wash of synthy pastures.

Bittersweet hasn't opened any new vistas of musical expression or exploration – it's more of the same, but in a very good way. There is a harder, rockier edge, and of course, the glaring difference is Fizan (who keeps the pseudo-British accent in check) on vocals. If AC/DC could make the same album more than a dozen times, so can Bittersweet. After all, why fix it if it ain't broke.

Tunes like Ceritera, Burn It Down, Knights Of The Round Table, 1234 (the first single off the album) and Midnight Tripping exhibit the band at its melodic best. While the band professes its beat influences of the 1960s, there's a hint of new wave a la The Cars and even Liverpudlian throwbacks The Coral.

Of course, the band's MO of writing love songs is retained, but the perspectives have matured somewhat.

"Yes, they are love-driven, but they are drawn from life experiences ... ours and others, too. We spend time observing what's around us ... lyrics, after all, are stories," Fizan suggested.

The album suffered from a long gestation period, simply because its embryonic stage still had the now-departed members on board.

"We had the shell for some of the songs but we also redid some things from scratch," said Herri, revealing that the band worked between two studios in Petaling Jaya – Big A and 101 Studios.

Despite its indie lineage, Bittersweet isn't one of those bands that's often seen at some of the more high profile indie shows – yes, the ones with the usual suspects again and again. Herri concedes that is also due to the fact that the band may have priced itself out of the scene, simply because, he and the boys know what their worth. "We do more corporate shows these days and that has been sustaining us."

The health of the music scene is open to debate – ask the bands that aren't doing well and they'll insist that there simply aren't enough gig opportunities. Ask the successful bands how they've managed and they'll retort that they've simply worked harder than the rest.

"The problem is, sometimes, there just isn't enough appreciation for what some bands are doing. Worse still, organisers are only interested in making a buck. It doesn't help either that after a gig, some bands think they've become rock stars," offered Tiger.

Herri also feels that the music scene has taken a few steps back because of a few perceived social ills. "It all started falling apart with the whole Black Metal fiasco. Kids have become scared to go to gigs and consequently, organisers have become discouraged with the poor turnout."

Tiger thinks there's a simple solution to this woeful situation and if the government plays a part, things could be that much better.

"It's like how skaters are given platforms to ply their trade, musicians need avenues, too. If there is a system in place, there shouldn't be any problems. They (the government) should give the younger generation a chance since they are the future," pleaded the bass player.

Bittersweet may have won a slew of accolades on local radio over the past few years for its debut, but the band is taking nothing for granted. "The video for 1234 is already out and we'll be plugging it on ... MTV even, hopefully. We're just going to take whatever opportunity comes our way," informed Herri.

The band's nationwide tour kicks off in September and should see them visiting every major city in Malaysia. "We'll be going to Johor Baru, Seremban, Penang, Ipoh, Kuantan, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, too," Fizan shared.

And with a spanking new album in tow (released under the band's Ipoh-based label History Records), it would come as no surprise if the indie crowd once again falls under the spell of the boys from Ipoh. So, will they be travelling with their suit racks, then? The boys crack up as Herri set the record straight; "No, it'll be just suitcases this time, but with more than a few pairs of shoes," he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

> Empire's Transition is available at Rock Corner and Speedy stores in the Klang Valley. For online purchases, check out Catch Bittersweet at the A|X Loves Japan Charity Tee Fundraiser on May 28 at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur, at 3pm to get a free autographed A|X Love Japan Tee Shirt purchased on the day, or take a picture with the band and donate a token to A|X Loves Japan Fund box.

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Wyze words

Posted: 22 May 2011 11:01 PM PDT

American Idol Lee DeWyze is happy to make music on his own terms.

Growing up, I listened to a lot of lyricists and songwriters," said Lee DeWyze.

"Namely, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Kris Kristofferson, Beatles, John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, a lot of different writers and it got me kinda hooked when I was younger because I used to listen to lyrics and go like 'Aw, that's so cool!' I love lyrics and they're kinda important to me so I'm definitely influenced one way or another."

DeWyze, 25, was speaking at a recent roundtable interview held in Kuala Lumpur.He arrived in town last Monday from Jakarta for his promo tour which led him to make his way to cozy Subang Parade in Selangor where he performed a few songs from his album together with a cover of the classic Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.

Almost a year since being crowned the winner of American Idol (season nine), this is the first time Lee DeWyze has touched Asian soil which included performing in Manila and Jakarta.

Asked to explain how his journey has been since winning American Idol, Lee has this to say: "I can't put it into words. One day you're working a job you don't like while you try to do music on the side, then you go through the process of American Idol which is its own little lifetime, then you come out the other end, and now I'm in different parts of the world, performing. And it's a good feeling and I love music. So the fact that I'm getting to do it as a career, it's a great feeling."

He also knew how to dodge loaded questions when asked if he would like to have the current judges of American Idol instead.

"Well, I won. So not really. It worked out well for me in my season. They would've been great to have as judges, but I was fine with mine."

As far as career pressure is concerned, DeWyze seems to also be handling pop life well. There is always the intimidating issue of being compared to other Idols, but the Illinois-born musician isn't fazed by such things.

"I think the people who make those kind of comparisons don't really listen to music and are only fans of the show. It's one thing to sit down and watch American Idol and write about it, but it's another thing if you like music and listen to it.

"I mean, my music is my music, my career is my career. So, the common bond (between Carrie Underwood, David Cook, Kris Allen, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Hicks) is that we all won American Idol. It's almost as if sometimes people love you when you're on the show but when you're done, they just wanna get to the next season and watch the next contestants. It's not intimidating for me at all because I love the fans and I think they're great and if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I'm at. The success of other people coming from the show really doesn't mean anything to me at all."

Ultimately, he has to be his own voice and keep his career momentum going despite what the critics think.

"It's not really up to me. I'm gonna go up and play my songs and perform and write. I can't make other people look at me any other way than the way I am," replied DeWyze when asked if he had plans to make people perceive him as Lee DeWyze the musician rather than Lee DeWyze the American Idol.

"And that goes for everything ... whether it's voting for American Idol or rating of the albums. To look at it in a negative light is ridiculous.

"It's funny how people ask if I'm upset that people relate me to American Idol. I mean, I joined the thing and I won, so no, I'm not. For me, it's what you do after the show and how hard you work and I don't think your success is gauged by anything other than how hard you work.

"I mean, I work hard and regardless of the state of other things, I don't let people comparing this or that bother me. I'm not on the show anymore, I'm playing music."

Having written 10 out of 11 of songs on his Live It Up album, the singer expressed that it worked out well for him as far as creative freedom is concerned. DeWyze also said that he is satisfied with the direction of growth his music is going.

"I'm definitely more into acoustic stuff, I love the rock, folky type vibe and that's what I'm always gonna go with. But who knows? You're gonna meet people in the studio that you've never met before who might come up with something really great."

Live It Up as his mainstream debut, released last November, has received mixed reviews. But DeWyze stands by the recording.

"What I wanted to do is to make an album that is honest. An album that I can relate to because all the songs really do reflect a part of my life or something I've experienced so when I was writing and performing it, I knew I just wanted to keep it real. A lot of it is about relationships and things like that because I think that's a huge part of life. I mean, if you took out all relationships in your life, then you'd have nothing left."

Above all, DeWyze definitely needed a competitive edge to win American Idol. But has his perspective changed since then?

"It's like the same thing almost, you go up against different people and you wanna beat them in the show, but I guess in the music industry I don't wanna beat anybody, at least no one specifically," said DeWyze about the difference between the level of competition in American Idol and the music industry as a whole.

> Lee DeWyze's Live It Up is released by Sony Music.

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