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The Star Online: World Updates

In China, public anger over secrecy on environment

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 07:43 PM PST

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - When China's environment ministry told attorney Dong Zhengwei he couldn't have access to two-year old data about soil pollution because it was a "state secret", it added to mounting public outrage over the worsening environment.

Buildings are seen during a sandstorm in Beijing March 9, 2013. Beijing was struck on Saturday by a sandstorm that deteriorated air pollution in China's capital city during its annual national congress. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Buildings are seen during a sandstorm in Beijing March 9, 2013. Beijing was struck on Saturday by a sandstorm that deteriorated air pollution in China's capital city during its annual national congress. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Microbloggers, state media and even delegates to this week's session of the National People's Congress, the largely rubber-stamp parliament, were already critical of the government for poor air and water quality. Now they are also expressing disquiet over the scarcity of information about the environment available to them.

For incoming President Xi Jinping, who formally takes over towards the end of the parliament session, the two-pronged challenge is to find the balance between growth and further degradation of the environment, and also to decide whether to level with citizens just how bad the problem is.

"The significance of this event goes far beyond just environmental protection," said Dong, in an interview with Reuters. "It concerns the problem China has had for many years - the issue of government transparency. (They) shouldn't use 'state secrets' as a shield when they're not in the right."

The environment has already been one of one of the most frequently raised issues at the annual parliament session and China's authoritarian government has admitted it has a problem.

"Our country, in a very short time over the past 30 years, has achieved brilliant economic achievements," Xin Chunying, vice-director of the NPC standing committee's working group on the legal system, told reporters on Saturday.

"But at the same time, we have paid a heavy price with the environment. This price must stop, it has to be reduced, we must say ‘no' to the status quo."

China does not usually allow public scrutiny of governance, particularly on sensitive issues such as corruption and security. But public anger over the environment may force authorities to accommodate the public in small ways.

"In other areas it is still dangerous," said Gary Liu, a professor at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. "But pollution is a relatively safe area, because people have enough justification to fight against the government and they can easily get enough public support because everybody is in the same country, breathes the same air."


A choking smog in Beijing in January, far above hazardous levels, has been one of the most dramatic signs of China's environmental problems, but Dong is convinced that soil pollution is the country's "silent killer."

About 40 percent of China's agricultural land is irrigated with underground water, of which 90 percent is polluted, according to Liu Xin, a food and health expert and a member of an advisory body to parliament, who was quoted in the Southern Metropolitan Daily.

Citing "state secrets", the environment ministry last month denied a request from Dong for information on data on soil samples that was collected in a national survey that started in 2006 and ended in 2010.

The decision was perplexing to Dong, since he had been given signals that authorities would be accommodating on environmental issues.

He said after filing more than 10 lawsuits against other government departments in 2008, officials from the legislative affairs office of the State Council, or cabinet, pleaded with him to stop suing those agencies and "sue the environment ministry on the basis of the public's interest".

The government has caved in to public pressure for access to environmental information before. In early 2012, amid growing public outrage about air quality in the capital city, Beijing began announcing publicly the amount of tiny pollution particles in the air that measure 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter.

"Before the release of PM 2.5, there was controversy, some people thought that releasing the information on air quality may lead to panic in the society," Yan Chengzhong, a Shanghai delegate, said on the sidelines of the parliament session, according to the Wen Wei Po newspaper.

"But the facts proved this is not the case. 'Being unaware' would only cause people to panic."

And just last month, the government acknowledged for the first time that pollution had given rise to "cancer villages", admitting that cancer rates in villages near factories and polluted rivers were far higher than they should be.

But examples of the environment ministry's shortcomings abound.

Pan Zhizhong, a resident in Panguanying village in north-eastern Hebei province, has led his village of 1,900 people in protesting against the construction of an incinerator plant since 2009.

When Pan sued the Hebei Department of Environmental Protection in 2011, he was given access to the environmental impact assessment that the environment ministry claimed it had done in the village. Pan discovered that the assessment, carried out by the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, had names of people who had left the village two decades previously and even a person who had been dead for two years - all "expressing favour" for the project.

Pan surveyed 100 people in his village, showing them the purported environmental impact study. The majority of them gave him written statements that declared: "I've never seen this form," according to documents seen by Reuters.


Sometimes, challenging the government comes at a cost.

Chen Yuqian, 60, a farmer from the town of Pailian in eastern Zhejiang province, said he has been beaten up five times in his decade-long fight against soil and water pollution --beatings for which he blames local officials.

On February 20, Chen issued a challenge on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, daring officials from the local environment protection bureau to swim in a stretch of polluted river. He offered 300,000 yuan ($48,200) as a reward.

Four days later, dozens of men, carrying sticks and rocks, charged into his home and started smashing things, Chen said.

"They are trying to scare me so that I don't petition anymore, so that I don't report on the pollution anymore," Chen said.

Xu Shuifa, the Communist Party secretary of the district that governs Chen's village, told Reuters by telephone that he had no links to the attackers and said the attack was linked to a land dispute Chen has with three of his neighbours.

Back in Beijing, Dong, the attorney, said he had filed an appeal with the environment ministry for the soil survey data and expected a decision within two months. He said he would go to court if he was denied.

(Additional reporting by Hui Li and Beijing Newsroom in BEIJING and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI, Editing by Bill Powell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Falklands votes in sovereignty referendum rejected by Argentina

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 07:10 PM PST

STANLEY, Falkland Islands (Reuters) - Residents of the Falkland Islands vote on Sunday in a sovereignty referendum aimed at countering Argentina's increasingly assertive claim over the British-ruled territory.

A "Yes" sign formed with cars is seen on a hill as a car decorated with Union Jack flags passes by in Stanley, March 9, 2013. Voters in the remote British-ruled Falkland Islands hold a referendum on their future on Sunday that seeks to challenge Argentina's increasingly vocal sovereignty claim. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

A "Yes" sign formed with cars is seen on a hill as a car decorated with Union Jack flags passes by in Stanley, March 9, 2013. Voters in the remote British-ruled Falkland Islands hold a referendum on their future on Sunday that seeks to challenge Argentina's increasingly vocal sovereignty claim. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Diplomatic tension between Britain and Argentina has flared up more than three decades since they went to war over the South Atlantic archipelago, and that has unsettled some of the roughly 2,500 islanders.

With patriotic feelings running high, Falklands-born and long-term residents will cast ballots in the two-day referendum in which they will be asked whether they want to stay a British Overseas Territory.

Officials are expected to announce the result at about 8 p.m. (2300 GMT) after polls close on Monday.

A near-unanimous "yes" vote is likely, prompting Argentina to dismiss the referendum as a meaningless publicity stunt. A high turnout is expected, however, as islanders embrace it as a chance to make their voices heard.

"We hope the undecideds, or the uninformeds, or those countries that might otherwise be prepared to give the nod to Argentina's sovereignty claim might have pause for thought after the referendum," said John Fowler, deputy editor of the islands' weekly newspaper, the Penguin News.

"This is an attempt to say 'hang on a minute, there's another side to the story'."

In the low-key capital of Stanley, referendum posters bearing the Falklands flag and the slogan "Our Islands, Our Choice" adorn front windows. The post office has produced a line of official stamps to mark the occasion.


Some islanders are the descendants of British settlers who arrived eight or nine generations ago and the Falklands retain an unmistakably British character despite a sizeable community of immigrants from Chile and Saint Helena.

Residents say fiery remarks by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, have fuelled patriotic sentiment on the islands, which lie nearly 8,000 miles (12,700 km) from London and just a 75-minute flight away from southern Argentina.

Tensions have risen with the discovery of commercially viable oil resources in the Falklands basin and Fernandez's persistent demands for Britain to hold sovereignty talks over the Malvinas, as the islands are called in Spanish.

London says it will only agree to negotiations if the islanders want them, which they show no sign of doing.

Timerman said last month the referendum had the "spirit of a public-relations campaign" and the foreign ministry accused Britain of pursuing "irresponsible initiatives in bad faith."

"This new British attempt to manipulate the Malvinas issue through a vote by the population that it implanted is forcefully rejected by Argentina," a ministry statement said, citing Latin American support for Argentina's position.


Argentina has claimed the islands since 1833, saying it inherited them from the Spanish on independence and that Britain expelled an Argentine population.

The sovereignty claim is a constant in Argentine foreign policy, but there have been moments of detente since former dictator Leopoldo Galtieri sent troops to land in the Falklands in April 1982, drawing a swift response from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

A 10-week war, which killed about 650 Argentines and 255 Britons and ended when Argentina surrendered, is widely remembered in Argentina as a humiliating mistake by the brutal and discredited dictatorship ruling at the time.

No one in Argentina advocates another effort to take the islands by force, but some analysts say the current tough strategy may prove counterproductive by antagonizing islanders.

"Until Argentina is able to persuade the Falkland Islanders to accept some form of Argentine sovereignty over the islands, Argentina's efforts to reclaim them will be an exercise in futility," said Mark Jones, chair of political science at Houston-based Rice University.

In the islands, where plans for oil production to start in 2017 could further boost the flourishing local economy, most residents are determined to maintain the status quo.

"Our best-case scenario is for them to drop their claim and realize that we are a people, we are a country and we do exist," said Gavin Short, one of the Falklands assembly's eight elected members.

Asked if he thought that might happen, he said: "Not in my lifetime."

(Additional reporting by Magali Cervantes in Stanley; and Helen Popper in Buenos Aires; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Incidents make Jews wary, 75 years after Hitler annexed Austria

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 06:28 PM PST

VIENNA (Reuters) - Marina Plistiev, a Kyrgyzstan-born Jew, has lived in Vienna for 34 years but still doesn't like to take public transport.

She recalls the day in 1986 as a teenager when she and her four-year-old brother, whom she'd collected from school with a fever, were told to get off a tram for having the wrong tickets, and nobody stuck up for them, apparently because they were Jews.

"With me (now), you don't see I'm Jewish but with my children you see that they're Jews. They get funny looks," she told Reuters at Kosherland, the grocery store that she and her husband started 13 years ago.

While Austria is one of the world's wealthiest, most law-abiding and stable democracies, the anti-Semitism that Plistiev senses quietly lingers in a nation that was once a enthusiastic executor of Nazi Germany's Holocaust against Jews.

After decades of airbrushing it out of history, Austria has come a long way in acknowledging its Nazi past, and the 75th anniversary on Tuesday of its annexation by Hitler's Third Reich will be the occasion for various soul-searching ceremonies.

But Jewish leaders who fought hard to win restitution after World War Two are on guard against a rising trend in anti-Semitic incidents, occasionally condemned by Austrian political leaders but seen more generally as a regrettable fact of life.

Austrian Jews have grown more vigilant as hooligans have verbally abused a rabbi, Austria's popular far-right party chief posted a cartoon widely seen as suggestively anti-Semitic, and a debate has opened on the legality of infant male circumcision.

A new poll timed to coincide with the anniversary found that three of five Austrians want a "strong man" to lead the country and two out of five think things were not all bad under Adolf Hitler. That was more than in previous surveys.

The history of Vienna - once home to Jewish luminaries of 20th-century culture such as Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Arnold Schoenberg, but later Adolf Eichmann's testing ground for what would become the "Final Solution" that led to genocide of 6 million Jews - means its Jews are always on the alert.


"Vienna was a very important place for the fate of all European Jews because the automated driving out of Jews was perfected here," Joachim Riedl, author of several books on Jewish history and Vienna, said at a recent lecture.

Other incidents further afield have heightened concerns. A radical Islamist gunman killed four Jews in France before being shot dead, Hungary's far-right leader called for a list of prominent Jews to be drawn up help protect national security, and Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated in Austria's eastern neighbour.

Seeking to avoid being forever branded as the country that welcomed absorption by the Third Reich and refused to atone for it, Austria has made gestures to underline its disowning of both the Nazi past and previous manifestations of anti-Semitism.

Last year, Vienna renamed part of the elegant Ringstrasse boulevard circling the inner city that had been named after Karl Lueger, the mayor who modernised Vienna in the 19th century but became popular for his anti-Semitic rhetoric.

"We cannot choose our history," said parliament president Barbara Prammer. "We must bear this responsibility."

Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Congress advocacy group has seen a marked change since a 1991 poll that he helped design found that most Austrians thought it was time to put the memories of the Holocaust behind them.

"There was still a social anti-Semitism that kind of defied embarrassment," he said. "The Austrians have come a long way since then, but they had a long way to go."

Today's Austrian Jewish community of 15,000 is diverse, formed mainly of post-war immigrants from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

"This city is something very remarkable. It has a great Jewish history and a great Jewish community, but they have little to do with one another," said Israeli-born writer and historian Doron Rabinovici, who has lived in Vienna since 1964.


"This community is living in shoes that are too big for it," said Rabinovici, best known in English for his book "Eichmann's Jews: The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna 1938-1945".

Before the 1938 annexation, the "Anschluss", Austria's Jewish population was 195,000, the same size as present-day Linz, a provincial capital not far from Hitler's birthplace.

Two-thirds of them were driven out in the "Aryanisation" programme immediately following the Anschluss and all but about 2,000 left behind were killed in concentration camps. Today's Austrian Jewish community is almost entirely in Vienna.

"The most terrible thing was not the way hundreds of thousands of Austrians celebrated Hitler's arrival, but the enthusiasm with which they dispossessed the Jews," recalled Ari Rath, a Holocaust survivor who fled Vienna at the age of 13.

Rath, who went on to become the long-time editor of the Jerusalem Post, was back in the city of his birth speaking to a group of schoolchildren about his experiences, as part of a parliament-sponsored education project.

"We went from being people to non-persons overnight," he said in fluent German, a language he suppressed for decades.

"It's a different Austria now, but you cannot forget it took until 41 years after the war ... before Austrians began seriously to confront the Nazi past of this country."

He was referring to the so-called Waldheim Affair of the mid-1980s, in which President Kurt Waldheim was outed as having hidden his knowledge of German atrocities during his wartime past as a Nazi military officer. The case triggered a long-suppressed international debate about Austria's history.

Austrians, many of whom had wanted a union with Germany, maintained for decades that their country was Hitler's first victim, ignoring the fact that huge, cheering crowds had greeted Hitler in March 1938 with flowers, Nazi flags and salutes.

Within days of March 12, tens of thousands of Jews and dissenters were under arrest, imprisoned or packed off to concentration camps. Jews were shut out of jobs and schools, forced to wear yellow badges, and had their property confiscated.


Ariel Muzicant served as president of Austria's official Jewish organisation, the IKG, from 1998 until last year.

As a young activist during the Waldheim affair, he was key in persuading the IKG to break with its low profile and tackle the backlash of anti-Jewish feeling that the affair unleashed.

"I did not just go and beg. I told them: 'These are our rights as a Jewish community. These are our demands.' I wasn't what you would call a very silent, docile president," he said.

Muzicant's drive led to the restitution of Jewish property, laws to recognise Jewish institutions and customs, and the rebuilding or new construction of schools and synagogues.

Things are not perfect, he said, but they could be a lot worse. "Vienna is one of the most beautiful places in the world. If you're not Jewish, there's no better place to live."

Muzicant's successor at the IKG's helm, Oskar Deutsch, has a less confrontational approach. "You don't want to escalate it," he said. "But it's a short way from words to deeds."

The IKG says the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Austria of which it knows doubled last year to 135.

More common than overt attacks in Austria, where strict laws ban Nazi symbolism and parties, are appeals to shared prejudices through remarks or actions that go mostly unchallenged.

The anti-foreigner Freedom Party of Heinz-Christian Strache, who posted the disputed cartoon, consistently scores above 20 percent in opinion polls and has a chance of joining a coalition government after elections this year.

Still, many Viennese Jews freely stroll through the streets in Orthodox garb, especially in districts such as Leopoldstadt, the former Jewish ghetto where many Jews live again today.

The IKG, while condemning anti-Jewish actions anywhere, is hoping to take advantage of the comparatively favourable position of Jews in Austria to boost its depleted population.

It is working with the government to bring at least 150 Jewish families a year into the country, and has already helped some 20 families from neighbouring Hungary.

Copyright © 2013 Reuters


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Ruben’s link with cagers

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 10:43 PM PST

THREE years ago, Westports Malaysia CEO Ruben Gnanalingam developed an affinity for basketball when he was invited to co-own private hoops club KL Dragons.

In an interview at a recent game, the 39-year-old talks about the satisfaction he derives from it.

"All sports are interesting but I've grown to see how interesting basketball is. I'd compare it to, say football, which is an exciting game but far fewer goals are scored. In fact, some games flash by without goals by either team. Basketball matches make a riveting watch," he says.

The basketball scene in Malaysia is young, but the KL Dragons is making considerable headway at regional games, coming in third or fourth against neighbouring teams from Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

"It will take time to inch to the top as the other teams are getting better too," Gnanalingam says.

In school, his athletic prowess was better seen in strength-based activities such as the discus throw and shot put.

In secondary school, he dabbled in softball but after four years of losing to the other teams, he decided to manage the team instead.

"There were good players on the team and I think I was crippling their progress by playing," recalls Gnanalingam, whose easy going conversation is timed with self-deprecating humour.

That year under his leadership, they won their first game in years.

As a consequence, he unexpectedly found his niche in sports.

Besides, with sports injuries that would develop in his ankles and knees over the years, team management stands as the best way for him to get involved.

Shortly after Gnanalingam took over the KL Dragons with longtime friends Datuk Wira Dani Daim and Datuk Robin Tan in 2010, the partners were invited to the Global Sports Summit in Aspen, US, where they rubbed shoulders with industry giants in America and Europe such as the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Cowboys, the Denver Browns Baseball Club and Arsenal.

"I was surprised by the invitation. I didn't think that people, let alone these big players, knew about us," he says.

Management strategies

There, he learned key management strategies such as seating with regards to pricing, promotion and sponsorship.

World leaders such as Arsenal's Stan Kroenke showed Gnanalingam what it took to draw people to their games.

He recalls their first year as club owners as the hardest but the initial steep learning curve proved integral to their development.

"I learned the hard way as I didn't understand the game so well before. I was under the impression that height was everything," he admits.

"Soon, the budding owners hired reliable managers to handle the day-to-day running of the club," says Gnanalingam, who is most involved during the start of the season when new players are picked and direction for the period set.

"It doesn't get in the way of me running Westports at all," he says.

In the company of Western gamers, the 39-year-old sensed their keeness on the Asian market.

"We are still establishing ourselves. Hopefully we can form an alliance with a Western club. For us, we can tap into their espertise and established fan base," he says. "Inversely, they would appreciate the strong viewership here in Asia. We have a wide, wide market for them."

In retrospect, Gnanalingam did right when he started attending management courses young.

He was barely done with tertiary studies when his father, prominent businessman Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam, pointed his son to a two-week Harvard management course here in KL.

Gnanalingam roped a peer in with him and together, they pored over case studies every day with high level executives for whom the course catered to.

"We tried our best to appear as young working adults," he recalls, amused "and did our best to apply ourselves. Our inexperience quickly showed, but the corporate guys were very supportive of us.

"I don't have a very strong interest in a particular business. I really just want to run them successfully and I'm glad to never have been forced into any of them. The most important take home for me is to always be adaptable to market changes, global key trends and to always be practical."

Gnanalingam also co-owns a football club, the Queens Park Rangers, which he manages with Tan Sri Tony Fernandes.

China February CPI up 3.2% on year as food prices jump

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 08:12 PM PST

BEIJING: China's annual inflation jumped to a 10-month high in February as holiday spending for the Lunar New Year drove food prices sharply higher, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Saturday.

China's consumer price index rose 3.2 percent in February versus a year ago, ahead of market expectations in the benchmark Reuters poll of a rise of 3.0 percent, with food prices leaping 6.0 percent on a year ago - a nine-month high.

The month-on-month rise in CPI was also ahead of consensus, with the 1.1 percent increase the strongest monthly gain since January 2012's rise of 1.5 percent. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.8 percent rise.

The sharp rise in food prices underlined that seasonal distortions caused by the timing of Lunar New Year festivities - which were in February this year and in January in 2012 - were key drivers of the headline annual rise in prices.

"Going into March, with the Lunar New Year impact fading and weather turning better, all conditions become favorable for food production and transportation and March CPI is expected to ease from February," Yu Qiumei, a senior NBS statistician, said in a statement accompanying the data.

Policymakers are already braced for higher prices this year versus last. Inflation is likely to hit 3.5 percent in 2013, according to targets announced at the opening of China's annual legislative meeting on Tuesday. Inflation in 2012 was 2.6 percent.

The 2013 projection, however, is 50 basis points below the 4 percent inflation that had been factored into the government's 2012 economic forecasts, suggesting that inflation is seen to be relatively well-contained - either by existing policy settings or the relative slackness in the world's second-biggest economy.

China's GDP grew at its slowest rate in 13 years in 2012.


An economic recovery that started in the fourth quarter last year is viewed by analysts as a mild one engineered to ensure stability during the first year of a new government headed by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who are in the final formal stages of taking over from outgoing President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. That is due to be completed by March 17.

"This pickup should have enough momentum to buoy growth for at least the first half of 2013, which will allow China's new leaders to take office against a more optimistic backdrop of rising business confidence," Andrew Batson, research director at consultancy GK Dragonomics wrote in a note to clients.

Producer price data reflected the still mild nature of the recovery, with prices at China's factory gates falling 1.6 percent in February from the year before, compared with a 1.6 percent drop in January.

Month-on-month, factory gate prices rose 0.2 percent in a sign that pricing in China's industrial sector is stabilizing as a recovery in the world's No.2 economy gathers pace.

A better sense of broad recovery momentum should come later on Saturday when data for industrial output, fixed asset investment and retail sales is published.

Chinese trade data on Friday underlined the uneven path of the recovery, as exports soared past forecasts to jump by a fifth in February from a year ago, while imports were surprisingly weak, falling at their fastest pace in 13 months. - Reuters

Dow record not necessarily a buy signal

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 08:10 PM PST

NEW YORK: The Dow's run to record highs in the stock market's rally this year may not mean it's time for investors to go on a buying spree.

Instead, many financial advisers are telling clients to go easy, whether they're just getting back into stocks or seeking to add to equity positions.

Questions over how much higher the market can go have kept caution in play, with some technical indicators suggesting the market is overbought.

But the case for investing in stocks is strong, they said, particularly given signs of more strength in the economy, especially Friday's jobs report, which showed a much higher-than-expected 236,000 workers added to the payrolls in February.

"We're telling clients to take a more defensive approach to the market right now," said Frank Fantozzi, chief executive of Planned Financial Services, an independent wealth manager in Cleveland.

Yet stocks remain a better choice than other asset classes, he said.

"If I had to pick a category, I'd still be looking at equities," Fantozzi said. "We still think the market is going to post positive gains for the year."

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> broke through levels not seen since 2007 and continued to mark new record highs the rest of the week. The Dow is now up 9.9 percent since December 31.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 <.spx> on Friday ended less than 1 percent away from its record close of 1,565.15, which it reached on October 9, 2007. The S&P 500 is up 8.8 percent since the end of 2012.

Valuations remain relatively attractive. The S&P 500's forward 12-month price-to-earnings ratio, a commonly used measure to value stocks, is at 13.8 percent, still below its historic average P/E of 14.8 percent, based on data going back to 1968, Thomson Reuters data showed.


Other experts gave similar advice, saying investors should proceed, but with caution.

"We still have some speed bumps ahead of us," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego, Oregon. "We don't see any urgency to jump in."

U.S. spending cuts loom as Washington debates the path of fiscal policy, while the euro-zone crisis is far from resolved. U.S. economic growth has also been slow.

Another reason for caution: U.S. earnings growth - one of the biggest drivers of the market - is slowing. Estimates for first-quarter S&P 500 earnings are now at 1.4 percent, down from a 4.3 percent forecast from January 1, Thomson Reuters data showed.

"I try to tell people that although it's a great run, there will probably be some pullback, and we'll see it start to taper off into the summer," said Rodd Newhouse, a Dallas-based financial adviser with Wells Fargo Advisors.

Investor interest in the market is high, analysts have noted.

TD Ameritrade Investor Movement Index, which is designed to measure investor sentiment based on data on positions and trading activity, rose to 5.14 in February from 4.71 in January, and is high relative to historic ranges.

Stock funds attracted $7.14 billion in the week ended March 6, data from EPFR Global showed on Friday, well above the previous week's cash gains of $1.2 billion. Appetite for U.S. stocks largely accounted for the inflows.

"Every call that I took this week was (clients asking) 'Why?' They want to know why this market is trading here ... they want to be involved," said Leslie Ferrone, an Oak Brook, Illinois-based financial adviser affiliated with Concert Wealth Management.


Some argue it may be time to take a break from buying.

Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont, said his computer models show the market is "extended," including regression slopes and other indicators that look at how far the market has come and how fast.

"The key here is just don't make a big mistake," Mendelsohn said.

He said he's been reducing his exposure to stocks in recent weeks, reversing a more bullish stance.

"I'm going to err on the caution side here."

Other advice on how to manage the current trend is to shop for bargains while selling stocks with sharp gains.

"We're still riding the wave, but taking profits in some of the higher flyers that have done really well and buying some of the areas that are down for the year and hitting new lows," said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc., an investment advisory firm in Toledo, Ohio.

"We're still finding some bargains," Lancz said.

Fantozzi said he still expects large-cap growth industries to do well, including manufacturing and technology. But he said he would avoid defense companies because of the potential for government spending cuts in that area.

"If there's a pullback, we're not looking at a major pullback," Fantozzi said. - Reuters


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An explosive match awaits Chong Wei vs Chen Long

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 04:27 PM PST

BIRMINGHAM: An explosive match is on the cards when World No 1 Lee Chong Wei and China's Chen Long cross sword in the men's singles final of the All-England at National Indoor Arena on Sunday.

On Saturday, top seed Chong Wei and second seed Chen Long had reached the final in contrasting fashion.

Chong Wei disposed of Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk of Thailand with a 22-20, 21-8 win but Chen Long had to dig deep into reserve to beat a stubborn Jan O Jorgsensen of Denmark 21-19,22-20 in a 54-minute thrilling match.

On paper, the match in the final between the old and new star could go either way.

The 24-year-old Chen Long is strongly motivated to win his first All-England title and make up for the absence of two-time Olympic Games champion Lin Dan of China. His more famous senior is currently, enjoying a short break.

Chong Wei on the other hand wants to nail his third All-England title and keep his winning streak intact this year.

Chong Wei, the Korean and Malaysian Open champion, has vowed to save his best for Sunday's final.

"I am going all out to win my third All-England title here. I am not worried about my opponent. I am focused on bringing out the best in me," he said.

In the women's singles, Thailand made up for Tanongsak's defeat through Ratchanok Intanon when the 18-year-old stunned Saina Nehwal of India 22-15, 21-17 to become the first Thai women to reach the final of the All-England.

The three-time world junior champion Ratchanok takes on veteran of the game Tine Rasmussen of Denmark in the final today. Rasmussen is bidding for a perfect farewell to her career by winning the All-England for the third time.

Ratchanok however, is ready to spoil the party.

"Becoming the first Thai women's singles to reach the final is great but my dream will only come true when I win it. If I am calm and composed, I have a chance," she said.

The only other time that Thai made it to the final of the All-England was through mixed doubles pair Sudket Prapakamol-T. Saralee in 2011.

It was also a first for Japan in the men's doubles when Hiroyuki Endo-Kenichi Hayakawa stormed into the final after defeating Thailand's Maneepong Jongjit-Nipitphon Puangpuapech 22-20, 21-15.

They will take on China's Liu Xiaolong-Qiu Zihan in a bid to become Japan's All-England men's doubles champions for the first time.



Men's singles: Lee Chong Wei (Mas) bt Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Tha) 22-20, 21-8; Chen Long (Chn) bt Jan O Jorgensen (Den) 21-19, 22-20.

Men's doubles: Liu Xiaolong-Qiu Zihan (Chn) bt Mohd Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan (Ina) 21-12, 13-21, 21-17; Hiroyuki Endo-Kenichi Hayakawa (Jpn) bt Maneepong Jongjit-Nipitphon Puangpuapech (Tha) 22-20, 21-15.

Women's singles: Ratchanok Intanon (Tha) bt Saina Nehwal (Ind) 21-15, 21-19; Tine Rasmussen (Den) bt Sung Ji-hyun (Kor) 24-22, 19-21, 21-19.

Women's doubles: Yu Yang-Wang Xiaoli (Chn) bt Miyuki Maeda-Satoko Suetsuna (Jpn) 21-11, 21-16; Cheng Shu-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Ma Jin-Tang Jinhua (Chn) 21-18, 21-7.

Mixed doubles: Tantowi Ahmad-Lilyana Natsir (Ina) bt Markis Kido-Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth (Ina) 18-21, 21-15, 21-19; Zhang Nan-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Mohd Rijal-Debby Susanto (Ina) 21-17, 21-16.

Chong Wei storms into fifth straight final in Birmingham

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 03:20 PM PST

WORLD No. 1 Lee Chong Wei coolly marched into his fifth straight men's singles final of the All-England – with a promise that he's ready to nail his third title.

Yesterday, the 30-year-old Chong Wei held back his punches but his calm and cautious approach was still good enough to knock out feisty Tanongsak Saensamboonsuk of Thailand 22-20, 21-8 in 33 minutes in the semi-final.

It was his seventh win over Tanongsak in as many meetings.

He will face second seed Chen Long of China in the final. Chen Long defeated Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark 21-19, 22-20 in the semis.

Two-time All-England champion Chong Wei was pleased that his game plan worked against the 23-year-old Tanongsak, who had made heads turn with his amazing run from the qualifying tournament.

"He thrives on fast-paced attacking game and I didn't want to give him that pleasure ... I slowed it down," said Chong Wei.

"I just kept close to him and, when the time was right, I pulled away. He is a player with promise, though."

The match started with a subdued Chong Wei playing a cautious game – assessing what the left-handed Tanongsak had to offer.

And the Thai youngster, vowing to be the next Boonsak Ponsana, showed that he meant business when he dominated the baseline, slamming home winners at every opportunity and even playing cleverly at the net to reach 11-10.

But that probably was the only period that Tanongsak showed his superiority over Chong Wei.

While trying his best to subdue the Malaysian with his jumping smashes, it eventually wore him out and he lost 20-22.

In the second game, Chong Wei stepped up a gear – just enough to hold the Thai by the jugular – and the first-timer cracked.

He took advantage of Tanongsak's inexperience en route to his 21-8 win.

Chong Wei does not plan to hold anything back in today's final.

"I skipped the German Open and Swiss Open to give my unwavering focus to the All-England. I'm just one step away from doing it. Malaysians used to find it difficult to win here but, now, I want to win as many times as possible," he said.

If Chong Wei wins, it will be also his third Super Series title of the year. He had won the Korean Open and Malaysian Open in January.

But 18-year-old Thai sensation Ratchanok Intanon made up for Tanongsak's disappointment when she crushed Saina Nehwal's dream of a first All-England title with a sensational 21-15, 21-19 win in 40 minutes.

It was, by far, Ratchanok's most impressive achievement in her young career.

She'll take on the Tine Baun of Denmark in the final. The Dane beat Sung Ji-hyun of South Korea 24-22, 19-21, 21-19 in the semis.



Men's singles: Chen Long (Chn) bt P. Kashyap (Ind) 21-16, 21-10; Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Tha) bt Tommy Sugiarto (Ina) 21-17, 21-11; Lee Chong Wei (Mas) bt Nguyen Tien Minh (Vie) 21-17, 21-19; Jan O Jorgensen (Den) bt Chen Jin (Chn) 21-7, 21-14.

Men's doubles: Hiroyuki Endo-Kenichi Hayakawa (Jpn) bt Kim Ki-jung-Kim Sa-rang (Kor) 16-21, 21-12, 21-19; Liu Xiaolong-Qiu Zihan (Chn) bt Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif-Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari (Mas) 21-12, 21-10; Maneepong Jongjit-Nipitphon Puangpuapech (Tha) bt Chen Hung-ling-Lu Chai-bin (Tpe) 21-11, 21-13; Mohd Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan (Ina) bt Tan Wee Kiong-Hoon Thien How (Mas) 21-12, 21-16.

Women's singles: Saina Nehwal (Ind) bt Wang Shixian (Chn) 23-21, 19-21, 21-16; Tine Baun (Den) bt Lindaweni Fanetri (Ina) 21-7, 21-13; Ratchanok Intanon (Tha) bt Juliane Schenk (Ger) 13-21, 21-12, 21-8; Sung Ji-hyun (Kor) bt Eriko Hirose (Jpn) 21-13, 21-12.

Women's doubles: Wang Xiaoli-Yu Yang (Chn) bt Jung Kyung-eun-Kim Ha-na (Kor) 21-18, 21-14; Miyuki Maeda-Satoko Suetsuna (Jpn) bt Vivian Hoo-Woon Khe Wei (Mas) 21-16, 21-13; Ma Jin-Tang Jinhua (Chn) bt Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth-Rizki Amelia Pradipta (Ina) 21-13, 21-13; Cheng Shu-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Duanganong Arronlesorn-V. Kunchala (Tha) 21-19, 21-19.

Mixed doubles: Zhang Nan-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Fran Kurniawan-Shendy Puspa Irawati (Ina) 21-15, 20-22, 21-16; Tantowi Ahmad-Lilyana Natsir (Ina) bt Robert Mateusiak-Nadiezda Zieba (Pol) 12-21, 21-14, 21-18; Mohd Rijal-Debby Susanto (Ina) bt Xu Chen-Ma Jin (Chn) 16-21, 21-13, 21-18; Markis Kido-Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth (Ina) bt Sudket Prapakamol-T. Saralee (Tha) 18-21, 22-20, 22-20.


Men's singles: Lee Chong Wei (Mas) bt Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Tha) 22-20, 21-8; Chen Long (Chn) bt Jan O Jorgensen (Den) 21- 19, 22-20.

Women's singles: Ratchanok Intanon (Tha) bt Saina Nehwal (Ind) 21-15, 21-19; Tine Rasmussen (Den) bt Sung Ji-hyun (Kor) 24-22, 19-21, 21-19.

Men's doubles: Liu Xiaolong-Qiu Zihan (Chn) bt Mohd Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan (Ina) 21-12, 13-21, 21-17; Hiroyuki Endo-Kenichi Hayakawa (Jpn) bt Maneepong Jongjit-Nipitphon Puangpuapech (Tha) 22-20, 21-15.

Women's doubles: Yu Yang-Wang Xiaoli (Chn) bt Miyuki Maeda-Satoko Suetsuna (Jpn) 21-11, 21-16; Cheng Shu-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Ma Jin-Tang Jinhua (Chn) 21-18, 21-7.

Mixed doubles: Zhang Nan-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Mohd Rijal-Debby Susanto (Ina) 21-17, 21-16.

Woods sinks 17 birdies in first 36 holes to grab two-stroke lead

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 03:19 PM PST

MIAMI: Tiger Woods fired eight birdies on Friday to complete a personal-best PGA run of 17 birdies in his first 36 holes and seize a two-stroke lead at the World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship.

World No. 2 Woods, seeking his 17th WGC victory and 76th career triumph, fired a seven-under 65 in the second round to stand on 13-under 131 after the second round of the US$8.5mil event at Doral's Blue Monster course.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell fired a 67 to finish 36 bogey-free holes on 133, one stroke ahead of Americans Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker with Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson and reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson on 135.

While Woods has produced lower scores over his first 36 holes at a PGA event, he has never fired so many birdies in the first two PGA rounds.

Woods, who won earlier this year at Torrey Pines, showed the form that has made him a 14-time Major champion with his next chance to close the gap on the record 18 Majors of Jack Nicklaus only a month away at the Masters.

"I probably hit the ball better at Torrey but I'm putting better here," said Woods. "With forecasts of wind on Sunday (today), hopefully I can feel my way around and get it done."

Woods has three career triumphs at Doral and six in this WGC event which has been hosted by several courses, but he has not won a WGC event in his past 10 attempts.

After nine birdies and three birdies in Thursday's first round of 66, Woods shared the lead with four rivals. But as the second round wore on, no one could match Woods for putting consistency or approaches that put him within 10 feet.

"I played better today," Woods said. "The first couple of holes weren't very good at all. My first good shot was at four. Once I hit that shot at four, I felt pretty good about it."

Woods put his tee shot at the par-3 fourth two feet from the cup to set up a birdie and followed with a birdie at five, then followed with two more back-to-back birdies at the par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth and par-5 10th and par-4 11th.

At the 10th, Woods was in a bunker but blasted out and sank a 10-foot birdie putt. After his birdie at 11, he followed by making his first birdie at Doral's par-3 13th hole since 2006.

After a bogey at the 14th, his lone blemish of the round, Woods made a clutch eight-foot par-saving putt at 15 and followed with a birdie at the 16th.

"I bounced right back and I'm right back where I left off," Woods said.

Woods closed his rounds with back-to- back pars, missing birdie putts from 20 feet at the 17th and 26 feet at the last hole. He has made only one birdie putt from beyond 20 feet in the first two rounds, a testimony to his approaches.

"Some holes we're allowed to flatten it out and roll the ball," Woods said. "Other holes you have got to just hit moon balls. It's a tough track.

"If the wind blows with the greens this firm, it becomes very difficult. They are going to push us and test us."

McDowell joined Jacobson, Watson, Woods and Sergio Garcia as co-leaders on day one and followed with four birdies on the front nine and another at 17.

"I'm hitting it pretty well off the tee," McDowell said. "I've controled my iron play well. I've chipped and putted when I've had to but I've really done well on the greens. They are in some of the best conditions I've seen."

Mickelson opened with three birdies in a row on his way to his second 67 in a row.

"The key for me is I've driven the ball well and given myself a chance on the greens," Mickelson said. "The greens are as fast and as firm as I've ever seen them."

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland finished with a bogey after lipping out from two feet for par but birdied the five prior even-numbered holes and opened with a birdie on his way to a 69, his first sub-70 round of the year.

McIlroy ended the day 11 shots off the lead, tied for 32nd with eight others. — AFP


The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Brothers from another mother

Posted: 10 Mar 2013 12:13 AM PST

Quentin Tarantino has a knack for picking actors who are either on their way down or those not many people are familiar with, such as Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz. These two actors keep appearing in his films as the Tarantino just loves the way they say his words.

In 1994's Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson seemingly came out of nowhere to brilliantly play the Bible-quoting gangster Jules Winnfield. He was 46 years old. At that point, he had appeared in numerous films including Jungle Fever, Patriot Games, Jurassic Park and the Tarantino-written True Romance, having been in the industry since 1972. FYI, in the 1980s, he worked as a camera stand-in for Bill Cosby in The Cosby Show.

The super-cool Jules changed all that for Jackson. He earned an Oscar nomination for the role and nowadays the 64-year-old appears in an average of three films a year and is such a big star that the avid golfer has a clause in his movie contracts which guarantees him easy access to golf courses, no matter where the shoot is.

Austrian actor Christoph Waltz was working in European TV obscurity when Tarantino gave him the role of the charming but sadistic Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. This role earned him international stardom as he got his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Since then, he has gone on to play other colourful villains in big-budget Hollywood fare including The Green Hornet, Water For Elephants and The Three Musketeers.

In Django Unchained, he gets rid of the bad-guy persona to portray a bounty hunter (and occasional dentist) who frees a slave and makes him his equal partner.

The 57-year-old won his second Oscar for his work with Tarantino here. Waltz's successful streak looks set to continue with an upcoming movie with Matt Damon (Zero Theorem) and as Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik.

Tarantino in Jacksonville

Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction (1994) – An employee of gang boss Marsellus Wallace.

Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown (1997) – A black market gun runner who loves talking about guns.

Rufus in Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004) – A piano player at the Two Pines chapel.

The Narrator in Inglourious Basterds (2009) – Yup, that voice is Jackson's.

Stephen in Django Unchained (2012) – A racist house slave who maintains discipline on behalf of his owner, Calvin Candie.

QT says:

Sam said my dialogue so well – not for a while. He says my dialogue well today. But for a while there, he said it so perfectly that it was hard not to write for him. I spent about a year and a half writing Kill Bill. I think for the first six months, even though I didn't want Bill to be black, I was writing for Sam Jackson. I wasn't trying to write it for Sam Jackson. I could not not write for Sam Jackson. ... You hire an actor to learn the lines and say them. Now there are exceptions to that. Sam Jackson is the exception. Sam Jackson is a terrific writer. He's a terrific writer in character. He knows how his characters should talk. Now, he loves my words. That's one of the reasons that he works with me. That's one of the reasons he would tackle a character like Stephen (in Django Unchained).

Tarantino dances to Waltz

Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009) – The evil deeds Landa has committed as a Nazi officer have earned him the title of "The Jew Hunter".

Dr King Schultz in Django Unchained (2012) – A charming German bounty hunter, pretending to be a dentist.

QT says:

The day I met Christoph Waltz was a very, very lucky day in my life. We share a collaboration that I think is exquisite, that would be the only word to describe it. He says my dialogue, he sings my dialogue in a way nobody else has. His voice, his tone, his pitch. he gets it, and ... the experience of working with him has been wonderful. It's been a joy to write the part for him here. I didn't know who Django was, I didn't know who Calvin Candie was, but I knew who Dr Schultz was.

Sticking to his guns

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 11:27 PM PST

The latest film by Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained, looks at men at their worst – and best.

VICTORY must have tasted really sweet to Quentin Tarantino when he picked up the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained at the recent Academy Awards.

Covering a sensitive topic, slavery, Tarantino had received a lot of negative criticism from various parties when the movie came out in the United States, despite positive reviews from critics and cinemagoers.

Historians, for example, have spoken against an especially brutal scene in the film – dubbed Mandingo Fighting – commenting it doesn't correlate with facts. Acclaimed African-American director Spike Lee won't watch the film. Then there is the usage of the n-word – at 110 instances – that has ruffled more than a few feathers in the media.

At the ceremony, he responded to the negative critique of the film saying: "All that criticism that came out; it ended up being kind of a good thing. I wanted to start a conversation about slavery."

The director, who turns 50 this year, is known for utilising the blaxploitation genre to great storytelling success (Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown) and had wanted to tackle the subject of slavery for some time now. After all, the idea of a slave who becomes a bounty hunter and goes after his former owners was something that Tarantino came up with some 10 years ago.

"I have been wishing other people would deal with that issue for a long time," he said at an interview in Cancun, Mexico, last year, in his signature hyperactive manner, gesturing furiously to complement his rapid-fire speech. "The subject is important to me. It's probably more important to me than any other subject. It's in my DNA.

"I hope other people would realise what a fertile ground the topic is – to not only wring (their) hands about slavery and parade the misery of what happened there, but (to tell) rich stories. The heroism and the cowardice, the betrayal of love, hate. People say there are no new stories out there, but there is a whole wealth of stories that can be told, from a different perspective, that America has just been afraid to tackle. White and black."

Interestingly, his film came out a month after Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln, which focuses on Abraham Lincoln's quest to abolish slavery.These two films may have different ways of approaching the topic – one is a serious historical drama and the other is a bloody revenge fantasy – but both push slavery and racism to the fore.

Set two years before the Civil War when African men and women in the southern United States were living a dire existence, the film introduces us to Django (Jamie Foxx) as the sixth member of a slave train of seven. Along comes German-born bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who acquires him with the promise of freedom and reuniting Django with his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).

First, however, Django must help him bring down some criminals he is tracking, who used to work as overseers for Django's previous owner.

As they grow to become equals, their search leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the cruel proprietor of a plantation that houses many slaves, including a loyal house slave named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). The unlikely bond between Django and Schultz is tested even as it brings about a great change to an otherwise static and sad situation.

Making history

Being both a film and history buff, Tarantino meshes the two worlds in Django Unchained by making his first spaghetti western and focusing on conditions in the South in the 19th century. He did not, however, want to refer to history books when writing the screenplay. Instead, he allowed his characters to take him on a journey of what might have happened during that troubling period.

Naturally, at some point, he wanted his characters to exact revenge, a topic on which Tarantino is undoubtedly a master (Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, anyone?). Nonetheless, he wanted Django Unchained to have more substance than straightforward revenge fare.

"Revenge is definitely a big part of this film, and it's (a) gratifying part of the film – who doesn't want to see a slave get revenge against his evil master or overseer? I'd buy the ticket to that right now. The movie doesn't even need to be good and I will probably get a kick out of it.

"It's not just that; I could've easily done that 10 years ago. This is more than that. It's saving the princess from the castle. He is going to save his wife – she is in the worst place to be, with Calvin Candie, the worst person to possibly own her, the worst plantation any slave can go to. So he is going into hell to extract her. And to me, that is very exciting.

"The whole revenge aspect is a staple of genre storytelling not just in cinema, but paperback novels, Greek tragedy, Shakespearan drama. Seeing a character overcome (an) oppressor is one of the most emotional feelings you can have sitting in the cinema. Whenever I see that, it's cathartic ... when it's done well."

Shoot 'em up

Once upon a time, justice was best served in westerns – the good and the bad have a face-off, and the good would typically win with a single bullet at high noon.

Now, Tarantino is a huge fan of the spaghetti western genre (a term used for cowboy films that were produced and directed by Italians like Sergio Leone and Tarantino's favourite, Sergio Corbucci).

His previous films do have a touch of the western in them even as they are celebrating other genres like kung fu films. Nonetheless, he did not connect the Django Unchained story – sitting in the back burner of his mind – with westerns. Well, not until he went to Japan for the last leg of Inglourious Basterds' press tour.

He recalled: "In Japan, spaghetti westerns are still really, really popular – they call them Macaroni Westerns – and you can get tonnes of DVDs of them. I loaded up with a whole bunch of scores, I hit the mother lode.

I found a whole bunch of really great scores that I had never been able to find before on CD. So I was in my hotel room and I was blasting the scores and having a good time and then the story kind of just came to me. I actually sat down and wrote the opening scene. And because the opening scene was good, I knew I was committing now to tell the story."

When he came back home, he worked some more on the script. He knew he wanted Waltz to play Dr Schultz in the movie and the Austrian actor – who won his second Oscar working with Tarantino – got the chance to read the script as the filmmaker was writing it, longhand.

Work on the script was done in April 2011 and production began in November that same year. One of the locations used was Melody Ranch, in Santa Clarita, California, which had been used in other classic western movies and television series including Stagecoach, High Noon and Gunsmoke.

"I always knew I wanted to do a spaghetti western. And that there'd be spaghetti sauce on it," he concluded with a chuckle.

Django Unchained opens in cinemas nationwide on March 14.

True blood

Posted: 09 Mar 2013 11:25 PM PST

RIGHT from the very first film he wrote and directed, Reservoir Dogs (which features a dude getting his ear cut off to Stealers Wheel's Stuck In The Middle With You), Quentin Tarantino has been spilling buckets of blood in his films. He turns up the dial quite a few notches in his latest, Django Unchained, where blood gushes out of bodies in gigantic crimson geysers.

At an interview in Cancun, Tarantino touched on his bloodletting: "I have been working with the same effects company since Reservoir Dogs. Sometime around Kill Bill, we solidified the colour of blood. I like it much more Japanese, (the) style of blood, where the red has a paint-like quality. You can put it on metal, and it has this vividness. The normal stuff they use in Hollywood is this stuff that looks like pancake syrup, raspberry pancake syrup. It looks OK to put in the mouth and spit it out and everything, but when you put it on metal or (other) objects, it looks like pancake syrup."

Here are five Tarantino films that went crazy with the crimson.

Django Unchained – Tarantino came up with the idea of a bloody scene when he was writing the script. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said: "I wrote, 'Insert: red blood splashing white cotton bolls.' And I was like, 'Wow. I've never seen that before. That will be really cool.' " So he did just that with Christoph Waltz's character blasting a baddie off his horse and the blood spraying on the cotton fields. By the way, that is only one bloody scene in the movie, with plenty more to come.

Kill Bill, Vol 1 – It doesn't get any redder than when The Bride (Uma Thurman) goes to the House Of Blue Leaves to confront O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). After slashing through countless members of the Crazy 88 crew and taking on killer schoolgirl Gogo Yubari, The Bride finally has a face-off with O-Ren at a serene Japanese garden behind the restaurant. That Hattori Hanzo sword is definitely not to be messed with.

Kill Bill, Vol 2 – Go on, admit it. Weren't you just a little too happy when a bloody and almost beaten Bride gouged out Elle Driver's (a.k.a. California Mountain Snake as portrayed by Daryl Hannah) other eye with one swift move? This happened after a long and painful battle between the two women in a trailer. Phew. Cats have nothing on these two ladies when it comes to fights.

Inglourious Basterds – Revenge is sweet when the man on the receiving end of a machine-gun wielded by Jewish-American soldiers is Adolf Hitler. Though the film clearly took liberties with the facts to suit its story, it definitely put a new slant on history when Hitler and his cronies were trapped in a burning cinema with flying bullets raining down on them at the climax. Whee!

Pulp Fiction – Death is a funny thing ... at least, in Tarantino's hands. Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are having a discussion in their car about divine intervention, with Marvin (Phil LaMarr) sitting in the back, when Vincent's gun goes off. Turns out he accidentally shot Marvin in the face, leaving the car drenched in blood and paving the way for his own cameo. Much hilarity ensues.


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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Successful sequel

Posted: 10 Mar 2013 12:08 AM PST

Merivel, A Man Of His Time
Author: Rose Tremain
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, 341 pages

SEQUELS are tricky things for the very reason, as Rose Tremain herself has said, that "unless you feel fairly confident it can be equal to, or potentially better than, the original, then you shouldn't do them."

As a general guideline, it could not be better said – Hollywood and TV producers, please note! And in this case, Merivel, A Man Of His Time is the sequel to one of the best loved historical novels (though Tremain hates the term) of the last 30 years. Restoration was the book that finally brought to general attention one of the finest novelists writing in Britain today.

It was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 1989, it was turned into a film in 1995 – but most importantly, it sold well and stole its way into the hearts of its readers as only exceptional novels can.

With Restoration, Tremain moved into the heavy-weight category.

There were a number of reasons for this but the chief one was the character of Merivel himself, a man of no great birth but a competent and caring physician in an age – the 17th century – when bungling and conservative physicians ruled.

It fell to Merivel to cure one of the King's spaniels and to earn his affection and trust, so much so in fact that Charles II asked Merivel to marry his favourite mistress so that the King might enjoy better access to her.

It was a condition of this arrangement, of course, that Merivel would not touch her and it was equally inevitable that he should fall for her.

So in Merivel, Tremain's sequel to Restoration after 23 years, we find Merivel himself living in a somewhat remote and crumbling country house with his daughter and his faithful but tottering servants, back in favour with the King and much given to ruminating on the past and the condition of mankind.

Merivel is a reflective and backward-looking novel. Now in his mid to late 50s, Merivel is at a stage in his life when he questions what it has all been for. There is a real sense that the good times have gone but there may yet be time left to do something worthwhile. Merivel determines to visit the court of Louis XIV at Versailles, convinced that whatever is to be found will be found there. It isn't.

He finds instead a court crammed with petitioners and laced with back-biting vanity. The novel has a number of scenes which stand out and this is one of them. You would not wish the court of the Sun King on a dog.

But its compensation, for Merivel, is his meeting with Louise de Flamanville whose task it will be to whisk Merivel on the last of the great erotic ventures that have marked his life.

For Merivel lacks discrimination and restraint when it comes to his sexual partners – it is both one of his most obvious failings and one of his more endearing "human" weaknesses. Louise is married to an army officer besotted with his gay lover and for a time it looks as though Merivel will settle into a life of uncomplicated bliss with Louise in her father's house. Alas, nothing is that simple.

An older Merivel retains much of his appeal as a character. Impulsive, foolish, vain but deeply compassionate and full of self-doubt, he is a man approaching an age, 60, described by Tremain in a Daily Telegraph interview as "a Rubicon ... (an age) that probably suggests that there is more to be done, things to be resolved. Vanities to be cast off. Things that you have neglected to be remedied. People to be brought back, maybe...." In short, it offers a last roll of the dice.

What makes Merivel work is the quality of the writing. It would take a great deal more space than I have here to determine what an authentic 17th century authorial voice sounds like but it is easy to recognise it when it feels right. And in Merivel, it does. Tremain's ear is obviously well attuned to the period and her eye for detail is equally assured.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the medical scenes, whether it is Merivel nursing back to health his daughter, removing a cancer from the breast of his former lover or, most barbarous of all, the court physicians unsuccessful attempts to minister to the dying king.

I was uneasy about some of the earlier stages of the novel when I confess to a slightly irritable feeling of "where is this going and why?" I suppose, on reflection, that this coincides precisely with Merivel's state of mind.

But any reservations I initially harboured were swept away by the end. The final section of the book is both powerful and beautifully realised.

The epilogue leaves Merivel struggling for life on a heap of dirty laundry. It is an apt image for his times – and perhaps also for ours.

Prose that sings

Posted: 10 Mar 2013 12:08 AM PST

This wordy, weighty book demands effort but repays that hard work more than adequately.

Ancient Light
Author: John Banville
Publisher: Penguin Viking, 245 pages

JOHN Banville needs no introduction, but to paraphrase the writer himself, I'm not going to let a little detail like that stand in my way. He has written more than 20 novels, both under his own name and as his dark alter-ego Benjamin Black. Former literary editor of The Irish Times, Banville has won dozens of prizes and awards for his books, including the Booker prize, the Whitbread and the Guardian Fiction Prize, to name but a few. He is perhaps not only Ireland's most prolific and accomplished living writer, but indubitably one of the most important writers in the English language today.

Ancient Light was winner of last year's Irish Book Award and is a fine piece of work.

I first came across Banville in my early 20s (The Book Of Evidence, I believe) and found his writing too crammed and substantial to swallow down in the hungry gulps that the voracious appetite of my youth demanded. His was the voice of the 1950s, my parent's generation (Banville was born the same week as my father) and their poetry came from the likes of Patrick Kavanagh and Louis MacNeice, while the words in my world were more informed by Muppets Ernie and Bert.

Now that I've doubled in age I can still chew through a book in a week, but I've also learned to take the time to savour each delectable mouthful of a book such as this (somewhat to the exasperation of my editors) and enjoy the echoing voices of a place I once called home.

Banville is a writer's writer; each line is a thread, each word a stitch in the intricately embroidered tapestry of this book.

I found myself so taken by his use of language that I read several chapters aloud, deliberately thickening my somewhat diluted Irish accent just for the sheer pleasure of sounding out the mesmeric internal rhythms and resonances of Banville's prose.

His sentences are skilfully and meticulously constructed. His writing, though substantial and imaged – his aim is to write with "the kind of denseness and thickness that poetry has" – fair trips off the tongue with a musicality that belies the inherent complexity of his often loquacious turns of phrase.

The narrator, an ageing actor, resigned to the slowly declining stasis of old age, recounts the amorous dalliances of his distant youth with the mother of his once best friend. Banville uses his pen like a fishing rod, casting his lines out into the murky waters of late 1950s Ireland, then reeling them back in to the present day, before sending his lure towards the past once again and reliving with bitter-sweet nostalgia the narrator's youthful initiation, if not into love, at least into the hedonic realm of pure lust.

The narrator, Alexander Cleave, will be familiar to Banville's more devoted readers as this book forms part of a trilogy that includes Shroud and Eclipse. Ancient Light, though, stands on its own merits and not having read the previous two books (which I must confess I have not) in no way detracts from the power and beauty of this exceptional piece of work.

The more sensitive reader might find the premise of a 15-year-old boy committing adultery with his best friend's mother a little shocking. If so, then this is not the book for you. To my mind this is Banville's literary wink at Nabokov's Lolita, paying homage to one of the writers whose influence he has felt most. However, at the same time the reader will find that Banville's 1950s Ireland, which provides much of the setting of the earlier part of this book, is a far more censorious and conservative place than present day Malaysia, as indeed it remained until well into the 1990s, with all the censorship and book bannings and religious fervour and zeal that have forged the peculiar Irish psyche.

The narrator unexpectedly finds himself pulled out of the wallowing complacency and decay of his involuntary retirement and the lurid reminiscences of his lustful youth when he is offered a role in a film. The plot unfolds from there onwards and intertwines with the narratives of the previous two books in the trilogy.

In summary, this is a wordy, weighty book that demands considerable time and effort on the part of the reader, but repays that hard work more than adequately.

Dreaming a little dream

Posted: 10 Mar 2013 12:07 AM PST

MY favourite bookstore in Kuala Lumpur is celebrating the work of Maurice Sendak this month, with 20% off selected titles written and/or illustrated by the late artist and author. Selected titles only – not every book he ever wrote and/or illustrated, which comes to nearly 200 in all.

I wonder if there is any bookstore in the world that has every book by Sendak. Imagine what that would look like! Perhaps, somewhere in this universe (or the next), a fan who's also an eccentric billionaire is planning a Sendak-only bookshop.

Perhaps it's being built this very minute, on the sunny side of a street, outside, over there. Perhaps there will be shop assistants dressed as the Wild Things; and a manager called Rosie, or Hector Protector, or Bumble Hardy.

It would be the place to go to if one needed to get "very far away" from it all. You would need a boat to get there, and you'd have to travel through "night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year", but it would just take a few seconds.

There would be a cat and a little bird singing in the store window, and a Sealyham in a basket behind the cashier's desk.

Some afternoons, a horse would poke its head through the back window and harrumph gently for a few minutes and he would make you dream of blue grass and wind-fallen apples.

Babies would be welcome, and so would alligators and griffins, and bears little and large, but not goblins. Goblins would be sent marching. And lions would have to first show proof of having already eaten.

Hungry lions who ask nicely would be encouraged to visit the bookshop café where chicken soup with rice would be the speciality. Also on the menu would be birthday soup, and jelly beans; oatmeal, macaroni, and pancakes with syrup. And free cheese and Russian dressing sandwiches. And milk. And cake. In the morning.

Everyone would be very polite, of course.

(I wonder if there's anyone reading this who knows what I'm talking about? If you do, write to me at

One day there might really be a Sendak bookstore (it should be called Outside Over There and The Troggs' Wild Thing should be played at closing time). Or there might be a Sendak museum, like the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in America. Even a very little one would be good. Until then, I can dream.

Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Speak to her at and check out her blog at


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