US adds weight to claims Assad’s forces used sarin

Washington: The White House says it believes ”with varying degrees of confidence” Syria has used chemical weapons against rebel forces on a ”small scale”, but emphasised US spy agencies are still not 100 per cent sure of the assessment.
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US intelligence services had been investigating reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used chemical arms – a dangerous move Washington has said would cross a ”red line”, triggering possible military action.

”Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria,” United States National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The assessment, which she said was based in part on ”physiological samples”, points to the possible use of sarin, a man-made nerve agent used in two attacks in Japan in the 1990s. It can cause convulsions, respiratory failure and death.

But Ms Hayden warned that the chain of custody of the weapons was ”not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions”.

”Given the stakes involved, and what we have learnt from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient,” she said.

”Varying degrees of confidence” may indicate that US intelligence agencies have conflicting views on the reliability of the evidence.

The current assessment was ”not sufficient” to take action, Miguel Rodriguez, Mr Obama’s legislative liaison to Congress, wrote in a letter to Congress on Thursday.

The Obama administration is under growing pressure from some US politicians, Israel, France, Britain, the Syrian opposition and Persian Gulf nations seeking the Syrian President’s removal to start providing weapons to the rebels.

Some are also urging the creation of a no-fly zone over the country or sending in troops to seize Mr Assad’s chemical and biological weapons before they fall into terrorists’ hands.

”The Syrians crossed the line the President had said would be a game changer,” Republican senator John McCain said.

In remarks made on Thursday night at the Brookings Institution, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, said that there was now clear evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria and called on the US to take action.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking in Abu Dhabi, said the decision to release the intelligence report had been ”made within the past 24 hours” and warned that use of such weapons ”violates every convention of warfare”.

In London, the BBC reported British Prime Minister David Cameron as saying that growing evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime i “extremely serious”. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it had ”limited but persuasive” evidence of the use of chemical agents in Syria’s grinding civil war, which the United Nations says has left more than 70,000 people dead since it began in March 2011.

Earlier this week, an Israeli general in military intelligence alleged Syria had used chemical agents more than once during the protracted civil war, after Britain and France had voiced similar concerns to the UN.

Last month, during his visit to Israel, Mr Obama said the use of such weapons would be a ”grave and tragic” mistake on Mr Assad’s behalf and that it would be a ”game changer”.

Asked if the intelligence assessment meant that Syria had passed the declared ”red line”, Mr Hagel said that was a policy question and that his task was to provide the US President with ”options”.

Mr McCain said the key now was to ensure chemical weapons did not fall into the wrong hands.

”Some of them are in heavily contested areas and could easily fall into the hands of jihadist extremists,” he told CNN.

AFP, Bloomberg

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Where all is aglow

Lightning illuminates a cloud-laden sky as thunder echoes ominously through the deep gorges, which reach out like fractures in a giant glass pane through the surrounding bush.
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”This forest is not the safest place to be in a storm,” our guide for the night, Jenny, explains to the disappointed crowd of 30-odd torch-clutching mums and dads with keyed-up kids in tow.

We’ve all made the journey to Bundanoon in the NSW Southern Highlands to be dazzled by one of Australia’s biggest-known colonies of glow worms, and we aren’t going to let a few wayward lightning strikes stop us. We convince Jenny to wait 15 minutes and while the kids fidget incessantly with their beanies and the technologically savvy dads nervously check the weather radar on their smartphones, thankfully the storm skirts by. To a collective sigh of relief, Jenny finally declares it safe.

”People have been coming here for over 100 years, although the way down hasn’t always been this easy,” Jenny says as we set off down the manicured track. ”In the late 1800s, wide-eyed tourists would have struggled down into the enchanted forest by lantern.”

My five-year-old daughter, Sarah, joins the pack of kids snapping at Jenny’s heel, all wanting to be the first down. It’s soon clear that venturing into the unknown with a torch has a similar impact on kindergarten kids as a gobful of red cordial concentrate. It’s a half-hour walk down countless stairs; I wonder if (read: hope) they’ll tire.

Mercifully for the adults, Jenny stops, her spotlight steadily focused on a wombat that blocks the narrow path ahead. It’s as if the muscular marsupial is acting as sentinel, guarding the entrance into the grotto further below. Jenny eventually coaxes it out of the way and onwards we scurry.

As we get deeper into the forest, the last of the grumbles of thunder are replaced by high-frequency buzz of microbats on the nightly feeding foray. We also spot a ring-tailed possum (they aren’t much bigger than your forearm).

After about 30 minutes we reach a junction in the track. To the left, Sarah’s torchlight shines on the vines hanging off giant coachwoods. Who knows what lurks down there. We may never know, for Jenny leads us down the other, steeper path.

Minutes later, Jenny asks us to turn our torches off and to be quiet. If you were a two-centimetre-long critter hanging onto the wall of a cave, would you appreciate a bunch of energetic kids shrieking at the top of their voices charging at you? Luckily for the stars of tonight’s show, the kids oblige. Well, as best as they can.

We creep down the last of the stairs, feeling our way along the rails. Due to Sarah’s overzealous attempts to make her way towards the front of the group, we are the first down the stairs and onto a platform at the bottom of the 200 million-year-old sandstone grotto.

”There’s the saucepan,” the lady behind me whispers. ”Hey, that looks like the Southern Cross,” says another dad to his preschooler who is next to join us in the front row. With torches off it’s pitch black, so I can’t see what direction they are pointing, but I don’t need to, for the wall of the amphitheatre ahead is covered in glowing specks. It’s like the sky has been turned sideways.

For a good five minutes we watch, mesmerised at the natural light show before Jenny explains it’s time to traipse back up the stairs. She also explains that the glow ”worms” are actually the larvae of the fungus gnat and that the bioluminescence of the larvae is the result of a reaction between body products and oxygen in the enlarged tips of the insect’s four excretory tubules. Or, more simply put (and much to the delight of the kids), ”basically they glow out of their bum”.

The glow is emitted by the larvae to lure prey into their delicate web nest, woven by the larvae in the nooks and crannies of the rock face. The larvae then sit behind the web and prey on the insects, such as mosquitoes, attracted by the glow. ”The hungrier the glow worm, the brighter the glow,” Jenny says. Given the intensity of tonight’s glow, we all agree they must be famished.

We take our time on the walk back up (it is uphill, after all). Along the way, Jenny tells us the grotto is a popular spot to visit by day as well. ”Although you obviously won’t see the glow worms, it is a pleasant walk through the forest.”

But I don’t think I can return here in the daylight. We’ve fallen under the night spell of Glow Worm Glen and want to remember it at its captivating best. I guess, it’s a bit like reading a great book and not wanting to see the movie in case it’s not as good as you’d imagined it.LOCAL SECRET

The day after our glow worm adventure, while driving along the Illawarra Highway between Sutton Forest and Moss Vale, a shriek of glee from the back seat of the yowie mobile startled me. My daughters claimed they had spotted Cinderella’s slipper in a paddock out the window. I told them to keep reading their fairytale books, but they were insistent they’d seen the famous footwear out the window and not in their book. After much coaxing, I turned the car around and, to my surprise, sure enough, there, in the grounds of the Sutton Forest Estate of Southern Highland Wines, was a giant silver platform stiletto.

Although not Cinderella’s, it turns out it’s not any old slipper, rather the very silver-sequinned shoe that took pride of place atop the bus in the 1994 cult film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The winery recently purchased the shiny shoe, which has also featured in a number of theatre performances around the globe and even popped up in the Sydney Olympics Closing Ceremony.SPOTTED

Despite enduring blustery and chilly conditions, last weekend Phil Nizette and his merry band of volunteers successfully finished construction of arguably Australia’s most unusual bird hide (It’s Only Natural, April 20). Carefully crafted from local timber and clay, the organic installation is now open to the public at Strathnairn Homestead, Friday-Sunday, 10am to 4.30pm. Strathnairn is at 90 Stockdill Drive, Holt.MAILBAG

The case of the dead tree

For a number of years this column has reported on the demise of the landmark kurrajong tree at Urambi Hills in Tuggeranong. Several readers who regularly walk through the area have lamented about its death and also the removal of the park bench that used to be underneath it. ”I really wish that park management would remove the sad old tree, perhaps plant a new one, and put that seat back so people can rest and contemplate the splendid view,” pleads Glenn Schwinghamer of Kambah.

I have some good news for Schwinghamer and others who step out in Urambi Hills. During the week, I was advised by Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS) there are plans replace the bench by the end of next month. As to the tree itself, ”it will be assessed for safety in the next two weeks and if required, it will be felled”, reports my TAMS insider, who adds, ”at this stage there are no plans to replant the tree as there are several young trees already growing in the area.”CONTACT TIM

Email: [email protected]南京夜网 or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.

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Taylor, Bohl take leading roles

Australia’s swim team would not be divided into two despite the appointment of men’s and women’s head coaches to take the team into this year’s world championships, the men appointed to the positions, Rohan Taylor and Michael Bohl, said on Friday.
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Taylor and Bohl, who take the men’s and women’s team positions respectively from the completion of the national titles next Friday, said their goal would be to reunite the team after the tumultuous London Olympics, which was blighted by underwhelming performances and bad behaviour.

The respected pair, who fill the void left by Leigh Nugent, will hold their roles until the Barcelona world championships in July, after which a head coach would be sought and appointed. They will work closely with Michael Scott, who will start as high performance manager on May 1.

Bohl, who had nine Australian swimmers in London and also trained Korean superstar Park Tae-Hwan, and Taylor, who has trained several top swimmers including Leisel Jones, both said they did not want the head coaching job. They said they wanted to remain with their own squads and saw their positions as transitional roles.

They are keen to repair the culture of the team – described as ”toxic” by the Bluestone review – into one of high performance and results.

”It’s pretty simple really,” Taylor said. ”It’s about the focus and the attitude and we just need to remind ourselves we’re all in it, the coaches and the athletes are all there together, and we just need to remind ourselves that’s what it’s about and performances will speak on behalf of the team.”

Bohl said it came down to achieving three things.

”You want them [the swimmers] happy, you want them prepared, you want them working together,” said Bohl, who guided Stephanie Rice to three gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. ”If you get those things in line the rest of it just falls in a row behind it.

”One of the things we’ve got to get back to is making sure that the team is as one. We’re all one team, we’re there together, we’re all trying to get the best performance out of the athletes. We will separate from time to time but for the most part we’ll be there as one united team.”

Bohl said they would not look to significantly change the workings of the team.

”Both Rohan and I as the men’s and women’s coaches are there really to support,” Bohl said. ”We’re not the answer I don’t think, but any coach or swimmer that makes the team has a big job in front of them and working together as one unit will go a lot further.”

One of the criticisms aimed at Nugent was that he was not strong enough against troublemakers.

Bohl is a known hard taskmaster, with Taylor jokingly saying ”you don’t want to cross him”. Taylor also said he had standards that were ”non-negotiable”.

”Our athletes should be focused on preparing themselves to perform and that should be their No.1 priority,” Taylor said. ”If they’re doing that, they’re behaviour should be reflective of that. If it’s not we’ll tell them.”

Bohl said it did not mean they would have to wave the big stick.

”That’s not really our role,” he said. ”It’s up to the individual coaches that are looking after the swimmers and the swimmers themselves to take responsibility for what they’re doing. If we do see behaviour that’s probably not becoming to what an Australian swimming representative should be I’m sure we’ll address it through the [swimmer’s coach].”

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Abortion drugs may cost $12 within weeks

The abortion drugs RU486 could be available within weeks for as little as $12 after the federal government’s expert advisory body recommended it be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
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The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, made up of medical experts and health economists, recommended listing mifepristone and misoprostol – the two drugs known together as RU486 – for termination of a pregnancy of up to 49 days gestation.

The committee found the effectiveness of the drugs was similar to that of surgical termination, but was less costly.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek welcomed the committee’s recommendation, noting the drug was on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines and had been used successfully by tens of millions of women.

She said the committee’s recommendation was only a ”first step” in listing the drug, but expected the drug to be listed ”sooner rather than later”.

”I would expect this process to take a few weeks. I would expect that a decision would be made before the election. It’s not my intention for this to become a political football,” she said.

Ms Plibersek said her department would need to ensure there was a steady and good quality supply of the drug and reach agreement on price before the government decided whether to list the drug.

If the drug was listed on the PBS, women would pay $36.10 for each of the two pills, while those with concessions would pay only $5.90 per pill. Currently, the drugs cost between $250 and $350, while surgical abortion costs between $300 and $500.

Ms Plibersek said listing the drugs would provide greater choice to women who could not afford abortion or who lived in country areas.

”Some women are travelling a day or two by bus and having to find money for overnight accommodation in a city,” she said. ”If the drug is listed I would hope it would make an extremely difficult time in a woman’s life a little bit easier.”

Asked about the drug before the committee’s recommendation was made public, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he would accept the committee’s advice. ”I would accept the advice of the technical experts,” he said. ”I understand that there are lots of people who are concerned to try to ensure that we have a humane society which deals decently with women who are in a very difficult position and I certainly have always said that the whole issue was to try to ensure that we empowered women, to try to ensure that we gave women in a very difficult position all the support they needed to make what was for them the best possible choice.”

Ms Plibersek said she did not expect the listing of the drugs to lead to more abortions, but overseas experience suggested many women had chosen medical termination over surgical abortion.

Women who had used the drugs overseas reported appreciating the ability to take the second pill in the privacy of their own home with family support.

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New mental health ‘bible’ gets the thumbs down

Australia is set for a sharp rise in workplace mental health claims because of changes in how mental illness is defined, workplace experts and psychiatrists fear.
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The symptoms needed for diagnosis of some conditions will be expanded when the controversial Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) – known as the ”psychiatrists’ bible” – is released next month.

Psychiatrists and psychologists the world over have criticised the changes because they risk causing increases in unnecessary treatment and mis-labelling people. But the effect of the changes on workers’ compensation cases and workplace legal disputes may be even greater.

Unlike doctors, who could ignore the new manual, courts would not be able to avoid it, said Doron Samuell, a psychiatrist with expertise in workers’ compensation and insurance.

He said the lowered threshold for diagnosing many conditions would lead to more claims. ”You can be diagnosed with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] even if you are an emergency worker and you hear details; you don’t have to be directly involved in an incident,” said Dr Samuell, from medical risk management company SR2 Health.

Another concern was that in the past the manual distinguished between disorders considered personality-based and other conditions. But that distinction would be removed, opening the door for workplaces to be held responsible for problems. ”Even if you have a recognised pattern of interpersonal conflict, your bullying claims are much more likely to get a diagnosis,” he said.

A report from Safe Work Australia this month found mental stress was the most expensive form of workers’ compensation claim. ”Besides the burden work-related mental stress places on the health and welfare of employees, the impact on productivity of workplaces and the Australian economy is substantial,” it said.

US employment and labour lawyer Douglas Hass published a paper in the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal documenting the wide-reaching effects the changes could have in the US.

”The uncertainty will lead to less risk-taking in some instances and, undoubtedly, more legal challenges in others,” he said. ”The net result for employers and employees will be more money and higher costs.”

Allen Frances, the architect of the previous manual, DSM-IV, told Fairfax that when his taskforce reduced the number of symptoms needed to qualify a person as having attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, it increased by 200 per cent. Changes to autism preceded a 2000 per cent increase.

Courts should avoid adopting the new manual, he said.

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Veteran netball coach proud of Vixen trio

Plummer products: Melbourne Vixens head coach Simone McKinnis, midcourt coach Di Honey and McKinnis’ assistant Eloise Southby-Halbish this week. Photo: Pat ScalaWhen coaching matriarch Norma Plummer looked along the Melbourne Vixens bench during a pre-season game last month, she found herself opposed to three of her former pupils – Simone McKinnis, Eloise Southby-Halbish and Di Honey. Another, Roselee Jencke, was the architect of the Queensland Firebirds’ 2011 premiership. Shades, perhaps, of Tom Hafey and his famous Punt Road coaching nursery.
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Proud? Emotional? ”Yeah, I am. I was. I’m really, really proud, really rapt, because I had all those players as kids,” says Plummer, the former Melbourne Phoenix, AIS and long-time Diamonds mentor, now overseeing the young West Coast Fever team that will play the Vixens at the new Perth Arena on Saturday. ”Simone was 14 or 15 when she turned up, and Ella was 16, and you really hope they love the game as much as you and they can give back.

”They’re all good coaches. They’re reading the game well and I think they’re doing a good job. Mind you, they’ve got a lot of experienced players to work with; the test for them would be if they had a bottom team, to see if they could take that anywhere. But I’m sure they’re learning their craft, and I think it’s the future of coaching for Australia. We can only survive at the top if we’ve got people passionate about wanting to keep us there.”

And also, she says, with elite-level experience, such as that offered by the decorated Vixens trio. Head coach McKinnis was a defensive champion of 67 Tests, including world championship and Commonwealth Games success, and her assistant Southby-Halbish a fine 36-Test shooter who won Commonwealth gold in 2002 and five national titles with the Phoenix. Honey, a specialist midcourt coach for both the Diamonds and Vixens, represented Australia from 1983-89, and was inducted as a Legend into the Netball Victoria Hall of Fame.

Thus, it was a teacher-student reunion of sorts at Royal Park in March, and the Vixens’ new team recognised the significance. ”Norma came up after the game and said ‘well done, we’ll get you next time’, sort of thing, but we were saying ‘look, all three of us came up under you’,” McKinnis recalls.

”And she got a little bit emotional, because she loves it, she loves the sport, and to see players that she’s worked with in coaching roles now, I think that’s a big deal for her, too, because she’s very much about the sport, and the development of the sport, and the development of the players that she’s had come through with her.”

While McKinnis was the first, Southby-Halbish had always seemed the most natural future coach, as a smart and famously vocal player and captain with a highly regarded netball brain. The uncompromising McKinnis way was to lead more by action and example; interestingly, Liz Ellis remarked recently that, of all her former Australian teammates, she considered the star wing defence among the least likely to swap her bib for a clipboard and witches hats.

Honey is the newest addition to the Vixens panel, McKinnis’ friend and former speedy-midcourt teammate, currently the head coach at Geelong Grammar and the Barwon Sports Academy, with experience at both local and state-league level. Collectively, the triumvirate will face Plummer’s West Coast before a crowd of more than than 8000, as the Fever attempt to extend an unbeaten 2013 home record while the fourth-placed Vixens back up from loss No.1 and will be again be without key shooter Karyn Howarth, who has been ruled out for a second consecutive week with knee soreness.

”It’ll be good. I always love catching up with Plummer, but she’ll be super-competitive,” laughs McKinnis. ”She’ll be out to kick our bums, no doubt.” Plummer: ”Why wouldn’t I be? I don’t ever go out there not trying to do that! But if we put up how many games (the Vixens) have all played to what we’ve got, they’d be wanting to kick our backsides with the experience they’ve got on that court.

”My lot are learning like mushrooms, so they can have their ups and downs as a group, but they’re getting better. I’ve only been here for 18 months and they’ve been a bottom team all the time, so it’s a lot of work to change the culture and bring them up and make them believe. Just having a crack’s not good enough, and I don’t come from that culture.”

Instead, Plummer’s roots are in Victoria, where winning is the only expectation, and to where she will eventually return when her work is done. Yet, decades later, the former Australian captain and coach of two world title-winning teams has a passion for the sport – and coaching – that is undiminished. ”I’ve never lost it,” she declares, convincingly.

Consider this exchange after West Coast’s one-goal loss to the Vixens in round 12 last year. ”I had a joke with Simone and Ella on the bench saying, ‘look out, I’m comin’ for ya!”’ says Plummer. ”They were laughing, but I’m really pleased to see them there, and they’ve got years in front of them to keep it going. I know I’m on sort of more borrowed time now, but you feel really good that they’re stepping up. That’s what you hope you pass on.”

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Sultry thriller scoops the dirt

THE PAPERBOY (MA)
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General Release

****

Towards the end of The Paperboy, Nicole Kidman – in superb form as Southern white trash – says: ”I wanna go live in the swamp.” Hell, yeah! This whole movie is a swamp – a seething, messy murder investigation infused with the sweaty smell of bodies and driven by a casual force that is seductively unstable, darkly funny and strangely exhilarating.

Based on a novel by Pete Dexter, director Lee Daniels (best known for the Academy Award-winning Precious) pulls in a top shelf cast and helps them get down and dirty. Set in 1960s Florida, the film opens with the murder of a racist policeman, a brutal crime that puts the very nasty Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) behind bars. Believing it to be a miscarriage of justice, journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his black colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) descend on the steamy town to scoop the dirt. Driven around by Ward’s lovesick younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), the paperboys are joined by Charlotte Bless (Kidman), a fortysomething sex-bomb who’s become erotically infatuated with Van Wetter – even though they’ve never met. Charlotte, like the Florida weather, manages to get everyone hot and steamy, pushing Jack to the limits of desire. And when the dysfunctional team aren’t on the case – which seems to be much of the time – they’re found at the Jansen family home where long-suffering servant Anita (Macy Gray), manages their self-indulgent antics with spectacular finesse.

The film premiered at Cannes nearly a year ago and has had a troubled time getting around the big screen. Easily misunderstood, it’s best viewed as high-grunge parody, a rambling and visceral examination of small-town racism, corruption, sex and inbreeding. If it’s a logical police procedural you’re after, you’ve come to the wrong swamp.

The cast are uniformly superb, with Kidman doing her best work since Gus van Sant directed her in To Die For and Cusack scarily puffed up and slimey like one of the ‘gators his family kill for a living. Efron and Gray play out one of the most touching non-romances ever seen on screen and McConaughey oozes self-satisfied control. The film’s aesthetic is blown out inelegance, colours faded as if by the Florida sun; the editing is sometimes as random as the obsessive characters who wander through this world.

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A charming little weepie

SONG FOR MARION (PG)
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Capitol Manuka and Palace Electric

***

Over the Christmas break, audiences flocked to see Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut film Quartet which was about, and just to completely dumb the premise down, a bunch of old geezers putting on a show. It was gorgeous and emotive, and there are many similarities between that and this, Paul Andrew Williams’s Song for Marion. Perhaps it was the presence of Maggie Smith in Quartet that makes me use Downton Abbey for a simile – if Quartet is like Downton Abbey, then Song for Marion is Coronation Street. But I do like watching a bit of Coronation Street, me.

The Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) of the title is a beautiful and spirited woman facing the pointy end of a long battle with cancer. Apart from her son James (Christopher Eccleston), granddaughter Jennifer (Orla Hill) and her cranky but loving husband Arthur (Terence Stamp), Marion’s great love is the choir run out of the local community centre by passionate music teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).

Marion wishes husband Arthur could overcome his shyness and ingrained misanthropy to join in with the odd collection of characters who make up the choir and, seeing Arthur as a soul in need, choir master Elizabeth takes it upon herself to bring Arthur out of his shell.

Director Williams works from his own screenplay based around a personal family story. It is a pretty meat-and-potatoes script. Nothing too substantial, nor original, but offering a great platform for stellar performances from Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave.

Redgrave gives what film writers call a ”brave performance”, which is film industry euphemism for ”she’s not wearing any make-up”.

I could have done with a little less shaky cam from cinematographer Carlos Catalan. There is a reason music companies spend good money on elaborate music videos with boy bands pratting around on beaches in their underwear – it’s because watching vision of people sing only has a limited appeal. No amount of shaky camera sweeping across a choir will change peoples’ minds about that.

The choir, amusingly called the OAPz or Old Age Pensioners (with a ”z” at the end to make it sound fresh), is peopled with some fine British character actors and more than a few over actors.

My partner is in the middle of quitting smoking, again, and taking a course of Champix, which has been something of an emotional rollercoaster, with night terrors and waterworks at things as obscure as a passing mother with a pram, a bank ad or the opening credits to Survivor.

It is this doctor’s prescription to keep anyone on any similar medication away from this film. It was a full-box-of-Kleenex job for me, and I’m relatively emotionally stable. Lovely.

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Rabbitohs win fiery Brookvale encounter

NRL. Manly vs South Sydney. Photo: Anthony Johnson Greg Inglis in a spear tackle by Richie Fa’aoso. Photo: Anthony Johnson
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Adam Reynolds attempts to break a tackle. Photo: Anthony Johnson AWJ

Sam Burgess gets to grips with Steve Matai. Photo: Anthony Johnson

MATCH STATS/AS IT HAPPENED

The battle of Brookvale II? Or, to put it another way, the match of the season so far, as South Sydney’s premiership credentials were given the sternest test. Not only did they pass it, they did so after overcoming lifting tackles, high shots, a rumble and a Manly performance which lost them no friends.

The Sea Eagles’ comeback from 20-0 down was stirring, if by the end of the match unsuccessful. The contest had everything, including, dare we say it, an obstruction controversy. But what was clear above it all was that both teams, along with Melbourne and Sydney Roosters, are so far clear of the chasing pack right now the rest aren’t even in the rear-view.

Souths were superior on the night, but only just. Manly threw everything at the Rabbitohs, including a Brett Stewart elbow, two Richie Fa’aoso lifting tackles and the obligatory Steve Matai high shot – which sparked the equally obligatory scuffle between two top teams at Brookvale Oval on a Friday night. Thankfully, festivities were contained to the field of play.

Three Manly players on report over four incidents showed the intensity of the contest, as the Rabbitohs inflicted their own damage by putting on three tries on the Sea Eagles in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

Manly started as they always do at Brookvale; cocksure to the point of looking unbeatable. Winger Jorge Taufua busted through two forwards, then ran fullback Greg Inglis inside out, before the Souths star got his man. Manly centre Jamie Lyon’s grubber went just long, while Brett Stewart’s lunge went just short.

But the Rabbitohs responded. The Sea Eagles struggled to hold onto the ball, as the Souths pressure took its toll, and then frustrations led to ill-discipline. First, Richie Fa’aoso was placed on report for a lifting tackle on the fullback, who must be getting sick of watching the world upside down, while Jason King was penalised for another on the same player. The run of penalties, combined with the Sea Eagles’ handling, left the Rabbitohs camped in the Manly half for long periods. The first points of the contest, rather fittingly, came from Manly ill-discipline.

The Rabbitohs’ sixth penalty of the contest prompted loud complaints from Lyon to referee Phil Haines, but a warning from the official that the captain was close to the line: “Watch what you say,” Haines said. Reynolds kicked the ensuing penalty goal.

Just before the half-hour mark, Stewart was placed on report for his indiscretion, which on-field official Ashley Klein described as “unnecessary use of the elbow” on Andrew Everingham. Adding to the lack of necessity was the fact it was off the ball.

Manly are used to ending contests by the halftime break at Brookvale Oval, but on this occasion, they could not even score a point. The fact they still looked good for their duck egg showed the quality of the game, as well as their opponents.

But then, predictably, it only took a minute for one of the sides to finally break. With the queues for drinks on the hill still to subside, it was Inglis who was unshackled. He found space and then played with Brett Stewart, dummying a few times before, as the fullback finally dropped off the tackle, the Rabbitohs player bounded over for the first try.

Fa’aoso found himself on report for a second time for the first offence, a lifting tackle on Inglis, with five-eighth John Sutton taking full advantage by stepping to score, giving his side a stunning 14-0 lead, despite claims of obstruction.

Then came Matai’s moment. His high shot on George Burgess was ruled to have come off the ball, but he was still placed on report, while Sam Burgess was warned for being third man, but first brother, into the melee.

By that stage little was going right for the Sea Eagles, who appeared to have scored through Tom Symonds, only for the video referee to rule that Rabbitohs prop Roy Asotasi had been obstructed. Beau Champion scored a minute later, and – despite a late rally from the home side – their biggest scalp this season was achieved.

SOUTH SYDNEY 20 (B Champion G Inglis J Sutton tries A Reynolds 4 goals) bt MANLY 12 (D Cherry-Evans A Watmough tries J Lyon 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Phil Haines, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 20,510.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Evans to gamble on the Giro

Cadel Evans knows he has taken a major risk by deciding only a month ago, to the surprise of many, to race the three-week Giro d’Italia starting in Naples next Saturday.
Nanjing Night Net

It means the 2011 Tour de France champion – a stickler for long-term planning – will back up from the 3405-kilometre Giro after its finish on May 26 to race the Tour, starting on June 29. Claiming the double is a challenge that attempts in recent years have indicated is arguably too hard, even when planned in detail. The last rider to win the Giro and Tour in the same year was Italian climber Marco Pantani in 1998.

Harder for Evans (BMC) is that he will race the Giro off a shortened preparation.

So why the late change in plan, announced on March 30, to include a three-week event before the Tour de France, rather than build up as normal with shorter races and training/reconnaissance camps?

Evans, who became the first Australian to win the Tour in 2011 but placed seventh last year, has heard all the speculation that his team leadership for the Tour is at risk of being lost to young American Tejay van Garderen (fifth and best young rider in 2012), and that racing the Giro is about fighting for his status, even though he and BMC have said he will be the No. 1 rider.

There have also been suggestions he is scrambling for a second grand tour win, in case he fails in the Tour, and that with his contract up next year, at 36 this may be one of his last chances.

But Evans is adamant the decision to compete in Italy is aimed at accruing the racing kilometres he lost after a virus impaired and ended his season last year, and that he will need to be at his best for the Tour de France.

Evans began this season well, finishing third in the Tour of Oman. But when his form failed to improve as expected in March at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy, he realised the idea of racing the Giro, proposed by BMC management, was the best option to take.

”[It] is to recover the days racing lost last year because of the illness … and always to be at my best for the Tour,” Evans said.

”There is always an inherent risk that I will be overdone for the Tour, that I’ll have done too much racing; but I’d rather have done too much than too little. And I feel that making up for race days is what I need to get me back to my very best, and the Giro is a great way to do that.

”But after only two or three weeks’ preparation … I’ll go with high hopes, not high expectations.

”I will be taking it one step at a time – to first try and do a good Giro, do the best Giro I can. Anything that I do good in the Giro is only going to help me in the Tour. They are two hefty objectives, so you’re best to look at one at a time. Otherwise it can get overwhelming. I’m as curious as anyone to see how it pans out, how far I can go on hope.”

At least Evans knows what he is in for. He tackled the Giro-Tour double in 2010. While he failed to reap the success he hoped for due to illness and injury, he knows he can handle the load.

In the 2010 Giro, Evans placed fifth overall, won a stage and the points jersey after being struck by a fever. In the Tour de France that year, he took the yellow jersey on stage eight in the Alps despite a crash in which he fractured his elbow, only to drop off the pace on stage nine due to the pain of his injury.

Later that year, Evans also rode well in the world road championship in Geelong.

But Evans said of the toll such a schedule takes on a rider trying to win them all: ”It’s not easy to recover … and with the Tour a little earlier this year, it’s technically more difficult.”

There is also the issue of who Evans races against. In the Giro, it will include Briton Bradley Wiggins (Sky) who won last year’s Tour, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), the reigning Giro champion, and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who won the recent Giro del Trentino.

Evans is unsure – or coy – about how he will race the Giro.

Will he be aggressive and seek early time gains as he did en route to winning the 2011 Tour? Will he pin his hopes on the 17.4-kilometre stage-two team time trial, and two individual time trials on stage eight (55.5 kilometres) and stage 18 (19.4 kilometres), the second being up a mountain? Will he risk all and attack in the Dolomites and Alps in week three, knowing win or lose it may sharpen him for the Tour?

”In any grand tour, where you can get time is [an opportunity] you need to use,” Evans says. ”It depends. Will the climbers be strong, or will they control everything in the mountains? The time trials aren’t exactly flat. Sky, you would expect to race how they won the [2012] Tour, but Ryder brings more interest. Then the Italians … you can’t believe how excited they are to be there.”

Don’t ignore Evans’ Italian ties as motivation either. A former mountain biker, his road career began as an under-23 rider in Italy. He turned professional with the Italian Mapei team, and in his grand tour debut, the 2002 Giro, he placed 14th and wore the leader’s pink jersey for a day.

His wife Chiara Passerini is Italian, and her parents often head out to watch him race.

”My roots as a bike racer are quite Italian. Italian cycling has given me a lot,” Evans says.

”I certainly hope to be able to give something back to it.”

Hence, he has always wanted to race the Giro since his last start in 2010.

”I thought I would come back but a bit later [than now], and [thought] when I do, I want to do well in the race,” he says. ”That’s why my hopes are higher than my expectations.”

Watch every stage of the Giro d’Italia live on Eurosport, and selected stages on SBS One.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.