The NewsFuror

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dollar falls to record euro low

US dollar
The dollar is falling as investors worry about the US economy
The US dollar has fallen to a fresh record low against the euro as traders bet that further interest rate cuts will be needed to stem a US recession.

The euro rose to $1.5048 after hitting $1.50 on Tuesday for the first time.

Data issued on Tuesday, showing a sharp rise in US home foreclosures and another fall in American consumer confidence, weighed on sentiment.

Lower US rates tend to send investors in search of other currencies which give a better rate of return.

"Inflation - or perhaps more to the point, stagflation - remains a concern for the Fed," said Gary Thomson, an analyst at CMC Markets.

Five-year low

The latest sign of falling US consumer confidence came from the closely-watched Conference Board survey.

It said consumer sentiment fell to a five-year low in February because of growing recession fears.

At the same time, the number of US homes facing foreclosure rose 57% in January, compared with the same month of 2007.

Last month, the Fed slashed interest rates to 3% as it tried to prevent the US economy falling into recession.

"With so few consumers expecting conditions to turn around in the months ahead, the outlook for the economy continues to worsen and the risk of a recession continues to increase," said Lynn Franco, a director of the Conference Board's consumer research centre.

Cambodia leader revisits prison

Duch in court on 20 November 2007
Duch (centre) was asked to talk through Tuol Sleng's daily routine
The chief interrogator of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge has been taken back to a prison he commanded where at least 14,000 people were killed.

Kaing Geuk Eav, also known as Duch, visited the S-21 prison with judges from a tribunal which has charged him with crimes against humanity.

The judges wanted him to explain what happened at the site, known as Tuol Sleng, which is now a genocide museum.

The Khmer Rouge are blamed for more than one million deaths in the 1970s.

Duch is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge officials to be charged in a UN-backed tribunal, but a date for the trial has yet to be set.

Torture chambers

Despite its gruesome history, Tuol Sleng is normally one of the busiest tourist attractions in Phnom Penh.

For Duch's visit with dozens of investigating judges from the UN-backed tribunal, police cordoned off the genocide museum and the surrounding area.

Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979
Founded and led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998
Abolished religion, schools and currency in a bid to create agrarian utopia
Brutal regime that did not tolerate dissent
More than a million people thought to have died from starvation, overwork or execution

Tuol Sleng was once a school, but the Khmer Rouge surrounded the outside with barbed wire and turned the classrooms into tiny cells and blood-spattered torture chambers.

Thousands of people were tortured there until they admitted to crimes against the revolution. Only a handful of inmates left the prison alive.

Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, said the site was a "living nightmare" for Cambodians.

On Tuesday, Duch was taken to visit Choeung Ek, where some 16,000 people were buried in shallow mass graves after being tortured at Tuol Sleng.

Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman, said Duch wept during the visit as "the accused explained what happened ... when he was the chief of S-21", the Associated Press news agency reported.

"We noticed that he was feeling pity, tears were rolling down his face two or three times," he said.

A visitor looks at human skulls at Tuol Sleng, Cambodia
The former school is now a museum about the Cambodian genocide

Duch was especially moved, he said, when he stood before a tree with a sign describing how executioners disposed of their child victims by bashing their heads against its trunk.

Both visits, described by officials as re-enactments, were closed to the public and the media.

Duch was arrested and detained in July 2007.

Those also facing charges include Nuon Chea, second-in-command of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, the former foreign and social affairs ministers Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, and former head of state Khieu Samphan.

Democrats clash in crucial debate

Hillary Clinton (left) and Barack Obama at the debate in Cleveland, Ohio, 26 February 2008
The two rivals held their second debate in five days
The two main Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have accused each other of negative campaigning in a TV debate.

The two White House hopefuls also attacked each other's policies on health care, trade and foreign policy, including the Iraq war.

It was their final face-to-face encounter before next week's crucial primaries in Ohio and Texas.

Mr Obama has won the previous 11 primaries and caucuses.

Analysts say Mrs Clinton needs to win a majority of delegates in both states to stay in the race to choose the Democratic candidate at the national nominating convention in August, ahead of the November elections.

Blame game

Accusations of dirty tricks and negative campaigning have dogged the past week of the nomination race.

In the opening minutes of the televised debate in Cleveland, Ohio, the two politely but firmly accused each other of spreading misinformation about their policies.

"The charges that Senator Obama's campaign has made regarding fliers and mailers and other information that he has been putting out about my health care plan and my position on Nafta (the North America Free Trade Agreement) have been very disturbing to me," Mrs Clinton said.

Mr Obama retorted that his rival's campaign had "constantly sent out negative attacks on us... We haven't whined about it because I understand that's the nature of these campaigns."

Barack Obama meeting Kenyan elders in 2006

Both insisted they stood for universal healthcare, and that the other's programme would leave some people without cover.

Mr Obama sought to draw a line, however, under the appearance of a controversial photograph of him wearing traditional Somali robes during a visit to Kenya in 2006.

He said he believed Mrs Clinton when she said she did not know where the photo had come from.

Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama went on to say that they would both seek to renegotiate Nafta with Canada and Mexico, under threat of opting out of the 14-year-old pact.

Many workers in Ohio and other states hard-hit by factory closures blame the deal for job losses.

It was on foreign policy that there was the strongest contrast between the two candidates.

Mrs Clinton repeated her stance that her qualifications and experience as former first lady and New York senator put her in the best position to be the next commander-in-chief.

Mr Obama replied that experience should not be confused with longevity in Washington, saying Mrs Clinton's vote in favour of authorising the war in Iraq in 2002 was a massive strategic blunder.

Obama momentum

It was hard to define an outright winner of the debate, says our correspondent, but there was nothing to suggest Mrs Clinton did enough to turn the tide that has been moving in Mr Obama's favour.

Mrs Clinton now needs to win a majority of the delegates in the remaining state primaries and caucuses to stay in the race to choose the Democratic candidate for November's presidential election.

Ohio and Texas, both big states, are being seen as must wins for her.

Several polls suggest Mr Obama is gaining ground in both Texas and Ohio. The Illinois senator is leading in Texas for the first time, with 50% compared to 46% for Mrs Clinton, according to a CNN poll.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama won endorsement from a former rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Christopher Dodd.

On the Republican side, front-runner John McCain has also been campaigning in Ohio, as the party prepares to hold its own primary in the state, also on 4 March.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Vantage Point tops US film chart

Vantage Point
Vantage Point stars Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox and Forest Whitaker
Political thriller Vantage Point has topped the North American box office chart on its first week of release.

The movie, starring Dennis Quaid, shows the shooting of the US president from different perspectives.

Despite getting poor reviews, it took $24m (£12.2m) on its opening weekend, relegating sci-fi film Jumper into second place with $12.7m (£6.5m).

The Spiderwick Chronicles, based on the children's fantasy books took $12.6m (£6.4m) in its second weekend.

It has moved down a place to number three.

Hayden Christensen
1. Vantage Point ($24.0m)
2. Jumper, pictured ($12.7m)
3. The Spiderwick Chronicles ($12.6m)
4. Step Up 2 the Streets ($9.8m)
5. Fool's Gold ($6.3m)
Source: Media By Numbers
Dancing sequel Step Up 2 the Streets was fourth with $19.7m (£10.1m), while Fool's Gold was fifth with $6.3m (£3.2m).

Vantage Point has an ensemble cast including Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt. It is Irish director Pete Travis' first feature film.

There was box office momentum for two films that went on to win Oscars on Sunday.

Best original screenplay winner Juno, about a teenage pregnancy, was joint-seventh with comedy Be Kind Rewind. Both took $4.1m (£2.1m).

There Will Be Blood, starring best actor Daniel Day-Lewis, jumped two places to re-enter the top 10 after taking $2.6m (£1.3m).

Europe funds internet TV standard

Screengrab of iPlayer homepage, BBC
Peer-to-peer technology underpins the BBC's iPlayer
The European Union is spending 14m euros (£10.5m) to create a standard way to send TV via the net.

An additional 5m euros (£3.7m) is being contributed to the project by 21 other partners including the BBC and the European Broadcasting Union.

The project will create a peer-to-peer system that can pipe programmes to set-top boxes and home TV sets.

It will be based on the BitTorrent technology many people already use to share movies and music.

Community work

Dubbed P2P Next, the four-year research project will try to build a system that can stand alongside the other ways that broadcasters currently get programmes to viewers.

"For the broadcasters the incentive is to take their distribution mechanism beyond terrestrial, satellite and cable," said project co-ordinator Jari Ahola, from the VTT technical research centre in Finland.

"They can use the internet as a distribution platform for very low cost," he said.

The finished system would be able to handle stored content for download and streamed content sent from live programmes such as football matches or other big ticket events.

Mr Ahola said peer-to-peer was crucial because, without it, broadcasters trying to serve large audiences would likely be overwhelmed as the numbers of those watching TV via the net grew.

Transmitter, BBC
More people are getting TV shows via the net rather than the air
Peer-to-peer systems have no central host that hands out content, such as TV shows, to viewers. Instead all the machines downloading a show make parts of it available to all the others that want it.

In this way, the load is distributed across the network.

However, he added, the finished system would also have to be able to handle broadcast-type events that can be restricted to particular audiences.

"There will be certain streams within an operator's network that will be sent only once and won't be for everyone," he said. "The geographic limitations will support the existing way of doing it."

Mr Ahola said the project aimed to have some parts of the system available by August 2008. A more complete test version should be finished within 16 months that can pipe programmes to set-top boxes so people can watch on their TV set rather than a PC.

The BBC already uses some peer-to-peer technology to underpin the iPlayer - its on-demand TV system.

P2P Next will build on the Tribler technology under development at the Delft University of Technology. Built in to this are tools that viewers can use to communicate with others that enjoy a particular programme or genre.

Xbox to stop making HD DVD add-on

Front of an Xbox 360
About 300,000 of the HD DVD add-ons have been sold
Microsoft has decided to stop making the HD DVD add-on for its Xbox 360 games console after Toshiba abandoned the high definition DVD format.

Toshiba estimated last week that about 300,000 of the add-ons had been sold.

Microsoft was one of the key backers for the HD DVD format, competing with Blu-ray, which was the format available in Sony's rival PlayStation 3 console.

Microsoft said it would continue to provide warranty support for the $130 (£115 in the UK) HD DVD add-on.

Last week, Toshiba said it would stop production of HD DVD players and recorders after major film studios decided to back Sony's Blu-ray format instead.

Toshiba said the tipping point came last month when Warner Brothers decided to release its movies only in Blu-ray.

The Xbox add-ons sold represented 30% of the one million HD DVD devices that were sold worldwide.

That compares unfavourably with the 10.5 million PS3s sold by Sony, which come with a built-in Blu-ray drive.

Adobe fuses on and offline worlds

Shopping offline
Air was code-named "apollo" during its development
Adobe has launched software designed to make it easier for computer users to use online applications offline.

Adobe Air allows developers to build tools that still have some functionality even when a computer is no longer connected to the net.

A free download will allow users of Macs, PCs and, later this year, Linux machines to run any Air applications.

The first programs that use the technology, developed by web sites such as eBay, have already been released.

"Air is going to allow applications that run on the web today - that run in the browser - to be brought down to the desktop," Andrew Shorten, platform evangelist at Adobe told.

"It's about taking existing web applications and adding extra functionality whether you want to work offline or whether you want to access data on your disk."

Seamless vision

Mr Shorten said that the technology is not about replacing the web browser.

Many firms have already developed Air applications

"It's about delivering the best experience depending on where you are and what you need to get from the application, " he said.

"If I'm on the road with my laptop maybe I want to use the desktop version of my application. If I pop into an internet cafe I can still access it through the browser."

The software is part of a growing number of technologies that aim to make the transition between the on and offline worlds seamless.

In 2006, Microsoft unveiled its Silverlight technology. And last year Google launched Gears.

The tool does not allow the creation of new content but does allow web applications to be used offline.

For example, the developers of the free online office package Zoho use Gears to give users similar functionality to normal desktop office programs.

The nice thing about it is that it works on all the different platforms

Similarly, Adobe is looking into provide Air versions of many of its popular programs such as Photoshop.

A host of other companies and web services have already built Air applications.

For example, Ebay has built a program that allows users to do much of the legwork required in setting up auctions offline. The next time the user connects to the internet the listing would be posted to the website.

The application also allows users to keep up to date with auctions and bids without the need to have a browser open at the eBay page.

Blurred boundary

The BBC is also building prototype applications with AIR.

"The nice thing about it is that it works on all the different platforms - Mac, PC and eventually Linux," said John O'Donovan, chief architect in the BBC's Future Media and Technology Journalism division.

The corporation is currently building prototype versions of several applications such as the news ticker, which displays headlines on a desktop, and mini Motty, which provides desktop football commentary.

The current versions of the programs only work on PCs.

Other programs exploit Air's ability to access both web content and files on a computer's disk.

For example, the web-version of Finetunes allows users to stream music over the internet

"If you install the Air version on your desktop it can also look at what you have in your iTunes library and then suggest music based on what it finds," explained Mr Shorten.

"So it's really taking the essence of what works on the web, brining it to the desktop and then making it more personal to you."

Some commentators have pointed out that the ability for an application to delve between the web and a computer's hard drive raises security implications.

"Our advice would be to only install applications from sources that you trust," said Mr Shorten.

India set up final with Australia

Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir.
Tendulkar (left) and Gambhir provided the platform for India's win
India are through to the final of the Commonwealth Bank Series after a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka.

A 102-run partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and an unbeaten Gautam Gambhir secured the win in Hobart.

India were set 180 to win after Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar claimed four wickets each to dismiss Sri Lanka.

Tendulkar (63) and Gambhir (64) guided India home with more than 17 overs to spare, and they now face Australia in a best-of-three-matches finale.

After losing the wicket of opener Perera in the third over, Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara shared a 50-run partnership before Sri Lanka lost six wickets for 21 runs in just over 10 overs.

But after slumping to 93 for seven, Chamara Kapugedera's 57 helped Mahela Jayawardene's side at least give the bowlers a total to defend.

They began brightly by taking the wicket of Robin Uthappa in the second over.

He survived a dropped catch by Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene off the third ball of the innings from Chaminda Vaas, but departed seven balls later after being caught by Ishara Amerasinghe at mid-on off Lasith Malinga for 11.

Tendulkar and Gambhir brought up India's 50 off 60 balls before Tendulkar dominated a 50-run second-wicket partnership off 63 balls.

He was the first to bring up his half-century from 44 balls, which included nine fours, and after the pair brought up India's 100 in the 17th over and their 100 partnership in 108 balls, Gambhir brought up his 50 off 72 balls.

The partnership was finally broken as Tendulkar was caught at long-off by Chamara Silva off Muttiah Muralitharan at the start of the 21st over to leave India 120-2.

Yuvraj Singh contributed a quickfire 36 off 35 balls before being caught in the covers by Tillakaratne Dilshan off Dilruwan Perera in the 30th over with India at 171-3.

But Rohit Sharma (3no) and Gambhir rounded off the empathic victory. The first match of the final takes place in Sydney on Sunday.

Anti-depressants 'of little use'

Anti-depressant tablets
Anti-depressant prescription rates have soared
New generation anti-depressants have little clinical benefit for most patients, research suggests.

A University of Hull team concluded that the drugs helped only a small group of the most severely depressed.

Marjorie Wallace, head of the mental health charity Sane, said that if these results were confirmed they could be "very disturbing".

But the makers of Prozac and Seroxat, two of the commonest anti-depressants, said they disagreed with the findings.

A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Seroxat, said the study only looked at a "small subset of the total data available".

Reviewed data

And Eli Lilly, which makes Prozac, said that "extensive scientific and medical experience has demonstrated it is an effective anti-depressant".

Patients are advised not to stop taking their medication without first consulting a doctor.

In total, the Hull team, who published their findings in the journal PLoS Medicine, reviewed data on 47 clinical trials.

They reviewed published clinical trial data, and unpublished data secured under Freedom of Information legislation.

They focused on drugs in the class known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by increasing levels of the mood controlling chemical serotonin in the brain.

These included fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Efexor) and paroxetine (Seroxat) - all commonly prescribed in the UK.

There seems little reason to prescribe anti-depressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients
Professor Irving Kirsch
University of Hull

The number of prescriptions for anti-depressants hit a record high in England in 2006 - even though official guidance stresses they should not be a first line treatment for mild depression.

The researchers found that even the positive effects seen on severely depressed patients were relatively small, and open to interpretation.

The seemingly good result came from the fact that these patients responded less to dummy pills (placebos) which they were given during trials, rather than any notable response to anti-depressants.

Lead researcher Professor Irving Kirsch said: "The difference in improvement between patients taking placebos and patients taking anti-depressants is not very great.

"This means that depressed people can improve without chemical treatments.

"Given these results, there seems little reason to prescribe anti-depressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients, unless alternative treatments have failed to provide a benefit."

Professor Kirsch said the findings called into question the current system of reporting drug trials.

Revieweing guidance

Dr Tim Kendall, deputy director of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Research Unit, has published research concluding that drug companies tend only to publish research which shows their products in a good light.

He said the Hull findings undermined confidence in the ability to draw meaningful conclusions about the merit of drugs based on published data alone.

He called for drug companies to be forced to publish all their data.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is currently reviewing its guidance on the use of antidepressants.

Marjorie Wallace of Sane commented: "If these results were upheld in further studies, they would be very disturbing.

"The newer anti-depressants were the great hope for the future.... These findings could remove what has been seen as a vital choice for thousands in treating what can be a life-threatening condition."

Iran weapons project 'continued'

Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh, 12 September 2007
Ali Asghar Soltanieh angrily rejected the documents as "forgeries"
The UN's nuclear watchdog has been told Iran may have continued secret work on nuclear weapons after 2003, the date US intelligence suggested the work ceased.

A US National Intelligence Estimate released last December said Tehran had frozen its atomic programme in 2003.

But documents presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suggest the work continued.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, angrily dismissed the documentats as "forgeries".

Simon Smith, Britain's ambassador to the IAEA, said material presented to the IAEA in Vienna came from multiple sources and included designs for a nuclear warhead, plus information on how it would perform and how it would fit onto a missile.

"Certainly some of the dates that we were talking about... went beyond 2003," he said.

No credible assurances

The material was presented to the agency's 35-nation board by the IAEA's head of safeguards, Olli Heinonen, in a closed-door meeting on Monday.

Map of Iran nuclear sites

The permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, UK, China, France and Russia - are meeting in Washington to discuss the possibility of imposing further sanctions on Iran over its disputed atomic programme.

The IAEA released a report on Friday which said Iran was being more transparent, but had not given "credible assurances" that it was not building a bomb.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that report bolstered a "very strong case" for a third round of sanctions over the disputed nuclear programme.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retorted that no amount of UN sanctions would deter Tehran from its nuclear path.

"If they want to continue with that path of sanctions, we will not be harmed. They can issue resolutions for 100 years," he said in a televised interview on Saturday.

Tehran insists its programme is aimed purely at generating electricity.

Concert to ease US, N Korea ties

Music Director Lorin Maazel conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in a rehearsal at East Pyongyang Grand Theatre, North Korea (26/02/2008)
North Korea has made great efforts to accommodate the orchestra
One of the most eminent US cultural institutions, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, is preparing to play a groundbreaking concert in North Korea.

The concert has been called a remarkable show of cultural diplomacy.

It is the largest US presence in the reclusive state since the Korean war ended more than half a century ago.

The concert comes as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits neighbouring China to exert pressure over North Korea's nuclear programme.

Ms Rice has welcomed the orchestra's visit - which came about after an invitation from North Korea - but said it would probably not lead to dramatic change.

"I don't think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea," said Ms Rice, herself a classical pianist.

The concert, which will be broadcast live on North Korea's state media, will begin with both countries' national anthems.

The US State Department has authorised the trip, despite deadlock on the issue of North Korea's nuclear programme.

If there are extra-musical values attached to this event ... well so much the better
Lorin Maazel, conductor

Conductor Lorin Maazel told reporters in Pyongyang that the music was the most important element to the visit.

"If there are extra-musical values attached to this event, which would be eventually of a positive nature, well so much the better. But we are concerned only with making music, interacting with Korean musicians," he said.

'The power of music'

According to the BBC's John Sudworth, who is ravelling with the musicians, the concert will be the most prominent cultural exchange between the US and North Korea in the isolated country's history.

Violinists with the New York Philharmonic

Pyongyang has made unprecedented attempts to accommodate the orchestra, allowing a delegation of nearly 300 people to fly to Pyongyang for a 48-hour period.

Even the anti-American posters that usually line the streets of Pyongyang have been taken down, the Philharmonic's executive director, Zarin Mehta, told the Associated Press.

The concert will feature Antonin Dvorak's Symphony Number 9, An American in Paris by George Gershwin and the Korean folk song Arirang.

Propaganda coup?

The concert comes amid the ongoing diplomatic push to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

The visit has been compared to US orchestral visits to the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the so-called "ping pong" diplomacy with China in the 1970s.

But in an interview, the orchestra's conductor said "there are no parallels in history, there are similarities".

The US government has given its blessing to the trip, and analysts have pointed out that, if nothing else, the event will allow North Koreans to listen to something from the outside world - a rarity in a country where all events are carefully choreographed in praise of leader Kim Jong-il.

But others argue that a visit by such a distinguished institution as the New York Philharmonic gives the North Korean state an air of respectability it does not deserve.

One New York tabloid has called the venture a "disgrace" that has handed Kim "a propaganda coup".

Before accepting the invitation, the orchestra said it insisted the concert should begin with the United States national anthem.

It is not yet known whether the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will be in the audience to hear it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscars 2008

Coen Brothers
The Coen brothers previously won Oscars for Fargo
No Country For Old Men has won four Oscars, including best film and best director, a category awarded jointly to brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.

Javier Bardem also won best supporting actor for his role as a hitman in the film, thanking his family in Spanish.

All of the acting prizes went to Europe, with UK stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton named best actor and best supporting actress respectively.

France's Marion Cotillard earned the best actress prize for La Vie En Rose.

"I'm speechless now," said Cotillard, who played legendary torch singer Edith Piaf in the movie.

"Thank you life; thank you love. It is true there are some angels in this city."

Daniel Day-Lewis
Best film
No Country For Old Men
Best actor
Daniel Day-Lewis (pictured)
Best actress
Marion Cotillard
Best supporting actor
Javier Bardem
Best supporting actress
Tilda Swinton

Day-Lewis, who picked up his Oscar from Dame Helen Mirren, joked it was "the closest I'll ever come to getting a knighthood".

It was the 50-year-old's second Academy Award, having been recognised for My Left Foot in 1990.

Elsewhere at the ceremony, exotic dancer-turned-scriptwriter Diablo Cody took best original screenplay for the quirky, verbose comedy Juno - her first ever movie.

"I'm shocked by the popularity of the film," she said.

"I mean, when you write basically an independent movie about, you know, a pregnant teenager and you make it for seven million dollars you never, ever think it's going to become this phenomenon."


Jon Stewart
Stewart returned to host the Oscars for the second time
The ceremony, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, marked the 80th anniversary of the Academy Awards.

Organisers celebrated "Oscar's birthday" with film montages celebrating past winners and memorable Oscar moments - including the streaker who ran behind David Niven during 1974's ceremony.

However, this year's understated show was unlikely to provide many clips for future compilations.

It was put together in just a matter of weeks after the writers' strike - which had threatened to force the cancellation of Hollywood's biggest night - was called off.

That meant there were no large-scale song-and-dance numbers or lovingly-crafted movie spoofs from host Jon Stewart.

George Clooney and Sarah Larson
George Clooney was accompanied by his girlfriend, Sarah Larson
Returning for his second stint at the helm of the awards show, Stewart acknowledged the impact of the strike on Hollywood.

"These past three and a half months have been very tough. The town was torn apart by a bitter writers' strike," he said.

"But I'm happy to say that the fight is over. So tonight, welcome to the make-up sex."

Batman joke

No Country For Old Men, a dark comedy about a drugs bust gone wrong, had long been the frontrunner to win best film.

Its win cements the reputation of the Coen siblings as Hollywood's favourite leftfield film-makers.

Accepting their award, older brother Joel recalled that the duo had been making films since childhood.

Marion Cotillard
Marion Cotillard was among the night's winners
"What we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then," he said.

"We're very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox."

Tilda Swinton gave the most spirited speech of the night while picking up her best supporting actress award.

"I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this," she said, referring to her Oscar statuette.

"Really, truly. The same shape head and, it has to be said, the buttocks."

She also poked fun at her Michael Clayton co-star George Clooney, by referring back to his critically-derided stint as superhero Batman.

"Seeing you climb into that rubber batsuit from Batman and Robin, the one with the nipples, every morning under your costume, on the set, off the set, hanging upside-down at lunch... You rock, man."


Dame Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren presented Day-Lewis with his award
One awkward moment came as musical duo Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova ran out of time during their acceptance speech for most original song.

Hansard, who sings for Irish band The Frames, had just finished his thank-yous and stepped aside for petite Irglova to make her speech when the orchestra struck up, forcing her off stage.

After a commercial break, Irglova was invited back to rapturous applause from the audience.

"The fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible," she said.

With the main ceremony over, a question mark still lingers over the glitzy post-Oscars parties. The high-profile Vanity Fair bash was cancelled during the writers' strike.

Other casualties included People magazine's party, and that of socialite Dani Jannssen, whose annual gathering attracts the likes of Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood.

However, pop stars Madonna and Prince have stepped into the breach with hastily-arranged parties in their Hollywood homes.