Ohio gas prices up slightly






COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gas prices in Ohio are up slightly to start the Christmas week.


The average price for a gallon of regular gas in Ohio was $ 3.23 in Monday’s survey from auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. That’s 9 cents higher than a week ago, but it’s still 31 cents cheaper than this time last month.






Prices inched up after some areas of Ohio saw pump numbers fall below the $ 3-per-gallon mark briefly the week before Christmas. On Monday, Dayton and Toledo had the lowest prices, with both areas averaging $ 3.20.


The national average Monday was $ 3.25, about the same as last week.


Gas prices are expected to stay lower through December, thanks to lower demand and higher inventories.


Online:


AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report: http://fuelgaugereport.aaa.com


Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Seeking the truth about Jesus




A nativity scene from St. Catherine's Church in Bethlehem in the West Bank.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Jay Parini: There are as many visions of Jesus, and versions, as there are Christians

  • Parini: As a child, I wondered why only two of the gospels mention Christmas

  • He says he believes firmly that Jesus was a real person, complex and inspiring

  • Parini: Jesus's life has mythical resonance with the power to change hearts and minds




Editor's note: Jay Parini, poet and novelist, is author of the forthcoming book, "Jesus: The Human Face of God." He is the Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College.


(CNN) -- At Christmas, the name of Jesus resounds everywhere in homes, churches, in hauntingly gorgeous carols, even casual conversations. Yet Christians didn't settle on December 25 as Christmas day until the fourth century, and this choice probably had something to do with its proximity to the winter solstice or its position as the final day of the Roman Saturnalia.


It was in the late third century, in fact, that the Roman emperor Aurelian established this date as a feast day celebrating the birth of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus), so it already had festive and quasi-religious prominence. Now it serves to welcome the infant who became Christ, the Greek word for Messiah.


There are probably as many visions of Jesus, and versions, as there are Christians. Many regard him as their savior, the Son of God sent to Earth to save human beings from themselves. Others see him as a great teacher, a healer or rabbi of extraordinary power, a holy man or prophet who proposed a new covenant between heaven and earth. To some, he represents a new world order, an egalitarian society, a preacher of nonviolence who asked us to turn the other cheek.



Jay Parini

Jay Parini



Was he the long-awaited Messiah? The Lamb of God who removes the sin of the world by his self-sacrifice? King of the Jews? Or something less dramatic but still impressive -- an ethical teacher of extraordinary grace and power?



My father, a former Roman Catholic, became a Baptist minister, and I grew up with an insider's view of evangelical Christianity. My father read the Bible aloud at breakfast each morning, always in the King James Version. Beginning in December, I listened to the sonorous birth narratives of Luke and Matthew. In the latter, there are Wise Men coming from the East, a mysterious star, the massacre of innocent children by King Herod, and a flight to Egypt by the Holy Family.


Belief Blog: The Christmas message of the real St. Nicholas


My father, like me, preferred the gentler Christmas story put forward by Luke: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."


I remember asking my father one day why these two Christmas stories seemed incompatible, at best. Even the lineages put forward by Matthew and Luke have few points of reconciliation. I also wondered why the two other Gospels -- Mark and John -- made no mention of Christmas.










Why was there no mention of Christmas anywhere else in the whole of the Bible? Didn't they care? He was a gentle but cautious fellow, my father, with a rock-solid faith. "It's probably better not to ask difficult questions," he said. "God will, in time, provide the answers. But not now. Not in this life." He told me simply to enjoy Christmas.


That didn't satisfy me, of course. Why should it? I realized that, as St. Paul so elegantly put it, we see only "through a glass darkly" while on this earth. But wasn't that too easy? I needed to know more.


And I still want to know the truth about this luminous figure, Jesus of Nazareth. Was he really the Son of God? Why was he sent into the world? Do we know anything about him, really? To consider yourself a Christian, must you believe in the Virgin Birth, or that Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, and rose triumphantly from the dead? Does it matter if we take all of this on board in a literal fashion? Isn't this a lovely mythos -- the Greek word for story -- a narrative with symbolic resonance and profound meaning?


Christmas by the numbers


Jesus himself seemed unwilling to answer questions about his royal status or divinity. When asked by Pontius Pilate about his status as King of the Jews, he simply replied, "You say so." Many in his circle referred to as the Son of God, but this wasn't an especially divine title. Augustus Caesar was called Son of God -- Divi filius -- on Roman coins. Jesus certainly regarded himself as having a filial connection to the person he called, in his native Aramaic, Abba, or Father. But doesn't that only mean he felt like a son before this personified spirit?


He was also called the Son of Man, reaching back to an ancient Hebraic phrase, which had rather humbling connotations. (It was in the Book of Daniel that a visionary figure called the Son of Man came into view, in apocalyptic terms).


All attempts to classify Jesus seem hopelessly inadequate.


As I've grown older, I appreciate more than ever before the strength of this figure, Jesus, who emerges in the four canonical Gospels, and the Gnostic gospels, as a witty, intelligent, complex, inspiring, and often contradictory person. He was a religious genius who grew up on the Silk Road in ancient Palestine, on that magical trade route connecting East and West.


From the West he acquired an understanding of Greek metaphysics, with its remarkable formulation of body and soul. From the East came the winds of mysticism, a sense of self-transformation based on the loss of selfhood, with enlightenment the ultimate goal. Jesus brings East and West together, focusing on his key idea -- that of a gradually realizing kingdom, a mystical space beyond time, though it requires time in order to root and grow. As he told someone who asked where this lofty kingdom lay: "The kingdom of God is within you."


Photos: Santas over the years


Too many Christians regard their religion as a list of boxes that need checking. To belong, you must subscribe to a particular set of beliefs. It's dogma, pure and simple. I suspect that Jesus himself would have been startled to think that, many centuries after his death, more than 2 billion people would celebrate his coming into the world, find his message of a gradually realizing kingdom an inspiring challenge, worthy of serious pursuit, devotion and emulation.


Jesus was a real person who lived in time, and his life has huge mythical resonance with the power to change hearts and minds. I believe that firmly. At this stage of my life -- a senior citizen, as they say politely -- I'm also quite happy to believe in miracles, assuming that the membrane between life and death is paper thin.


All Christian thinking is, however, about resurrection. It's about moving beyond our small selves, shifting away from our ego-drenched understanding of reality. The way of Jesus involves engagement with his (often difficult) teachings as well as looking for those unspeakably beautiful moments in time when, for just a few seconds perhaps, we apprehend the timeless moment in time.


Life mostly offers, as T.S. Eliot suggests in "Little Gidding," "only hints and guesses, / Hints followed by guesses." The rest is "prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action."


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jay Parini.






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Mom, aunt charged after death of 2 kids in Englewood blaze

Britany Meakens, 22, and Tatiana Meakens, 23, of the 6400 block of S. Paulina, have each been charged with two felony counts of endangering a child causing death and two misdemeanor counts of endangering the life/health of a child, according to Chicago









Two women are facing child endangerment charges following the death of two children during a fire early Saturday in their West Englewood neigborhood home.


Tatiana Meakens, 23, and Britany Meakens, 22, both of the 6400 block of South Paulina Avenue, were both charged with two felony counts each of endangering a child causing their death and two misdemeanor counts each of endangering the life and health of a child, according to a statement from police News Affairs. They are expected to appear in court Monday on the charges.


Police said Tatiana Meakens is the mother of the two children who perished in the blaze. Her boy was identified by the Cook County medical examiner's office as 2-year-old Javaris Meakens, and her 3-year-old daughter as Jariyah Meakens.








Britany Meakens is their aunt, according to police.


Autopsies Sunday found both children died of carbon monoxide intoxication and inhalation of smoke and soot from a house fire and their deaths were ruled accidental, according to the medical examiner's office.


Hours before a fire swept through their bedroom, killing their younger sister and cousin, two boys who survived had been watching Batman cartoons, they said in an interview.

When the blaze broke out at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in their West Englewood home, Darnell, 7, and Marquis, 4, managed to run out a back door with the help of their aunt, they said.


But their sister and cousin — identified by the medical examiner’s office as Javaris, 2, and Jariyah, 3 — perished in the blaze.

“When the fire started, everything shut off,” said Darnell. “Auntie came to get us. When (she) saw the fire, she called all our names. When I opened the door, she told me, ‘Come on, the fire’s getting closer.’”

Authorities said no adults were present to supervise the young children when the fire broke out.


The cause was also still under investigation, though officials said it appeared a hot plate, possibly being used to heat the room, fell onto some clothes, igniting the fire.

The children spoke to the Tribune after they were questioned by authorities in the home of a neighbor who took the boys in when the fire broke out. Four adult women were present at the time.

Firefighters arrived at the scene in the 6400 block of South Paulina Street to find flames shooting out of a bedroom and smoke throughout the first-floor apartment, said James Mungovan, the Deputy District Chief for District 5 with the Chicago Fire Department.

At first, firemen concentrated on getting water to the blaze, Mungovan said. Once the fire was extinguished, they learned the two children did not survive, he said.

“We got here in a timely matter. We got water on the fire and we made our searches which revealed two deceased people,” he said. “The fire had advanced to the stage where it was open free-burning.”

Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said firefighters found no working smoke detectors in the building. On Saturday morning, a crew went door to door on the block offering free smoke detectors to neighbors and talking to them about fire safety.

Earlier that morning, as firefighters battled the blaze, neighbors Michelle Washington and Tiffany Williams saw the two boys standing outside without coats and shoes, they said.

They invited the boys into their home to keep warm.

Washington said the boys told her that they had gone to sleep and, when woke up, they saw fire and smoke.


“They looked shaken and scared,” Washington said. “The kids was here all night.”

It was at Washington’s home that investigators from the Bomb and Arson unit and the Office of Fire Investigations interviewed the boys, the women said.

The children were later taken into protective custody by the Department of Children and Family Services.

News of the younger children’s deaths shook up the West Englewood block and riled up neighbors who said they often saw Darnell walking home alone from school.

Some neighbors said there was no gas service at the house, which is why the family was using the hot plate to keep warm.

The family had lived on the block for about a year and a half, said neighbor Ken Allison. Neighbors often saw the women with their children, he said, but they were not well known.

“There’s no way they should have left those kids alone,” he said.


pnickeas@tribune.com


Twitter: @PeterNickeas


lbowean@tribune.com





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Afghan policewoman kills coalition contractor in Kabul: NATO


KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan woman wearing a police uniform shot dead on Monday a civilian contractor working for Western forces in the police chief's compound in Kabul, NATO said.


The incident is likely to raise troubling questions about the direction of an unpopular war.


It appeared to be the first time that a woman member of Afghanistan's security forces carried out such an attack.


There were conflicting reports about the victim.


A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said a U.S. police adviser was killed by an Afghan policewoman. Then ISAF said in a statement only that it was a "contracted civilian employee" who was killed.


Mohammad Zahir, head of the police criminal investigation department, described the incident as an "insider attack" in which Afghan forces turn their weapons on Western troops they are supposed to be working with. He initially said the victim was a U.S. soldier.


After more than 10 years of war, militants are capable of striking Western targets in the heart of the capital, and foreign forces worry that Afghan police and military forces they are supposed to work with can suddenly turn on them.


The policewoman approached her victim as he was walking in the heavily guarded police chief's compound in a bustling area of Kabul. She then drew a pistol and shot him once, a senior police official told Reuters.


The police complex is close to the Interior Ministry where in February, two American officers were shot dead at close range at a time anger gripped the country over the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base.


"She is now under interrogation. She is crying and saying 'what have I done'," said the official, of the police officer who worked in a section of the Interior Ministry responsible for gender awareness issues.


TIPS FOR TROOPS


The insider incidents, also known as green-on-blue attacks, have undermined trust between coalition and Afghan forces who are under mounting pressure to contain the Taliban insurgency before most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.


Security responsibilities in a country plagued by conflict for decades will be handed to Afghan security forces.


Many Afghans fear a civil war like one dominated by warlords after the withdrawal of Soviet occupying forces in 1989 could erupt again, or the Taliban will make another push to seize power if they reject a nascent peace process.


At least 52 members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have been killed this year by Afghans wearing police or army uniforms.


Insider attacks now account for one in every five combat deaths suffered by NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, and 16 percent of all U.S. combat casualties, according to 2012 data.


Hoping to stop the increase in the attacks, Afghan Defense Ministry officials have given their troops tips in foreign culture.


They are told not to be offended by a hearty pat on the back or an American soldier asking after your wife's health.


NATO attributes only about a quarter of the attacks to the Taliban, saying the rest are caused by personal grievances and misunderstandings. Last year, there were 35 deaths in such attacks.


Afghan forces are vulnerable to "insider attacks" of their own. In Jawzjan province in the north, a police commander shot and killed five comrades overnight, the Interior Ministry said.


Last year, he defected from the Taliban, said the ministry.


Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the commander had rejoined the Taliban. That could not be confirmed.


(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Robert Birsel)



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Wall Street Week Ahead: A lump of coal for "Fiscal Cliff-mas"

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street traders are going to have to pack their tablets and work computers in their holiday luggage after all.


A traditionally quiet week could become hellish for traders as politicians in Washington are likely to fall short of an agreement to deal with $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts due to kick in early next year. Many economists forecast that this "fiscal cliff" will push the economy into recession.


Thursday's debacle in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner failed to secure passage of his own bill that was meant to pressure President Obama and Senate Democrats, only added to worry that the protracted budget talks will stretch into 2013.


Still, the market remains resilient. Friday's decline on Wall Street, triggered by Boehner's fiasco, was not enough to prevent the S&P 500 from posting its best week in four.


"The markets have been sort of taking this in stride," said Sandy Lincoln, chief market strategist at BMO Asset Management U.S. in Chicago, which has about $38 billion in assets under management.


"The markets still basically believe that something will be done," he said.


If something happens next week, it will come in a short time frame. Markets will be open for a half-day on Christmas Eve, when Congress will not be in session, and will close on Tuesday for Christmas. Wall Street will resume regular stock trading on Wednesday, but volume is expected to be light throughout the rest of the week with scores of market participants away on a holiday break.


For the week, the three major U.S. stock indexes posted gains, with the Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> up 0.4 percent, the S&P 500 <.spx> up 1.2 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> up 1.7 percent.


Stocks also have booked solid gains for the year so far, with just five trading sessions left in 2012: The Dow has advanced 8 percent, while the S&P 500 has climbed 13.7 percent and the Nasdaq has jumped 16 percent.


IT COULD GET A LITTLE CRAZY


Equity volumes are expected to fall sharply next week. Last year, daily volume on each of the last five trading days dropped on average by about 49 percent, compared with the rest of 2011 - to just over 4 billion shares a day exchanging hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT in the final five sessions of the year from a 2011 daily average of 7.9 billion.


If the trend repeats, low volumes could generate a spike in volatility as traders keep track of any advance in the cliff talks in Washington.


"I'm guessing it's going to be a low volume week. There's not a whole lot other than the fiscal cliff that is going to continue to take the headlines," said Joe Bell, senior equity analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research, in Cincinnati.


"A lot of people already have a foot out the door, and with the possibility of some market-moving news, you get the possibility of increased volatility."


Economic data would have to be way off the mark to move markets next week. But if the recent trend of better-than-expected economic data holds, stocks will have strong fundamental support that could prevent selling from getting overextended even as the fiscal cliff negotiations grind along.


Small and mid-cap stocks have outperformed their larger peers in the last couple of months, indicating a shift in investor sentiment toward the U.S. economy. The S&P MidCap 400 Index <.mid> overcame a technical level by confirming its close above 1,000 for a second week.


"We view the outperformance of the mid-caps and the break of that level as a strong sign for the overall market," Schaeffer's Bell said.


"Whenever you have flight to risk, it shows investors are beginning to have more of a risk appetite."


Evidence of that shift could be a spike in shares in the defense sector, expected to take a hit as defense spending is a key component of the budget talks.


The PHLX defense sector index <.dfx> hit a historic high on Thursday, and far outperformed the market on Friday with a dip of just 0.26 percent, while the three major U.S. stock indexes finished the day down about 1 percent.


Following a half-day on Wall Street on Monday ahead of the Christmas holiday, Wednesday will bring the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. It is expected to show a ninth-straight month of gains.


U.S. jobless claims on Thursday are seen roughly in line with the previous week's level, with the forecast at 360,000 new filings for unemployment insurance, compared with the previous week's 361,000.


(Wall St Week Ahead runs every Friday. Questions or comments on this column can be emailed to: rodrigo.campos(at)thomsonreuters.com)


(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Falcons top Lions 31-18 for home-field advantage


DETROIT (AP) — Matt Ryan got what he wanted.


Calvin Johnson was forced to settle for what he could get.


Ryan matched a career high with four touchdown passes, two to Roddy White, to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the Detroit Lions 31-18 Saturday night and earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.


"It's great," Ryan said. "Our confidence is high and our experience — good and bad — has helped us. The key is to keep the focus where it's been."


In yet another loss, Johnson had a record-breaking night.


Johnson broke Jerry Rice's NFL single-season yards receiving mark of 1,848. After making the record-breaking catch in the fourth quarter, Johnson jogged over to the sideline and handed the football to his father.


"That was a very special moment," he said.


Johnson also became the only player with 100 yards receiving in eight straight games and the first with 10 receptions in four games in a row in league history. He had 11 receptions for 225 yards, giving him 1,892 this season.


"I've been an NFL fan my whole life, dating back to watching Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry as a kid, and I've coached in this league for 19 years," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "I've seen a lot of Hall of Famers, but I've never seen a better player than Calvin Johnson.


"He just broke a record set by Jerry Rice, who is arguably the best player in this history of this league."


The Falcons (13-2) pulled away with Ryan's fourth TD pass to wide-open tight end Michael Palmer in the fourth quarter and Matt Bryant's 20-yard field goal with 3:05 left that gave them a 15-point lead.


Ryan was 25 of 32 for 279 yards without a turnover.


The Falcons hope playing at home, potentially throughout the conference playoffs, helps them more than it did after the 2010 and 1980 seasons. The Falcons failed to win a game in either postseason, getting routed by Green Bay two years ago and blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead to Dallas three decades ago.


Atlanta advanced to its only Super Bowl with a win at Minnesota after winning a franchise-record 14 games during the 1998 season.


The Falcons won't have much incentive to match that mark next week at home against Tampa Bay, when they'll have nothing to gain and something to lose if a key player or more gets hurt.


Detroit (4-11) has been relegated to playing for pride this month and that hasn't been going very well.


The Lions, whose seven-game losing streak is the longest skid in the league, haven't struggled this much since the laughingstock of a franchise became the league's first to go 0-16 in 2008.


The Falcons led 21-3 at halftime before letting the Lions pull within five points early in the fourth quarter.


Ryan dashed Detroit's comeback hopes.


Facing intense pressure, he converted a third down in Atlanta territory with a pass to White, picked on rookie cornerback Jonte Green by throwing to Jones to pick up more first downs and found Tony Gonzalez open to convert another third down to set up his fourth TD pass.


"We didn't play well in the third quarter," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "Matt made some big throws on that drive."


Stafford was clearly trying to get the ball to Johnson on the next drive and cornerback Asante Samuel figured that out, stepping in front of the receiver for an interception to set up Bryant's field goal.


Atlanta running back Michael Turner was tackled in the end zone, after Detroit turned the ball over on downs, to give the Lions two meaningless points.


Ryan went deep to White for the first score, connecting with him on a 44-yard TD strike with 5:50 left in the first quarter. Ryan threw a short pass to him early in the second quarter and the standout receiver did the rest on a 39-yard sprint down the sideline.


Ryan put his third TD pass where only Julio Jones could catch it a corner of the end zone, and he did on a 16-yard reception that put Atlanta up 21-3.


Detroit didn't give up, a game after being accused of doing just that in a 38-10 loss at Arizona.


Jason Hanson kicked a second field goal late in the first half to make it 21-6.


After Atlanta opened the second half with a three-and-out drive, Mikel Leshoure scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter to pull the Lions with eight points.


Hanson's third field goal made it 21-16.


Stafford finished 37 of 56 for 443 yards with an interception and the Lions say he set an NFL record for the most yards passing in a game without throwing a TD pass.


Detroit dug a big hole because the Falcons scored two TDs off turnovers in the first half.


Defensive end Kroy Biermann forced running Leshoure to fumble, giving the Falcons the ball at their 31 and they took advantage. Ryan's perfectly lofted pass to White's fingertips converted a third-and-1 in a big way, putting the Falcons ahead.


The Lions responded with another drive into Atlanta territory, but stalled and had to settle for Hanson's 34-yard field goal in the final minute of the opening quarter to pull within four points.


Atlanta earned a double-digit lead on the ensuing drive.


Ryan threw a screen pass to his left to White, who got a great block from tight end Gonzalez, and the receiver raced untouched for a score that put the Falcons ahead 14-3.


White finished with eight receptions for 153 yards and two TDs. Jones had seven receptions for 71 yards and a score.


Ryan completed his first 12 attempts and, after his first incomplete pass, he converted a third-and-10 with an 11-yard toss to Jacquizz Rodgers. Two plays later, Ryan matched a season high with a third TD pass on the connection with Jones. Prior to the game, Ryan hadn't started a game with more than 10 consecutive completions, according to STATS LLC. He started 10 for 10 last month against Tampa Bay.


Johnson had three receptions for 70 yards in the first quarter, breaking Herman Moore's single-season franchise record for yards receiving.


By halftime, Johnson had 117 yards receiving. He had 100 yards receiving for an eighth straight game, breaking a record set by Charley Hennigan in 1961 and matched by Michael Irvin in 1995. It was Johnson's 11th game with 100 yards receiving this season, tying Irvin's NFL mark.


"Calvin is one of the best players in the game and I think everybody is a big fan of his," Ryan said. "He's one of the most genuinely nice people you could meet."


Stafford connected with Johnson on a short crossing route and the receiver did the rest, outrunning Falcons on a 49-yard gain. Fittingly, the Lions turned the ball over on the next snap in the latest lowlight in a season full of them.


The Lions, Falcons and fans at Ford Field in Detroit honored the victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the game. Players had memorial decals on their helmets that read "S.H.E.S." in white on a black background, and Detroit's coaches wore pins with a similar design. There was also a moment of silence before the national anthem while the names and ages of each victim were shown on the videoboards. Twenty children and six adults were killed in the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza killed his mother, shot students and staff, then killed himself.


NOTES: Stafford, in his fourth season, has 1,090 career completions to surpass Bobby Layne's franchise record of 1,074. Stafford is seven attempts away from surpassing the NFL's single-season mark of 691 set by Drew Bledsoe with New England in 1994. ... Backup Falcons CB Christopher Owens had a hamstring injury.


___


Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL


___


Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage


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Three Spaceflyers Arrive at International Space Station






This story was updated Dec. 21 at 9:10 a.m. EST.


The three newest residents of the International Space Station arrived at the high-flying laboratory Friday morning (Dec. 21) aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.






At 9:09 a.m. EST (1409 GMT) the capsule delivered Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield — who will become the station’s first Canadian commander — as well as Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn. The spaceflyers’ journey started Wednesday (Dec. 19) when they launched from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome at 7:12 a.m. EST (1212 GMT).


After docking, the astronauts will perform leak checks on the seal between their Soyuz TMA-07M capsule and the space station‘s docking port on the Rassvet module. These checks should take about two hours, clearing the way for the hatches between the two vehicles to be opened at around 11:45 a.m. EST (1645 GMT).


You can watch the docking and hatch opening of the Soyuz live here via SPACE.com’s NASA TV feed. The broadcast began at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT), and will be followed by live hatch opening coverage at 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT). [Expedition 34 Launch in Pictures]


Complete crew


Three crewmembers are already living onboard the space station awaiting the new arrivals: commander Kevin Ford of NASA, and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, both flight engineers for the station’s Expedition 34 mission. Now that the new trio has joined them, the Expedition 34 team is complete, bringing the orbiting laboratory back up to its usual six-person crew complement.


Romanenko, who has flown to the space station once before, said that a six-person team is key for the kind of work they want to do in the lab.


“I think we need to continue as we’ve been doing, six people per increment,” Romanenko, a veteran of one previous trip to space, said in a preflight interview with NASA. “I think this will again maximize the number of experiments that we do on station. Also, this will facilitate the process of adapting to space. It will help us develop skills that we’ll be able to use when flying people to other planets.”


While working and living in orbit, the spaceflyers will be responsible for monitoring the 110 experiments onboard, as well as keeping their bodies in shape, and performing maintenance to keep the station running smoothly.


First Canadian commander


In March 2013, Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin will head back to Earth, leaving Marshburn, Romanenko and Hadfield alone on the space station to begin the Expedition 35 mission. At this point, Hadfield will take over for Ford as mission commander, making him the first Canadian astronaut to hold that position on the orbiting complex.


“It’s a big deal for me, but also it’s a big deal for my country, for my space agency and for where I’m from, and I’m happy that people are interested in it,” Hadfield said in a preflight NASA interview.


This flight marks Hadfield’s third trip to space, and second visit to the International Space Station.


“I’m really looking forward to not just visiting space but moving to Earth orbit and having all of the internal changes, the understanding and the revelation that comes with that,” Hadfield said during a preflight interview with NASA. “I’m really looking forward to it.”


Before joining the astronaut corps in 2004, Marshburn worked as a flight surgeon for NASA. He flew to the space station once before, in 2009, on the STS-127 space shuttle mission.


“I’ve experienced 11 days docked at the space station, 16 days in space on my last flight, so getting back to life in zero gravity, that is never boring, everything from putting on your clothes to brushing your teeth to working to transfer of hardware, all of its fun in zero-g,” Marshburn told NASA before the launch. “I can’t wait to do that again.”


Follow Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.


Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Senators slam movie's torture scenes




In the new film "Zero Dark Thirty," Jessica Chastain plays a CIA analyst who is part of the team hunting Osama bin Laden.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Sens. Feinstein, McCain, Levin send letter calling new film "grossly inaccurate"

  • Letter adds to controversy over depiction of torture as a key to finding bin Laden, Bergen says

  • Senate committee has approved 6,000-page classified report on CIA interrogations program

  • Bergen says as much as possible of that report should be released to the public




Editor's note: Peter Bergen is a CNN national security analyst and author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad."


(CNN) -- On Wednesday, three senior U.S. senators sent Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures, a letter about "Zero Dark Thirty," the much-discussed new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which described the film as "grossly inaccurate and misleading."


In the letter, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, expressed their "deep disappointment" in the movie's depiction of CIA officers torturing prisoners, which "credits these detainees with providing critical lead information" about the courier who led the CIA to bin Laden's hiding place in northern Pakistan.


The senators point out that the filmmakers of "Zero Dark Thirty" open the movie with the words that it is "based on first-hand accounts of actual events." The film then goes on, the senators say, to give the clear implication "that the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama Bin Laden."


Review: 'Zero Dark Thirty' is utterly gripping



Peter Bergen

Peter Bergen



The senators write that this is not supported by the facts: "We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect."


Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to sign off on the findings of its three-year study of the CIA's detention and interrogation program, during the course of which the committee's staff reviewed more than 6 million pages of records about the program.


Based on the findings of that review, Sens. Feinstein and Levin had released a statement eight months ago that said, "The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the CIA discover the courier's identity from detainees subjected to coercive techniques. ... Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program."


In their letter to Sony, the three senators write, "(W)ith the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. ... We believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama Bin Laden is not based on the facts."


Requests from Sony Pictures for comment on the senators' letter yielded a response referring to a statement that the film's director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal had released last week:


"This was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a two-and-a-half-hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes. One thing is clear: the single greatest factor in finding the world's most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort. We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it."


'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight










"Zero Dark Thirty" does indeed show many scenes of the various forms of sleuthing at the CIA that were necessary to track down al Qaeda's leader.


But the statement from the filmmakers does not address the fact that eight months ago, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee had publicly said that based on an exhaustive investigation, there was no evidence that coercive interrogations helped lead to bin Laden's courier -- which is clearly what the film suggests, no matter what retrospective gloss the filmmakers now wish to apply to the issue.


Nor does the statement indicate if Sony plans to put a disclaimer at the beginning of "Zero Dark Thirty" explaining that the role of coercive interrogations in tracking down bin Laden that is shown in the film is not supported by the facts.


As I outlined in a piece on CNN.com 10 days ago assessing the role that coercive interrogations might have played in the hunt for bin Laden, about half an hour of the start of "Zero Dark Thirty" consists of scenes of a bloodied al Qaeda detainee strung to the ceiling with ropes who is beaten; forced to wear a dog collar while crawling around attached to a leash; stripped naked in the presence of a female CIA officer; blasted with heavy metal music so he is deprived of sleep; forced to endure multiple crude waterboardings; and locked into a coffin-like wooden crate.


These are the scenes that will linger with filmgoers, far more than the scene in the movie where two CIA analysts discuss what will prove to be a key lead to bin Laden that surfaces in an old file. Brutal interrogations, of course, make for a better movie than a discussion at the office.


It is only after systematic abuse by his CIA interrogators in "Zero Dark Thirty" that the al Qaeda detainee is tricked into believing that he has already given up key information, and he starts cooperating and tells them about a man known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who ultimately proves to be bin Laden's courier.


Acting CIA director Michael Morell, in a letter to CIA employees on Friday, took strong exception to this portrayal of how bin Laden was found:


"The film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false. As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. "


"Zero Dark Thirty" opened Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles and will open nationwide in the second week in January.


Let's hope that the attention that "Zero Dark Thirty" has directed to the issue of what kind of intelligence was derived from the CIA's coercive interrogations will help to put pressure on the White House and the CIA to release to the public as much as possible of the presently classified 6,000-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that examines this issue.


_____________


Full disclosure: Along with other national security experts, as an unpaid adviser I screened an early cut of "Zero Dark Thirty." We advised that al Qaeda detainees held at secret CIA prison sites overseas were certainly abused, but they were not beaten to a pulp, as was presented in this early cut. Screenwriter Mark Boal told CNN as a result of this critique, some of the bloodier scenes were "toned down" in the final cut. I also saw this final cut of the film. Finally, HBO is making a theatrical release documentary which will be out in 2013 based on my book about the hunt for bin Laden entitled "Manhunt."


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3 injured in overnight shootings













Police tape blocks off the 100 block of East 49th Street, where a 21-year-old man was shot late Saturday night.


Police tape blocks off the 100 block of East 49th Street, where a 21-year-old man was shot late Saturday night.
(Adam Sege, Chicago Tribune / December 23, 2012)


























































A pair of shootings late Saturday and early Sunday have left three people injured, authorities said.


About 12:20 a.m., a female was shot and critically injured on the 1200 block of West 18th Street, Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Amina Greer said.


The female's age and hospital information were not immediately available.





In the same shooting, a male was shot in the arm and taken to John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, where he was listed in good condition.


Earlier, a 21-year-old was shot by someone exiting a vehicle in the 100 block of East 49th Street, police said.


The man was taken to Stroger, where his condition was stabilized.


Check back for more information.


asege@tribune.com


Twitter: @AdamSege


 





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Israel says Syria chemical weapons are secure for now


JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Syria's chemical weapons are still secure despite the fact that President Bashar al-Assad has lost control of parts of the country, a senior Israeli defense official said on Sunday.


Amos Gilad told Army Radio that the civil war between Assad and opposition forces fighting to topple him had become deadlocked, but that the Syrian leader showed no signs of heeding international calls to step down.


"Suppose he (Assad) does leave, there could be chaos ... in the Middle East you never know who will come instead. We need to stay level-headed; the entire world is dealing with this. At the moment, chemical weapons are under control," Gilad said.


As Syria's southern neighbor, Israel has been concerned about chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants or Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, warning it could intervene to stop such developments.


Western countries said three weeks ago that Assad's government might be preparing to use poison gas to repel rebel fighters who are encamped around Damascus, the capital, and who control rural Aleppo and Idlib in the north.


"The opposition is not managing to defeat him and he is not defeating the opposition, though more and more parts of Syria are no longer under his control and that is what matters," Gilad said.


The rebels - mainly Sunni Muslims - are pushing southwards from their northern strongholds into the central province of Hama.


But Assad, who is from the Alawite minority linked to Shi'ite Islam, has responded with artillery, air strikes and, according to NATO, with Scud-type missiles.


Western powers and some Arab countries have called for Assad to step down, but Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that international efforts to persuade Assad to quit would fail.


Lavrov said Russia had rejected requests from countries in the region to pressure Assad to go or to offer him safe haven. If Assad did exit the political scene, it could lead to an upsurge in the fighting that activists say has killed 44,000 people since the uprising began in March 2011, Lavrov said.


(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Osborn)



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