Archive | February, 2013

Thousands jam St. Peter’s for pope’s last audience

28 Feb

VATICAN CITY (AP) ? Pope Benedict XVI greeted the Catholic masses in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday for the last time before retiring, making several rounds of the square as crowds cheered wildly and stopping to kiss a half-dozen children brought up to him by his secretary.

Tens of thousands of people toting banners saying “Grazie!” ? “thank you” ? jammed the piazza to bid farewell to the pope at his final general audience ? the appointment he has kept each week to teach the world about the Catholic faith.

Pilgrims and curiosity-seekers picked spots along the main boulevard leading to the square to watch Wednesday’s event on giant TV screens. Some 50,000 tickets were requested for Benedict’s final master class, but Italian media estimated the number of people actually attending could be double that.

“It’s difficult ? the emotion is so big,” said Jan Marie, a 53-year-old Roman in his first years as a seminarian. “We came to support the pope’s decision.”

With chants of “Benedetto” erupting every so often, the mood was far more buoyant than during the pope’s final Sunday blessing and recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied him at World Youth Days and events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Benedict on Thursday will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, a decision he said he took after realizing that, at 85, he simply didn’t have the strength of mind or body to carry on. He will meet Thursday morning with cardinals for a final time, then fly by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.

There, at 8 p.m., the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church over ? for now.

Many of the cardinals who will choose Benedict’s successor were in St. Peter’s Square for his final audience, including retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, object of a grass-roots campaign in the U.S. to persuade him to recuse himself for having covered up for sexually abusive priests. Mahony has said he will vote.

Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting on Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave to elect the next pope.

But the rank-and-file in the crowd on Wednesday weren’t so concerned with the future; they wanted to savor the final moments with the pope they have known for eight years.

“I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church,” said Maria Cristina Chiarini, a 52-year-old homemaker who traveled by train early Wednesday from Lugo, near Ravenna, with some 60 members of her parish. “There’s nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won’t leave us without a guide.”


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HTC plans to release more Windows Phones in 2013

28 Feb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Comedian Seth MacFarlane said on Tuesday that he would not host the star-studded Academy Awards ceremony again, after TV critics panned Sunday’s show. “Family Guy” creator and star MacFarlane was asked on Twitter whether he would host the Oscars a second time after making his debut in Sunday’s show, and replied: “No way. Lotta fun to have done it, though.” MacFarlane’s response came after TV critics slammed the telecast, in which 40.3 million Americans saw Iran hostage thriller “Argo” take home the top prize for Best Picture. …


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Woman accused of Arizona lover’s murder attended his memorial

28 Feb

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A woman on trial for capital murder in Arizona testified on Tuesday that she attended her lover’s memorial service days after she killed him, writing in a remembrance book that he was “beautiful inside and out.”

Jodi Arias, 32, could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering 30-year-old Travis Alexander, whose body was found in the shower of his Phoenix valley home in June 2008. He was shot in the face, stabbed 27 times and had his throat slit.

Arias, in frequently explicit testimony about her relationship with Alexander, has admitted to killing him but said it was in self defense after he attacked her when she dropped his camera while taking pictures of him in the shower. The prosecution has said she killed him in a jealous rage.

In a combative third day of cross examination, prosecutor Juan Martinez confronted Arias with positive comments she wrote about Alexander at a memorial service days after the killing, in which she described him as “beautiful on the inside and out.”

“You also write, ?You always told me that I have never stopped believing in you, and I know that you always believed in me,’ right?” Martinez asked of the remarks which were seemingly at odds with Arias’ assertions that Alexander was abusive.

“Yes I did,” Arias replied.

“Even though, according to you, he would get this mean look on his face and come charging after you down the hallway, you still believed in him, right?” Arias agreed that she did, after he rephrased the question.

Seeking to point out further inconsistencies in her testimony, Martinez questioned Arias about a text message she had sent Alexander less than two months before she killed him, in which she called him “a rock, a light and an inspiration,” and noted that she “loved him dearly.”

“You’ve been telling us that in addition to being mean, he physically abused you … and that he would raise his voice to you. … Yet once you are free of him, and after the fog has lifted, you are thanking him and telling him what an inspiration he is,” Martinez said.

Arias and Alexander met in the fall of 2006 and dated for several months. They split up the following summer, although their sexual relationship continued until his death.

Martinez also sought on Tuesday to paint Arias as having a history of jealousy and a readiness to confront lovers and perceived romantic rivals when she felt slighted.

The court heard how she accessed the email account of a previous boyfriend of whom she had become suspicious. After discovering letters to him from another woman, Arias showed them to him before moving out of their shared accommodation.

Martinez then questioned Arias about an incident in a subsequent relationship in which she drove to meet with a woman she apparently perceived as a rival, after finding a photograph of the woman with her then boyfriend.

“When you feel something is not right … you are going to confront that person?” Martinez asked, to which Arias replied: “Not necessarily.”

The trial is set to continue on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Richard Chang)


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First Space Tourist Sets Sights On A Mars Mission

28 Feb

Space tourist Dennis Tito celebrates after his landing near the Kazakh town of Arkalyk on May 6, 2001.

Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

The world’s first space tourist is financing a project that aims to launch an American man and woman on a mission to fly by Mars in 2018.

Back in 2001, businessman Dennis Tito shelled out about $20 million to ride a Russian spaceship up to the International Space Station. Now he’s unveiled a new nonprofit group called the Inspiration Mars Foundation.

It’s working to take advantage of a launch opportunity coming up in January of 2018. That’s when the planets will be aligned in a way that would let people fly to Mars, loop around the planet, and return home in just 501 days ? a pretty short trip.

At their closest approach, the two space travelers would be within 100 miles of the red planet. “I mean, that’s essentially being there,” says Tito, who held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to announce his plans.

Tito, who made a fortune as an investment manager, is also an aerospace engineer who worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1960s, helping to plot trajectories for the Mariner robotic missions.

He hired a team of experts that concluded that sending people to loop around Mars in 2018 is doable with technology that either already exists or is nearly ready, and he’s promised two years of funding for the project from his own pocket.

“This not a commercial mission. This is not a mission that, if it’s successful, I’m going to come out to be a lot wealthier. Let me guarantee you, I will come out a lot poorer as a result of this mission,” says Tito. “But my grandchildren will come out a lot wealthier through the inspiration that this will give them.”

Dennis Tito (center) flies into the International Space Station as Russian Talgat Musabayev (right) looks on and the station’s Russian commander, Yuri Usache, welcomes them, on April 30, 2001.

Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Dennis Tito (center) flies into the International Space Station as Russian Talgat Musabayev (right) looks on and the station’s Russian commander, Yuri Usache, welcomes them, on April 30, 2001.

Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

The 72-year-old businessman has no plans to do the trip himself. He wants to send a man and a woman, to represent all of humanity. Jane Poynter of Paragon Space Development Corporation, who is on Tito’s planning team, said the two will have to be a “trusted, tested couple” who can provide each other with emotional support.

Poynter lived for two years inside Biosphere 2, a self-contained environment, in the early 1990s, and she says it was enormously helpful that one of the other inhabitants was the man who is now her husband.

“And so I believe that these two crew members that go on this, having that same backbone of their relationship will be of tremendous support to them during hard times,” says Poynter. “After all, they are going to be millions of miles away from home.”

The mission would be risky. The tight schedule means no time to test everything out. There’d be no abort. The crew would be exposed to radiation ? plus the psychological risks of being crammed together, eating dehydrated food and watching Earth grow smaller and smaller, until it looked like a pale blue dot.

John Logsdon, with the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, says he’s a little skeptical. After all, 2018 isn’t that far away, and he notes that this team is still exploring options for spacecraft and launch vehicles.

“It’s a big jump between an idea and reality,” says Logsdon. “And I think Mr. Tito and his associates are at the idea stage and have a lot of challenges of turning it into a reality.”

But he also says the team Tito has assembled shouldn’t be underestimated. They’re experienced people who are excited about adventures ? and this would be a great one.


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96% West of Memphis

28 Feb

All Critics (83) | Top Critics (20) | Fresh (80) | Rotten (3)

And justice for all? Hardly.

It tells the story of a terrible crime compounded by a grave injustice that’s been remedied, but only in part, so it’s impossible to have a single or simple response to the movie.

What sets this film apart from previous efforts to document the story is that Jackson and Walsh financed a private investigative team with legal and forensic experts who re-examined old evidence, conducted new interviews and found new witnesses.

Happy, sad, inspiring, infuriating, right and terribly wrong, all at the same time.

Berg’s film is as much an indictment of the state of Arkansas’ legal system as it is the prosecution.

Berg’s film helps illuminate a case that should certainly be the shame of the state of Arkansas, and perhaps the criminal justice system of the entire United States.

West Of Memphis isn’t afraid to show us the graphic nature of the crime and more importantly, it isn’t afraid to point fingers at those whose actions deserve to be questioned.

It’s reasonable to question whether the time and resources poured into this project might have been better spent highlighting a miscarriage of American justice that nobody knows about rather than one that enjoys a celebrity profile.

The most intense, nail-bitingly suspenseful thriller franchise “from the dark side” these days is not the product of a screenwriter’s imagination.

The most intriguing and worthy aspect of this accomplished documentary is that it never lets anyone forget the biggest tragedy of the many threaded through this story – the helpless children who never deserved the brutal fate handed to them.

Somewhere along this narrative’s mammoth timeline, examining the construction of modern social heroes became more important than the memories of three little boys.

Together with the rich material comprising interviews with family and friends, the footage shot in the various court rooms and at the crime scene is riveting

A powerful, touching and very infuriating documentary, although Berlinger and Sinofsky got there first and did it best

Amy Berg’s West of Memphis does bring new information to light, which is why this somewhat procedural feature is so important.

In all, the director has assembled a powerful film, but the celebrity component feels rather unnecessary.

A frankly extraordinary document about the three innocent children who were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas and the three innocent teenagers who spent 18 years in prison for the crime.

(Director Amy) Berg’s doc is gripping, often infuriating, but in the end hopeful about the ability of truth and innocence to prevail thanks to the efforts of those who strive against all obstacles to uphold them.

The new film is largely a recap of the older ones, with more celebrity testimonials and fewer Metallica songs but little fresh insight into the miscarriage of justice it chronicles.

Extols the efforts of celebrities to win the release of three innocent men [and is] suspenseful when it’s straightforward-the best CSI investigation that money can buy.

Nearly overwhelms you with hopelessness, if not an adrenaline rush of rage – even if you’re familiar with the case.

It’s a beautifully done piece of work in its own right, yet viewed beside the trilogy which preceded it, it comes across a bit like “Paradise Lost 3b – the Celebrity Edition.”

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Eight killed in fighting between Congo rebel factions: sources

28 Feb

KINSHASA (Reuters) – At least eight people were killed – most of them civilians – when fighting erupted between rival factions of eastern Congo‘s most powerful rebel group, a U.N.-backed radio station and a local source said.

The clashes deep inside territory controlled by the M23 insurgents risk undermining regionally-backed peace talks in neighbouring Uganda between the fighters and Democratic Republic of Congo’s government.

They appear to be the first serious sign of tensions within the group, which caused regional shockwaves in November when it routed government troops and pushed past U.N. peacekeepers to briefly seize Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

U.N.-backed Radio Okapi said the fighting broke out on Sunday in the rebel stronghold of Rutshuru between fighters loyal to M23’s military chief, Sultani Makenga, and supporters of warlord Bosco Ntaganda.

Ntaganda triggered the insurgency last April when he quit his post as a Congolese army general, taking hundreds of soldiers with him.

The eight people died when a rocket hit a bar in the centre of the town, the radio station reported.

A local businessman told Reuters on condition of anonymity that he saw the eight dead bodies and said the fighting was between rival elements of M23.

M23 spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa acknowledged here had been fighting in Rutshuru but denied any factional split, instead blaming another rebel group, Rwanda’s FDLR.

“It wasn’t our men fighting, it was the FDLR, unfortunately right in the centre of Rutshuru,” he said, without elaborating “Everything is calm in our ranks.”

No one from the FDLR could be reached to comment.


Nicknamed “The Terminator”, Rwandan-born Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes including the massacre of civilians during a previous Tutsi rebellion.

The United Nations says he controls the M23 rebellion, but M23 has repeatedly denied his involvement in the group.

Congo’s eastern borderlands have suffered nearly two decades of conflict stoked by ethnic and political enmities and fighting over the region’s rich resources of gold, tin, tungsten and coltan – a precious metal used to make mobile phones.

Successive attacks by myriad rebel and militia groups and government soldiers have made the region notorious among rights groups for mass killings, recruitment of child soldiers and rapes used as a weapon of war.

Political analysts say stalled talks between M23 and the Congolese government in Uganda could be exposing old grievances between Makenga and Ntaganda, who have previously found themselves in different factions of rebel movements in Congo.

A split within M23 could undermine peace negotiations, particularly if one faction chooses to continue fighting.

The group accuses the government of failing to hold up its end of a March 23, 2009 peace deal – from which it takes its name – and has sought to gain popular support by tapping into public frustration over the slow pace of reforms in Congo.

M23 has controlled Rutshuru since July and has made it a central administrative zone for the movement. The town, in North Kivu province, is close to the Ugandan and Rwandan borders.


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Brady’s reworked deal helps Patriots

27 Feb

FILE – In this Dec. 2, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks for a receiver during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami. Brady agreed to a three-year contract extension with New England on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, a person familiar with the contract told The Associated Press. The extension is worth about $27 million and will free up nearly $15 million in salary cap room for the team. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

FILE – In this Dec. 2, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks for a receiver during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami. Brady agreed to a three-year contract extension with New England on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, a person familiar with the contract told The Associated Press. The extension is worth about $27 million and will free up nearly $15 million in salary cap room for the team. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

So Tom Brady got a contract extension. Big deal.

Well, yeah ? for the three-time Super Bowl winner and for the Patriots.

There’s nothing unusual about one of the game’s best quarterbacks and leaders being coveted by his team. Or being rewarded.

What’s rare is how well the three-year extension works for both Brady and for New England.

First, the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, despite some perceptions, did not really take a pay cut with this new deal. It might have sounded that way with salaries of $7 million in 2015, $8 million the next year and $9 million in 2017, far below the going rate for superstar QBs.

Instead, Brady gets a $30 million signing bonus, payable over the next three years, and $57 million overall in a contract that will run through the 2017 season, when he will be 40 years old. Other than backups who are little more than insurance policies, how many quarterbacks even make it on to a roster at 40?

Essentially, he gets $33 million guaranteed for the next two seasons, and he’s surely worth it considering that Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and, most likely, Joe Flacco, will earn more in 2013 and ’14. Add up each of their Super Bowl rings and it adds up to the number Brady owns.

The extension should have little effect on other quarterback deals, particularly Flacco. The Super Bowl MVP is 28, just entering his prime and in line for a huge contract no matter where he winds up. (Bet on Flacco staying in Baltimore).

Of course, Brady has shown no signs of slowing down ? look at his stats for 2012, including 34 TD passes and eight interceptions, and a 12-4 record. He’s still at the peak of his skills, and he wants to be surrounded by players at a similar stage of their careers.

To get that, he understood he needed to rework his contract to free up enough salary cap space for New England to sign more difference makers.

In doing so, Brady not only virtually assured he will finish his career as a Patriot, but at a price that works for him and for owner Robert Kraft. Did he take a mammoth pay cut down the road to ensure that? No, because Brady actually will get more guaranteed money; the final three seasons are guaranteed against injury; and they could be guaranteed in total depending on Brady meeting certain requirements, including being on the active roster for the final game of 2014.

But he also will have those three years of salary far below scale for the position, for cap purposes. And that is where the Patriots get their payoff.

New England has more needs than other contenders, and those holes must be filled now for the Patriots to win their first championship since the 2004 season. Yes, it has been that long.

Brady recognizes that, and by helping free up $15 million in space over the next two years, the Patriots can spend more in free agency.

Coach Bill Belichick tends to find role players such as Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman and Steve Gregory, and he gets solid production from them. Brady makes just about everyone on offense better, too.

But the Patriots don’t have too many true studs, particularly on defense. Opponents in big games ? the Ravens, Giants, 49ers come to mind ? have found favorable matchups that led to major victories.

Brady sees that. By reworking his contract, he basically has told the Patriots to spend the newfound money in ways that will turn those matchups back in New England’s favor.

Unquestionably, Brady wants his favorite target, slot receiver Wes Welker, to be re-signed. He’d love for Belichick to find a consistent deep threat at wideout, too.

Top cornerback Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay during last season, is a free agent. He comes with a checkered past, but behaved with the Patriots in 2012 and played well.

Tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a main reason Brady was sacked just 27 times, also is a free agent.

And Brady would love to see some playmakers let go by other teams land in Foxborough. Such names as former Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney, Steelers speedy receiver Mike Wallace and Ravens’ star safety Ed Reed have been mentioned.

Now, Brady has given the Patriots more money to make improvements, while not really emptying his own pockets.

Associated Press


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