Dateline: Week Of December 22, 2011 In News, Pop Culture, Tech News & Fascinating Facts
In The News -
A wave of bombings ripped across Baghdad on Thursday(Dec22) morning, killing at least 57 people and injuring nearly 200 in the worst violence Iraq has seen for months. The bloodbath comes just days after American forces left the country. The blasts also came on the heels of a political crisis between Iraq'sSunni and Shiite factions that erupted this weekend. The political spat, which pits Iraq's Shiite prime minister against the highest-ranking Sunni political leader, has raised fears that Iraq's sectarian wounds will be reopened during a fragile time when Iraq is finally navigating its own political future without U.S. military support.
The Senate's top Republican on Thursday(Dec22) urged the GOP-led House to pass a short-term renewal of payroll tax cuts and break an impasse that threatens 160 million workers with a 2 percentage point tax increase on Jan. 1. The move by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is aimed at breaking an impasse between House Republicans and Democrats controlling the Senate. He urged House Republicans to pass a new short-term extension while calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to appoint negotiators on the separate House measure that would bring a year-long renewal of the payroll tax and jobless benefits.
Tens of thousands of flag-waving and chanting protesters called Saturday for a disputed parliamentary election to be rerun and an end to Vladimir Putin's rule, increasing pressure on the Russian leader as he tries to win back the presidency. The protesters shouted "Russia without Putin" and "New elections, New elections" as one speaker after another called for an end to Putin's 12-year domination of the country at the second big opposition rally in two weeks in central Moscow. "Do you want Putin to return to the presidency?" novelist Boris Akunin asked from a large stage. Whistling and jeering, protesters chanted: "No!"
Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader on Friday demanded the country's politicians work to restore security, saying their conflicts were to blame for attacks like the devastating bombings that tore through mostly Shiite neighborhoods ofBaghdad and killed at least 69 people. The calls by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, made by his representative in a Friday prayer sermon, implicitly hit on the political showdown between the Shiite prime minister and the top Sunni political leader in the country, against whom the government put out an arrest warrant, accusing him of running hit squads. Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has denied the charges, which have fueled Sunni fears that the minority community is being pushed out of influence by the Shiite-dominated government.
Fire swept through an advertising executive's Victorian home along the Connecticut shoreline, killing her three children and her parents. Madonna Badger and a male acquaintance were able to escape from the house as it was engulfed by flames on Christmas morning, Stamford police Sgt. Paul Guzda said. But Badger's three daughters — a 10-year-old and 7-year-old twins — died in the fire, Guzda said. He said Badger's parents, who were visiting for the holiday, also died in the blaze.
Afghanistan will accept a Taliban liaison office in Qatar to start peace talks but no foreign power can get involved in the process without its consent, the government's peace councilsaid, as efforts gather pace to find a solution to the decade-long war. Afghanistan's High Peace Council, in a note to foreign missions, has set out ground rules for engaging the Taliban after Kabul grew concerned that the United States and Qatar, helped by Germany, had secretly agreed with the Taliban to open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.
A Utah woman used Facebook to seek help after she and her 17-month-old son were held hostage at a residence for nearly five days, police said. Police Sgt. Jon Arnold said the woman hid in a closet with a laptop to post her plea for help on the social networking website, saying she and her son would be "dead by morning" if they were not rescued. The post prompted someone to call police, who went to the home to check on the woman's welfare. "Facebook was her only outlet that she had at the home," Arnold said. "It just happened that she was able to use it." Police arrested Troy Reed Critchfield, 33, and booked him into jail Saturday for investigation of aggravated kidnapping, forcible sodomy, aggravated assault, domestic violence, child abuse, animal cruelty and other charges.
Sears Holdings Corp will close as many as 120 of its Kmart and namesake big-box stores after sales during the peak holiday period fell sharply, and the retailer also forecast that fourth quarter earnings would fall by more than half, sending its shares plunging some 25 percent. Adding to the share selloff, Sears also disclosed on Tuesday that it has tapped its credit facility to borrow cash. Once one of the leading retailers with a national reach through its popular catalog along with hundreds of stores, Sears has been pressured in recent years by competitors ranging from Wal-Mart Stores to Amazon.com.
U.S. consumer confidence hit an eight month high in December on improving job prospects, lending theeconomy further support, even though weak home prices could delay a recovery in the housing market. The sharp rise in sentiment reported by the Conference Board on Tuesday offered hope for a pick-up in consumer spending after an anemic performance in November.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet said on Wednesday it will not allow any disruption of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, afterIran threatened to stop ships moving through the strategic oil route. "The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity," a spokesperson for the Bahrain-based fleet said in a written response to queries from Reuters about the possibility of Iran trying to close the waterway. "Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated."
The world watched anxiously on Wednesday as North Korea staged a huge funeral in the capital, Pyongyang, for former leader Kim Jong-il, searching for signs of what to expect from the isolated nation that may be close to attaining nuclear weapons capacity. Bleak pictures from state television showed a funeral cortege led by a limousine carrying a huge picture of the 69-year old, who died on December 17, passing serried ranks of olive green-clad soldiers whose bare heads were bowed in homage in the main square of the snow-covered capital.
President Barack Obama will nominate Harvard economist Jeremy Stein and Jerome Powell, an investment banker and former Treasury official, to the two empty seats on the Federal Reserve's policy-setting board of governors. The White House's pick of candidates, who have Democratic and Republican credentials respectively, may help speed their nomination through Congress amid a sluggish economic recovery that has failed to put a major dent in the unemployment rate, now at 8.6 percent.
Six victims of a Christmas Day shooting rampage near Dallas were honored by more than 100 friends on Wednesday who wept and clung to each other as they shared their memories at a candlelit vigil. Police said Aziz Yazdanpanah, 58, opened fire on Sunday morning and killed his estranged wife Fatemeh Rahmati, 56, and two children Nona, 19, and Ali, 14. Toting two pistols and dressed as Santa, the gunman also shot and killed his wife's sister, Zohreh Rahmaty, 58, her husband, Mohamad Hossein Zarei, 59, and their daughter, Sahra Zarei, 22, before turning a gun on himself.
His Videos Go Viral Before His Death - Ben Breedlove, 18, died on Christmas, but not before posting a pair of powerful videos.
Turkish warplanes launched air strikes against suspected Kurdish militants in northern Iraq near the Turkish border overnight, the military said on Thursday, but local officials said the attack killed 35 smugglers who were mistaken for guerrillas.
The Turkish military confirmed it had launched the strikes after unmanned drones spotted suspected rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), but said there were no civilians in the area and it was investigating the incident.
Retail sales look poised for a solid finish to the holiday season as warm weather and deep discounts encouraged shoppers to hit stores or go online to snap up last-minute gifts, according to data released on Wednesday. Sales in the week ending December 24 soared 14.8 percent from a year ago to about $44 billion, helped by Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, according to ShopperTrak, which monitors traffic at shopping malls. Good weather also helped as snowstorms had blanketed some areas at the same time last year.
Boeing Co beat out Lockheed Martin to retain its position as the prime contractor for the U.S. long-range missile shield, the Pentagon said on Friday. The U.S. Defense Department said it was awarding Boeing a $3.48 billion, seven-year contract to develop, test, engineer and manufacture missile defense systems. A team led by Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Co had vied with Boeing to expand and maintain the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, hub of layered antimissile protection.
Republican voters in Iowa open a long and grueling 2012 presidential race on Tuesday(Jan3), with polls showing Mitt Romney battling Ron Paul for a momentum-generating win in the party's kickoff nominating contest. Four other contenders, led by surging Rick Santorum, are vying to consolidate conservative support and break into the top tier in the state-by-state fight to pick a Republican challenger to President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in November's election. The stakes are high for each candidate, with Romney aiming for a win that could put him on a path toward clinching the nomination early and struggling rivals like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmannfighting to keep their White House hopes alive.
Technology News December 22, 2011 -
2011 seemed to be the year when streaming media for mobile really took off. , 14% of U.S. mobile users (about 31 million people) now watch videos on their smartphones and feature phones, a 35% increase over last year. Also, 29% of U.S. smartphone users stream music or Internet radio to their phones, up 66% from 2010.
Verizon Wireless was working to get its 4G network back up and running on Wednesday, following a nationwide outage that began in the early morning hours. Customers across the country, from California to Ohio to Virginia, took to Verizon's formums to complain that service was knocked out, though gripes were mostly limited to the new 4G LTE data network, which Verizon began to roll out a year ago. Voice calls, texts and 3G data were unaffected, according to the company.
LG upcoming OLED TV panel measures 55 inches and comes with a contrast ratio of over 100,000:1, the company has announced. The panel is also just 5 mm thin and has a color gamut that is "wider" than that produced by LCD panels. All of these characteristics make it a candidate for bringing OLED TV technology to the masses in a market that's still dominated by LCDs."Although OLED technology is seen as the future of TV display, the technology has been limited to smaller display sizes and by high costs, until now. LG Display's 55-inch OLED TV panel has overcome these barriers," said Sang Beom Han, CEO and Executive Vice President of LG Display.
The Google+ social network has topped 60 million users, according to Ancestry.com founder Paul Allen, who also made the bold prediction late Tuesday that Google+ would reach 400 million users by the end of 2012. Allen, who calls himself the "unofficial statistician" of Google+, runs hundreds of queries on various surnames on the social network each week. He has been tracking those names since Google first announced that.
IBM Says Passwords Passé In Five Years - The company recently released its annual list of five predictions for five years into the future. Among them is the belief that facial definitions, eye scans, voice files and even DNA will safeguard personal identity and information, and replace the current memorization-based approach. Some of these systems are already in use, but future developments will enhance the technologies, making them much more sensitive. Imagine voice and facial recognition sensors and software at an ATM refusing you access to your account because you look and sound under duress. Thinking that you the customer are possibly being robbed, it might even contact the police.
Verizon Wireless has reversed its decision to charge a $2 fee for telephone and online bill payments, bowing to a storm of criticism from consumers and the U.S. communications regulator. The biggest U.S. wireless operator retracted its decision on Friday, just a day after it announced the fee for one-time payments, which was to have begun January 15.
Entertainment News December 22, 2011 -
Adam Lambert and his reality TV star boyfriend Sauli Koskinen were arrested and jailed Thursday morning for getting into a fight outside a Helsinki, Finland bar. The duo were released several hours later.
Mel Gibson is officially a single man. The 55-year-old actor finalized his divorce from Robyn Gibson(now going by Robyn Moore).
Robert De Niro is a father again. Stan Rosenfield, the 68-year-old actor's spokesman, says De Niro and his 56-year-old wife, Grace Hightower, welcomed a healthy 7-pound, 2-ounce (3.3 kilogram) baby girl named Helen Grace Hightower through a surrogate mother.
Van Halen Set To Re-unite Next Year - Next year with represent the 40th anniversary of the founding of Van Halen, and what better way to celebrate four decades of strumming and strutting than with another tour and a new album? Such is the case for the four men of Van Halen: Guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, and singer/dancer/bon vivant David Lee Roth. The band last hit the road in 2007, which was the first time the Van Halen brothers had teamed up with Roth since the ill-fated (and short-lived reunion in 1996. The return of the band’s original (and best) singer remains tempered by the absence of bassist Michael Anthony, whose backing vocals and wild-eyed personality were sorely missed on the last tour (he was always a remarkably great foil for Roth on stage; Wolfgang, Eddie’s son, always looked like he was in Van Halen against his will).
British comic Russell Brand filed for divorce Friday to end his marriage to US pop star Katy Perry 14 months after the pair were wed in India. "Sadly, Katy and I are ending our marriage. I'll always adore her and I know we'll remain friends," the 36-year-old comedian and actor said in a statement. In court documents Brand filed in Los Angeles, the British actor and comedian cited "irreconcilable differences" as a reason for divorce.
Top Music Albums December 22, 2011 –
21 – Adele
Christmas – Michael Buble
TM: 103: Hustlerz Ambition
Take Care – Drake
Under The Mistletoe – Justin Bieber
Own the Night - Lady Antebellum
Talk That Talk – Rihanna
Here and Now – Nickelback
El Camino – The Black Keys
Clear As Day – Scotty McCreery
Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay
My Kinda Party – Jason Aldean
Concerto: One Night In Central Park – Andrea Cocelli
Lioness: Hidden Treasures – Amy Winehouse
19 – Adele
Sorry For party Rocking – LMFAO
The Dreamer/The Believer – Common
My Life II… The Journey Continues – Mary J. Blige
Ceremonials – Florence + The Machine
Break The Spell – Daughtry
A Very She & Him Christmas – She & Him
Duets II – Tony Bennett
Tha Carter IV – Lil Wayne
Top Movies December 22, 2011
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Alvin And the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
We Bought a Zoo
The Adventures of Tintin
New Year’s Eve