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Review: 2012 Ford Edge Limited EcoBoost

The sport utility vehicle became an endangered species not long after fuel prices began to skyrocket. But while vehicle buyers changed their shopping habits, they didn't actually stray that far from the SUV formula. Many of today's hottest-selling vehicles are crossovers; essentially the same tall wagons as the SUV, but with a lighter unibody chassis.

Among other things, the CUV promised to deliver superior efficiency, and while some improvement has been evident, in many cases, the genre's fuel savings have failed to impress. A good case in point is the Ford Edge. When Ford's two-row CUV entered the market in 2007, it managed only 24 miles per gallon on the highway, and many buyers struggled to hit 20 mpg in mixed driving cycles. There were plenty of reasons for its unimpressive efficiency. Most crossovers remain substantially heavier than a comparable four-door sedan, and with plenty of frontal area, they don't exactly slice through the wind. But perhaps the biggest issue has been unevolved powertrains.

Ford thinks it has the answer to that problem in the form of its new EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Ford is using the compact, turbocharged mill in a variety of crossovers, including the 2012 Ford Edge, and we sampled a well-equipped Edge Limited to see how effective the Blue Oval's engine downsizing strategy is going.

2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost side view2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost front view2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost rear view

Our Dark Blue Pearl Metallic tester in Limited trim carried a base price tag of $34,915 that rises to $35,910 by ticking the EcoBoost option box. Ford doesn't mess around when it comes to the Limited trim: Standard accoutrements include leather-trimmed and heated seats up front, a 10-way power driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, SYNC infotainment, a 390-watt Sony sound system, back-up sensors and a rear view camera.

Our Edge was also packed with some of Ford's top options, including the 2.0-liter EcoBoost upgrade, Ford's excellent navigation system ($795), and BLIS blind-spot detection ($485). This Edge Limited also included the Drivers Entry Package ($895), which adds remote start, push-button start and a power rear lift gate. Also making the scene was Ford's much-maligned MyFord Touch system ? in this guise, it includes a pair of 4.2-inch LED screens in the gauge cluster and five-way steering wheel controls. With all options present and accounted for, our tester came in at $38,910.

2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost gauges2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost audio system display2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost navigation system2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost audio controls

The draw for this Edge Limited is the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, which is a $995 option compared to the capable and relatively efficient 3.5-liter V6. The extra coin will deliver 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. That isn't as much punch as the 285 horsepower 3.5-liter V6, but the real story comes with a twist ? the turbo 2.0 boasts 17 more lb-ft than its bigger, naturally aspirated brother, and it arrives in full force at 3,000 rpm (the V6's torque doesn't max out until 4,000 revs).

That extra pull is evident from behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The EcoBoost four provides good straight-line acceleration, with a 0-60 time that we estimate to be just over seven seconds. The EcoBoost also weighs a bit less, tipping the scales at 3,998 pounds ? 58 fewer pounds than a front-drive V6 model. With torque that comes on early in the revband, the EcoBoost feels even quicker than any instrumented testing might suggest ? at least until hitting the freeway. When we tested the V6-equipped Edge about a year ago, passing acceleration felt a bit stronger at highway speeds. The boosted four-cylinder also doesn't sound quite as pleasant as the V6, but noise levels aren't obtrusive.

2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost engine

The 58-pound weight advantage isn't particularly significant, so there isn't much difference in the handling department between the V6- and EcoBoost-powerd Edges. In fact, the Edge is still a bit of a porker, as this midsize CUV is a few sandwiches shy of two tons. Luckily, the EcoBoost powertrain has plenty of punch, and at 76 inches across, the Edge is all kinds of wide, which helps minimize body roll even when the roads get curvy. The Edge also employs a stiff yet forgiving chassis aided by MacPherson struts up front and an independent rear suspension with trailing blade, integrated knuckle and lateral links. We were a bit surprised to learn that Ford has taken a pass on electric power assisted steering here in favor of a traditional hydraulic setup, as moving to EPAS likely would've helped conserve a bit more fuel. The upside is that the variable-assist unit is accurate and quite natural in feel.

The real test of the EcoBoost four-cylinder isn't how it goes and stops, however. We remain more interested in the Edge's fuel economy, because the Environmental Protection Agency estimates suggest this diminutive powertrain should hit 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway. Those are the kind of numbers that we might have hoped for from a midsize sedan only a few years ago, but the Edge manages to find membership in the 30 mpg club in spite of the fact that it's the widest vehicle in its segment, weighing in at 238 pounds more than the longer Toyota Venza. While the lion's share of the improvement is due to the smaller engine, Ford's engineers have also executed a number of meaningful tweaks to the rest of the Edge package, including fitting low rolling-resistance tires along with revised rocker panels and active grille shutters for improved aero. Unlike its three-row sibling, the Ford Explorer, towing capacity remains the same regardless of which engine you choose: 3,500 pounds.

2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost headlight2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost fog light2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost wheel2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost taillight

Impressively, we were even more pleased with our real-world mileage. We averaged a surprising 25.1 miles per gallon during our week of driving. For comparison's sake, we averaged 21.9 mpg in the 3.5-liter-equipped Edge, itself a reasonable number. Assuming our 3.2 mpg difference is representative of real-world fuel economy, is the EcoBoost's efficiency increase worth $995? If we assume 12,000 miles per year and 87 octane gas sits at $3.50/gallon, the EcoBoost owner can expect to pay $1,673 for fuel each year. The equivalent 3.5-liter V6 owner faces a $1,917 tab ? $245 more than the EcoBoost model. That means the $995 price tag of the EcoBoost model should pay for itself in about four years or about 50,000 miles. That's far from an immediate return on investment, but it's not bad and the equation could get more favorable if fuel prices spike.

The boosted four cylinder makes for fun and efficient motoring, and the experience is only enhanced by a rich and inviting cabin. Having been comprehensively upgraded for 2011, the Edge interior now boasts soft-touch materials everywhere occupants care to touch, including a terrific steering wheel and leather-clad shifter, plus a very cushy dash. The seats are also a plush affair, with enough cushion to find a place of honor in most living rooms, and enough bolstering to hug torsos without making drivers feel like weekend racers. The Edge also scores high praise for its roominess. Second row passengers are treated to gobs of hip room and a cavernous 39.6 cubic inches of legroom. Behind the second row 60/40 bench seat is 32 cubic feet of cargo room, which can be more than doubled to 68.9 cubic feet when the seats are folded. In other words, there's more than enough space to haul that big screen television you've been eyeballing.

2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost interior2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost front seats2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost rear seats2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost rear cargo area

Our tester also came equipped with the aforementioned mother lode of technology. We're big fans of SYNC and Ford's intuitive hands-free calling setup, and the Sony audio system packs a serious punch. Our second attempt at MyFord Touch was a bit less confusing than the first, as we had a better handle on the four quadrants of information and their corresponding color coding. Phone connections are orange, navigation is green, entertainment is red and climate is blue. Easy-peasy, right? We also became accustomed to the five-way controls on the steering wheel, which helped us keep our hands on the wheel.

Unfortunately, we still found ourselves staring at the center console in order to sift through the heating and ventilation controls. Call us cavemen, but we prefer actual buttons and knobs to switchgear that can't be easily discerned by touch. And when we used the steering wheel controls, we found ourselves gazing into the 4.2-inch screen on the right side of the gauge cluster trying to find the optimal settings. Not good, and a bit dangerous as well. Voice control is one way around the problem, but we often struggled to find the right words to satisfy the computerized voice on the other end ? a potentially frustrating distraction in its own right. Overall, we much prefer driving models not fitted with the powerful yet cumbersome interface. We're thinking MyFord Touch will take weeks for new owners to get reasonably comfortable with, and we hope the system gets easier to use with the major upgrade scheduled early next year.

2012 Ford Edge EcoBoost rear 3/4 view

All-in-all, the 2012 Edge with EcoBoost takes a terrific midsize crossover to the next level. The 2.0-liter turbo proved to be a joy to exercise, and our happiness was guilt-free thanks to impressive fuel economy for a CUV this size and weight. Mix in its attractive, broad-shouldered stance, and it's clear that the 2012 Edge deserves to be a powerhouse in the midsize crossover field. Here's hoping that MyFord Touch is friendlier in version 2.0, because it's the only major blemish here.


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Wynonna Judd to marry for a third time

FILE- In this Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 file photo, Wynonna Judd waits on the sidelines before singing the national anthem at an NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tenn. Judd is engaged to her boyfriend, the drummer for the country group Highway 101. Judd, 47, and Cactus Moser, 54, got engaged Dec. 24. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

FILE- In this Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 file photo, Wynonna Judd waits on the sidelines before singing the national anthem at an NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tenn. Judd is engaged to her boyfriend, the drummer for the country group Highway 101. Judd, 47, and Cactus Moser, 54, got engaged Dec. 24. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

(AP) ? Wynonna Judd is celebrating an engagement this holiday season.

Representatives for the 47-year-old country singer say her boyfriend, Cactus Moser, popped the question on Christmas Eve.

They have been dating since 2009.

Moser, 54, is a drummer with the country group Highway 101.

The couple are currently on tour as Wynonna and The Big Noise.

This will be Judd's third marriage. She has two teenage children with her first husband.

News of the engagement was first reported Thursday by the website



Associated Press


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Russia: Nuclear submarine fire finally out

In this video image from Ru-RTR Russian state television channel, firefighters spray water on the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in a dock at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the Murmansk region, Russia, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. A fire that erupted while the Yekaterinburg was in drydock for repairs at the town of Roslyakovo near Murmansk has left seven crewmembers injured after they inhaled poisonous fumes from the blaze. (AP Photo/Ru-RTR Russian state channel/ Via APTN)

In this video image from Ru-RTR Russian state television channel, firefighters spray water on the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in a dock at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the Murmansk region, Russia, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. A fire that erupted while the Yekaterinburg was in drydock for repairs at the town of Roslyakovo near Murmansk has left seven crewmembers injured after they inhaled poisonous fumes from the blaze. (AP Photo/Ru-RTR Russian state channel/ Via APTN)

In this video image from Ru-RTR Russian state channel, firefighters spray water on the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in a dock at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the Murmansk region, Russia, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. A fire that erupted while the Yekaterinburg was in drydock for repairs at the town of Roslyakovo near Murmansk has left seven crewmembers injured after they inhaled poisonous fumes from the blaze. (AP Photo/Ru-RTR Russian state channel/ Via APTN)

In this video image from Ru-RTR Russian state television channel, firefighters work on the hull of the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in a dock at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the Murmansk region, Russia, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. A fire that erupted while the Yekaterinburg was in drydock for repairs at the town of Roslyakovo near Murmansk has left seven crewmembers injured after they inhaled poisonous fumes from the blaze. (AP Photo/Ru-RTR Russian state channel/ Via APTN)

In this video image from Ru-RTR Russian state television channel, firefighters spray water on the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine, left, in a dock at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the Murmansk region, Russia, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. A fire that erupted while the Yekaterinburg was in drydock for repairs at the town of Roslyakovo near Murmansk has left seven crewmembers injured after they inhaled poisonous fumes from the blaze. (AP Photo/Ru-RTR Russian state channel/ Via APTN) TV OUT

In this framegrab image from Ru-RTR Russian state channel, smoke rises from a dock where the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine is for repairs at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the Murmansk region, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. A massive fire engulfed a Russian nuclear submarine at an Arctic shipyard Thursday, but there has been no radiation leak, or injuries, officials said. The fire at the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine occurred while it was in dock for repairs at the Roslyakovo shipyard. The Yekaterinburg is a Delta-IV-class nuclear-powered submarine that normally carries 16 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told The Associated Press that all weapons had been unloaded from the sub and its reactor had been shutdown to safety before the repairs. (AP Photo/Ru-RTR Russian state channel) TV OUT

(AP) ? Firefighters extinguished a massive fire aboard a docked Russian nuclear submarine Friday as some crew members remained inside, officials said, giving assurances that there was no radiation leak and the vessel's nuclear-tipped missiles were not on board.

Military prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether safety regulations were breached. President Dmitry Medvedev summoned top Cabinet officials to report on the situation and demanded punishment for anyone found responsible.

The fire broke out Thursday at an Arctic shipyard outside the northwestern Russian city of Murmansk where the submarine Yekaterinburg was in dry-dock. The blaze, which shot orange flames high into the air through the night, was put out Friday afternoon and firefighters continued to spray the vessel with water to cool it down, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Russian state television earlier showed the rubber-coated hull of the submarine still smoldering, with firefighters gathering around it and some standing on top to douse it with water. Most modern submarines' outer hulls are covered with rubber to make them less noisy and more difficult for an enemy to detect.

Seven members of the submarine crew were hospitalized after inhaling poisonous carbon monoxide fumes from the fire, Shoigu said.

An unspecified number of crew remained inside the submarine during the fire, Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. He insisted there never was any danger of it spreading inside the sub and said the crew reported that conditions on board remained normal.

Konashenkov's statement left it unclear whether the crew were trapped there or ordered to stay inside.

There has been no radiation leak from the fire, the Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry said, and Norway's Radiation Protection Authority across the border reported it has not measured any increased radioactivity.

The governor in Finnmark, Norway's northeastern province that borders Russia, and the radiation agency complained about the Russian response.

"There have been problems to get clear information from the Russian side," Gunnar Kjoennoey told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. "We have an agreement to exchange information in such cases, but there has been no information from the Russian side so far."

Russia's military says the blaze started on wooden scaffolding and then engulfed the sub's outer hull. The vessel's nuclear reactor had been shut down and its nuclear-tipped missiles and other weapons had been unloaded before dry-dock repairs, it said.

Toxic fumes from the blaze had spread to the town of Roslyakovo where the shipyard is located, but officials said there was no need to evacuate local residents.

The Interfax new agency quoted the former director of the biggest shipyard in the area as saying the fire was probably caused by the failure to take proper safety precautions, such as coating the scaffolding with special sprays to make it fire-resistant.

"It was either lack of professionalism or an attempt to save money that has turned into huge losses," Nikolai Kalistratov said.

The Yekaterinburg is a Delta-IV-class nuclear-powered submarine that normally carries 16 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. The 166-meter (548-feet) vessel has a displacement of 18,200 tons when submerged.

The chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, led a team of senior military officials to Roslyakovo to oversee the emergency response.

The damage from the fire could be so massive that the submarine would need to be scrapped, the Interfax news agency reported Friday. But Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of the nation's military industries, said that the submarine will rejoin the navy after repairs.

The Russian navy suffered its worst accident in August 2000, when the Kursk nuclear submarine exploded and sank during naval maneuvers, killing all 118 crew members aboard.

A 2008 accident at the Nerpa nuclear-powered submarine killed 20 Russian seamen and injured 21 others when its fire-extinguishing system activated in error and spewed suffocating Freon gas.


Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen.

Associated Press


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Advanced Technology Labs Israel: Year in Review

Posted by Adi Diamant, director of Advanced Technology Labs Israel

Year in Review

The latest in a series of posts from the directors of Microsoft Research?s labs worldwide, this one from Adi Diamant of Advanced Technology Labs Israel (ILABS).

ILABS has enjoyed a productive year, full of tech transfers and with a clear vision to continue and increase impact with more innovative ideas and breakthrough technologies in the areas of computer vision and interaction mining.

Computer Vision
During 2011, our OneVision researchers presented new, advanced technologies for face detection, recognition, and tracking, resulting in significantly improved algorithms that provide much better accuracy, recall, and efficiency.

Based on our unique combination of product-driven research and creative engineering, we managed to transfer our solutions to various product groups across Microsoft. Bing Images, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Phone, and Kinect benefited from improved face-detection and face-recognition solutions from our lab, and we continue to improve our face library to extend those contributions.

Bing Search
Collaborating with colleagues from Microsoft Research, our applied researchers contributed several new, improved features for Bing. We continue to foster innovative solutions to support Bing?s task-completion strategy, to improve Bing?s usability and relevance, and to leverage social networks to enhance the Bing experience.


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Mexico arrests drug dealer linked to boss Guzman (Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) ? Mexico captured a suspected drug trafficker with links to the country's most wanted man, Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, whose operations have recently suffered a string of blows.

Mexico's federal police said on Wednesday they had captured Luis Rodriguez Olivera, known as "El Guero" (Blondie), for whom U.S. authorities have offered a reward of up to $5 million.

In a statement, Mexican police said Rodriguez Olivera and his brothers were responsible for trafficking cocaine to the United States between 1996 and 2008 for Guzman's gang.

A "wanted" statement on the U.S. State Department's website said Rodriguez Olivera and his brothers split with the Sinaloa cartel around 2005 and later forged a strong relationship with Guzman's rivals, the Zetas cartel.

One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 39-year-old Rodriguez Olivera had ties to Guzman but had recently struck out on his own. Federal police arrested him on Tuesday in Mexico City airport.

Later on Wednesday, the government said it had seized eight containers carrying more than 120 tonnes of monomethylamine in the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan state.

It was the second big seizure announced this week of monomethylamine, a compound used to make methamphetamines. According to calculations by security analysts, the shipment could have been worth $300 million dollars or more.

President Felipe Calderon's conservative administration has been dominated by a military crackdown on drug cartels that has claimed more than 46,000 lives in the past five years, eroding support for his National Action Party, or PAN.

The PAN has trailed its main rival for months as Mexico gears up for a July 2012 presidential election, and analysts say it needs to rack up some victories in the fight on drugs.

Javier Oliva, a drug war expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said Michoachan-based cartel La Familia was the most likely intended recipient for the Lazaro Cardenas shipment, though the Zetas were also a possibility.

The shipment set out from Shanghai and was destined for the Guatemalan port of Puerto Quetzal, the government said.

Though the Sinaloa cartel deals in methamphetamines, it is not regarded as exercising much control over Lazaro Cardenas.

Mexico had already arrested three senior traffickers allied to Guzman in the past three months.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Todd Eastham)


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Titleist Vokey SM4 Spin Milled Wedge Help Golf Celebrities Win the Game

Titleist has launched their newestTitleist Vokey SM4 Spin Milled Wedge, which aimed at renewing some of the spin lost following the change of groove regulations. The new Vokey wedge, called the SM4 because it is the 4th generation of Spin Milled wedge, features a new configuration with 17 grooves on the face with each one precisely milled right to the edge of the R&A's legal limit. I have never seen the wedge until I watch the game of Australia Open. So I decide to go to the online golf shop to buy one. After several rounds of hitting, I like it very much.

Titleist Vokey SM4 Spin Milled Wedge is so popular with players on International Tour since it has released by Bob. All Bob Vokey purpose of creating this golf clubs is study, create, and design wedges for players from the amateur 20 handicap to the elite touring pros. Tour players are usually pretty particular about their wedges as they are their scoring clubs and players such as Rory, Rickie, Scott Stallings and Brendan who have won the game by changing into the new SM4's right away. The touring pros play his wedges because they work the best.

The New Titleist Vokey SM4 Spin Milled Wedge has several advantages from models past. Bob spent a lot of time working on the SM4 wedges and through his new design, has been able to increase the spin over the SM3 by about 1000 to 1200rpms. He has also developed a new treatment for the grooves that help keep the grooves last longer and stay sharp. SM4 grooves allow for the Maximum conforming spin through tour proven extreme grooves that are totally inspected, maintain tight tolerance, and have the most aggressive groove edge at the limits allowed by the Rules of Golf.

The Titleist Vokey SM4 Spin Milled Wedge features grooves in order to allow for superior full shot control. Durability is always a key factor when selecting a wedge, and all SM4 Spin Milled wedges receive a localized heat treatment in the impact area that preserves the precise milled grooves and micro edges. Lastly, the SM4 Spin Milled wedges come in more loft, bounce and sole grinds than ever before. Go and get Vokey at online golf shop- you won't be regret to have this wedge in the golf greens.


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Tribe's high-interest online lending venture booms (AP)

HELENA, Mont. ? An Indian reservation in the heart of Montana's farm country may seem an unlikely place to borrow a quick $600, but the Chippewa Cree tribe says it has already given out more than 121,000 loans this year at interest rates that can reach a whopping 360 percent.

As more states pass laws to rein in lenders who deal in high-interest, short-term loans, Indian tribes like the Chippewa Cree and their new online lending venture, Plain Green Loans, are stepping in to fill the void. The Internet lets them reach beyond the isolated Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation to borrowers across the nation, while tribal immunity has allowed them to avoid bans and interest-rate caps several states have set.

To Neal Rosette, Plain Green Loans CEO and the Chippewa Cree's former executive administrative officer, it's a win-win. The online lending venture is a resource for people who can't or won't borrow from banks, while it gives the tribe a steady revenue stream and jobs with unemployment on the reservation at nearly 40 percent.

Rosette said this model could be the successor to gambling for tribes looking for an economic boost. Some tribes have owned online lending businesses for several years, and Rosette said the Chippewa Cree and three other tribes have started the Native American Lenders Alliance to encourage more.

"I believe this is the new outlook for Indian Country, not just Rocky Boy," Rosette said. "We are sovereign nations and we have the ability to create our own laws that regulate our businesses such as this."

That's a problem for consumer groups and the states that have tried to bring such lending under control. The issue with these loans, consumer advocates say, is that their high interest rates make it too easy for a borrower to become trapped in a cycle of debt as they have to borrow more to repay their original loans.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have taken different regulatory approaches, from outright bans to interest-rate caps. Montana voters last year passed a ballot initiative that capped such loans at a 36 percent annualized interest rate, which has led to a nearly 83 percent drop in so-called deferred deposit lenders, according to Montana banking and financial institutions director Melanie Griggs.

But as the cap drives lenders out of the state, more people are turning to the Internet, which adds the danger of passing along personal bank account information that can be distributed to other lenders and brokers and can lead to overdrafts.

"When they were getting it from brick-and-mortar businesses it was easy to monitor how many people were getting payday loans. Now that it's all on the Internet, it's harder to monitor," Griggs said.

The Chippewa Cree tribe says its loans are not payday loans, those two-week loans with annualized interest rates of more than 600 percent or more. Instead, the tribe says, its highest annualized interest rate is 360 percent. Payments are made over a period of months, usually in monthly or biweekly installments.

By any account, those rates are still very high. By the company's own example, a first-time borrower who takes out a $600 loan would end up paying $1,261.32 over 12 bi-weekly payments.

Less than a year old, Plain Green Loans already has an F rating by the Better Business Bureau after the agency received 20 complaints mainly dealing with billing and collection issues. Eleven of the complaints were resolved, but the company didn't respond or failed to resolve the other nine, according to the BBB.

Rosette said those complaints are relatively few when compared to the thousands of loans the company has administered.

"We've got a process in place that we believe is very quick at handling any type of complaint that we get. That's part of this industry, complaints, regardless of who you are," Rosette said.

As long as it doesn't make any loans to Montana residents, state prosecutors plan to let Plain Green Loans and the Chippewa Cree tribe be.

"We haven't looked specifically at the tribe," said assistant attorney general Jim Molloy. "We've not pursued it based on the understanding with the tribe that they're not lending to Montanans."

Rosette confirmed that the tribe is not lending to Montana residents, but he bristled at the idea that the state could enforce its rate cap even if the tribe were lending in the state.

"If we wanted to defend our position in Montana, we could. But why? It's a small market. It wasn't worth the fight if there was one," Rosette said.

Other states have entered legal battles with lending businesses owned by tribes. A closely watched case is playing out now in Colorado, where the state is attempting to sue Western Sky Financial, an online lender owned by North Dakota's Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Colorado is trying to prevent Western Sky from making loans within its borders, while the tribe counters that the state is attempting "to reach into the reservation and regulate commercial activity."

Other legal battles are being fought or have been fought in California, West Virginia, Missouri, New Mexico and Maryland, creating an unsettled regulatory environment, said Jean Anne Fox, director of financial services at Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

"It's a real threat to the ability of state regulators to enforce the loan market to police caps and other consumer protection measures," Fox said.

Some non-tribal businesses have seen tribal immunity as a shield that they can use to make high-interest loans outside of the regulatory spotlight and a way to avoid state law enforcement, Fox said. So they affiliate themselves with the tribe and conduct business under that shield, she said.

It can be difficult to obtain records that define the relationship between a tribe and non-tribal entity. That's the case with Plain Green Loan's relationship to a Fort Worth, Texas-based company called Think Finance Inc.

Think Finance says on its website that Plain Green Loans is one of its "products," along with online lenders owned by two other tribes.

"Our latest product, Plain Green, launched in April. Customers in need of emergency cash can apply online in minutes, get an answer in seconds, and get cash as soon as the next day," a Think Finance press release from September reads.

Neither the tribe nor Think Finance returned calls and emails for comment on the relationship between the companies. Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Chelsea Dannen said her agency also tried to contact Think Finance to clarify the relationship but received no response.

Rosette said Plain Green Loans is wholly owned by the tribe, though he acknowledged that his staff of 25 isn't equipped to handle the volume. It employs a Las Vegas call center and uses brokers to provide it with databases of potential borrowers. It borrows just enough money each day to cover its loans.

There are a lot of things the tribe won't disclose. Rosette says the default rate is on Plain Green loans is proprietary information. He won't name the companies the tribe is involved with or say where company borrows its money or at what rate.

If it turns out that Plain Green Loans is not a bona fide tribal lender, that could change state prosecutors' laissez-faire approach to the company, Molloy said.

But just the obscurity and the uncertain relationship between the tribe and the Texas company exemplify the underlying problem with tribal online lending businesses, Fox said.

"We're not sure who's doing what here," Fox said.


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Local couple run to build school in Africa | 2011 Best of Bellevue Sports

With 2011 nearing its close, the Reporter is taking a look back at the best that was in the world of Bellevue area sports and recreation. From now until the end of the year, we will recap the best moments, stories and athletes of our area.

Humanitarian Recognition - Liz Strathy-Merrill and Nick Merrill and Doingood Foundation, Run Baby Run

There are a bevy of individuals, organizations and groups that invest countless time in humanitarian causes in and around Bellevue. But none is so closely tied to the world of local sports like Liz Strathy-Merrill, her husband Nick Merrill and Run Baby Run.

During this past summer, the Reporter profiled the couple's journey across the state to support the construction of an addition to a school in Uganda, Africa.?The project, dubbed "Run Baby Run", was in conjunction with another Bellevue-based foundation known as "Doingood", which was founded and is operated by Amy Rogers.

Nick and Liz met Rogers through a mutual friend, but discovered their ties went back further than any of them ever knew when it was revealed the Rogers' brother John was a teammate of Strathy-Merrill when the two were swimmers at the University of Washington. John died of AIDS in 1996 and in 2005, a school in Uganda was built in his honor.

The same school that Nick and Liz ran to build an addition to this time around.

"It all just kind of came full-circle," Rogers said.?"That made it a little more special."

Prior to their most recent four-day running excursion, the Newport Shores residents ran 200 miles from Portland to their home in Bellevue to raise money to build wells in African Villages.

"It was my wife's idea," Nick Merrill said of the idea to run 100 more miles this time around. "I'm always up for a challenge."

300 miles of running in five days was the goal and before ever the actual running ever began, the couple had already raised $40,000 towards their goal.


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Arab monitors head to Syria, government kills 20

A Syrian Kurdish boy carries a banner during a protest outside the Arab League office in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011. The protesters said the Arab League was not serious in attempts to stop the Syrian regime crackdown. A man behind the boy was carrying a poster of President Bashar Assad of Syria. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

A Syrian Kurdish boy carries a banner during a protest outside the Arab League office in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011. The protesters said the Arab League was not serious in attempts to stop the Syrian regime crackdown. A man behind the boy was carrying a poster of President Bashar Assad of Syria. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

(AP) ? The Arab League forged ahead with plans to send teams of monitors into Syria Monday even though President Bashar Assad's regime has only intensified its crackdown in the week since agreeing to halt bloodshed, killing several hundred civilians according to activists.

At least 20 more deaths were reported on Monday from intense shelling by government forces in the center of the country, just hours before the monitoring teams were to arrive. Activists said at least 275 civilians have been killed by government forces in the past week and another 150 people died in clashes between army defectors and regime troops ? most of them defectors.

The stepped up crackdown, including what activists said was a "massacre" in one town where 110 people were mowed down in several hours last week, brought a new round of international condemnation of Syria. Neighboring Turkey said the violence flew in the face of the Arab League deal that Syria signed and raises doubts about the regime's true intentions.

The Arab League plan agreed to by Assad requires the government to remove its security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country. The monitors are supposed to ensure compliance, but so far there is no sign that Assad is implementing any of the terms, much less letting up on the brutal crackdown.

Members of the opposition say the regime's agreement to the Arab League plan is a farce.

"I very much doubt the Syrian regime will allow the observers to do their work," said prominent opposition figure Waleed al-Bunni from Cairo. "I expect them to try and hinder their movements by claiming that some areas are not safe, intimidating them or sending them to places other than the ones they should go to."

Syria's top opposition leader, doubtful that the Arab League alone can budge Assad, called Sunday for the League to bring the U.N. Security Council into the effort. The U.N. says more than 5,000 people have been killed since March in the political violence.

The opposition has warned that the government, which has been besieging the Baba Amr district in the city of Homs for days, was preparing a massive assault on the area. Activists said the forces shelled the area with mortars and sprayed heavy machine gun fire in the most intense assault since the siege began Friday.

The Baba Amr district has been a center for anti-government protests and army defections and has seen repeated crackdowns by the Syrian regime in recent months. The Syrian conflict is becoming increasingly militarized with growing clashes between army defectors and troops.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, described the attacks in Homs as a kind of "hysteria" as government forces desperately try to get the situation there under control ahead of the monitors' arrival.

"The observers are sitting in their hotel in Damascus while people are dying in Homs," he said.

The Observatory called on the monitors "to head immediately to Baba Amr to be witnesses to the crimes against humanity that are being perpetrated by the Syrian regime."

France expressed strong concerns about the continued deterioration of the situation in Homs and urged Syria's government to allow Arab League observers immediate access. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Syrian authorities should allow the observers access to the city "starting this afternoon."

Although Syria showed no sign of altering its course, the Arab League said it was going ahead and officials declined to comment on the continued crackdown. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said 70 Arab monitors will arrive in the evening to join an advance team. Elaraby told reporters after meeting with the observers in Cairo that the mission will begin its work Tuesday. Up to 500 monitors are to be eventually deployed.

Anwar Malek, a member of the monitoring mission, insisted they will have absolute freedom of movement in Syria, adding that the team will travel to flashpoint cities including Homs, Aleppo, Daraa, Idlib and Hama. He and other observers refused to disclose the exact travel itinerary, saying they preferred to maintain some secrecy to ensure the mission's success.

Assad stalled for weeks on agreeing to the Arab League plan and signed only after the League threatened to turn to the U.N. Security Council to help stop the violence.

The opposition believes the authoritarian leader is only trying to buy time and forestall more international sanctions and condemnation.

Amateur videos posted by activists on the Internet showed gruesome footage of at least four corpses lying in pools of blood in front of a house in Baba Amr, where they reportedly died from mortar shells that struck the neighborhood.

Men could be heard crying for help and women wailing in the video, which also showed several destroyed homes and cars.

A resident of a neighborhood next to Baba Amr said he heard "loud explosions" throughout the night and Monday morning.

"It doesn't stop," he told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network also reported intense shelling "targeting homes and anyone who moves" in Baba Amr.

Associated Press


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JXD S7100 ? Android Powered Gaming Device ? The Gadgeteer

The JXD S7100 is a 7 inch Android 2.2 device with built in gaming controllers. Install Mame or another gaming emulator and this would make a great little gaming device. It?s available from for $139.99. There?s a video on their site showing it in action and it does support English and other languages.


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Christmas won't be white in much of United States (Reuters)

(Reuters) ? Snowstorms snarled "Getaway Friday" plans for some holiday travelers, shutting roads in New Mexico and New Hampshire, and colder temperatures ahead renewed hopes for a white Christmas in parts of the Southwest and Northeast.

Much of the rest of the country was expected to celebrate a sunny but brown Christmas, forecasters said.

In Georgia, where powerful storms ripped across the northern part of the state on Thursday, 4,100 customers -- most of them in Rome, Georgia -- were still without power on Friday, according to Georgia Power.

The utility said it hoped to restore service to affected customers by midnight Friday.

A wintry storm dumped as much as a foot of snow on parts of New Hampshire, forcing scattered road closures during the morning rush hour on Friday, said meteorologist Mark Mancuso on

Temperatures were expected to drop after a stretch of unseasonable warm weather, increasing the likelihood that the frosting would last through Christmas Sunday.

"I'm glad we're going to have a white Christmas," said Ray Cloutier, 63, proprietor of the Tannery Marketplace commercial building in Littleton, New Hampshire.

"Yesterday the ground was brown and now it's beautiful with wet snow coating the branches of the trees," Cloutier said.

Heavy snow in New Mexico closed highways south of Albuquerque around Las Cruces, and another three inches was expected to fall before evening, forecasters said.

Snow was headed to El Paso, Texas, where an accumulation of more than one inch would put it ahead of Chicago in terms of snowfall so far this winter, said Accuweather meteorologist Mark Miller.

Ski resorts eager to draw crowds to their slopes over the holidays, typically the most lucrative week of the season, welcomed the long-awaited snow and predicted cold temperatures.

At Attitash Mountain Resort in northern New Hampshire, five inches of fresh snow on the ground spelled relief ahead of Christmas week, said Thomas Prindle, director of marketing at the ski resort.

But snow cover elsewhere around the United States two days ahead of Christmas was well below average.

The culprit has been higher-than-normal temperatures this month from Montana to Virginia and drier-than-normal conditions in northern California and the Pacific Northwest, said Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service.

In a typical December, Chicago gets 8.5 inches of snow. So far this month, the city has only received 1.7 inches of snow, the lowest since 2003.

New York City has seen zero snowfall since the freak fall of late October that dumped nearly 3 inches in the city. Reno, Nevada has had no snowfall since November.

"That's the first time that's happened since 1995," Murphy said.

About 92 million Americans -- 30 percent of the total U.S. population -- will travel more than 50 miles this holiday season, 91 percent of them by road, said AAA.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, James Kelleher and Karin Matz; Editing by Jerry Norton)


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West Rome Begins Cleanup After Confirmed EF-2 Tornado (Photo Gallery)

Just 24 hours after the storm struck, residents across West Rome had begun to clean up following a storm that struck the area Thursday Afternoon, dropping a tornado that was rated an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale.

Officials with the National Weather Service?s Atlanta area office confirmed Thursday afternoon following both a ground that Rome was struck by an EF-2 rated tornado.The rating, which looks at different factors including damage, indicates that the tornado brought winds of around 111- 135 Miles Per Hour. According to preliminary reports, it appears that the tornado first touched down in the Wilkerson Road area, and continued on a northeast track, crossing Shorter Avenue near Cherry Street before bearing down on Division Street at John Davenport Drive and into Summerville Park. Areas of Northeastern Floyd County towards Ward Mountain were also damaged by the storm, and were reportedly still without power Friday evening.

The tornado also damaged major businesses in the area, and many were till closed Friday. By Friday Afternoon, contractors had covered the machinery inside the Fairbanks Company building, which experienced major wall collapse and roof damage from the tornado. A daycare center across the street also remained closed, as it received moderate damage to both the building and playground, and lost its dumpster which was thrown into a nearby field. The other large business affected by the tornado was the West Rome IGA Grocery Store. While the building only received light damage in the tornado, the store was still closed, and its parking lot blocked off. According to store owner Keith Clark, the store regained power around 4:00 pm Friday, but lost all of its cold merchandise. Clark spoke to RNW on the back loading of the store, where he was assisting his workers in disposing of the ruined meats and other cold groceries in a large dumpster.

This was the second reported tornado in Floyd County in 2011, which has proven to be a very tornadic year for the Southeastern United States. The other 2011 tornado struck Floyd County on April 27, when the same storm cell that destroyed parts of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham set its sights on the Cave Springs and Chubbtown areas. Earlier that same day in April, the same area that fell victim to Thursday?s storm was hit by straight line winds, which caused significant damage. Rome lies within what is called the ?Dixie Alley,? which is smaller and slightly less active zone of tornadic weather. This region has been more active in recent years, as evidenced by the 2010 Yazoo City, MS Tornado and the 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado.

Thursday?s storm was part of a line of storms extending through the region along a cold front. Unlike the monster storms of this past April which were stand-alone supercells, this particular tornado was spawned by a multicell type storm. These storms, such as squall lines, are known for spawning damaging straight line winds more than they are known for spawning tornadoes. Still, they stand a chance of ?spinning up? a tornado, which are usually weaker and short lived such as the one on Thursday.Because of this fact, it is hard for weather offices to issue tornado warnings from radar, which is where they rely on trained weather spotters to be their eyes in the field.

Friday Afternoon, members of the RNW Affiliated Northwest Georgia Severe Weather Team toured the area on a damage survey, and saw many sights that they had seen in their damage encounters before. While the weather team, who can usually be found in the field chasing around the region, was not out at the time of the tornado Thursday, but experienced the storm first hand as it moved across the city, and were live answering questions and covering the storms aftermath for most of Thursday evening.

The same line of storms were also blamed for dropping several other tornadoes across the region, including an EF-0 in Columbiana, AL and an EF-1 in Coweta County, GA.

A damaged warehouse on JohnDavenport Drive belonging to Shorter University

A home destroyed on John Davenport Drive

A home destroyed on John Davenport Drive

Damage sustained to the park in the Summerville Park neighborhood

A car sits on Charlton Street in Summerville Park after being destroyed by a fallen tree

A tossed dumpster sits near a daycare center

A dumpster tossed by the tornado sits overturned near a daycare center on Division Street. Also note the sheet metal wrapped around the utility pole in the foreground

Georgia Power crews work on a downed pole on Excelsior Street

Trees on Excelsior Street near the center of the tornado's path, which were splintered near their trunks by the storm

A brick sits after being thrown across Division Street by the storm

Contarctors work on the Fairbanks Manufacturing building, which recieved heavby damage in the tornado

A Railroad Crossing sign lies in the grass on Division Street after the tornado sheered the aluminum post off at the ground

Damage to the playground and fence at a daycare center on Division Street behind the West Rome IGA

Workers at the West Rome IGA dispose of thier ruined meats in a large dumpster behind the store

A home on Cherry Street sits with a tree still on its roof Friday evening

An apparently vacant apartment on Woodcreek Way is split into after the tornado blew a tree onto it Thursday




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Earth-like planets: How will we know if they can sustain life? (VIDEO)

The Kepler spacecraft has made two landmark discoveries of Earth-like planets this month. But determining whether such planets can sustain life would require years of additional study.?

What makes for a potentially livable planet? That question moved center stage this month as NASA's Kepler mission passed two milestones.

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On Tuesday, the Kepler team announced the discovery of two truly Earth-size planets orbiting another star ? but too close to the star for life to emerge. This followed an announcement on Dec. 5 that the Kepler team had found a planet?in the host star's habitable zone, but?2.4?times larger that Earth.

The findings move the Kepler team closer to its goal of finding other planets like ours. The spacecraft is searching 150,000 stars to see how many are like the sun and have planets roughly the same size and distance away as Earth.

But researchers caution that even when Kepler eventually scores a direct hit, that will not be the end of the story. Astronomers will have to answer many more questions about such planets before they can suggest that any of them may be Earth-like, let alone livable for some form of life.

According to Yale University astronomer Debra Fischer, three important pieces of this habitability puzzle begin with: a planet's distance from its sun, its mass, and the shape of its orbit.

Watch video aboot the newly discovered habitable planet Kepler-22b?here:

Other traits come into play, but "if we can find 100 planets that meet the three conditions, we will have have gone a long ways in our search for life," she writes in an e-mail exchange.

Distance is most straightforward for Kepler to gauge.?The distance from the sun to the Earth is about 93 million miles, or 1 Astronomical Unit (AU). By some estimates, the habitable zone around a sun-like star ??where with a little help from an atmosphere, water can exist on the surface as solid, liquid, and gas ? is between 0.95 and 1.37 AU.

The planet announced Dec. 5, Kepler 22b, is almost exactly 1 AU from its star.?But its mass has yet to be confidently established.

Mass is important, because if a planet is a lightweight, with less than about half Earth's mass, it won't have enough gravity to retain much of an atmosphere. Mars, at 10 percent of Earth's mass, has had much of its atmosphere stripped away.

"Too big is harder to quantify," Dr. Fischer adds.

If a planet has only a few times Earth's mass, it might still be potentially habitable. But if a planet becomes too massive, its gravity could be too strong, meaning that it builds a thick, deep atmosphere, resulting in crushing atmospheric pressures on the surface.?

For Kepler 22b, the best the Kepler team can do at the moment is give an upper limit to the mass ? 124 times Earth's mass.?The reason: Kepler's technique for pinpointing planets. It does this by gauging how they?briefly dim the light of their host star when they pass in front of it.

While the team can make some rough estimates about a planet's mass from this technique, the best information on mass, as well as the shape of the orbit,?comes from a different technique used by ground-based astronomers. This approach measures the wobble the planet imposes on host star's spectrum as it orbits.?

Knowing the planet's mass and its volume, researchers can also estimate its density, and so glean something about the planet's general composition by comparing its density with that of water. If the density is relatively small, it could be more gaseous, like a mini-Neptune. If the density is larger, it could suggest a denser, rocky planet.?


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North Sea tax grab blamed for record slump in UK oil and gas production

UK natural gas production in the third quarter of 2011 slumped to the lowest level since records began in 1996, at 103TWh (terawatt hours), Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) data show. This also represented the largest year-on-year quarterly decrease ever seen, down 29.4pc on the same period last year.

Mike Tholen, Oil & Gas UK?s economics director, said: ?Production through to September 2011 has fallen dramatically, by much more than had been anticipated by either industry or Government immediately prior to the Budget.

?The drop can be attributed to a combination of factors including extended shutdowns for maintenance and lower gas demand. However, looking further back, fiscal instability since 2002 resulted in fewer new fields coming onstream over the last few years and it appears that this may have been compounded by a direct commercial impact on production following the tax increase in March.

?These production figures demonstrate the importance of sustaining investment throughout the price cycle, which is made much more difficult in a fiscal environment without long-term certainty.?

Mr Tholen added: ?For the sake of the UK?s economy and its energy security, the UK Continental Shelf must, and can, recover from this production fall. In this, the ongoing work of Oil & Gas UK?s members and the Government to improve the business environment for investing companies and deliver long-term certainty is hugely important.?

A spokesman for DECC said: ?Production levels during 2011 have been lower than previously anticipated due to shutdowns in this summer?s maintenance programmes coinciding.

?There is no reason to believe that the production decreases are a result of concerns over tax. In general, North Sea production is continuing to decline year-on-year, however we do not believe the recent downturn is the start of an additional downward trend and we would anticipate overall production levels beginning to improve in the spring.?


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London calling shots for Skins' defense

ASHBURN, Va. - When London Fletcher peeled off his shirt while listening to a question at his locker yesterday, a Washington Redskins public relations intern tried to halt the proceedings.

Fletcher - a defensive co-captain, of all people - was violating a team policy that requires a player to be wearing a shirt while being interviewed on camera.

Fletcher objected.

"I want cameras on," the bare-chested linebacker said with a smile. "On this 36-year-old body. Whose interview is this? Mine or yours?"

After all, these are the nitty-gritty final days of Pro Bowl voting, and Fletcher is in need of exposure.

Nearing the end of his 14th season, he's in a familiar spot - leading the league in tackles while wondering if he'll ever get the all-star recognition he feels he deserves.

Fletcher once called himself "the Susan Lucci of the NFL" because his reliability and productivity had yet to be rewarded with a Pro Bowl nod. He has the most tackles in the NFL since 2000 - more than 250 ahead of No. 2 Ray Lewis - and has never missed a game in his career. He'll play in his 223rd in a row, keeping him tied for first with Ronde Barber among active non-specialists, when the Redskins (5-9) host the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.

Two years ago, Fletcher finally celebrated his first Pro Bowl selection, albeit because Jonathan Vilma of the New Orleans Saints couldn't play because the game was being held before the Super Bowl for the first time.

Last season, Fletcher got in again at the last minute - and only after Brian Urlacher withdrew due to an injury.

Now Fletcher would like to know what it feels like to get in from the get-go, without waiting for someone to drop out. For him, it would mean something extra.

"Yeah, it would. To finally say my peers and the fans and the coaches finally get it," he said with another hearty laugh - after he had put a shirt back on. "I lead the league in tackles.

I'm a part of a defense that's ranked pretty high in the NFC (fifth) as well. There's a lot of good players in this league, a lot of good players at this position, but I definitely feel good about me."

The fans have finished voting, and players and coaches are mulling their ballots ahead of the formal announcement of the AFC and NFC teams next Tuesday. Hurting Fletcher, as it usually does, is Washington's losing record. Helping Fletcher is the respect he has gained for playing so well for so long.

"I kid and say it doesn't, but it does mean a lot to me," Fletcher said. "To be able to perform at a level that I'm performing at and to have done it for so long, it does mean a lot to me - and I don't take it for granted at all. I approach every game each week the same."

Much like a veteran shortstop who compensates for diminished range by learning to position himself depending on the pitch or the batter, Fletcher has let his football smarts make up for whatever decline in athleticism he has felt with age.

"As you get older, you get wiser. The game definitely slows down for you," Fletcher said. "It's a matter of just understanding how the offense is trying to attack you. Putting yourself in a position to make plays, whether it's cheating a step to right or left, just different things like that. Understanding what teams are going to do, whether it's misdirection plays, play-action. When you're young, you may overreact to these things. Now as an older guy you sit back and relax and wait, take a deep breath."

Fletcher's contract expires at the end of the season, but he sounds like someone who's nowhere close to retiring. He says he'll be playing somewhere next year, and he'd like it to be with the Redskins.

"They know what my desires are," he said. "It's really up to them. If they want me here, they'll show me."

While the money must be sorted out - something that's never a given - coach Mike Shanahan made Fletcher's return sound like a foregone conclusion.

"He's playing at a very, very high level," the coach said. "What I mean is that you want him on your football team. You want him out there as much as you can have him out there. And you can't say that about a lot of players as they get older."

Notes: The Redskins signed TE Rob Myers and DE Doug Worthington and waived TE Dominique Byrd. Washington is Myers' sixth NFL team - including practice squads - but this is the first time he's been on an active roster during the regular season. Worthington has spent this season on the Redskins' practice squad. Byrd was a midseason signing and played in two games with no catches. ... The Redskins also signed TE Schuylar Oordt and S Michael Hamlin to the practice squad. ... CB Josh Wilson, who was knocked woozy in Sunday's win over the New York Giants, was on the practice field after being tested for a concussion. "Must have done well on the test," Shanahan said.


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Panetta says Libya faces long, difficult transition (Reuters)

TRIPOLI (Reuters) ? Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Libya Saturday it faced a "long and difficult" road in moving on from 42 years of one-man rule and uniting the fractious rebel groups that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

Panetta became the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Libya when he arrived in the capital Tripoli to meet an interim leadership struggling to assert control two months after Gaddafi was captured and killed.

Addressing a joint news conference with Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib, Panetta said Libya faced tough challenges in uniting the forces that toppled Gaddafi, securing arms caches and building an army, police force and democratic institutions.

"This will be a long and difficult transition, but I am confident that you will succeed," he said.

Asked about the militias that wield the real power on Libya's streets, Panetta said: "I'm confident they (the interim leaders) are taking the right steps to reach out to all of these groups and bring them together so they will be part of one Libya and one defense system."

"I have a good sense that they know how to deal with it."

Keib's government won a welcome boost Friday when the U.N. Security Council lifted sanctions on Libya's central bank and a subsidiary, clearing the way for the release of tens of billions of dollars held overseas to ease an acute cash crisis.

The United States said it had unblocked more than $30 billion in Libyan government assets.

The Libyan leadership sorely needs the overseas funds to pay public sector workers, start the long process of rebuilding and to bolster its authority over the militias.

(Writing by Matt Robinson)


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Patriots toughest test yet for Tebow, Broncos


updated 3:48 p.m. ET Dec. 16, 2011

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - The Denver Broncos haven't been to the playoffs since 2006, so they're in no position and certainly no mood to judge the quality of the opponents they're dispatching with all this last-minute magic.

They're 7-1 since Tim Tebow took over and started engineering a series of outrageous second-half comebacks. Those opponents, though, have a combined record of 39-52.

With Tom Brady and the powerful New England Patriots (10-3) coming to town Sunday, the Broncos (8-5) see this as a chance to prove they're not just a curiosity but a contender.

"Yeah, well, we need to prove it to ourselves," star cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We've played against some teams that were kind of struggling. We'd like to go put it together against a top-quality quarterback like Brady."

It's not just Tebow who's facing what could be his toughest test since he started the final three games last season and then supplanted an ineffective Kyle Orton in October after a 1-4 start.

Denver's dominant defense, which has two hiccups ? against the multifaceted Lions and Packers, faces another formidable challenge in the Patriots, led by Brady, who's thrown for 33 touchdown passes, 15 of them to big tight end Rob Gronkowski and nine to Wes Welker, who already has 100 catches.

"He's getting them all the ball," said Broncos safety Brian Dawkins. "Nobody's really starving for catches."

And so, the AFC East-leading Patriots are feasting on opponents, putting up an AFC-best 31 points a game.

That kind of firepower means the AFC West-leading Broncos' notoriously slow-starting offense will have to keep pace, and given New England's defensive shortcomings, this game could turn into a shootout.

Only twice have the Broncos piled up points since Tebow took over in October. They put up 38 at Oakland and 35 at Minnesota. But six times they've failed to even score 20 points with Tebow starting.

That's why so many see this game as the Broncos' best barometer yet.

The Patriots have the pedigree the Broncos used to have when they, too, were a perennial playoff team. But Denver hasn't punched its ticket to the postseason party since losing to Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game following the 2005 season.

"Obviously New England has been a team that's been in the playoffs for the last decade or whatever. So they've got a lot of players who've been there," Broncos pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil said. "They're the team that's always been in the playoffs. We want to establish ourselves as that team. This is a good challenge for us."

The Broncos have long been Brady's bugaboo, beating him five times in six tries, including a 27-13 win on Jan. 14, 2006, when Bailey returned a game-changing interception 100 yards, helping hand Brady his first playoff loss and ending New England's 10-game postseason winning streak and a shot at an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl title.

"Considering how much they won the previous years, they were pretty much unbeatable," Bailey said. "To get a play like that and to change the game, to get a win against a team like that, yes, it's a special moment."

With the Patriots going in for the go-ahead score, Bailey stepped in front of Troy Brown in the end zone for the pick and sprinted down the sideline, only to get knocked out of bounds at the 1 by hustling tight end Ben Watson.

"Yeah. I thought my guy Nick Ferguson ? we all remember him ? I thought if he looked inside and blocked that guy coming across the field, then I would have scored," Bailey cracked. "But we still ended up scoring on the next play."

This game doesn't hold nearly as much significance, but in many ways it's the most intriguing matchup at Mile High in years.

The Patriots could clinch a playoff spot and inch closer to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which could prove the best salve for their defensive troubles.

The Broncos could take a lot of pressure off themselves over the final two weeks of the season, with games against Buffalo on the road and at home against Kansas City.

Bailey, the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback, will have his work cut out for him, covering either Welker in the slot or the Patriots' two big tight ends in Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

"What makes them so tough is their size," Bailey said. "I can keep up with them with my feet, but it's just the pushing and the shoving and the ball placement. It's tougher when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, because he puts the ball where nobody else can get it."

Then, he might have to chase around Welker, the 5-foot-9 dynamo who's putting up big numbers himself.

"It's like night and day, but they're all productive," Bailey said. "We've got some tools that we're going to use and hopefully they work."

Notes: Dawkins (neck) and CB Andre' Goodman (concussion) practiced Friday and are listed as questionable for the game. ... Tebow on the two 17-year-old boys in New York who were suspended for organizing "Tebowing" kneel-downs at their high school, where the superintendent said the tribute posed a safety hazard by blocking others from getting to class: "You have to respect the position of authority and people that God's put as authority over you, so that's part of it, and just finding the right place and the right time to do things is part of it, too. But I think it does show courage from the kids standing out and doing that, and some boldness."


Reach out to AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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I wanna talk like you (oo)

Friday, December 16, 2011

The role of social structure in animal communication is hotly debated. Non-human primates seem to be born with a range of calls and sounds which is dependent upon their species. But overlying this there seems to be some flexibility - you can tell where a gibbon lives by its accent. New research published in Biomed Central's open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology used Campbell's monkeys to look in detail at the nature versus nurture question and showed that non-human primate 'language', like humans, is learnt.

Researchers studied free-living Campbell's monkeys (Cercopithecus campbelli campbelli) from the Ta? National Park, Ivory Coast. They observed social interactions (time spent grooming) and recorded 'contact calls' made while the females were travelling, foraging or resting. Genetic similarity (family relationships) was determined by microsatellite analysis of DNA isolated from droppings. These monkeys have lived close to the Ta? Monkey Project Research Station for more than 10 years so their social structure and family groups are well known. Groups consisted of one male, four or six females, along with their offspring.

Dr Alban Lemasson who led the multi centre team explained, "Each female has its own distinctive vocalisation but they appear to pick up habits from each other. Similarities between 'contact calls' were dependent on the length of time adult females spent grooming each other (and who their grooming partner was) rather than genetic relatedness. This means that while the general call repertoire of non-human primates is dependent on genetic factors, the fine structure within this is influenced by the company they kept. This behaviour also fits with the theory that human speech has evolved gradually from ancestral primate vocalisations and social patterns."


Social learning of vocal structure in a nonhuman primate?
Alban Lemasson, Karim Ouattara, Eric J Petit and Klaus Zuberb?hler
BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press)

BioMed Central:

Thanks to BioMed Central for this article.

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