Former Pope Benedict XVI asks for forgiveness, thanks God in final published letter



CNN
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Former Pope Benedict XVI, who died Saturday in a monastery in the Vatican at the age of 95, asked for forgiveness for those he has “wronged” in the spiritual testament published following his death.

Benedict, who was the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, passed away on Saturday, according to a statement from the Vatican.

He was elected pope in April 2005, following John Paul II’s death.

During the testament, which consisted of a letter containing the pope’s final words, Benedict spoke of the “many reasons” he had to be thankful for his life.

In the letter dated August 29, 2006, the former pope thanked God for guiding him “well” throughout life. He also expressed gratitude to his parents who he said gave him “life in a difficult time.”

He went on to thank his sister for her “selfless” help and his brother for the “clarity of judgment” he shared with him.

Benedict was known to be more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who has made moves to soften the Vatican’s position on abortion and homosexuality, as well as doing more to deal with the sexual abuse crisis which engulfed the church in recent years and clouded Benedict’s legacy.

In April 2019, Benedict discussed the sex abuse crisis in a public letter, claiming it was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the church’s moral teachings.

In January 2020, Benedict was forced to distance himself from a book widely seen as undercutting Francis as he considered whether to allow married men to become priests in certain cases. The book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” argued in favor of the centuries-old tradition of priestly celibacy within the Catholic Church. Benedict was originally listed as co-author, but later clarified he had only contributed one section of the text.

A year later, Benedict came under fire over his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising, between 1977 and 1982, following the publication of a church-commissioned report into abuse by Catholic clergy there.

In the 2006 letter, the former pope asked “sincerely” for “forgiveness” for those he “wronged in any way,” in his letter.

In the closing words, the former pontiff asked “humbly,” despite all his “sins and shortcomings,” he be welcomed by God into heaven.

In a separate letter published by the Vatican in February 2022, Benedict issued a general apology to survivors of abuse, writing: “Once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” but he admitted to no personal or specific wrongdoing.

There is no suggestion his request for forgiveness in his final letter relates to the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse accusations against priests.

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Shocking photos show the aftermath of a Connecticut car impaled by a guardrail



CNN
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A motorist was “miraculously” left with only minor injuries after a car was impaled by a guardrail in Manchester, Connecticut, according to first responders.

The single-vehicle accident occurred on Interstate 384 Monday afternoon, according to a Facebook post from the Manchester Fire Rescue EMS.

The guardrail separated and then impaled the vehicle, says the department. Shocking photos included in the Facebook post show the guardrail protruding from the side of a black sedan.

The guardrail “traveled through the passenger compartment, between both front seats and then exited the rear, extending approximately 20 ft beyond it,” according to the Facebook post.

The car’s occupant miraculously suffered only minor injuries, Manchester Fire Rescue EMS said. The occupant was transported to a hospital by fire department paramedics.

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How Barbara Walters helped Americans understand their presidents



CNN
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Over the course of a half-century interviewing American presidents, Barbara Walters interviewed the most powerful men in the world about their regrets, their mothers, their marriages – even their sleeping arrangements with their wives.

“Double bed,” Jimmy Carter told the newswoman in 1976. “Always have.”

Perhaps like no one else in the recent history of the American presidency, Walters helped reveal the men in the White House as people, using surprisingly intimate questions during the heyday of appointment television to help Americans understand their leaders on a human scale. The pioneering TV journalist died Friday at age 93.

Walters made news and held presidents accountable, though she was sometimes criticized for being too soft. She moderated presidential debates between Gerald Ford and Carter, and Carter and Ronald Reagan. At moments of national crisis, including during wars and recessions, she asked important questions that shed light on policy and approach.

Jimmy Carter during an interview with Barbara Walters circa December 14, 1978.

Yet it was her insistence on locating the character of the president, and mining whatever she found there, that helped usher in a new era of personality in politics, lifting the veil on the inner lives of the men leading the free world.

“Are you mean? Do you have a cold, hard, mean streak? Do those blue eyes get cold?” she asked Carter before inquiring about his bedroom setup.

“You’re more like your mother, people say,” she asked Reagan during a visit to his Santa Barbara, California, ranch in 1981. “Do you think that’s so?”

“Do you discuss these things with your father?” she asked George W. Bush during a conversation about global threats in the months after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

She interviewed every sitting president starting with Richard Nixon through Barack Obama, and spoke with Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the years before they entered the Oval Office.

“Barbara Walters has always been an example of bravery and truth – breaking barriers while driving our nation forward. Her legacy will continue as an inspiration for all journalists,” Biden said Saturday on Twitter.

Many of Walters’ presidential interviews included their wives, an opportunity for her to question a first couple about their ambitions, tastes and marriage.

“You wanted him to give up politics. And you talked about it openly. It affected your marriage. You wanted him to get out,” she asked Michelle Obama in 2010. “Is there ever a moment when you say to yourself, one term is enough?”

Instead of holding her presidential subjects at an arm’s length, she visited their ranches, climbed into their jeeps and sat next to their Christmas trees, bringing with her pages of questions that she’d prepared.

She interviewed her first sitting president in 1971, setting up in the Blue Room with a nervous-seeming Nixon, who asked whether her knee-high boots were comfortable.

After a discussion on Vietnam, Walters sought something more: “An opportunity to learn more about this secretive and remote man,” she recalled in her memoir.

“There has been a lot of talk about your image and the fact that the American public sees you as rather stuffy and not a human man,” she asked. “Are you worried about this image, Mr. President?”

So began a decadeslong procession of mining the dispositions of successive commanders in chief.

“I’m fascinated by the personality of our leaders. Who are they? What do they believe in?” she said during an episode of “Oprah’s Master Class” in 2014.

She joined the traveling press corps on Nixon’s landmark trip to China in 1972, one of only a few women among a pack of men, stepping from the Pan Am charter plane in a long shearling coat with a camera strapped around her wrist.

Her most famous interview with Nixon came after he resigned amid the Watergate scandal, questioning him in a live special several years later: “Are you sorry you didn’t burn the tapes?”

“I probably should have,” he acknowledged.

Walters seemed fascinated by presidential regrets. She asked George H.W. Bush – whom she wrote was the president she knew best “on a personal level” – whether he regretted his campaign phrase “Read my lips: no new taxes” after he was forced to, in fact, raise taxes.

“It caused a credibility problem at the time,” Bush acknowledged. “I would have to rank that as not a howling success.”

In 2005, she asked his son, George W. Bush, whether he regretted the US invasion of Iraq.

“But was it worth it if there were no weapons of mass destruction? Now that we know that that was wrong. Was it worth it?” she asked. (Absolutely, Bush said.)

Walters had her own regrets, too. She “couldn’t summon the courage” to ask Ford about falling down the steps from Air Force One. She cringed watching herself gravely asking Carter to be “good to us” at the end of an interview. And she said she was mistaken not to have aired a walk-and-talk interview with Betty Ford when the first lady appeared drunk.

“If I were interviewing a first lady today, and she was obviously inebriated, I would certainly air it,” she wrote.

Sometimes, her questions seemed to foretell coming events. She asked Bill Clinton in 1996 how important it was for the president “to be a role model.” A few years later, she would interview Monica Lewinsky – a former White House intern who became a household name in the 1990s when her affair with then-President Clinton came to light – before a television audience of 70 million people.

“I never felt that I really got through to Clinton,” Walters wrote in her book. “I never experienced his renowned sex appeal. He never sparkled with me.”

Reagan was a different story. Like many Americans, Walters seemed taken with his movie star charisma – though in one interview she voiced some skepticism that his ability to connect was genuine.

“Do you think that any of that is the acting experience?” she asked him.

In the decades since she began interviewing presidents, personal questions have become the norm for politicians and their spouses. Voters have come to expect having a view of their leaders’ personalities, or at least the ones they cultivate for public consumption.

“I used to be criticized for asking those kinds of questions: doesn’t matter, what do we care what he or she thinks? The most important thing is only the hard news question. I don’t think so,” Walters said after she’d retired. “I think it’s important to know what’s important to them. You have to find out, if you can, what makes someone tick.”

This story has been updated with additional details.


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Opinion: What we won't forget about 2022

Editor’s Note: Sign up to get this weekly column as a newsletter. We’re looking back at the strongest, smartest opinion takes of the week from CNN and other outlets.



CNN
 — 

William Carlos Williams is perhaps best known for the red wheelbarrow on which so much depends, but “Spring and All” – the 1923 book which includes that poem – is a manifesto on how language, through its own slow renewal, can recreate the world. “It is the imagination on which reality rides,” Williams wrote. “To whom then am I addressed? To the imagination.”

In 2012, the Library of Congress cited “Spring and All” as one of 88 “books that shaped America,” which feels, as we prepare to take on 2023, like a prescient gesture, one that anticipated the power of imagination to create change and the role of culture in efforts to attend to the present while staying connected to the past and committed to transforming the future.

Sometimes the past speaks directly from the page. As Laura Beers wrote, George Orwell’s perspective following the Second World War forecast the realities of 2022: disinformation, “reality control,” and freedom of expression as the bedrock of all other freedoms – making it the most important, and also the most vulnerable to attack and suppression. For Issac Bailey, a free copy of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” opened his imagination in ways a childhood stutter had kept locked inside – and prompted him to speak out against ongoing efforts to ban books.

George Orwell mural

Oliver Bunic/AFP/Getty Images

Or it’s a single word. Take Merriam-Webster’s word of the year: gaslighting. Its selection was a statement on the precarity of truth in our lives, but Nicole Hemmer, who wrote one of the first pieces connecting the term to then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, objected to synonymizing “gaslighting” with lying without emphasizing its origins as a form of psychological abuse against women. “This loss of context for a single word might not feel urgently important – after all, words evolve as they work their way from novel to commonplace to, eventually, trite (as the word ‘gaslighting’ now feels after years of overuse). But in a culture where histories of abuse are regularly erased – even five years into the #MeToo movement – the erasure feels significant,” insisted Hemmer. Changing one word’s meaning can empower women to claim their experiences and take one more step toward justice and equality.

Consider also how cultural figures have loomed large this year in our most painful moments. As Peniel E. Joseph reminded us, cultural icons including basketball coach Steve Kerr and actor Matthew McConaughey spoke out after the massacre of 19 schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas, serving in Joseph’s words “as courageous models for a progressive White male identity that challenges systems of oppression, speaks truth to power and confronts the divisions of our current moment by publicly highlighting the gap between the nation’s professed values and a more bitter reality that allows 19 children to be killed in such grotesque fashion.”

And during the Jackson water crisis, W. Ralph Eubanks recounted how the richness of Mississippi’s literary and cultural heritage informed his conviction that “Mississippi has something to say … Mississippi matters.” And yet, while in Jackson to celebrate that heritage, he instead encountered “a new way the past and the present are colliding in Mississippi. Instead of the cultural charm and pull of this place that I love so much, I was confronted by the remnants of Jim Crow Mississippi living on in the present.”

But if I might borrow and riff on Williams’ formulation to look back at 2022 in cultural commentary, another part of the reason reality rides the back of imagination is because the latter functions as a source of joy and revelation that can invigorate the former. After the last few years, don’t we deserve a little more of that?

Everything Everywhere family

Courtesy A24

In March, absurdist dramedy “Everything Everywhere All At Once” – led by Michelle Yeoh playing Evelyn Wang – took the screen by storm, offering what Jeff Yang described as a “perfect metaphor for this thing we call Asian America.” In the film, Yeoh’s character “can conjure up any reality she imagines, bringing substance to the outrageous worlds of her imagination by drawing power from the infinite diversity of her myriad selves – making many into one, sometimes by chance, sometimes by choice. And we, as Asian Americans, are in the process of doing the same, building a cultural collage out of mixed media and lived experiences,” wrote Yang.

Summer romance took an unconventionally sexy (and equally dramedic) turn with Emma Thompson’s “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” which chronicled her recently-widowed protagonist’s quest for sexual pleasure and her first orgasm – with a sex worker. This is a new kind of romance, affirmed Sara Stewart – a romance between Thompson’s Nancy and her own post-60 body: “Talk about a message at odds with our current political moment, where women’s bodily and autonomy and power are under siege.”

Come fall, noted Stewart, it was time to be served some “eat the rich” satire in “The Menu” and “Triangle of Sadness.” Predictable, perhaps, given a pandemic “in which billionaires got richer while millions died,” she wrote. But while investing any film with “single-handedly dismantling capitalism seems too heavy a lift … Mark Twain said, ‘the human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.’ We can at least capitalize, so to speak, on these films’ painting their ultra-rich subjects as inherently ridiculous. We can begin to puncture the idea that obscene wealth is the ultimate American aspiration,” argued Stewart.

More on films that made a difference in 2022:

Lilit Marcus: ‘CODA’ didn’t change my life. It showed my life

Vanessa Hua: Why ‘Turning Red’ gives me hope

Nsenga K. Burton: What the calls to boycott ‘The Woman King’ are really saying

Jemar Tisby: This film is a timely reminder of what patriotism looks like

Quinta Brunson Sheryl Lee Ralph Abbott Elementary

Gilles Mingasson/ABC

Emmy glory and the second season premiere of “Abbott Elementary,” the beloved comedy set in a Philadelphia school, was a triumph for an underdog that “has earned its stature – and then some,” wrote Gene Seymour, who has lived in the City of Brotherly Love off and on for 40 years. It’s more than a show about teaching, he insisted – it’s a show that, like its city of origin, “teaches you. And one of its lessons is not to understand anyone or anything too quickly, but to give each person time and space to figure themselves – and each other – out.”

2022 was also the sophomore year for Netflix’s Regency-era hit “Bridgerton,” and Holly Thomas outlined how the show’s second season made her fall in love with Anthony Bridgerton like the rest of us, while stressing the importance of remembering “just how rooted in fantasy ‘Bridgerton’ is. It suggests that a strikingly bigoted country – one which failed miserably to accept a non-White royal in the 21st century, let alone the 19th – has managed to dismantle structural racism in a generation, all because the king made a Black woman his queen. … All this to say, literally nothing is beyond the redemptive power of love on this show.”

That’s a far cry from “The Crown” – now a fifth-year senior with a new cast – where love is nowhere to be found and, as Thomas noted, fiction is rightly putting history in the corner. (In other streaming period drama-drama of the Regency variety, Thomas also praised the Jane Austen “adaptation” of “Persuasion” for being a so-bad-it’s-brilliant work of sneaky genius.)

More smart takes on television:

Sara Stewart: ‘Dahmer’ debate is finally saying the quiet part about true crime out loud

Bill Carter: Trevor Noah’s bombshell was almost predictable

Olachi Ihekwaba: I turn to romance series when nothing else makes sense

Lindsey Mantoan: ‘House of the Dragon’ isn’t perfect, but it may be what we need

Even before the Supreme Court released its decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case in June, women across America began speaking out about what the end of Roe v. Wade meant to them. Laura Beers shared that her own parenting journey could be rendered illegal or practically prohibited in states with abortion bans. Her younger son was conceived via IVF after she endured a miscarriage requiring a dilation and curettage procedure in one pregnancy and chose to abort another after a fatal anomaly was discovered. “Each step in my journey to motherhood – the D&C following my miscarriage, my abortion, and my IVF treatment – relied on the good faith support and care of doctors committed to helping me achieve the healthy pregnancy that I so desired,” Beers wrote. “Recent anti-abortion legislation imperils the ability of doctors to provide similar care to their patients.”

Franchetta Groves, a student at Catholic University, wrote in June that the Dobbs decision didn’t feel like a setback, but rather a triumph for those like herself who identify as pro-life. “After Roe, I believe it will be possible for our nation to be one that doesn’t cast judgment on women who become pregnant, but one that embraces them with love and compassion,” she reflected.

Dr. Mae-Lan Winchester, an Ohio maternal-fetal medicine specialist who works with high-risk pregnancies and whose patients have had to go out of state for abortion care, wrote in October that “it felt like a slap in the face to be told by lawyers … that my medical opinion is not enough for the law to permit me to provide the care I am trained to give. … I worry that the next lawyer I discuss a complex case with will not understand, and that the patient who needs an abortion will be denied. I worry they will lack the time, money, transportation and support to get the care they need. … I am scared they will die.

Anxieties over the realities of a post-Roe America touched families who fear the rollback of rights around contraception and same-sex marriage. As Joan Lester wrote: “Twice, I’ve survived the legal marital shadows,” in her first interracial marriage to a Black man and in her later same-sex union to a woman. “I wonder and worry: are they coming for my marriage next?” They touched our daily lives as directly as the phones in our pockets do (as Katherine Yao and Megan L. Ranney noted in citing the vulnerability of data gathered by period-tracker apps) – or as routinely as our kids’ activities (as Ranney also wrote after a Florida school’s request for athletes’ period data raised legal and security issues).

For more:

CNN contributors: The conflicts in a post-Roe America are just beginning

Erika Bachiochi, Reva Siegel, Daniel Williams and Mary Ziegler: We disagree about abortion but with one voice support this urgently-needed law

02 Elon Musk 0613 FILE

Mike Blake/Reuters

When Twitter accepted Elon Musk’s offer to buy the company in April, Kara Alaimo warned it could be a death knell for the social media platform: “Musk has been vocal that he thinks Twitter should be a platform for mostly unfettered speech,” she wrote, but “allowing harmful forms of ‘free speech’ – like misogyny and hate – on Twitter will actually have the effect of silencing many people and will be disastrous for the social network.

Once Musk took the reins at Twitter in the fall, he gutted the company and reinstated users who had engaged in hateful or mendacious speech on the platform in the past. Hate and harassment, already a problem, skyrocketed. Roxanne Jones deleted her account on the same day Musk took over, after years of battling haters online as a Black woman in the public eye. She wrote: “Waking up to toxic attacks on Twitter kept me in beast mode, on and off the site. That’s what the Twitter-verse will do to you. … Twitter will have you fighting anonymous bots meant to misinform the masses and real people who don’t have the courage or the intellect to challenge you in person. So nah, I’m done. I’ll take my power and my voice and walk in the real world.”

More on Twitter:

David M. Perry: Why those of us on Twitter are saying “I was here”

Dean Obeidallah: Elon Musk’s Twitter is helping to normalize a neo-Nazi

02 Queen Elizabeth LEAD 2012

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The death of Queen Elizabeth II in September was more than a turning point in 2022; it was a seismic shift for a country whose global imperial imprint has diminished but for many will never fade. The wave of public grief was immediate, and the opposition to and conflictedness around that grief equally passionate. And in marking the seven decades of her reign in its unmatched longevity, from her 1953 coronation (the first televised) to her death at 96, “Britain closes a chapter on its past, a farewell to members of the wartime generation that saw this country’s finest hour, encapsulating as they did the spirit of 1940, when Britain stood alone against fascism, undaunted and unbowed,” wrote Rosa Prince.

In her nearly 71 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth stood alongside countless world leaders, most of them men, including 12 American presidents (she met a 13th, Harry S. Truman, while still a princess). “Queen Elizabeth’s sovereignty was framed by her gender even before she came to the throne,” observed Sarah Gristwood. “For 70 years, the British people have grown used to singing ‘God Save the Queen.’ To sing ‘God Save the King’” – as the British people will conceivably do for at least three generations, with Charles, William and George – “will catch in the throat for some time to come.

For more on the royal family:

Holly Thomas: King Charles’ biggest problem isn’t his crown, but his voice

Peggy Drexler: Why ‘Harry & Meghan’ is a royal disappointment

03 lotw 1208 michelle obama

Derek White/Getty Images

In November, Michelle Obama published another best-selling book, and what made “The Light We Carry” fascinating, assessed Nicole Hemmer, was that it was not a follow-up to her memoir “Becoming.” Hemmer classified it as a self-help book, except instead of a life coach, readers get a former first lady. Unlike Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote an advice column for two decades, or more recent first ladies’ children’s books or policy statements, Hemmer wrote that Obama picks up where Betty Ford left off, sharing her own authenticity in service of a social purpose and building a brand beyond the limitations of her political role: “She has an intuitive sense of how blurred the lines have become between not only the personal and the political, but between influencer and politician. In this book, Obama shows her desire to use that tangle of emotion and power to bring people together, but the ease with which feelings and politics now blend is also a reminder of how easily that combination could also be used to divide.”

Don’t miss:

Jill Biden: What Ukrainian mothers taught me about this war

Adrienne Childs: Why the Obamas’ portraits matter

The dismissal of a renowned adjunct chemistry professor from New York University in October after a spate of student complaints about his teaching reinvigorated a series of long-standing questions about the modern academy, wrote Jill Filipovic. “Are academic standards dropping? Are professors and administrators too beholden to students’ fragile emotions – and their parents’ tuition dollars? And what’s wrong with kids these days, anyway?” Filipovic argued that the university got it wrong: “Whether or not [Dr. Maitland] Jones was an effective teacher for aspiring medical students is up for debate, but in firing him, NYU is effectively dodging questions about the line between academic rigor and student well-being with potentially life-and-death matters at stake.”

When it comes to mental health on campus, the stakes couldn’t be higher, noted David M. Perry, who classified recent lawsuits against Yale and Stanford Universities as a necessary spotlight on the need to do better at caring for students with mental health disabilities. “The good news is that there are solutions,” he wrote. “Which is good, because the bad news is that as Generation Covid arrives on campus, students whose entire high school experience has been shaped by living through an ongoing global mass death event, the quotidian pressures of college life are only going to get worse.

More sharp campus takes:

Issac Bailey: I was the kid who stayed silent in college

Evan Mandery and Michael Dannenberg: It’s time to put an end to early decision

David M. Perry: Tips for picking a college major

Sofiane Boufal Morocco 221210 RESTRICTED

Mike Hewitt/FIFA/Getty Images

In a year of sports largely bookended by a second Beijing Olympics and the first FIFA World Cup held in the Middle East, it was clear that in between, some of the biggest milestones were in arenas beyond the playing field.

In August, Serena Williams rewrote what retirement means in an essay in Vogue. “By using the word ‘evolve,’” applauded Roxanne Jones, “Serena has done what society has failed to do when it comes to framing talented women who excel early in a chosen career, then leave on their own terms and lean into themselves. Watching women realize their limitless capacity for greatness is a beautiful thing. … Many women of all economic backgrounds, including those in my own peer group, are reimagining and expanding what success looks like in our lives. It isn’t an easy choice to make.”

The magic spun by the bat of Aaron Judge in late summer and early autumn kept many in thrall, but Jeff Pearlman had harsh words for Major League Baseball’s myth-making attempts to capitalize on the spark, finding them hypocritical after years of sweeping rampant doping under a rug of greed. Aaron Judge “has had a season for the ages,” wrote Pearlman. “This should be an historic time for baseball. This should be an historic time for Aaron Judge. Instead, greed destroyed baseball – and took its history with it.

At a Qatar World Cup staggeringly diminished by human rights protests and the untimely death of legendary US soccer journalist Grant Wahl, the Moroccan national team brought light by praying and joyously kissing the covered heads of their mothers – in a year when in France (whose team are the defending World Cup champion), women athletes had been banned from wearing hijab while playing sports (a move Shaista Aziz contended dehumanized French Muslim women). Wrote Khaled Beydoun from Doha: “Morocco’s celebrated run of World Cup victories has been, in some ways, vicarious vindication against Belgium and Spain, Portugal and France – the most formidable of its former colonial overlords and present footballing foes. While much of France remains largely trapped within a dark history of its own making, Morocco is remaking its own history, claiming its place in the world and the World Cup.

More on sports:

Michael Croley: The March Madness shot that broke our hearts and the real tragedy that followed

Amy Bass: Elite women athletes aren’t safe. What does that mean for us mere mortals?

Kaitlyn Weaver: My Olympic figure skating dream came true. Don’t let others get ruined

periods prison blakinger

Keri Blakinger: Why I’ll never forget having my period in prison

Katherine Pisabaj: How a bullet fired by a stranger almost killed and forever changed me

Chimére L. Smith: Doctors didn’t believe that I had Covid-19. I found a way to make them listen

Dave Lucas: I am a lapsed Catholic who finds blessings at this Passover table

Danté Stewart: We redefined Blackness as a world and a gift

Jennifer Harvey: The kids I coach are the living rejection of anti-LGBTQ hate. They shouldn’t have to be

Roy Schwartz: Why Lego is the best toy ever invented

Taylor Swift 0920 FILE

Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Tess Taylor read three books – by a poet, a psychoanalyst and a priest (who really should walk into a bar together, she noted) – about radical joy to ready herself the holidays. She also reflected on a recent conversation with friends, all of whom are grinding through a time of suffering, that brought her to tears. “It’s ok to be fragile,” her friend told her. “We’re all fragile now.” “Yeah,” she thought, “and maybe we’re ready to be joyful, too. It’s winter. It’s cold. The holidays are coming. We’re about to try to find light in darkness.”

For Amy Bass, joy is going to rock concerts with her high school best friend – and their two teenage daughters. “It has been an amazing experience. I loved every second of watching our girls battle for position in the pit at Harry Styles’ show. … Indeed, just as we once joined the thousands of voices walking out of a U2 show singing ’40’ long after the band had left the building, our girls are part of a generation of fans that seems to look out for one another,” Bass wrote in a reflection on Taylor Swift-mania and Ticketmaster. Getting tickets to concerts has never been easy, recalled Bass, who remembers sleeping outside in the cold to stay in line for tickets and getting Joey Ramone’s guitar pick after her mom accompanied her into a venue at age 15 due to her lack of ID. But Bass argued this amazing generation of kids deserves more magic and less merch. She pledged to stay “in the trenches with my kid, trying to support her love for music the way my mother did for me.

We wish you joy and health this holiday season. Thank you for sharing another year with us.

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Zelensky says Russia waging war so Putin can stay in power 'until the end of his life'



CNN
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “following the devil” and waging a war to ensure that its President Vladimir Putin remains in power “until the end of his life.”

Zelensky switched to speaking Russian in his nightly address on Saturday to send a message to the Kremlin and Russian citizens, as Moscow launched a series of deadly strikes that swept several regions of Ukraine ahead of New Year.

“All this war that you are waging, you – Russia, it is not the war with NATO, as your propagandists lie,” Zelensky said. “It is not for something historical. It’s for one person to remain in power until the end of his life.

“And what will be with all of you, citizens of Russia, does not concern him,” he added.

Zelensky said “Russian leader is hiding behind the troops, behind missiles, behind the walls of his residences and palaces” and behind his people. “He hides behind you and burns your country and your future. No one will ever forgive you for terror,” Zelensky emphasized.

Zelensky said “most of the Russian missiles intercepted by air defense forces.”

“If it were not for air defense, the number of casualties would have been different. Much bigger,” he stressed. “And this is yet another proof for the world that support for Ukraine must be increased.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal earlier said Moscow wants to cause darkness and leave the country “in the dark for the New Year.”

Moscow intends to “intimidate, leave us in the dark for the new year, cause as much damage to civilian infrastructure as possible,” Shmyhal said on Telegram.

“There are attacks on civilian infrastructure in different regions of our country. Residential buildings, hotel, (a) shop, place for festivals were damaged. There are dead and injured,” he wrote.

“Russians want to intimidate, leave us in the dark for the New Year, cause as much damage to civilian infrastructure as possible.”

Russian shelling in recent weeks targeting critical infrastructure across Ukraine has left much of the country without access to heat and power, amid a harsh winter season.

Shmyhal said Russia wants to "intimidate" Kyiv, as strikes hit the capital on Saturday.

Russian shelling in Kyiv killed at least one person on Saturday.

Out of the 20 injured, 14 were hospitalized, while six others were given medical care on the spot, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram.

Several school buildings in the capital suffered severe damage from the explosions, the mayor added.

Air raid sirens, which were activated earlier following the attacks, are now off in Kyiv.

Further east in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Chernihiv regions, Russian strikes killed at least six people.

Three people died and three more were wounded in the Donetsk region, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Telegram.

One person was wounded in the Zaporizhzhia region. Two were killed and one wounded in the Kharkiv region. Two people were wounded in the Kherson region, while one died in the Chernihiv region.

Rescuers worked at the site of explosions in Kyiv.

It came after Russia launched five missiles and 29 air strikes on Friday, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Saturday.

“26 of the enemy’s air strikes were on civilian infrastructure. In particular, the occupants used 10 Shahed-136 UAVs, but all of them were shot down. In addition, the enemy made 80 attacks from multiple rocket launchers, civilian settlements were also hit,” the General Staff said in its latest operational update.

It said that Russia “continues to conduct offensive actions at the Lyman and Bakhmut directions and is trying to improve the tactical situation at the Kupiansk and Avdiivka directions.”

Russian forces fired on several towns and villages, including in Lyman, in the direction of Bakhmut, in the areas of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

Thirty percent of the capital was left without power due to emergency shutdowns, Klitschko said.

“The municipal ‘life support system’ of the capital is operating normally. Currently, 30% of consumers are without electricity. Due to emergency shutdowns,” he said on Telegram.

“Kyiv residents have water and heat,” he added.

Klitschko also reported that the restrictions were applied to check the open section of the red metro line in the city “for the presence of remnants of missile debris.”

“Specialists are on the way to that area,” he said. “We will inform you further about the resumption of traffic on the red line.”

Locals in Kyiv told CNN how they planned to spend the New Year in the capital.

“From 2023 I really want to win, and also to have more bright impressions and new emotions. I miss it very much. I also want to travel and open borders. And I also think about personal and professional growth, because one should not stand still. I have to develop and work for the benefit of the country,” said Alyona Bogulska, a 29-year-old financier.

“This year, it’s a symbol, not that it’s a small victory, but a symbol that we survived the year,” said Tatiana Tkachuk, a 43-year-old pharmacy employee.

“And I want to thank everyone who helps Ukraine. We’ve made a lot of friends. And in order to understand that we have a lot of good things, unfortunately, we had to go through terrible things. But so many people are doing real miracles for Ukraine.”

Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska said the country “will persevere,” following the strikes.

“On New Year’s Eve, cities should be covered by wave of celebration, joy and hope. Ukrainian cities are again covered by missile wave from Russia,” Zelenska tweeted.

“Ruining lives of others is a disgusting habit of our neighbors. But we will persevere and be even stronger – in spite of everything.”

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Paris Hilton releases new version of 'Stars Are Blind'



CNN
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Paris Hilton is back to see “what love can do” for the second time with a new version of her 2006 song “Stars Are Blind.”

The socialite (and occasional actress, musician, model, and youth advocate) originally released the song as a single off her debut studio album, Paris. The love song topped charts around the world.

Hilton announced the release of an updated version of the song on Instagram Friday. The new version, titled “Stars Are Blind (Paris’ Version)”, is streaming on Amazon Music.

“This song has always meant so much to me, it felt right to close out 2022 with a refreshed version,” wrote Hilton on Instagram alongside photos of Times Square screens advertising the song. “And seeing my face lighting up Times Square is so special. Thank you to everyone who has always supported my music career.”

She added fans can look out for “new music to come in the new year.”

In another Instagram posted on New Year’s Eve, she hinted she had another surprise to announce before the end of the year.

“I have one more surprise for you all tonight to ensure I close out the year with a bang, like a wrecking ball,” she wrote.

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Biden remembers Pope Benedict XVI as 'renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church'



CNN
 — 

President Joe Biden mourned the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, saying in a statement Saturday that the late pontiff “will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.”

Benedict died Saturday at the age of 95 in a Vatican monastery, according to a statement from the Vatican. He was the first pope in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, doing so in 2013.

Biden, the second Catholic to serve as president of the United States, reflected on his meeting with Benedict at the Vatican in 2011, recalling the late pontiff’s “generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation.”

“As he remarked during his 2008 visit to the White House, ‘the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity.’ May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all,” Biden said Saturday.

Benedict’s funeral will be held on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City at 9:30 a.m. local time, the Vatican statement said. The funeral will be led by Pope Francis.

Benedict was a polarizing figure, hailed by conservatives who admired his erudite writings and careful theology. But he faced criticism, particularly in the postmodern West, for his staunch insistence on fidelity to church doctrine and his willingness to silence dissent. He also came under fire for his handling of the sexual abuse crisis that engulfed the Catholic Church during his years as a senior cleric.

Benedict met with three sitting US presidents – in addition to future President Biden – during his time as leader of the Catholic Church.

“It was like going back to theology class,” Biden told America, a Jesuit publication, in 2015 of his meeting with Benedict. “And by the way, he wasn’t judgmental. He was open. I came away enlivened from the discussion.”

Benedict met with his first sitting president in 2007 when George W. Bush traveled to the Vatican. Benedict made his only papal visit to the United States the following year. Bush took the rare step of meeting the pope when his plane arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, DC, and he later welcomed Benedict to the White House with an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn where thousands gathered and sang “Happy Birthday” to the pope, who turned 81 that day.

Later that year, Bush visited Benedict at the Vatican, where the two men strolled through the Vatican Gardens and met privately for roughly 30 minutes.

In 2009, President Barack Obama met with Benedict for 30 minutes at the Vatican. Officials at the time said their meeting included discussions on addressing poverty and the Middle East, as well as issues such as abortion and stem cell research.

Abortion also appeared to be a topic of discussion during Biden’s meeting with Benedict. In his 2015 interview with America, Biden said the two men spoke about Catholic doctrine and the then-vice president’s view that he should not impose his own beliefs on other people, including on issues such as abortion.

Benedict talked about Biden’s abortion stance after he became president in 2021.

“It’s true, he’s Catholic and observant. And personally, he is against abortion,” Benedict said in an interview with The Tablet, a Catholic publication. “But as president, he tends to present himself in continuity with the line of the Democratic Party … and on gender policy, we still don’t really understand what his position is.”

Biden also spoke of Benedict at a White House event this summer, calling him a “great theologian, a very conservative theologian.” The president shared that Benedict had asked him for advice when they met.

“‘Well, one piece of advice,’ I said, ‘I’d go easy on the nuns. They’re more popular than you are,’” Biden recounted to laughter.

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3 children were killed and 4 other people injured in Buffalo house fire



CNN
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Three children are dead following a Saturday morning fire in Buffalo, New York, that also left three other children, including a baby, and their grandmother hospitalized.

The fire was reported in the 200 block of Darmouth Ave. around 7:30 a.m., Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said during a press conference Saturday.

Three girls aged 7, 8, and 10, died as a result of the fire, according to Renaldo.

Two other children, one girl and one boy, were taken to Children’s Hospital and are currently in critical condition, he said. A seven-month-old girl was also taken to the same hospital and is currently in stable condition.

A 63-year-old grandmother was taken to Erie County Medical Center and is currently in critical condition.

The children were being raised by their grandparents. The grandfather wasn’t home at the time of the fire, according to Renaldo.

“It’s been a very challenging year at the fire department. There’s been a number of fatalities. A number of high-profile fires. Obviously, we had the mass shooting at Topps on 5/14 and we’re coming off the challenge of a worldwide pandemic as well,” Renaldo said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. No firefighters were injured in the incident.

Buffalo is still recovering from a deadly and historic blizzard that barreled through last weekend, burying the city in nearly 52 inches of snow and killing at least 39 people. Most of the victims were found dead either outside or in their homes, while others died in their cars, as the result of delayed emergency medical service, and while removing snow or from cardiac arrest, officials have said.

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Flooding prompts closure of major Bay Area highway and evacuation warnings in northern California neighborhoods



CNN
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US Highway 101, one of California’s most famous routes, closed in both directions in south San Francisco Saturday as heavy precipitation and snow melt are flooding roads, especially in the northern half of the state.

The California Department of Transportation also advised of a partial closure of Interstate 80 near the Nevada line midday Saturday “due to multiple spinouts over Donner Summit.” Driving through the mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada range has required tire chains for much of this month due to heavy snowfall.

A strong storm began to bring widespread heavy rain Friday through Saturday, creating a flood threat for much of Northern and Central California. An active jet stream pattern also continued to bring a parade of storms fueled by an atmospheric river of Pacific moisture.

An atmospheric river is a long, narrow region in the atmosphere which can transport moisture thousands of miles, like a fire hose in the sky. This heavy rainfall will slide southward to Southern California on Saturday and Sunday, accompanied by gusty winds of 30 to 50 mph.

Several small communities in northern California were put under evacuation orders and warnings Saturday due to flooding. Three communities near the city of Watsonville were told to evacuate by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office due to creek flooding, while officials ordered the communities of Paradise Park and Felton to evacuate due to rising levels of the San Lorenzo River.

Neighborhoods near the Santa Rita Creek in Monterey County were put under a warning Saturday afternoon because of concerns the creek “will spill over its banks,” according to the sheriff’s office.

A flood watch for more than 16 million is in effect including the entire Bay Area and Central Valley though Saturday night. Rain could ease Saturday evening before the calendar turns to 2023.

Earlier weather predictions said widespread rainfall accumulations of 2 to 4 inches are expected in northern and central California, but locally higher amounts of 5 to 7 inches are also possible for the foothills.

Northern California and the central California coast have already received 2 to 4 inches of rain in the last week. The cumulative effect of multiple Pacific storm systems laden with moisture from a potent atmospheric river will make impacts such as flash floods and landslides more likely.

Videos and photos shared by the National Weather Service in San Francisco show fallen trees blocking roadways, and multiple landslides.

“Downtown SF rain gauge now reporting 5.33 inches for today,” the National Weather Service office in San Francisco said. “Making a run for wettest calendar day ever… (records go back to 1849).”


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Sex outside marriage ban tests Indonesia's relationship with democracy



CNN
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When Indonesia passed controversial amendments to its criminal code earlier this month, one aspect above all others dominated the headlines: the criminalization of sex outside marriage.

Tourism figures warned it would put foreigners off visiting and hurt Indonesia’s global reputation – no small matters in a country that welcomed up to 15 million international travelers annually before the pandemic and recently held the G20 presidency for the first time in its history.

Officials have since played down the likelihood of tourists being charged, but hundreds of millions of Indonesians still face the prospect of up to a year in jail for the same offense – and rights activists warn that this is only the start of the new code’s potential to threaten Indonesians’ personal freedoms and civil liberties. Indonesian officials, on the other hand, defend the move as a necessary compromise in a democracy that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

The new code also criminalizes cohabitation between unmarried couples and promoting contraception to minors, and enshrines laws against abortion (except in cases of rape and medical emergencies when the fetus is less than 12 weeks) and blasphemy.

It also limits Indonesians’ right to protest and criminalizes insulting the president, members of his cabinet or the state ideology.

Offenders face the prospect of prison terms ranging from months to years.

Rights groups have been scathing in their assessments.

“In one fell swoop, Indonesia’s human rights situation has taken a drastic turn for the worse,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Potentially, millions of people will be subject to criminal prosecution under this deeply flawed law. Its passage is the beginning of an unmitigated disaster for human rights in Indonesia.”

Protesters throw rocks at riot police on September 24, 2019, as demonstrations in Jakarta and other cities take place against proposed changes to Indonesia's criminal code laws. The changes were later watered down, but remain controversial.

The creation of the new code is in part a reflection of the growing influence conservative Islam plays in the politics of what is the world’s third-largest democracy.

About 230 million of the 270 million people who call this vast and diverse archipelago nation home are Muslim, though there are also sizable Christian and Hindu minorities and the country prides itself on a state ideology known as “Pancasila,” which stresses inclusivity.

The constitution guarantees a secular government and freedom of religion, and criminal law is largely based on a secular code inherited from the former Dutch colonial power – though the province of Aceh adopts and implements sharia law – and Islamic principles influence some civil matters and local level by-laws.

However, more conservative forms of Islam that were once repressed under the former dictator Suharto have in recent years emerged as increasingly powerful forces at the ballot box.

In the most recent general election, in 2019, President Joko Widodo controversially picked an elderly Islamic cleric – Ma’ruf Amin – as his running mate in a move that was widely seen as a move to secure more Muslim votes.

The appointment of Ma’ruf raised eyebrows among Widodo’s more moderate supporters, but it helped see off the challenge from the former military general Prabowo Subianto who had forged an alliance with hardline Islamist groups. Some of those groups had already demonstrated their clout by leading mass protests that led to the toppling of the Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, on a blasphemy charge.

The new criminal code – which updates the code inherited from the Dutch and was passed unanimously by lawmakers belonging to multiple parties – also reflects this growing influence of conservative Islam. Some conservative parties had been calling for an even stricter code, but previous proposals sparked mass street protests and were shelved after Widodo intervened.

Describing the new code as a “compromise”, Indonesian officials have said it needed to reflect a spread of interests in a multicultural and multi-ethnic country.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Still, while the new code clearly has the backing of many conservative voters, critics paint it as a step backwards for civil liberties in what is still a fledgling democracy.

Indonesia spent decades under strong-man rule after declaring its independence from the Dutch in the 1940s, under its first president Sukarno and later under the military dictator Suharto. It was not until after Suharto’s downfall in 1998 that it entered a period of reformation in which civilian rule, freedom of speech and a more liberal political environment were embraced.

Rights groups fear the new code risks undoing some of that progress by pandering to the conservative religious vote at the expense of the country’s secular ideals and reinforcing discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community. They also fear its longer-term effects could be corrosive to the democratic system itself and see uncomfortable parallels to the country’s authoritarian past.

Aspects of the code relating to insulting the president or the state ideology could, they say, be abused by officials to extort bribes, harass political opponents and even jail journalists and anyone deemed critical of the government.

“It is never a good thing when a state tries to legislate morality,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor specializing in Southeast Asian politics and security issues at the National War College in Washington, DC. “The new code puts civil liberties at risk and gives the state powerful tools to punish ideological, moral and political offenses.”

One political blogger, who asked not to be identified for fear of persecution under the new laws, told CNN that he expected online surveillance and censorship by the authorities to increase.

“The terms are not clear – that’s what makes the code especially scary and dangerous,” he said. “It’s all left to interpretation by the government.”

He gave the example of someone liking a critical tweet about the president, asking if that would be enough to land the person in jail.

“It will boil down to whoever the government wants to prosecute,” the blogger said.

It will be at least three years until the revised code comes into effect, according to officials, so it is still early to predict how the new laws will be implemented and enforced.

Much may depend on how satisfied more conservative voters are with the “compromise” code – or how angry those who protested on the streets against its earlier formulation remain.

At the same time, there are those who question whether lawmakers have made the mistake of listening only to the loudest voices in an attempt to pick up votes.

Norshahril Saat, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said there was a “complex relationship between Islam, politics, and society in Indonesia.”

He pointed to a 2022 national survey commissioned by the institute that found most respondents considered themselves moderate and supported the idea of a secular state – even though more than half of them also felt it was important to elect a Muslim leader.

Norshahril cautioned against concluding that support for the new criminal code was evidence of “a conservative Islamic tide.”

“It may mean that the current slate of elected politicians are conservative but more likely that they are responding to pressure from some powerful conservative lobby groups,” he said.

Of more concern, he said, is that “in today’s Indonesia, all of the political parties unanimously agreed on criminalizing these ‘sins’.”

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