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The weekends on All Things Considered series Movies I've Seen A Million Times features filmmakers, actors, writers and directors talking about the movies that they never get tired of watching.

For actor-writer-director Ed Burns, whose credits include The Brothers McMullen, Saving Private Ryan and the new film The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, which is available for download and opens in theaters Dec. 7, the movie he could watch a million times is Tender Mercies.

Enlarge Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Ed Burns' latest film is The Fitzgerald Family Christmas.

Jammed between Gray Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday is yet another day devoted to shopping: Small Business Saturday.

Wallets are expected to open yet again on Saturday — this time for mom-and-pop stores. Main Street in Littleton, Colo., is filled with them. The street is lined with small bars and restaurants along with other businesses, including a spice store and a men's clothing boutique.

Dave Drake owns Colorado Frame and Savvy Stuff, the "savvy stuff" being women's accessories, purses, scarves and decorations.

Drake, who has owned the store for 34 years, says he and his fellow business owners give customers what they want and what they don't expect.

"It's unique, it's fun, it's local. We will carry products that they won't find anywhere else except in downtown Littleton, in the historic area, such as a poster of the old racetrack that used to be down here," he says. "And across the street, she carries art and products that were made here locally. They won't find that anywhere else. So if they want to see it, they've got to come here."

Drake says he's seen a difference during the holiday season since businesses along the strip in Littleton started participating in Small Business Saturday three years ago.

The government estimates that last year 100 million people participated in Small Business Saturday.

The idea grew out of a program from American Express. Some say it's a way for the company to court small business, which often don't take AmEx cards because of higher fees.

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The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for the former first lady of the Ivory Coast. Simone Gbagbo is accused of committing crimes against humanity during the fighting that followed last year's election in Ivory Coast. Her husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, is already in the custody of the ICC and is awaiting trial in the Hague.

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor scientific research that, in the words of Master of Ceremonies Marc Abrahams, "first makes you laugh, and then makes you think." This year's prizes, awarded in late September, include citations for research into mysteriously green hair, potentially explosive colonoscopies, and the creation of equations that model the back-and-forth swing of a ponytail in motion.

The tiny eastern Mediterranean country of Cyprus is expected to become the fifth eurozone nation to receive a bailout. But the island-nation, which is about half the size of Connecticut, could soon access a massive treasure under the sea: natural gas.

If all goes well, Cyprus could start making more than $25 billion a year — about the same as the country's current GDP — starting as early as 2015, says Solon Kassinis. Twenty years ago, few listened to the engineer when he said there was gas and oil under the seabed.

"A lot of people, especially geologists, geophysicists, they didn't believe in the region. They didn't think that there was oil and gas," he says.

But Kassinis, who's now the energy chief of Cyprus, insisted the conditions for gas and oil deposits — such as a thick sedimentary basin and sea steam — were there.

Houston-based Noble Energy listened. Its engineers surveyed the area in 2008, and the company began exploratory drilling in 2011. The company worked on a block of the seabed called the Aphrodite gas field, located off the southern coast of Cyprus, says Fiona Mullen, an economist following the project.

"Noble Energy did the drilling in September, and they announced in December that they had found an estimated 7 trillion cubic feet, which is enough to supply domestic consumption for something like 200 years," Mullen says. "So there's obviously spare for export."

Troubled Politics

But there's also a complication. Cyprus has frigid relations with its neighbor, Turkey, which has even threatened military action to stop the drilling.

"Turkey's particularly sensitive about the area to the west of the island, because they claim some blocks there belong to its own continental shelf," Mullen says. "With the Aphrodite field, its argument is not as aggressive. Turkey says Greek Cypriots don't have the right to govern the Republic of Cyprus alone. They ought to govern with the Turkish Cypriots."

Turkey has occupied the northern half of Cyprus since 1974. The division has embittered Greek and Turkish Cypriots, whose leaders tend to marinate in that difficult past, says Ergun Olgun, a former presidential adviser to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyrprus, which is only recognized by Turkey.

"Hydrocarbons can be a curse or a kismet," Olgun says. "The key to it not becoming a curse is to understand that we are interdependent. Interdependence means respecting each other, but that can only happen if we break from the past."

Olgun says Greek Cypriots rejected a Turkish Cypriot plan to resolve the country's division before moving forward on hydrocarbons exploration.

"Instead what we have is new alliances being built around Cyprus, which are making the conflict even more dangerous," he says. "The alliances, for example, with Cyprus and Israel, [and] Turkish Cypriots and Turkey deepening their own alliance by going into agreements with other."

Not Just Economic Calculations

Cyprus could save a lot of money by piping the gas directly to Turkey, which could, because of its proximity, be its biggest customer. Instead the Greek Cypriots plan to liquefy the gas and partner with Israel on a pipeline.

Israel has fragile relations with Turkey, which is now drilling for oil on land in the plains of northern Cyprus.

Supervisor Cem Cetin says his team arrived earlier this year at a drilling site for the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation.

"We import oil and gas from other countries," Cetin says. If the company finds hydrocarbons, he adds, "We are going to share with Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus."

You can see the Turkish Petroleum rig from the nearby village of Sinirustu, where Turkish farmer Sabri Aydag has lived since 1976. Before 1974, most of the people who lived here were Greek. The Greek Cypriots still call the village Syngrasis.

"The drilling will improve the village, since Turkish Petroleum has already given farmers 700 fields," Aydag says. "This village will turn into a proper town."

Turkey is also planning to drill offshore, just like everyone else in the region, says Praxoula Antoniadou-Kyriakou, a Greek Cypriot and a former energy minister.

"The whole of the eastern Mediterranean [is] loaded with hydrocarbons," she says. "Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and Lebanon now contemplate ... exploration."

If the countries can put the past behind them and work together to manage hydrocarbons, she says, the region could become a place of peace and prosperity.

But the history here feels thicker than the seabed, she says. And it's far more explosive than the gas that lies beneath.


In northern Syria, near the Turkish border, Bashar al-Assad's army has already been forced out by rebel forces. Now the town of Jerablus faces new challenges: a lack of support from the international community, buildings still in ruins and a flood of refugees.

Sierra Leone's "blood diamonds" helped fuel atrocities in the impoverished West African nation in the 1990s. The war has now been over for a decade, and the country's most valuable resource is no longer known as the product of a conflict. But it remains a contentious issue.

As Sierra Leoneans go to the polls Saturday, the country's diamonds are at the heart of political parties' manifestos. Opposition parties accuse the government of mortgaging lucrative diamond fields for a "pittance," while President Ernest Bai Koroma boasts of his "ambitious" efforts to transform the industry.

In diamond-rich Kono district, in the eastern part of the country, previous elections have been fiercely protested.

While the country's parliamentary election is expected to be relatively peaceful, this hub of diamond mining in the country shows a bitter irony: It's resource rich, but poverty abounds as development here has not kept pace with other parts of the country.

In Koidu, the capital of Kono, women and children stand knee deep in the fields on either side of the dusty potholed roads.

Enlarge Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

Small-scale artisanal mining has sustained this area since diamonds were discovered in 1930, but it is hard work and the pay is low.


Director Ang Lee has a surprising affinity for the Indian hero of Life of Pi — that's his name, Pi, and he's seen at several ages but principally as a 17-year-old boy adrift on a lifeboat in the South Pacific. He's the lone survivor of a shipwreck that killed the crew, his family and a variety of zoo animals his father was transporting to North America for sale.

Actually, Pi is the lone human survivor. He shares his boat and its dwindling food supplies with a man-eating Bengal tiger.

Lee is a director whose works I've admired more than loved. All of his movies — among them Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, even Hulk — center on emotions that bump up against rigid codes of behavior — emotions that can't be suppressed and finally erupt.

Lee's range of genres and settings is impressive, but there's something about his meticulousness that keeps me at a distance. I know that many people loved Brokeback Mountain, but I got hung up on the mythical cowboy iconography, that forbidden love sanctified by purple mountain majesties. Lee makes movies about giving in to passion — without seeming to let go.

But Life of Pi is different. Most of the film is a flashback, a tale told to a writer by the middle-aged Pi. And the way Lee depicts it — in a style that's typically fastidious and arty — is astonishingly in sync with his narrator.

That lifeboat in which most of the movie takes place is a wondrous set, not realistic but not fake, either — transcendentally in-between. The water is ultra-ultramarine, the sea a mirror in which clouds above seem to mingle with sharks, dorados, luminous jellyfish, even whales below.

The orange of the tiger burns as bright as in William Blake's immortal poem. The 3-D is brilliantly effective in creating multiple planes of reality, and it also allows Lee to hold shots for longer than any studio would let him if not for that marvelously immersive technology.

This isn't just a gorgeous survival story: The search for higher meaning runs all through the movie, as it does through Yann Martel's best-selling novel.

Growing up, Pi was drawn to multiple faiths. He thanks Vishnu for introducing him to Christ while rolling out his prayer mat to honor Allah. The kid subscribes to everything. But on the lifeboat, it seems as if none of his many gods will even acknowledge his existence. He's terribly alone — except, of course, for you-know-who.

Enlarge 20th Century Fox

As if being lost at sea isn't daunting for a teenager, Pi's companion on his lifeboat is a Bengal tiger. Life of Pi is based on Yann Martel's 2001 Man Booker Prize-winning novel.

Neat rows of grapevines run down the slopes of the Cotes de Beaune, all the way to the gravel driveway at Chateau de Corton Andre. The castle's traditional Burgundy black-and-yellow-tiled roof glistens in the autumn sun.

Despite the sun, Antoine Pirie, managing director of French wine house Pierre Andre, which is headquartered in the chateau, says rain and frost this spring and three bizarre summer hailstorms cut grape yields 50, 60, even 70 percent at some vineyards; this at a time when Burgundy is increasingly popular, and sales are booming in the U.S., Britain and across Asia.

"We're going to face a very small crop," he says. "So in fact, you're going to have a kind of difference between offer and demand. And in that case, the consequence is a big increase in prices."

In the chateau's cellar, which dates back to the 14th century, tourists and wine dealers are sampling various vintages. Burgundy is about seven times smaller than Bordeaux, France's other major wine-growing region. Its vineyards are divided into much smaller plots, which are often owned and worked by families instead of large estates.

Burgundy fans say each wine is unique here, reflecting not only the winemaker's style but also the soil, the sun and the specific place on the hill where the grapes are grown.

Wine dealer Philip Slocombe has come to Burgundy for 20 years. He says his clients can never get enough of grand cru Burgundy wines.

"I think when you taste a good white or red wine from Burgundy that is elegant, subtle, complex, and in the second and the third glass keeps asking questions, then you get something, you think, 'Wow, this is something special,' " he says. "Once you've been taken by Burgundy, you always come back. There's a wonderful soul here."

Wine is the lifeblood of the tiny villages that dot the landscape of this region. It will take more than bad weather or an economic downturn to change a centuries-old way of living centered on grapes.

The church bells ring as we arrive in the village of Pommard, and a deep, fermented smell permeates the air.

They are distilling a liqueur called Marc de Bourgogne. A large vat steams with a huge mound of crushed grapes in the town plaza next to the church. Some of those crushed grapes are from the vineyard owned by Anne Parent, a 12th-generation winemaker at Domaine Parent.

"Eleven generations of men, and I'm the first woman," she says in French. "It's the second French revolution."

Parent heads down into the cellar where the 2012 vintage is aging in massive oak barrels. There is room for 350 barrels here, but today there are fewer than 200. Parent says despite the dismal season, the harvest finished on a good note with hot, dry weather that pushed the grapes to full maturity.

"This vintage is an amazing vintage," she says. "A fantastic quality. Very nice balance between fruit, tannin, acidity. Very expressive. Very generous. But the quantity is ridiculous. Ridiculous."

A few miles away, the bottling plant at Domaine Albert Bichot is at full throttle. The company, one of Burgundy's largest, exports nearly 4 million bottles a year. Its owner, Alberic Bichot, says no matter how good the quality of the 2012 vintage, growers will not be able to make up for the loss in volume.

"It's impossible," he says. "Our customers are not ready to pay the double price or 50 percent increase. In the best conditions, we can increase by 10 or 15 percent."

But Bichot says Burgundy winemakers are always ready for the unexpected, so they keep reserves from previous years to smooth out the lean times. Still, he warns, the shortage this year is so acute, that come 2014, when the 2012 vintage hits the shelves, Burgundy lovers may have to drink sparingly.


Scottish comedian and actor Billy Connolly has been performing for more than 50 years, and says he has no plans of stopping. He summed up his style of comedy to the San Francisco Chronicle: "I believe in funny, not clever.... If I hear someone described as clever, I won't buy a ticket." Connolly talks about his career and about what kind of humor works in Scotland but not in the U.S.

When my nieces were small, I took them on a day trip to the Museum of the Moving Image on London's South Bank. We had fun touring a puckishly curated journey through the history of cinema, until my younger niece flushed the toilet in the noir-inflected bathroom — and set off the famous shrieking strings that amp up the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, creating the most terrifying moment in American cinema.

At age 8, my niece had never heard of Hitchcock — or the movie — so she wasn't in on the joke the museum was making at the expense of a director as obsessed with toilets as he was with symbolically whacking uncooperative blondes. But those few bars of Bernard Herrmann's score so freaked the poor child that she tore out of her stall, buried her head in my shoulder and demanded to be taken home at once. Bad Auntie!

As it turns out, attaching that particular musical fragment to that particular blonde murder was not Hitchcock's stroke of genius but that of his wife, Alma Reville, an accomplished script editor and story consultant. In Hitchcock — the second movie this year to make free with the life of a very secretive man (the first was HBO's The Girl) — Helen Mirren's Alma admonishes her husband (Anthony Hopkins) that his arty strategies of subtle suggestion are all well and good, but "you can't scare people just by going 'boo.' "

Where The Girl focused on Hitchcock's notorious abuse of actress Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock uses the couple's herculean struggle to make Psycho as backdrop to a crisis in their fraught but resilient marriage. Based on a book by Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi (who made the hugely entertaining rock documentary Anvil!), seeks to give Reville her due as a canny wife and talented collaborator.

Hitchcock is billed as a love story, but you'd need a pretty elastic definition of the word to apply it to an apparently chaste and testy union that seemed to work best as a commercial and creative partnership. In a slight variation on her regal crankiness in The Queen, Mirren is all bossy business as Alma, which, according to most biographies, is probably about right. But in the film, at least, there's not much more to her than that.

So it's jarring that screenwriter John McLaughlin lumbers her with an extramarital dalliance that probably never happened, yet which consumes a lot of time and space and detracts from what is meant to be a portrait of a marriage.

As for the man himself, he's a visually distracting tangle of missed opportunities. On a good day, the pop-eyed Hitchcock looked like a giant goldfish staring out of its bowl; on a bad day he looked like a basset hound bereft of its bone. He ought to be a snap to imitate, but Hopkins, buried behind a stately gut and several tons of "makeup effects," looks like some nondescript fat guy doing a passable imitation of Anthony Hopkins.

Enlarge Fox Searchlight

Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) had worked in Hollywood for more than a decade before Psycho and its notorious shower scene made her a legend. Her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis made her own horror-genre mark with 1978's Halloween.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is quite a political boost for the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The Islamist leader spent long hours in meetings and on the phone with world leaders. He spoke to President Obama six times during the crisis and was able to produce a cessation of violence that brought him high praise and put Egypt back on the international map.

Gadgets are always popular choices as holiday presents. Linda Wertheimer talks to regular technology commentator Rich Jaroslovsky, of Bloomberg News, about the gadgets he likes. Tops on the list are a camera, a quality sound system and a coffee machine.

A great many families going to the movies over this Thanksgiving weekend will probably see Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's new film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and an impressive cast.

Based on a biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin, but scripted by playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner, it's been very well-reviewed, but here's a question: How true to history is it?

Ronald White, author of A. Lincoln: A Biography, tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that if a ninth-grader were to write a school paper based on the film, she'd find that its "dramatic core" is basically on target.

Interview Highlights

On the film's overall historical correctness

"The dramatic core of this remarkable four months of trying to pass the 13th Amendment [which banned slaver] is true. Is every word true? No. Did Lincoln say, 'And to unborn generations ...'? No. But this is not a documentary. And so I think the delicate balance or blend between history and dramatic art comes off quite well."

On William Seward and the three lobbyists he employs

"I think the movie is wanting in one way to disabuse us of the sense that Lincoln is this high-minded idealist who wouldn't stoop to using the machine to get votes. And [Secretary of State] Seward — remember, he was Lincoln's chief rival for the Republican nomination for president — is a shrewd politician. He's in this with Lincoln; he's not an unwilling co-conspirator. And he's willing to do things sort of outside the box, that Lincoln perhaps can't do. I doubt that Lincoln actually met these three men, but Seward delivers the votes [on the 13th Amendment] in a variety of ways."

On the over-the-top drama of House debates in the film

"You don't hear anything in the House anymore; you only hear someone giving an address for C-SPAN. I mean, one of the wonderful parts of the movie is that all of them are there, they're listening; some of them are going to be persuaded. It suggests an earlier time of a much more active Congress."

On radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens, played as a hero by Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, but as a villain in 1942's Tennessee Johnson

"The earlier movie ... was produced before the civil rights movement, or in the Gone With the Wind movement, when yes, abolitionists were evil guys. Now, since the civil rights movement, we see them as courageous leaders advocating rights for African-Americans, and so we have a different viewpoint on Thaddeus Stevens. I think the movie gets it right here."

On Kate Maser's New York Times op-ed, which criticized the film for keeping black people quietly in the background

"I think that's a point well taken. And what the audience doesn't fully understand, in the final scene — almost the final scene — where suddenly African-Americans arrive in the balcony as the final vote is to be taken, that one of those is Charles Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass. Charles had fought in the famous Massachusetts 54th; he will write to his father after that climactic vote: 'Oh, Father, how wonderful it is. People were cheering, they were crying tears of joy.' So that had the potential for more black agency, but it doesn't come to full fruition in the film."

On whether freeing the slaves was the prime motive of Abraham Lincoln, as the film suggests

"I think we still don't understand, sadly, although historians have been telling us this for a generation — that slavery really was a cause of the war. However, Lincoln did start the war to save the Union; he did not start the war originally to free the slaves. But that became a purpose for him when he realized that he could no longer move forward without a true understanding of liberty and union. He ran in 1864 for re-election on the slogan 'Liberty and Union,' and so it becomes the second purpose of the Civil War."

On Daniel Day-Lewis

"I was very pleased with Daniel Day-Lewis' depiction of Lincoln. He does a delicate balance between the homely Lincoln — the homespun Lincoln — and the high Lincoln of the second inaugural address. He walks like Lincoln, the way he puts his feet down one at a time. He talks like Lincoln — not the baritone voice of Disneyland, but the high tenor voice. Daniel Day-Lewis studied Lincoln intensely, and what comes out is a very accurate depiction of the spirit of the man."



Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell to fresh record lows this week, a trend that is boosting home sales and aiding the housing recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Wednesday that the average rate on the 30-year loan dipped to 3.31 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1971. That's down from 3.34 percent last week, the previous record low.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage also dropped to 2.63 percent. That's down from 2.65 percent last week and also a new record.

The average rate on the 30-year loan has been below 4 percent all year. It has fallen further since the Federal Reserve started buying mortgage bonds in September to encourage more borrowing and spending.

Home sales and construction are rising, providing a much-needed boost to the economy. Home prices are also increasing, which makes consumers feel wealthier and more likely to spend.

Lower rates have also persuaded more people to refinance. That usually leads to lower monthly mortgage payments and more spending. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

Still, the housing market has a long way to a full recovery. And many people are unable to take advantage of the low rates, either because they can't qualify for stricter lending rules or they can't afford the larger down payments that many banks require.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week. The average doesn't include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for 30-year loans was 0.7 point, unchanged from last week. The fee for 15-year loans also remained at 0.7 point.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage ticked up to 2.56 percent from 2.55 percent. The fee for one-year adjustable-rate loans rose two-tenths to 0.5 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage 2.74 percent, the same as the previous week. The fee was unchanged at 0.6 point.


A measure of the U.S. economy intended to signal future activity rose only slightly last month, suggesting growth could stay weak. A separate survey showed that consumer sentiment has stalled amid uncertainty over the looming fiscal cliff.

The Conference Board says its index of leading indicators increased 0.2 percent in October after a 0.5 percent gain in September. The index is intended to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out.

The strength in October came from lower interest rates, a drop in applications for unemployment benefits, and an increase in demand for large manufactured goods.

Applications for unemployment aid have spiked this month because Superstorm Sandy closed businesses and cut off power to 8 million homes in 10 states. People can claim unemployment benefits if their workplaces are forced to close and they aren't paid.

Separately Wednesday, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer confidence index was 82.7, up from 82.6 in October but down from a preliminary reading of 84.9 earlier in November.


With the holiday shopping season shifting into high gear, retailers are doing everything they can to win consumer dollars. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is trying out one new strategy this season: same-day delivery. In a few select markets, it's joining online retail giant Amazon and eBay's "Now" service in offering super-quick delivery, straight to your door.

With a Wal-Mart store just three miles from my house, I could easily drive there to pick up some supplies for work. Instead, I decided to give the service a try. Wal-Mart is offering same-day delivery service, Walmart To Go, as a test during the holiday season in Northern Virginia, Minneapolis, San Jose, San Francisco and Philadelphia — where I live.

The website is pretty easy to use: Just create an account, click on the items you want — some batteries for my audio recorder, envelopes and some printer paper, for example — then pay for them. If you're a thrifty shopper, this is where some sticker shock might come in: In most areas, the delivery fee is $10, no matter what you order.

Five hours later, the order arrived at my door, delivered via courier.

Reaching Customers Whenever They're Ready

Like much of the rest of the retail world, Wal-Mart is trying out new ways of selling stuff. You can order online and have it delivered, as I did, or pick your items up at your local store. Wal-Mart spokesman Ravi Jariwala says you can even order online and pay cash at the store if you prefer.

"This is all about combining our national footprint of stores with our website to really offer customers anytime, anywhere access to Wal-Mart," Jariwala says.

That may sound like just a sales pitch, but it signifies a real change in the retail world, says Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.


The Past And Future Of America's Biggest Retailers

The U.S. secretary of state continued Wednesday with efforts to wring an elusive truce deal from Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, after earlier attempts to end more than a week of fighting broke down amid a furious spasm of violence.

With thousands of Israeli ground troops massed on the Gaza border and awaiting a possible order to invade, Hillary Rodham Clinton joined other world diplomats in shuttling between Jerusalem, the West Bank and Cairo, trying to piece together a deal that would satisfy the two foes after a week of fighting and mounting casualties.

After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Tuesday night, Clinton conferred with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Wednesday morning and was due to travel later to Cairo, which is mediating in the crisis.

The two sides had seemed on the brink of a deal Tuesday following a swirl of diplomatic activity also involving the U.N. chief and Egypt's president. But sticking points could not be resolved as talks — and violence — stretched into the night.

Israeli aircraft pounded Gaza with at least 30 strikes overnight, hitting government ministries, smuggling tunnels, a banker's empty villa and a Hamas-linked media office.

At least four strikes within seconds of each other pulverized a complex of government ministries the size of a city block, rattling nearby buildings and shattering surrounding windows. Hours later, clouds of acrid dust still hung over the area and smoke still rose from the rubble.

The impact of the blast demolished the nearby office of attorney Salem Dahdouh, who was searching through files buried in the debris.

"Where are human rights?" he asked, saying officials negotiating a cease-fire ought to see the devastation.

In downtown Gaza City, another strike leveled the empty, two-story home of a well-known banker and buried a police car parked nearby in rubble.

"This is an injustice carried out by the Israelis," said the house's caretaker, Mohammed Samara. "There were no resistance fighters here. We want to live in peace. Our children want to live in peace. We want to live like people in the rest of the world."

Medics said an area child was killed, raising the Palestinian death toll to at least 138. Five Israelis have also been killed by Palestinian rocket fire, which continued early Wednesday.

The Israeli military said its targets included the Ministry of Internal Security, which it says served as one of Hamas' main command and control centers, a military hideout used as a senior operatives' meeting place and a communications center.

Washington blames Hamas rocket fire for the outbreak of violence and has backed Israel's right to defend itself, but has cautioned that an Israeli ground invasion could send casualties soaring.

"In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region," she said Tuesday night in Jerusalem, speaking alongside Netanyahu.

About 60 demonstrators, riled by Washington's support for Israel, rallied in Ramallah as Clinton arrived for talks with Abbas. She left the city without comment.

While Abbas does not have any practical influence in Gaza, his West Bank government would be instrumental in implementing any new arrangements on the Gaza border that would be part of a cease-fire pact. Israel and Egypt slammed shut the border after the militant group seized the territory from Abbas in June 2007, hoping to disrupt Hamas rule. Both sides have since eased the restrictions, but many remain.

The U.S. considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide and other attacks, to be a terror group and does not meet with its officials.

Hamas official Izzat Risheq predicted a truce deal would be reached Wednesday, but the movement wouldn't discuss what the problems were.

Israeli media quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling a closed meeting that Israel wanted a 24-hour test period of no rocket fire to see if Hamas could enforce a truce among its forces and other Gaza militant groups.

Palestinian officials briefed on the negotiations said Hamas wanted assurances of a comprehensive deal that included new arrangements for prying open Gaza's heavily restricted borders — and were resisting Israeli proposals for a phased agreement. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Israel's outspoken foreign minister, meanwhile, expressed what many in Israel suspect — that ahead of January elections, the country's leaders do not want to get mired in a ground operation.

"There is no point embarking on such a dramatic move two months before elections after we didn't do it for four years," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Ynet web site Tuesday. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev had no comment on Lieberman's remarks.

Israel launched the offensive on Nov. 14 following months of rocket salvoes from the territory into southern Israel, which has endured attacks for the past 13 years. For its opening salvo, it assassinated Hamas' military chief, then followed up by bombarding the militant-run territory to its south with more than 1,500 airstrikes that initially targeted rocket launchers and weapons storage sites, then widened to include wanted militants and symbols of Hamas power.

Defying Israel's claims that they've been badly battered, the militants have so far fired more than 1,400 rockets at Israel, drawing upon newly developed and smuggled weapons to extend the reach of their attacks toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel's largest cities. The number of Israelis within rocket range leapt to 3.5 million from 1 million.

Dozens of civilians are among the more than 130 Palestinians killed in a week of fighting. Four Israeli civilians and a soldier have been killed by rocket fire — a toll possibly kept down by a U.S.-funded rocket defense system that has shot down hundreds of Gaza projectiles.

In a meeting with Netanyahu, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon condemned Palestinian rocket attacks, but urged Israel to show "maximum restraint."

"Further escalation benefits no one," he said before returning to Egypt, which is mediating the truce talks.

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into the territory through tunnels under the border with Egypt. It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt's Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since it seized the territory. Israel has rejected such demands in the past.

Egypt's new Islamist government is playing a key role in the negotiations to broker a deal between the two sides, which shun each other. It is also expected to play a pivotal role in maintaining any deal, performing a difficult balancing act as an ideological ally of Hamas, recipient of U.S. aid and one of just two of Israel's Arab neighbors to have made peace with Israel.



Audie Cornish and Melissa Block read emails from listeners about celebrity chef Alton Brown's tips on cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.

In a week in which the news has been filled with a fiscal cliff, rockets, sex and security, a restaurant review also raised a ruckus.

Pete Wells, the restaurant critic of The New York Times, reviewed the new restaurant Guy Fieri has opened in Times Square with a string of rhetorical questions that began by asking Mr. Fieri if he's ever eaten at his own place.

"Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?" asks Mr. Wells. "Did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste?"

Enlarge Jeff Christensen/AP

Food Network star Guy Fieri just opened a new restaurant in Times Square. New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells isn't a fan, so why did he eat there in the first place?

In Colorado and Washington, voters recently approved measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Supporters say legalization will generate tax revenue, move the trade into the open, and free up law enforcement resources.

More On The Debate

Pakistan has had 27 blasphemy cases filed so far this year, a figure that alarms human rights groups, who say the law is frequently used to persecute religious minorities.

In a case that has drawn international attention, a judge on Tuesday dismissed blasphemy charges against a Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, ending a three-month order for her and her family.

There are many other, less publicized cases that also have had a broad impact on entire communities.

On a recent autumn morning in Lahore, hundreds of uniformed schoolgirls, many wearing veils, file into the Farooqi Girls High school. The four-story school sits just off a narrow, congested street in an older section of this vibrant city in eastern Pakistan.

Getting back to class is a welcome return to normalcy for Farooqi's students and teachers. The school was attacked last month after a teacher was accused of writing insulting comments about the Prophet Muhammad in a student's notebook — something the teachers vehemently dispute.

The accuser was a vice principal from a nearby religious school, or madrassa. On the night of Oct. 30, an angry and violent mob formed outside the Farooqi school. Still inside was Sheraz Shuja, the school administrator, along with the principal and some teachers.

Enlarge Jackie Northam/NPR

Students file into Lahore's reopened Farooqi Girls High School. The school was temporarily closed after a violent attack in October.

The fiscal cliff has economists and politicians in a tailspin. The term is used to describe what will happen if Congress fails to come to an agreement on budget cuts or tax increases by the end of the year. Some are saying the term is inaccurate, and somewhat alarmist. Linda Wertheimer talks to linguist and "Boston Globe" language columnist Ben Zimmer about the origin of the term "fiscal cliff."

For the latest on Egypt's efforts to forge a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Renee Montagne talks to NPR's Leila Fadel. The push for a diplomatic solution is ramping up. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in the region Tuesday.

Have you ever been out shopping for other people during the holiday season, and the sales were so good you couldn't help but buy something for yourself?

The National Retail Federation calls that self-gifting, and says that this year consumers who do it plan to spend an average of about $140.

Spokeswoman Kathy Grannis says that's the most in the 10 years the NRF has been asking shoppers about the trend.

"People really look forward to the holiday season and the discounts that are offered, because they know that they're going to get items significantly less than they may have any other time of the year. You know, when you see cashmere sweaters that were previously $150 now marked down to $30 and $40, that's a great example of what people would be driven towards," Grannis says.

For Jackie Lerner, last year it was a cherry-red leather purse. Lerner is a psychologist who lives outside Boston, and she's an admitted self-gifter.

"I never really wanted a red purse, but my sister-in-law did, and we were out holiday shopping. Go into the Michael Kors outlet, signs up everywhere, 20, 30, 40 percent off, and there we walked out of the store with two Michael Kors red purses," Lerner says.

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President Obama visited Myanmar, also known as Burma, on Monday. In doing so, he became the first sitting U.S. president in history to visit the country. He was greeted by cheering crowds and promised the Burmese people that the U.S. would stand by them as Myanmar moved towards greater freedom and democracy. The president's visit was a controversial one, since the government there has yet to release many people the U.S. considers prisoners of conscience and large sections of the population are still suffering inter-communal violence. However the Obama administration says it wanted to applaud the reforms that have been made, and use the visit to encourage further progress.

As tensions build between Israel and Hamas increase, leaders on both sides have expressed their willingness to reach a diplomatic solution. New leadership in Egypt and more powerful weapons have changed the nature of the conflict.

For those who want to buy bling with bling, a bank in Kazakhastan plans to offer a Visa card made of gold plus a couple of dozen diamonds and mother of pearl. It will require $100,000 upfront, and an annual fee of $2,000 — but there are no late frees and you get a free iPhone.

It's an anniversary that most Americans can celebrate — the birthday of the Big Box. Discount shopping as we know it, began 50 years ago. In 1962 enterprising retailers invented Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart.

These stores changed the way we shop and the way we think about price. Historian Marc Levinson, author of The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, talked to NPR's Linda Wertheimer about what happened all those years ago, and how the stores will continue to evolve in the Internet age.

Enlarge Target

This is among the first Target stores. The company now operates 1,782 stores across the United States.


President Obama was in Thailand Sunday at the start of a brief tour of Southeast Asia. The trip is supposed to show Obama's commitment to shifting U.S. focus onto Asia and the Pacific, but events in the Middle East and Washington threaten to overshadow the tour. Guy Raz Scott Horsley

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