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Thursday, January 2, 2014

From Chicago to Boston, Winter Storm Creates Havoc for Travelers

For millions of people from Chicago to Boston, the first days of 2014 began with canceled flights, hazardous driving, postponed classes and curtailed business operations. Heavy snow blanketed major roads across the Midwest on Thursday as a fierce winter storm headed toward the Northeast, with blizzard conditions in the forecast for much of coastal Massachusetts and parts of Long Island.

Air travelers faced thousands of delays and cancellations across the country Thursday, according to FlightAware’s online, real-time interactive map.

FlightAware, an online flight-tracking service, shows the percentage of delays and cancellations across the country in red on its MiseryMap in real time.

The governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut dismissed state workers early on Thursday and urged businesses to get their employees off the road before the heaviest snow, cold temperatures and strong winds arrived Thursday evening.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York declared a state of emergency and ordered several major highways shut down from midnight to 5 a.m. on Friday, including the Long Island Expressway and the New York State Thruway south of Albany.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also declared a state of emergency and shut state offices on Friday.

Using social media, emergency management officials, mayors, governors and meteorologists urged people to prepare for the storm, warning that wind gusts as high as 50 miles per hour could lead to power failures and produce snowdrifts and low visibility on major highways.

In Massachusetts, the National Weather Service issued concerns about coastal flooding and frigid temperatures as it expanded its blizzard warning to the North Shore after initially limiting it to the southeastern part of the state.

Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts issued warnings to residents on Twitter to “minimize outdoor activities.”

The Massachusetts State Police shared a photo of an accident on Interstate 91 southbound that involved a tractor-trailer. It occurred as a speed reduction to 40 miles per hour was put in place on several major roads in New England, including I-90, the Massachusetts Turnpike.

In New York, the heaviest snow was expected Thursday night into Friday, with blizzard conditions forecast for parts of Long Island. Nine inches was expected to fall in New York City.

As my colleague James Barron reported, New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, said his administration was prepared to handle the storm.

In Chicago, Detroit and other cities across the Midwest, heavy snow created dangerous driving conditions Thursday.

In Palatine, Ill., northwest of Chicago, residents reported 18 inches of snow and shared photos with local television stations.

Not everyone had a problem with the winter weather, according to this dog’s owner.

From Washington to Philadelphia, snow began falling late Thursday afternoon and was expected to pile up. But the strong winds that were creating the near-blizzard conditions were to the north, with Cape Cod and Suffolk County on Long Island expected to be hardest hit.

The Weather Network, based in Canada, reminded people what factors define a blizzard.

Egyptian Puppet Called Terrorist Mouthpiece

An Arabic-language ad for Vodafone Egypt features a babbling puppet named Abla Fahita, a widow trying to reactivate the phone line used by her late husband.

Egypt’s crackdown on support for the Muslim Brotherhood turned surreal this week as prosecutors agreed to investigate the allegation that a puppet that babbles nonsensically in an advertisement for a multinational phone company was in fact sending coded instructions to Islamist terrorists.

Prosecutors said in a statement that officials from Vodafone Egypt, the local branch of a phone company based in Britain, were summoned to respond to a complaint about the ad filed by a counterrevolutionary video-blogger and singer who calls himself Ahmed Spider. In an appearance on Egyptian television on Tuesday, the little-known blogger spent nearly an hour dissecting what he called the secret codes embedded in the ad, in which a puppet widow named Abla Fahita tries to reactivate the phone line used by her late husband.

In an appearance on Egyptian television, a little-known blogger explained his conspiracy theory that the puppets in a Vodafone ad were sending coded signals to terrorists.

The ad shows the Muppet-like Abla Fahita babbling to a friend on the phone while her daughter, Karkoura, looks for her dead father’s SIM card. The company explained in a statement to The Associated Press that the ad, first broadcast and posted on YouTube last week, was part of a marketing campaign “aiming at explaining how to reactivate a Vodafone SIM card.” The blogger’s reading, the company said, was “irrational” and based on “mere imagination.”

According to Ahmed Spider, however, the opening image of the ad, a four-pronged cactus decorated for Christmas, was intended to inspire attacks on Coptic Christians when they celebrate the holiday next week. A red ornament on the cactus, he claimed, represented a bomb, and the number of branches was a reference to the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, where hundreds of Islamists were killed in August when the security forces attacked a sit-in â€" Rabaa means “fourth” in Arabic.

As the Cairene news site Mada Masr explained, a Vodafone spokesman, Khaled Hegazy, phoned in during the live broadcast to reject the allegations theory out of hand. “I don’t know what to say,” Mr. Hegazy added. “I’m sad that we have reached this level of thinking.”

The figure behind the allegations first rose to prominence in 2011, when he accused prominent supporters of the revolution of being Freemasons and filed legal complaints against the activist bloggers Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bahaa Saber, who were subsequently arrested by the military government that ruled Egypt after Hosni Mubarak was forced from power. The British-Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr noted in a post on her blog about the puppet imbroglio that his attacks on the revolutionaries were amplified by the television polemicist Tawfik Okasha, who has been called “Egypt’s Glenn Beck.”

The accusation that the puppet was being used as a Brotherhood mouthpiece also spread widely on Egyptian social networks. As the Cairene blogger who writes as Zeinobia reports, a Facebook page set up by supporters of the security forces with more than 600,000 followers called for the puppet masters to be arrested for “using unknown symbols and codes.”

The government’s move against what The Economist termed “the Muppet Brotherhood” was widely mocked by English-speaking bloggers, journalists and rights advocates in Cairo. Writing on Twitter, several suggested that the interim president installed by the military was himself little more than a puppet, while others shared Photoshopped images of the puppet in the hands of state security and made references to the Mubarak-era conspiracy theory that shark attacks at an Egyptian resort were part of a plot by Israeli intelligence.

One cartoon posted on the puppet’s @AblaFahita Twitter feed showed an interrogator confronting her with a photograph of Kermit the Frog while saying, “Spider said in his report that you’ve received generous funding from an American mason, isn’t that right?”

None of the Internet gags, however, quite prepared Egyptians for the surreal exchange broadcast late Wednesday, when the satellite channel CBC gave the puppet an opportunity to respond directly to her accuser live on the air.

Appearing via Skype, in character, Abla Fahita confronted Ahmed Spider with the apparently unassailable argument, “I am a fictional character.” According to Zeinobia, who suggested that this dialogue just might herald “the end of human civilization,” the blogger replied with a promise to have the puppet jailed.

The Egyptian satellite channel CBC gave the puppet Abla Fahita a chance to directly confront the blogger who has accused her of sending coded messages to terrorists.

Reflecting on this outburst of paranoia in Egypt, Ms. Carr, the Cairene journalist, observed sadly that “this grand civilization of 7,000 years is once again being held hostage by buffoons.”

“Thus,” she added, “we have the Public Prosecutor accepting a complaint about a finger puppet while nobody has been charged for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people at Rabaa, because the current mood is almost fascistic in its reverence for the state and for state hegemony and for state opponents to be eliminated.”

Video of Second Bombing in Beirut in Less Than a Week

As my colleague Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, a large explosion hit the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday in an area populated by supporters of Hezbollah. It appeared to be the latest in a spree of bombings over Hezbollah’s support for the government of neighboring Syria in that country’s civil war.

News agencies quoted the health ministry as saying the death toll and the number of people injured from the latest bombing were climbing.

Lebanon’s LBCI English television channel broadcast live images of their coverage of the blast, which came less than a week after a car bomb that killed a number of civilians in the downtown business district of Beirut, including Mohamed B. Chatah, a former ambassador in the United States and a prominent member of the Future bloc, the Sunni party that is Hezbollah’s main political rival.

Al Manar, the television channel affiliated with Hezbollah, broadcast footage of the rescue and recovery efforts after the blast, which it said had been caused by a car bomb.

The Al Manar channel’s footage of the bomb blast in the Beirut suburb on Thursday.

Bassem Mroue, a reporter with The Associated Press, posted images of the blast site and the hospital where the injured were being treated. Officials have urged citizens to donate blood.

NBC News had video of the chaotic aftermath in which weapons were apparently fired to disperse the crowds.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Father Requests Forgiveness for Teenage Shooter Who Killed Daughter

Michael Davis, the father of Claire Davis, who died a week after she was shot and killed at school, spoke to more than a thousand people at a New Year’s Day memorial service.

The father of Claire Davis, the 17-year-old Colorado girl who was shot and killed by a fellow student at Arapahoe High School last month, asked people during a New Year’s Day memorial service to honor his daughter by forgiving the gunman and showing empathy and compassion to troubled individuals.

With his wife, Desiree, standing at his side, Michael Davis struggled to maintain his composure as he spoke to more than 1,000 people gathered to remember his daughter at the National Western Livestock Show complex in Denver, where Claire had competed regularly in equestrian events. She died a week after she was shot on Dec. 13 by Karl Pierson, 17. The gunman arrived at the school, heavily armed, looking for the school’s debate team coach who had disciplined him earlier in the year. Ms. Davis was a random victim.

Mr. Davis, with his voice often breaking, said:

My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson for what he did because he didn’t know what he was doing. We would ask all of you here and all of your watching to search your hearts and also forgive Karl Pierson. He didn’t know what he was doing. Karl’s no longer with us.

So it’s no longer our responsibility to pass judgment.

Unchecked anger and rage can lead to hatred, and unchecked hatred can lead to tragedy, blindness and … loss of humanity. The last thing that Desiree and I would want is to perpetuate this anger and rage and hatred in connection with Claire. Claire would also not want this. As citizens of our community, the state of Colorado, our nation and the world, we must strive for kindness, compassion, peace and love to maintain our humanity. We can’t allow anger, rage or hatred to take root now or ever.

He said that the best way to honor his daughter would be for people to join him and his family “by forever showing compassion, forgiveness, inducing whatever is within your power to reach out to those around you that might need the light of your love to help guide them to through the darkness.”

While others have been reluctant to publicly use the gunman’s name, Mr. Davis emphasized that “the young man who shot Claire had a name.”

“His name was Karl Pierson,” he said. “For reasons most of us or all of us will never know, Karl allowed himself to be full of anger, rage and hatred. That anger, rage and hatred blinded him. He blindly followed a path that no one should ever do, take an innocent person’s life. He took our daughter’s life.”

Mr. Davis made public a brief encounter that his daughter had with the gunman before she was shot in the hallway.

“Claire’s last words were poignant, profound,” Mr. Davis said. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh, Karl, what are you doing?’

“The fact is that Karl was so blinded by his emotions that he did not know what he was doing,” Mr. Davis said. “In her most innocent, precious way, she tried to shine a light on Karl’s darkness.”

Mr. Davis described his daughter’s wit and grace in his remarks. “Claire was a gift to her mother and me and although we desperately wanted to hold onto this gift it was time for us to return the gift to the giver,” he said,

The CBS affiliate in Denver made available video of the full memorial service, which included music from students and others sharing memories of Claire.