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'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' has blockbuster opening weekend

The Force was with theater box offices this weekend, as “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” had the second-biggest opening weekend in North America’s history, CNN reported.

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The eighth installment of the “Star Wars” saga pulled in an estimated $220 million, according to Disney, which released the film. That is second only to the previous “Star Wars” movie, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which raked in $248 million in December 2015, CNN reported.

The film has made $450 million worldwide since opening overseas Wednesday. It will premiere in China, the world’s second-biggest film market, on Jan. 5, CNN reported.

Critics apparently like the film, too. The film scored 93 percent on the review site Rotten Tomatoes.

The film, which opened in more than 4,200 theaters, starred Daisy Ridley as Rey, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa. Fisher filmed her scenes before she died last December.

Nurses overwhelmed as illness breaks out on a cruise ship: “Everybody was puking, everywhere”

At least 220 people — and possibly hundreds more — were sickened as a norovirus swept Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas cruise ship, which departed Fort Lauderdale for Labadee and Jamaica this week, reports WPLG.

RELATED: Richard Branson is changing the cruise game, and this ain’t no Disney ship

Watch the video

The ship left on Monday. By Wednesday, hundreds had fallen ill. While medical staff and crew tried to keep up with the rampaging virus, they were overwhelmed by the speed and spread of the disease. The Independence of the Seas reportedly set sail with just three full-time nurses for the 5,547 guests on board.

Some passengers reported waiting hours to be seen by medical staff, who were treating the illness with over-the-counter medications. To make things worse, while in line, those sickened by the virus were reportedly vomiting in the halls and elevators of the ship.

Passenger (@CruiseNiche) shared these photos with us of crews in protective gear sanitizing Independence of the Seas cruise ship. Many tell us people were vomiting in the elevators/halls trying to get to the doctor @WPLGLocal10 — Erica Rakow (@EricaRakow) December 16, 2017

“They started running out of water and basic supplies,” Independence of the Seas passenger Marsha Homuska told WPLG.

Instead of waiting for hours and watching fellow passengers cough, retch and vomit, a number of passengers simply didn’t make it to the medical ward at all. They opted to return to their rooms to recover from the suspected case of norovirus, which means the true count of those sickened on the Independence of the Seas may never be known.

Norovirus is common in confined institutional settings like prisons, hospitals and cruise ships; it is often spread through contaminated food and drink. A stomach virus, it’s not treatable by antibiotics and often must be left to work itself out. It often causes nausea, discomfort, vomiting and diarrhea.

Crew members wore gloves as they helped passengers disembark from the ship, which will be “deep cleaned” to prevent the virus from lingering any longer.

Most employees handling needs of people coming off Independence of the Seas at Port Everglades are wearing gloves after hundreds of passengers came down with an illness on board @WPLGLocal10 — Erica Rakow (@EricaRakow) December 16, 2017

“Those affected by the short-lived illness were treated by our ship’s doctors with over-the-counter medication, and we hope all our guests feel better quickly,” said Royal Caribbean spokesperson Owen Torres.

The Miami Herald reported that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-approved “enhanced sanitizing procedures” would be implemented out of an “abundance of caution.”

Study: Uber reduces ambulance usage nationwide

A study by a pair of university researchers has concluded that Uber and other ride-booking services have caused a drop in ambulance usage nationwide, The San Jose Mercury News reported. 

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research paper released Wednesday is believed to be the first study to measure the impact of Uber and other ride-booking services. The study used data from 766 cities across 43 states from 2013 through 2015, the Mercury News reported. 

The paper was written by David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas, and Dr. Leon Moskatel, an internist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. They compared ambulance volumes before and after Uber became available in each city and found that the usage rate had dropped significantly, the Mercury News reported.

Slusky said after using different methodologies to obtain the “most conservative” decline in ambulance usage, the researchers calculated the drop to be “at least” 7 percent.

“My guess is it will go up a little bit and stabilize at 10 to 15 percent as Uber continues to expand as an alternative for people,’’ Moskatel said.

Slusky said he and Moskatel are submitting the paper to journals for peer review, the Mercury News reported.

Uber, based in San Francisco, quickly downplayed the idea that hailing an Uber driver is an acceptable substitute for calling an ambulance.

“We’re grateful our service has helped people get to where they’re going when they need it the most,” company spokesman Andrew Hasbun said. “However, it’s important to note that Uber is not a substitute for law enforcement or medical professionals. In the event of any medical emergency, we always encourage people to call 911.”

Moskatel, however, said many patients “tend to be pretty good at assessing their state and how quickly they need to come in and how sick they are.”

The researchers, however, insisted that ride-booking services such as Uber and San Francisco-based Lyft can sometimes be the best way to get to the hospital in a hurry.

Previous research, Moskatel said, “suggests that a fair number of people are using ambulances to get to the hospital because they simply don’t have another way to get there’’ -- particularly those who live in areas with limited taxi service.

And, Slusky added, with health care taking a big chunk out of most people’s budgets, many consumers these days have to weigh a few factors before calling an ambulance.

“They have to think about their health -- and what it’s going to cost me,” he told the Mercury News. “And for many of us with high-deductible plans, an ambulance ride would cost thousands of dollars.’’

Because Uber was not involved in the study, Moskatel had to map all the dates the company entered a certain market, based only on the company’s public announcements, the Mercury News reported.

Ambulance rates were obtained from the National Emergency Medical Services Information System, a national repository for emergency medical services data.

A police department is causing a stir by adding this dog to the force, but here’s their explanation

STAFFORD, Kan. – A police department in Kansas has employed the state’s first pit bull police dog, The Wichita Eagle reported.

RELATED: Friends don’t believe woman was mauled by her pit bulls

The Stafford Police Department added Kano, a 55-pound red nose pit bull that has one blue eye and one brown eye. The puppy was named after a character from the game “Mortal Kombat” because of his unique eye color and patches, the Stafford Police Department wrote in a Facebook post.

The dog is trained in locating marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. Kano’s handler – Officer Mason Paden – said he knows that some may be a little apprehensive of a pit bull on the police force.

Police explained why they chose a pit bull:

Why a Pit Bull? The way a dog is picked for this program is actually really simple…Animal Farm Foundation states, “When rescuing and re-homing dogs, we focused on American Pit Bull Terriers. Over time , We realized that the dogs we were helping we’re not necessarily purebred American Pit Bull Terriers, but dogs that people called “Pit Bulls”. “Pit Bull” is not a breed or breed mix, but an ever expanding group that includes whatever and animal control officer, shelter worker, dog trainer, politician, dog owner, police officer, or newspaper says it is. This open our eyes to the dogs in front of us. These are the dogs that need our help.”

“I have always been ‘pro-Pit Bull’ these dogs are misunderstood. … Just like people dogs are individuals too!” the police posted on Facebook. “Kano and I plan to get out there and help try to change the bad name that so many have given the Pit Bull.”

“Anyone who watches him work can and will see the drive this dog has, not only that but how incredible these dogs are,” the department wrote.

RELATED: Virginia woman mauled to death by her pit bulls

Universal K-9 operations director Brad Croft told the Hutchinson News that they look for pit bulls between 1 year and 32 months old so departments can get a longer career out of the dog.

Report: Marvin Lewis stepping down as Cincinnati Bengals' coach

Marvin Lewis, the longest tenured head coach in Cincinnati Bengals history, has decided to step down after the 2017 season, sources told ESPN Sunday.

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The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that multiple members of the organization, including coaches, learned of Lewis’ decision as they boarded a bus in Minneapolis for the Bengals’ game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bengals currently have no comment. Sources close to Lewis told the Enquirer he remains interested in coaching in 2018 and does not plan to retire. 

Lewis, 59, became the Bengals’ coach in 2003, Heading into Sunday’s game, he has a career coaching record of 123-111-3 in 15 seasons, plus an 0-7 record in the playoffs.

Lewis and the Bengals came to terms on a contract extension in the offseason, leaving him without a contract beyond the 2017 season for the first time since 2010, the Enquirer reported.

All of the Bengals' assistant coaches also have expiring contracts, which means the team could begin moving forward with head coaching interviews for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, or look beyond the franchise, the Enquirer reported.

Lewis came to the Bengals as the ninth coach in franchise history after serving as defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins (2002) and Baltimore Ravens (1996-2001). Before that, he spent four seasons as linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Saturday Night Live” had lots to say about the latest White House staff departure

It wouldn’t be “Weekend Update” if they weren’t covering the latest hirings and firings in the White House.

On Wednesday of this week, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that prominent Trump supporter and former “Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman was departing her White House job, effective Jan. 20, 2018. President Donald Trump personally tweeted thanks to her for her “service,” reportedly in the White House’s Office of Public Liaison.

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Thank you Omarosa for your service! I wish you continued success. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2017

RELATED: Sean Spicer had a surprising response when asked why Omarosa was hired by President Trump

It was later reported, however, that Maginault Newman had been fired — and responded with obscenities and an attempt to enter the White House residence to talk with Donald Trump when she learned of it. Reportedly, that led to her being escorted out by the Secret Service.

The Secret Service would not confirm that, but they did confirm that Maginault Newman’s security badge had been deactivated. She denied the events as reported and chalked the account up to CNN White House Correspondent April Ryan, who she said had “a personal vendetta.”

All of that makes for great comedy, and “Weekend Update” did not let the opportunity pass.

“It was announced that Omarosa Maginault Newman had been fired from her White House job, whatever the hell that was,” began Michael Che. “My guess is Secretary of the Sunken Place.”

“But Omarosa’s firing did prompt this outcry of support from black women,” said Che, before rolling tape of various television correspondents reacting with laughter and satisfaction at Maginault Newman’s firing, including Robin Roberts saying “Bye, Felicia.”

Roberts’ jab came in response to Maginault Newman’s claim on “Good Morning America” that she had a “story to tell.” This week, she told Michael Strahan:

As the only African-American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that made me feel uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally. That has affected my community and my people. And when I can tell my story, it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear.

In response, Roberts said “I’m sure she’ll be selling that story. Bye, Felicia.”

To close the bit, “SNL’s” Leslie Jones came in as “Omarosa,” insisting upon a “retraction” because she “left that job by choice.”

“That’s right. I quit. I deactivated my ID card,” said Jones. “I changed the locks on my own office. I escorted myself off the premises. And then I threw myself into the bushes … You can’t throw me out, because I quit!”

When Harry met Barry: Prince interviews Obama for BBC radio

Prince Harry and former President Barack Obama had some fun banter before their interview on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program, the BBC reported.

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“Do I have to speak faster? Because I am a slow speaker,” Obama asks the prince before an interview that will be aired Dec. 27.

“No, not at all,” Harry responds.

“Do I need the British accent?” Obama asks.

He did not, but the prince warned Obama that he would get “the face” if he paused too long between answers.

“I don’t want to see that face,” Obama says after Harry demonstrates his glare.

Obama, meanwhile, offered to interview Harry, who declined.

“Let’s keep it this way, I’d much prefer that,” the prince said.

Kensington Palace said Sunday the interview was recorded in Toronto in September during the Invictus Games, a sports event for injured military personnel.

The palace said the conversation featured Obama discussing his plans to cultivate the next generation of leadership through the Obama Foundation.

Pope Francis criticizes journalists for reporting old scandals

Pope Francis rebuked journalists that report old scandals and sensationalize the news, calling it “a very serious sin” that hurts the involved parties, CBS News reported, citing an Associated Press story.

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On the eve of his 81st birthday Saturday, the pontiff said journalists should remember to provide precise, complete and correct information while avoiding one-sided reports.

Francis told Catholic media on Saturday that journalists perform a mission that is among the most “fundamental” to democratic societies. 

“You shouldn't fall into the ‘sins of communication’: disinformation, or giving just one side, calumny that is sensationalized, or defamation, looking for things that are old news and have been dealt with and bringing them to light today,” he said.

He called those actions a "grave sin that hurts the heart of the journalist and hurts others."

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people, many of them children, serenaded the pope on his birthday, Reuters reported. Francis meanwhile, appealed for the release of Catholic nuns kidnapped last month in Nigeria.

The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” in Italian as Francis appeared at the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square for his weekly message and blessing.

The first Latin American pope was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires. He was elected the 266th pope on March 13, 2013. He replaced Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned on Feb. 28, 2013.

Suicide bomber kills 7 in Pakistani church

Seven people were killed and more than two dozen were injured Sunday when a suicide bomber attacked a church packed with more than 400 worshippers during a service in Pakistan, CNN reported.

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A Methodist church in Quetta was targeted by two attackers, but only one was able to denonate his vest, according to Sarfaraz Bugti, the interior minister of the Balochistan province. The second attacker was shot by a church security guard before he could detonate his explosives, Bugti said.

The civilians were killed during the blast and in the intense firefight that followed, according to Moazzam Jah Ansari, the provincial police chief. 

Wife gets wedding ring back after husband accidentally drops it in Salvation Army kettle

An Oklahoma couple is grateful to the Salvation Army after a wedding ring was accidentally dropped into a donation kettle.

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It happened while one Tulsa man, who asked not to be identified, was dropping some change into the red kettle.

“I had outpatient surgery at St. John's and I forgot to take [the rings] off. So at the last minute, I gave them to him and he put them in his pocket,” the wife said.

The husband did not realize what had happened until after they got back home and he couldn't find the ring in his pocket.

Captain Ken Chapman of the Salvation Army of Metro Tulsa said he received a frantic phone call from the couple asking if the ring was still with them. He said the kettles have a lock on them and stay locked until the counting process begins at the Salvation Army warehouse.

“So we count the kettles the next morning, find her ring, gave it to her and she gave us a $100 donation,” Chapman said.

Chapman said every year, they find odds and ends inside the red kettles.

“We have a little collection in our counting room of all the weird things we get in the kettle,” Chapman said.

Since the woman was reunited with her ring, she said she hasn't taken it off once.

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