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POSTED December 17, 2013 9:25 p.m.

HOUSTON HOTEL DISPLAYS HALF-TON CHOCOLATE SANTA: HOUSTON (AP) — Santa Claus has come to town in Houston and he's sweeter than your average holiday fellow.

A Houston hotel has created a half-ton dark chocolate sculpture of Santa Claus in a chair, complete with elves.

Pastry experts at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston used dark chocolate and a special chocolate dough to fashion the exhibit, which is on display until Dec. 30.

Hotel spokeswoman Tere Perry says the project cost about $5,000 worth of chocolate and 400 hours in work.

Officials estimate the chocolate adds up to more than 2.4 million calories. But it's not edible. Perry told the Houston Chronicle the sculpture has been sealed with lacquer.

NBC PLANS MINISERIES SEQUEL TO 'THE BIBLE' : NEW YORK (AP) — NBC is bringing viewers more of the Good Book.

The network says it will film the 12-hour miniseries "A.D." as a follow-up to the miniseries "The Bible" that aired on the History channel earlier this year from producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

The network says "A.D." is projected to air on NBC in spring 2015.

No cast has been announced.

"The Bible" was an unexpected hit on History, premiering last March to an audience of 13.1 million viewers.

Burnett is the prolific producer of such series as "The Voice" and "Survivor." His actress wife, Downey, is best known for her long run starring on the drama series "Touched By An Angel."

NM TEACHER WHO SAID SANTA IS WHITE ON PAID LEAVE: RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — A suburban Albuquerque teacher who told a black student that Santa Claus is white has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Rio Rancho school district spokeswoman Kim Vesely confirmed on Tuesday that the teacher is out of the classroom while the incident is being investigated.

The teacher's comments came after students at Cleveland High School were told they could come to class dressed as Santa, an elf or a reindeer.

Michael Rougier says when his ninth-grade son, Christopher, arrived with a Santa hat and beard, the teacher asked, "Don't you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?"

The incident happened the same week that Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly said both Santa Claus and Jesus were white.

HOUSE MEMBERS RETIRING IN IOWA, VIRGINIA AND UTAH: DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Three veteran House members from Iowa, Virginia and Utah have decided not to seek re-election in 2014, offering both parties an opportunity to gain a seat or two.

Retirement announcements came Tuesday from Rep. Tom Latham, a 10-term Iowa Republican from the Des Moines area; Rep. Frank Wolf, a 17-term Republican from northern Virginia; and Rep. Jim Matheson, a seven-term lawmaker from Utah.

Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to take control of the House. Republicans insist that they will maintain their majority and even gain seats in the 2014 congressional elections as Obama's struggles and the troubled rollout of the health care law weigh down Democrats.

Latham, 65, a close friend of House Speaker John Boehner and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, had been heavily courted by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to seek the Senate seat being vacated by retiring five-term Democrat Tom Harkin. Latham declined to run.

ABC ASKS JUDGE TO THROW OUT 'PINK SLIME' LAWSUIT: ELK POINT, S.D. (AP) — A lawyer for ABC on Tuesday asked a circuit judge to throw out a defamation lawsuit related to its coverage of a meat product called lean, finely textured beef.

Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering said she'll issue a written ruling at later date but she did not give a time frame.

Beef Products Inc. sued American Broadcasting Companies Inc. and ABC News Inc. in September 2012 following the network's reports about the product that critics have dubbed "pink slime." The Dakota Dunes-based meat processor claims the network damaged the company by misleading consumers into believing the product is unhealthy and unsafe. BPI is seeking $1.2 billion in damages.

Kevin Baine, an attorney representing ABC, said the network in each of its broadcasts stated that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed the product safe to eat.

"ABC never hinted that this is unsafe," Baine said. "ABC never quoted critics saying it is unsafe."

But Eric Connolly, an attorney for BPI, said those statements in a series of news reports were coupled with negative context calling the product filler or "not meat" and implying that the FDA was not a credible source because the agency overruled scientists in approving the food product's use.

URBANA HOTEL CUTS RATES FOR STUDENTS DURING FINALS: URBANA, Ill. (AP) — Can you put a price tag on silence?

The Illini Union Hotel at the University of Illinois is banking on it.

The 74-room hotel in Urbana is offering a special deal during final exams, hoping to woo stressed-out students who need to get away from their roommates and end-of-semester dormitory noise, according to a report in The (Champaign) News-Gazette.

The $45-per-night deal — before taxes — doesn't include room service but comes with snacks and a gift card to a bowling alley.

The hotel's website says rooms typically cost between $122 and $199 a night, although student rates start at $105 a night.

The package is aimed at "anybody who has a roommate that they can't deal with or they can't cooperate with to get some quiet time," said hotel manager Wally Lotz.

"A lot of times it's the parents who actually will call and make a reservation for the kids," he said. "They might be aware of some diversions that they want to take out of the picture."

So far about 10 students have booked rooms this year.

 

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