DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — If you don’t have an extra $15,000 or so to spend on a night in a royal suite at Dubai’s luxury Burj Al Arab hotel, there’s now an online tour that offers a free virtual glimpse of its extravagance.
The hotel, known for its distinctive sail design and lavish interiors, partnered with Google to provide videos and a 3-D online tour of its lobby, suite, helipad, bar, spa and restaurants.
The two-story royal suite depicted in the tour includes a marble staircase with a cheetah-print carpet, a rotating canopy bed, all in bright reds and yellows, and much more.
The tour notes that “the master bedroom features a generous dressing room, which is larger than the average hotel room.”
Burj Al Arab virtual tour: http://inside.jumeriah.com
WASHINGTON (AP) — The mother of American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by Islamic State militants last year, demanded proof on Tuesday that U.S. policy not to negotiate with terrorists is saving American lives and decreasing the rate the U.S. citizens are being captured.
“I recognize that it is complex because we certainly don’t want to fund terrorists,” Diane Foley told a House subcommittee. “But is it wise to not even engage these people? … Then we don’t know what’s going on. Then we don’t know what they want. We don’t know who they are. I just think we need to be a lot shrewder.”
James Foley, 40, went to Syria in 2012 to cover escalating violence there. He was captured in November 2012 when the car he was riding in was stopped by four militants in a battle zone that Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control. He was beheaded in a video released by the militant group in August 2014.
After Foley disappeared while contributing video for Agence France-Presse and the media company GlobalPost, his parents became fierce advocates for him and all others kidnapped in war zones. Diane Foley said that during her son’s captivity, the U.S. policy not to pay ransom was interpreted to mean “no negotiations, no engagement with his captors.”
“I am told our strict adherence to this policy saves lives by decreasing the rate of capture of Americans, but no one has been able to show me the research behind our hostage policy,” she said. “In fact, it would seem that Americans are becoming targets at an alarming rate.”
She said that during one month that IS captors reached out to negotiate for Foley’s release, the U.S. government refused to directly engage with them “leaving us alone as parents, to try to negotiate for our son’s freedom.”
She said that 18 months after her son was kidnapped, her family and the three other families of hostages held with him in Syria were threatened three times by a member of the National Security Council with government prosecution if “we attempted to raise a ransom to free our loved ones.”
European governments routinely pay ransom to win the release of hostages. However, President Barack Obama and his predecessors have argued that policy provides terrorists with funds to fuel dangerous activities and puts Americans at greater risk of kidnapping. Foley of Rochester, New Hampshire, said families, by themselves, often cannot amass the money needed to match the sizeable ransom payments demanded by terrorists.
In June, after a six-month review of the U.S. hostage policy, Obama conceded that the U.S. government had let down the families of Americans held hostage by terrorists and promised they would never face criminal prosecution if they wanted to pay ransoms to their loved ones’ captors. Obama said then — for the first time — that U.S. government officials also can communicate directly with terrorists and help families negotiate for the release of hostages.
By clearing the way for a family to pay ransom without fear of criminal charges, Obama essentially said families could take actions the U.S. government has long said put Americans at risk. He said the government, however, would continue to abide by prohibitions on paying ransoms or making other concessions to terrorists.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee, said IS made more than $1 billion in 2014 from several sources, making the group one of the best-financed terrorist groups in history. “Three ongoing and increasing sources of funding for the group are kidnapped for ransom, antiquities trafficking and private donations,” Poe said.
John Cassara, a former intelligence officer and special agent at the Treasury Department, testified that in recent years, terrorist and associated organized criminal organizations have turned to kidnapping as an easy and lucrative source of funding.
COLORTOPIA OPENS AT DISNEY WORLD
There’s a colorful new attraction at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Colortopia is an interactive exhibit about color theory, psychology and perception, located at Innoventions in Disney World’s Epcot area.
The experience includes a Color Lab where guests mix red, green and blue to create new colors, and Spinning Spectrum, where multi-colored disks appear to change color as they spin. The exhibit also includes a short video, “The Power of Color.”
Another part of Colortopia, Color Our World, invites participants to play with color shadows and a magic paintbrush. A mobile app lets guests save the murals they create. The app also allows users to match colors from photos with paint hues.
The immersive experience takes about 30 minutes.
Disney Imagineers collaborated with Glidden paint manufacturers on the exhibit. Details at http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2015/11/add-a-splash-of-color-to-your-epcot-visit-with-colortopia-presented-by-glidden/ .
CANAAN VALLEY SKIING IN WEST VIRGINIA TO OPEN DEC. 18
The Canaan Valley ski area in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia is launching its 2015-16 season Dec. 18.
New this year is the addition of glade skiing between two black diamond runs.
The resort, located in Davis, West Virginia, has a summit elevation of 4,280 feet, 91 skiable acres, three lifts, lighted night skiing on weekends and holidays, a terrain park and a ski school. Its annual average snowfall is more than 180 inches.
Canaan Valley has 47 trails and slopes with 30 percent beginner runs, 40 percent for intermediate skiers and 30 percent for advanced skiers. The longest run, Timber Trail, is one and a quarter miles long. At the resort’s Bear Paw Lodge, there’s cafeteria-style dining and the Quenchers Pub with a full bar, soups, sandwiches and snacks.
If weather cooperates, Canaan Valley plans to open its tubing park and covered outdoor ice skating rink on the day after Thanksgiving.
The resort recently completed a two-year, $34 million renovation of guest rooms and public areas including the main lodge.
Canaan is about 175 miles west of Washington D.C. and 140 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Details at http://canaanresort.com/winter/ .
LIVING MUSEUM OF RURAL LIFE WINS PRIZE
A living museum of contemporary rural life in upstate New York called Behold! New Lebanon has won a $175,000 prize for innovation.
The prize from the J.M. Kaplan Fund honors inter-disciplinary innovation in cultural heritage, human rights and the environment.
The museum, located in New Lebanon, New York, ran its first full season of programming this past summer, with residents using their own fields, barns and kitchens to teach visitors about rural living.
Local guides, all of them real townspeople, offered some 40 different programs to show visitors various aspects of their lives, from how they cook and raise animals to fixing cars and designing jewelry.
The award honors museum founder Ruth J. Abram, a social activist and historian who was the founding president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, which tells the stories of the immigrants who lived in the building where the museum is located.
Behold! New Lebanon will start its mostly outdoor daily programming again next summer. Occasional offseason programming begins in March.
Details at http://www.beholdnewlebanon.org/ . New Lebanon is located about 145 miles from New York City.
Two million pounds of sweet potatoes. That’s what it’s going to take to get Patti LaBelle’s suddenly famous sweet potato pie back onto shelves at Wal-Mart.
Which means the pie that became a viral sensation during the weekend — selling roughly one every second — after a customer sang its praise in a YouTube video may not be back in time to grace your Thanksgiving table. Not that Wal-Mart isn’t trying. “There’s a lot of moving parts. The suppliers have been working all weekend,” Kerry Robinson, vice president for bakery and deli at Wal-Mart, said Monday.
“We need something like 2 million pounds of sweet potatoes, and that’s not something easy to get,” she said.
The sweet potato surge started Thursday, the day after James Wright posted a video of himself eating a slice of the pie, which Wal-Mart launched in September. In the video — now viewed millions of times — Wright bursts into LaBelle song and dance as he eats. Within 24 hours, social media was buzzing about Wright and the pie, and Wal-Mart stock was running low.
“We swept everything we had right into the stores to supply the demand, including our Christmas volume, so they have everything we’ve got,” Robinson said.
Prior to the video, sweet potato pie hadn’t been a top seller for the retailer. But this year a revamped recipe and partnership with LaBelle — who called Wright after hearing about the video — showed enough promise that the company ordered twice as many pies as last year. Of course, that order was supposed to last through the holidays, not be wiped out before Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, the remaining pies — which cost $3.48 — are being routed to the stores where demand is strongest.
CHERRY HILL, N.J. (AP) — Santa Claus is free again.
A New Jersey mall has eliminated a requirement that parents pay $35 to $50 for a photo or video package for their kids to get into Cherry Hill Mall’s Adventure to Santa exhibit.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported (http://bit.ly/1lr9zXQ) that the move sparked anger from many parents, some who said the charge inherently pushed away low-income families and ran counter to the spirit of the holiday.
The mall said in a statement Monday that it wants to keep things festive and bright in the spirit of the holiday season.
Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, which manages the mall, says the exhibit is one of only 12 Adventure to Santa attractions in the country. The attraction was free last year.
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers and their aides should use the tunnels between congressional buildings and take other precautions, but there are no specific threats against the Capitol following the Paris terrorist attacks, the police agency that provides security for Congress said in a memo to lawmakers’ offices Monday.
In an email to congressional offices obtained by The Associated Press, the Capitol Police wrote that “out of an abundance of caution” people should use tunnels connecting the Capitol with adjacent House and Senate office buildings, a short walk people often make outdoors. It urges those who work for Congress to make sure their offices know where they are.
The email says the Capitol Police have an “increased presence and visibility” on the Capitol complex in the wake of the Friday attacks in France. It also calls on people working on Capitol Hill to report anything suspicious.
“While there currently is no specific threat to the Capitol Complex it will always be an appealing target,” the memo says. It says the Capitol Police “continues to be on the highest alert.”
A Capitol Police spokeswoman, Capt. Kimberly Schneider, declined to provide detail about the agency’s reaction to the Paris attacks.
The memo was sent the same day that the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, released a video showing one its fighters in Iraq vowing to attack Washington.
One fighter says Muslims should strike in the West because the U.S.-led coalition is targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq. Another warns that as “we struck France on its ground in Paris we will strike America on its ground in Washington.”