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.”
CAIRO (AP) — This is the fundamental contradiction, after Paris: Few in the West want to send ground troops to Syria and Iraq to battle the Islamic State group, but it may be even harder to find anyone who thinks airstrikes alone will defeat the radical extremists.
So far, policy makers and experts tend to focus on incremental steps, and indeed the initial French response was more airstrikes. President Barack Obama on Monday insisted that the current strategy “is ultimately is going to work,” and rejected any suggestion that American soldiers should be deployed.
But if IS carries through with its threats of further attacks on the West, such an approach may soon be unsustainable, as public pressure would demand action more effective than the combination of airstrikes and ground advances by a mix of local allies.
An international ground operation could become conceivable, and would not necessarily rely on Americans — a constellation of nations, including Egypt, Iran, the Gulf, Europe and Russia, has become increasingly enraged at the jihadis.
That prospect doesn’t faze the extremists. In official statements and online chatter, they even taunt the West to launch another doomed crusade in the Middle East.
The narrative of a “holy war” against the infidels is strong in radical Islamic circles. While losing their territorial “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq would be a setback in the short term, a costly and bloody outside intervention also fuels the group’s apocalyptic appeal and could serve to convert yet more Muslims to their cause.
And though the speedy liberation of the town of Sinjar in recent days suggests IS forces are far from invincible, a ground war against them would not be easy.
An invasion of Syria’s Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul — IS’s main urban strongholds in Syria and Iraq, respectively — risks incurring huge losses both among ground troops and civilians in block-by-block, door-to-door, close-quarters combat like that seen in grueling earlier U.S. battles for Ramadi and Fallujah. The militants are known to set up booby traps and IEDs for their enemies and are likely to use civilians as human shields. Fighting would likely involve combat along vast desert highways — areas even the Iraqi and Syrian governments struggle to control — as well as farmland and towns that give the insurgents plenty of opportunity to hide and ambush the invading troops.
It is not unthinkable that truly crushing IS would take longer than the nearly nine-year effort to pacify Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
So would an invasion amount to repeating history? There are some differences.
When the United States pulled together a coalition against Iraq in 2003, world support was wobbly. Now, there is genuine global revulsion at the actions of Islamic State, a greater likelihood than before for a genuinely international coalition with full regional support.
Even before the recent global terrorism, there were mass killings of opposing Sunni tribal fighters, the enslaving and massacring of minorities like the Yazidis in Iraq, summary killings of gay men and captured enemies and random hostages, videotaped beheadings of Western aid workers and journalists, and the cruel subjugation of all who fall into their grasp. That revulsion is unreservedly shared by Russia, which does not often find itself in agreement with the West of late, and essentially all of the governments in the region — including, in a rarity, that of non-Arab Iran.
Some Arab states may themselves still be reluctant to commit ground troops while they focus on priorities like the war in Yemen and placating Sinai. But others might not, and rich Gulf states could be convinced to help pay for an expanded military operation — including more training for Syrian rebels — or ramp up airstrikes.
Arab participation in an actual invasion might minimize the jihadis’ ability to present it as an outsiders’ crusade. Yet problems would remain. Many Arab governments can be portrayed by the jihadis as “infidels.” And any presence of Iranians — non-Arab and non-Sunni — might hinder as much as help.
Another possibility is an invoking of NATO’s Article 5 — invoked only once, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks — stating that an attack on one member is an attack on all. There is a challenge in directing this against a non-state actor, but NATO’s members have made clear the commitment extends to cases of international terrorism.
It is widely thought that NATO would continue to take a hands-off role in the campaign against IS but that the U.S. and other allies would be ready to share intel, killer drones and other assets. “A number of allies are already working with France on their ongoing operations and investigations in the wake of the attacks,” NATO said Monday.
Other measures might be taken against the Islamic State:
— Russia or another country — perhaps France itself, if pushed hard enough — may be more willing to step up the bombing campaign in urban areas like Raqqa, despite the risk to civilians.
—Turkey may come under more pressure to seal its border with Syria. The Turks insist it is too hard to stop the supply lines and trade routes that enrich and sustain IS across the porous frontier. But most observers believe Turkey is looking the other way because IS is also fighting the Kurds, whom Ankara views with suspicion.
—To date, special forces attacks have not penetrated the heart of major IS-held cities or attempted to strike at the very top leaders; this, too, can change.
All of these strategies contain risk and difficulty. But all might be considered preferable to an approach that may soon start to look like the acceptance by the West of a theocratic entity, vicious to its subjects and hostile to the world, erasing a Mideast map created by Westerners a century ago.
Dan Perry is AP’s Middle East editor leading text coverage in the region. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/perry—dan
Robert Burns in Washington, John-Thor Dahlberg in Brussels, Adam Schreck in Cairo and Zeina Karam in Baghdad contributed to this report.
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — They’ve been popularized in movies, television and video games, but giant fighting robots still haven’t left the realm of science fiction. That will soon change.
Megabots Inc., an Oakland, California-based startup, has built a 15-foot mechanical gladiator called the Mark II and challenged a Japanese firm to an international battle for robot supremacy.
Tokyo-based Suidobashi Heavy Industries, maker of the 13-foot Kuratas, accepted the challenge, setting the stage for the first giant robot battle of its kind next year. The exact date and location are yet to be determined.
Win or lose, it’s all part of Megabots’ plan by to make gladiator-style robot combat into big-time entertainment — a mix between Ultimate Fighting Championship and Formula One auto racing — while developing new industrial technologies and inspiring a new generation of engineers.
The Megabots founders envision a sports league where teams from around the world build huge humanoid robots that throw each other down in stadiums filled with screaming fans.
“Everyone wins as long as there is robot carnage,” said Megabots co-founder Matt Oehrlein, an electrical engineer. “People want to see these things fight. They want to see them punch each other, they want to see them ripped apart and they want to be entertained.”
Megabots was launched in 2014 by Oehrlein, Gui Cavalcanti and Brinkley Warren, who grew up playing video games like “MechWarrior” and “BattleTech,” and wanted to fulfill their dreams of watching massive machines fight.
“We want to bring the giant robots from science fiction and movies and video games to life because now we have the technology,” said Cavalcanti, a robotics engineer. “It’s really about: How do we put on the best show? How do we make the coolest fight?”
Inside a cavernous Oakland workshop, the Megabots founders built the Mark II — a 12,000-pound behemoth with tank treads, two-pilot cockpit and missile launcher that fires canon ball-sized paintballs.
Then Oehrlein called out Suidobashi in a YouTube video: “We have a giant robot. You have a giant robot. You know what needs to happen. We challenge you to a duel.”
Suidobashi’s founder Kogoro Kurata accepted in his own video: “We can’t let another country win this. Giant robots are Japanese culture. Yeah, I’ll fight. Absolutely.”
Kurata also taunted the Megabots team: “Come on guys, make it cooler. Just building something huge and sticking guns on it, it’s super American.”
The Megabots robot isn’t quite ready to take on Kuratas, a more polished fighting machine with a big, agile hand that mimics the movements of the pilot’s hand.
“Our current robot, the Mark II, looks pretty intimidating,” Oehrlein said. “The truth is, it’s pretty slow. It’s top-heavy. It’s rusty, and it needs a set of armor upgrades to be able to compete in hand-to-hand combat,”
That’s why Megabots launched an online Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $550,000 from robot fans to turn the Mark II into a real fighting machine — faster, tougher, more balanced and equipped with detachable weapons such as a giant chain saw or punching fist.
The startup has enlisted the help of engineers from NASA, software maker Autodesk, the TV shows “Mythbusters” and “BattleBots.”
“We’re absolutely confident that Team USA can beat Japan. We’ve assembled the best of the best of this country. We’re not going to let our country down,” Calvalcanti said.
Robot enthusiasts like Gordon Kirkwood are eagerly anticipating the fight.
“I think it’s going to be a smash hit,” said Kirkwood, a robotics engineer in San Francisco. “This has the potential to be a fantastic spectator sport that people would really pay good money to see.”
DENAIR, Calif. (AP) — A rare tornado struck a Central California town on Sunday, tearing roofing and walls, knocking down trees and power lines and damaging gas lines.
The National Weather Service said video and witness reports confirm a tornado touched down in Denair, about 13 miles southeast of Modesto, shortly before 2 p.m.
Meteorologists planned to survey the scene and rate the level of damage on Monday.
The Modesto Bee (http://bit.ly/1j2QoSk ) said the twister swept along nearly a mile of Zeering Road, toppling trees and fences, breaking windows and ripping off part of a church roof.
There were no reports of injuries.
Sabina Woodard said she took refuge with her husband, Zane, under the hospital bed in their home as furnishings, including their television set, flew about.
“What I thought was a bunch of birds was a bunch of debris” being carried by the funnel cloud heading their way, she told the Bee.
“It looked like a remake of that Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds.'”
The tornado came as another winter-like storm originating from the Gulf of Alaska swept across California. Hail and thunderstorms were reported in parts of Northern California and in the Sierra Nevada foothills; rain and strong wind hit parts of the San Francisco Bay area.
Forecasters said up to 8 inches of snow could fall at the 5000 feet level, with possibly a foot at the highest peaks.
The weather service warned of strong winds, possibly gusting up to 70 mph, throughout Southern California.