Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bees on Airplane Terrorize Passengers

Daily Mail: Imagine being trapped in a confined space with not just one, but two swarms of bees buzzing around you.

That was the terrifying situation passengers endured on board a Russian aeroplane after bees escaped from a container into the cabin.

The creatures were being transported in two large cardboard boxes, stored in cupboards on the Boeing 757, but as soon as the plane took off from the far eastern city of Blagoveshchensk they began to creep out.

With bees buzzing around their ears, some business class passengers started to panic. Flight attendants scrambled to try and seal the bees inside their cupboard by taping its door shut. Eventually they managed to secure them inside, and the flight was able to continue its ten-hour journey to the Russian capital.

The incident - which has echoes of the cult Samuel L. Jackson movie Snakes on a Plane - has raised security concerns in Russia. The bees were allegedly being transported at the behest of a senior airport official at Blagoveshchensk.

According to Russian newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta, the official had asked the trafficker to carry the boxes to Moscow where he would be met at the airport. Official airport documents quoted one of the flight's business class passengers as saying that the trafficker was 'slightly drunk.'

The incident took place on May 28 this year but was only reported recently.

A spokesman for the Yakutia airline confirmed that several passengers had panicked during the incident. The spokesman was unable to say whether the bees had stung anyone.

Following touch down in Moscow, the plane was defumigated and allowed to carry on to its next destination, Barcelona in Spain. However, when it arrived in Spain, a new crew discovered that the fumigation had not been completely successful with five bees still on the plane.

Baggage handlers in the country have claim that senior airport officials routinely disregard air safety rules.

Staff working at the Blagoveshchensk airport told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the senior official 'can carry on board anything he likes.'

The Top Ten Types of Annoying Airline Passengers

Jaunted: Do you have things in your job that annoy you? Do you notice it's the same things that annoy your co-workers? Yeah me too. As a flight attendant I get asked over and over again what is the most annoying things passengers do? I always tread lightly, because flight attendants get accused of, well, complaining too much. And, believe me we can probably complain better than most.

In fact there's an old joke:

Q. How many flight attendants does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Zero, because we'd rather sit around in the galley and bitch about it.

So, what behaviors annoy flight attendants the most? Well, besides urinating in the aisle, and other super gross activites, here are Ten Types of Annoying Passengers:

1. The Manner-less: Just a "please" and "thank you" goes a long way in our world. We hear “what ya got” and “gimme a coke” far too often. Also, if we offer a meal choice and they don't like it, it's okay to just say no thank you; only five year olds wrinkle up their nose and say "ewww."

2. The Amateur Geographer: Flight attendants don't know our exact location coordinates, especially in the middle of in-flight service. And chances are we don't know what body of water that is below us either.

3. The Pen-forgetter: Passengers that leave home without one are particularly annoying, especially on an international flight with forms to be filled out. And, yes we know you are glaring at the pen on us when we say no we don't have one. Flight attendants are required by the FAA to have a pen on them at all times.

4. The Smartphone Addict: Those who insist they're about to turn off their phones even after we've already asked numerous times usually reply, “I know! I am turning it off!" But they're not—they're texting and it's not like we can't see that. It's just as annoying for us to ask as it for them to have to comply. Just do it!

5. The Thirsties: They need a drink of water as soon as they board the plane and need to use the lav just as urgently. We understand there are close connects and exceptions, but most passengers have been sitting out at the gate area with ample time to use the restroom and get a drink of water.

6. The Headphones Wearer: We ask: “Would you like something to drink?” No response. "Would you like something to drink?" Nothing. Wave in front of face. Nothing. Wave in front of face again. Confused look. “Would you like a drink?” “What?” Motion someone drinking. "Ahh, gimme a coke." Is it possible they didn't see the bar cart coming?

7. The Trash Collector: It's super gross to be handed trash during in-flight service, especially when they blindly put it wherever, like in our ice. And let's not talk about handling dirty diapers or wiping their nose or face and then trying to hand us the tissue.

8. The Free-for-all Parent: Passengers that let their kids run wild on the plane and then expect and ask the flight attendants to watch them are of course expecting too much. This behavior often includes parents telling us to return their children to buckle up their seat belts.

9. The Dare to Barer: Perhaps this type of passenger shouldn't bother us because it's a personal choice thing, but they do. We're talking about those who use the lavatory in their bare feet. Maybe it's because we care so much about the well-being of our passengers?

10. The Coffee Snob: It's a safe bet that passengers probably didn't have breakfast with their flight attendant, so you need to let them know how you take your coffee. If they're picky and don't indicate their preferences, there's no reason to get mad. And to my people in the north east, "regular coffee" does not mean milk and sugar; it just means not decaf to the rest of the country.

About the Author:

Sara Keagle is a Flight Attendant for a major U.S. Airline with over twenty years of experience. On her blog she shares advice on making air travel less stressful for all and offers peeks behind the galley curtain. She also co-hosts The Crew Lounge, a weekly podcast that gives insight into the career of a flight attendant.

Fukuburger Hitting the Streets in Los Angeles

Vegas Chatter: Vegas food trucks got prime time exposure over the weekend when the latest episode of "The Great Food Truck Race" on the Food Network ended up featuring quite a few of the city's best meals on wheels. Now at least one popular food truck is making tracks to Hollywood to seek even greater fame and fortune.

Fukuburger is hitting the road with plans to roll into LA this September, but Vegas foodies shouldn't mourn the loss of its mouth-watering burgers. The food truck will stay in Sin City, but Fukuburger -- the restaurant -- will pop up near Sunset and Hollywood. The eatery will have 60 seats and will serve full-size versions of the sliders we've come to love.

Fukuburger first hit the streets of Vegas last July. In case you've ever wondered in between mouthfuls, fuku means "luck" in Japanese.

Virgin America Adding NFL to Inflight Entertainment

USA Today: To beef up its sports content in time for the football season, Virgin America is adding more network channels to its in-flight entertainment system.

The California-based airline, which is one of the few carriers to offer seatback TV for domestic flights, says the NFL, college football and other sports games televised on NBC and FOX in the New York area will be broadcast live starting this month, adding to its current broadcast of ESPN and CBS content.

The channels are part a new lineup of satellite TV and movie programming being rolled out in its Red in-flight entertainment system. "In addition to more eclectic content, our travelers have been asking for more live sports and news," says Virgin America CEO David Cush.

In adding four new stations - NBC-NY/WNBC (live), FOX News (live), TBS (live) and FOX-NY/WNYW (live) - it'll broadcast 24 channels.

The Red system also provides more than 35 on-demand films, 3,000 audio files and video games.

Yankee Magazine's New Leaf-Peeping App

AP: Yankee magazine is going mobile with a new app for chasing fall color.

The magazine, which released its annual fall issue Tuesday, is also sponsoring a contest to pick the best foliage town in New England.

Last year, the magazine's editors named Kent, Conn., as the best town in the region for fall color, but this year the public is invited to make the choice by nominating and voting via The "Readers' Choice Best Foliage Town in New England" winner will be announced on Sept. 28.

Yankee's new Leaf Peepr app, free and downloadable for iPhones and Droids, lets users check color status by region or zip code, and also offers interactive elements like the ability to upload new reports and photos to's fall foliage map. Leaf color on the Leaf Peepr app is coded as green, turning, moderate, peak, fading and gone.

The website also offers more than 30 scenic routes across New England, including 12 new road trips for 2011. There are driving tours for each of the New England states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — as well as recommended routes for certain regions such as Moosehead Lake in Maine and Route 100 in Vermont.

Features in the magazine's September/October issue include a look at the Topsfield, Mass., annual fair, this year set for Sept. 30-Oct. 10, said to be the oldest agricultural fair in New England, dating back to 1820; a list of five notable country stores in Vermont (Willey's in Greensboro Village, Currier's in Glover, Dan & Whit's in Norwich, Floyd's in Randolph Center, and Warren in Warren Village); and tips for carving a pumpkin (use an ice-cream scooper and scouring pad to clean it out, cut the lid from the bottom, not the top, and seal the cut edges of your design with Vaseline).

Editor Mel Allen writes in the magazine that he hopes the issue will inspire readers "savor a cider doughnut, or take a camera to a marsh or a lake in the early morning, or even set out to get lost for a while in the maze of country roads somewhere."

To vote in Yankee's contest for best foliage town, click on "Vote for your favorite town" on the lefthand side of Type a town name in the white box next to "Choose your favorite foliage town," then click on the correct place from the list of choices that pops up.

Hotel Room Bugaboos

New York Times: And you thought all you had to worry about when you checked into a hotel was bedbugs.

On Page 18 in the Manhattan district attorney’s filing recommending dismissal of the sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a detail that was disquieting if not disturbing: In his $3,000-a-night hotel suite, detectives found semen stains on the carpet and the wallpaper from other men.

“That is not a surprise to me,” said Lawrence Kobilinsky, the chairman of the department of sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has done forensic work in places like hotel rooms. “People think when they go to a hotel, they’ve got a nice, clean pristine place to stay. I did a study in hotel rooms with UV lamps and I found stains all over the place, not just on floors and furniture but on bedding, the linen, the bedspreads. I found it all over the place.”

In sum, he said: “You know you’re not getting a sterile environment when you check into a hotel.”

It is enough to make some say they would never stay in a hotel room again.

Some of Dr. Kobilinsky’s discoveries might be enough to make them stay out of a lot of places, too. Movie theaters, for example. “I went into movie theaters in various places within New York City,” he said, “and I found dried semen samples on the seats. And I had to do it surreptitiously with a hidden camera to document what I had seen.”

But back to what detectives found in Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite at the Sofitel New York, on West 44th Street, where a 33-year-old housekeeper said she had been sexually assaulted.

“It’s a forensic fact that when you go in and look at a crime scene in a hotel,” Dr. Kobilinsky said, “you’ve got to be careful interpreting what you see.” There could be “historical DNA,” he said, that is, DNA from the room’s previous occupants.

That, apparently, was the case when detectives began going through Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite.

Three stains on the carpet “contained the semen and DNA of three different unknown males,” according to the filing recommending dismissal of the charges against Mr. Strauss-Kahn, “and one other stain contained amylase and a mixture of DNA from three additional individuals.” Amylase, the filing explained in a footnote, is “an enzyme found in semen, saliva and in other bodily fluids, including vaginal fluid.”

There was also a stain on a section of wallpaper, the filing said. It “contained the semen and DNA of a fourth unknown male.”

Dr. Kobilinsky he was not surprised that the police found DNA in the suite that did not match Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s. “Who knows how old those stains are?” he said. “DNA is a pretty sturdy molecule. It doesn’t deteriorate that readily, and not from aging. It is true that certain bacteria or fungi can break down DNA and certain types of soil can break down DNA, but normally it’s in a place where it’s not being assaulted, so to speak, by environmental factors, it survives. So it could be a day, a week or a month old, or possibly older.”

Vacuuming a rug, as hotel housekeepers routinely do, would not normally destroy the DNA, he said.

But what about subsequent guests?

“The chances are minimal that you’re going to become infected with some agent present in semen, not that it’s impossible,” he said. “But viral substances will survive several days unless something intercedes. H.I.V., for example, will survive under those conditions for at least four or five days. But the chances of somebody coming down with an infectious disease are almost zero.”

Germany's Nuclear Theme Park

Daily Mail: These extraordinary images show what could be the world's most bizarre theme park - built around an abandoned nuclear power station.

Wunderland near Kalkar, Germany, cleverly combines a never-been-used multi-million-pound reactor with classic fair rides, including a merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, carousel and log flume.

A swing ride has even been fitted inside the old cooling tower, while a 130ft-high climbing wall features on the outside.

When it was originally built in 1972 the construction - dubbed the SNR-300 - was destined to be the world's most technologically advanced nuclear power plant and Germany's first fast breeder nuclear reactor.

But 12 years and more than £3 million later, the project was eventually cancelled after a series of public protests and nuclear disasters elsewhere, including Chernobyl.

Dutch businessman, Hennie van der Most, bought the entire complex for an undisclosed amount in 1995.

By 1996 there were a few hotel rooms on the site, which gradually expanded to several hundred - as well as bars and restaurants.

Since 2002, the park has seen the addition of more than 40 rides and a museum as well as a miniature golf course and tennis courts.

A spokeswoman at the park said they received some 600,000 visitors a year and employed about 550 people during the high season.

She said: 'People come from all over the world because they are completely fascinated by the park. It's totally unique and that's what draws people in. It's not something you see every day. Some people worry it's unsafe but it is 100 per cent safe. Because the nuclear power station has never been put to use, the whole complex is guaranteed free of radiation.'

Click here to view more photos

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Most Important Factor in Hotel Selection

USA Today: When it comes to choosing a hotel, which of the following is most important to you: Location? Cleanliness? Security? Rate?

Only one answer garnered more than 40% of the vote in a new survey of 1,000 people, and that is...


The poll's full results:

Cleanliness 43%
Price 23%
Location 19%
Security 11%

The rest of the votes went to "I don't know," "Other" and "None of the above."

Tsk-tsk from a risk-averse insurer. The results don't go over so well with Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, the property and casualty insurance giant that sponsored the June survey.

"Travelers should take safety precautions more seriously, and travel security should be higher on their checklist than cleanliness," said Jim Villa, a senior vice president and North American manager for Chubb's accident and health business. "It seems that more people are concerned about housekeeping than security."

On that note, just think about ESPN's Erin Andrews, who was once stalked and filmed by a predator who's now in prison.

United to Receive First North American 787 Dreamliner

Breaking Travel News: United Continental has confirmed the first of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft has entered the assembly phase at Boeing’s facility in Everett, Washington.

In early 2012, United will be the first North American carrier to take delivery of the aircraft, marking the first of 50 Dreamliners for the airline. All Nippon Airways is expecting to receive its first Dreamliner in the next few weeks, as it prepares to become the launch customer.

During assembly of the United plane, Boeing will join the forward, centre and aft fuselage sections, the wings, the horizontal stabiliser and the vertical fin. The first United 787 will be configured with 36 flat-bed seats in BusinessFirst, 63 extra-legroom seats in Economy Plus and 120 seats in Economy.

Customers will experience improved lighting, bigger windows, larger overhead bins, increased cabin humidity, reduced cabin pressure and enhanced ventilation systems, among other passenger-friendly features.

“We are proud to be the first North American airline to receive the 787, which will be a game changer for the new United and the industry,” said United Airlines President and chief executive Jeff Smisek.

“The 787 will be a very comfortable, customer pleasing aircraft, and with its range, fuel efficiency and superb operating economics, the 787 will allow us to enter new long-haul markets and also replace older, less-efficient widebody aircraft.”

United Continental Holdings subsidiaries Continental and United each ordered 25 of the state-of-the-art aircraft.

The company will announce the 787 flight schedule later this year.

All Time Worst Luggage Incidents

Budget Travel: Most travelers worry about airlines losing their bags, but that's nothing compared to these tragic tales. From a bag that wound up swamped by sewage to a suitcase set ablaze on the tarmac, here are the nine worst luggage incidents of all time.

1. 240 Suitcases Swamped by Raw Sewage One thing you never expect to hear is that your luggage is buried in excrement. True story: In November 2010, a waste pipe in London Heathrow's Terminal 1 burst, swamping about 240 suitcases with human waste. Said a source at the scene: "Gallons of raw sewage came spewing out. The stench was appalling."

2. United Airlines Sets Woman's Luggage on Fire Burned luggage rivals sewage on the suitcase-disaster scale. In December 2008, a woman was called into the cockpit of a United plane, where a pilot pointed to a blaze on the tarmac. "See that?" he said. "That's your luggage." It caught fire after being placed too close to the engine."

3. Suitcase Soaked in Jet Fuel What's more upsetting than deplaning and finding your luggage so infused with jet fuel that it's emitting fumes? Having the airline (Delta, in this case) tell you to try to clean it before it'll even consider reimbursing you for it. Good thing there were no fires associated with this incident.

Click here to view the entire slideshow

Olympic Super Brands Take Over London

This is London: London 2012 will be a new experience for one volunteer. Urvasi Naidu, who has been a volunteer for every Olympics since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, always carries some masking tape in her handbag.

"What I am usually looking out for," says Urvais, a lawyer by profession, "are groups of people wearing T-shirts advertising rival products to the official sponsors. If they are, I first try to get them to wear the T-shirts inside out. If that doesn't work, I use masking tape to cover up the advertisement so it's not visible on television."

It may seem extreme but Urvasi, who has contributed to a book on the subject, says: "Sponsors pay a lot of money, they have a right to protect their investment - other brands are not entitled to advertise. When you buy an Olympic ticket you are entering into a contract with the organizing committee. If you look at the website, the conditions are all spelt out."

Clause 19.2.3 states that prohibited items are "objects bearing trademarks or other kinds of promotional signs or messages (such as hats, T-shirts, bags) which Locog [the London Organising Committee] believes are for promotional purposes".

However, the story of the masking tape is only one example of how London will change dramatically to welcome the world next year. At several hotels, particularly the so-called "Olympic family" ones, such as London's Hiltons and InterContinentals, as well as the Dorchester, where the top officials will be staying, Perrier, a rival product of official sponsor Coca-Cola, will not be served - customers will get Coke's bottled water, Schweppes Abbey Well, instead.

It is all part of making London a "clean city" and ensuring that sponsors get their money's worth.

Sport as business is hardly new. All major events have brand protection units to ensure sponsors are not ambushed by rivals seeking to latch on to the event without paying. Those who have bought Olympic tickets already know that the only credit card they could use was Visa, a major Olympic sponsor. Visa will also be the only card accepted at all Olympic venues.

Many other sporting bodies are proud to boast that they have got into bed with Mammon, but while the Olympic organizers need the money, they do not like to be seen consorting with it.

Winning athletes don't get a cheque, they get a medal; the athletes' clothes will carry limited sponsor advertisements and the venues will have none at all. It's nothing like Test cricket, where even umpires wear advertising, or Champions' League matches, where adverts on the sidelines change during the match as if to reflect the fluctuating fortunes of the two teams.

For Sir Craig Reedie, the Scot who sits on the all-powerful International Olympic Committee executive board, this is part of the unique Olympic experience. "We want an uncluttered view for the spectator or the viewer at home, nothing else but the performance of the athlete, nothing that would distract."

However, this Corinthian façade is only possible because the Olympic sponsors have free scope to advertise in the vicinity of the venues with no fear of competing advertisements - the essdnce of a clean city.

McDonald's is a main Olympic sponsor, so it is only its food that will be served at London 2012 venues - with one exception: Wimbledon will still have strawberries and cream as McDonald's has not taken up the rights. And, if previous Olympics are any guide, the sponsors will also make use of sporting icons. In Beijing, this led to a hilarious moment when nine-times gold medallist Carl Lewis, interviewed in a McDonald's restaurant, was asked what athletes could do about drugs. He kept repeating: "Eat French fries!"

London will not be just "cleaned up" but dressed up too, with a special Olympic look.

Reedie says: "In the host city contract that London signed, it guaranteed to control advertising across the city. The organising committee gets control of the sites and makes them available to the sponsors. London has been doing the same." In the past few months Locog has been booking billboard space and, if it is not taken up by sponsors, then it may be made available to charities.

Spectators are meant to experience the Olympic "feeling" all the way to the venues, with most of the advertisements they see being those of Olympic sponsors. Wimbledon will have to cover up its Rolex adverts and the O2 will be temporarily renamed the North Greenwich Arena, as BT is an Olympic sponsor.

Reedie says: "Of course, not all billboards are affected, not the permanent ones in Piccadilly Circus. Do not forget the clean city look we insist on can improve a city. Take Athens, for instance. Before the Olympics the city was disfigured with too many billboards - some of them illegal. We got the authorities to take some of them down, with the result that the entire look of the city was transformed - we left Athens a better looking place."

The IOC's clean-city concept was developed after the 1996 Atlanta Games. "The Atlanta Olympics," recalls Reedie, "provided us with clean stadiums but, within a few yards, they had street vendors selling rubbish: T-shirts, memorabilia and pins. It was like a bazaar and it ruined the Olympic experience."

One major problem for the London organizers is that the moment you land at Heathrow you see advertisements for HSBC, a rival of Lloyds TSB, which is a major 2012 sponsor. The organizers realize they cannot take those advertisements down but they are working with BAA to make sure there are advertisements for Olympic sponsors at London airports. And enough of the many billboards on the way into town will carry reminders of who funds the Olympics.

The IOC may present the Olympics as the last bastion of amateurism but next year Londoners will be in no doubt about the serious money driving the Games.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Australia Theme Park Ends 'Tiger Walks'

Gold Coast: Dreamworld has axed its Tiger Walk Experience with the theme park planning on replacing it with another animal-themed attraction involving the park's 14 Sumatran and Bengal tigers.

Tiger walks have been offered by Dreamworld for more than 10 years and cost $695 for up to five people to walk with a tiger.

A spokeswoman for Ardent Leisure CEO Greg Shaw said the new experience, expected to be announced this week, was not offered anywhere else in Australia.

She said while the tiger walks were still generating daily bookings it was past its use-by date and put pressure on limited staff numbers.

Dreamworld is no longer taking bookings for the tiger walks but will honour all existing bookings until the end of the year.

Virgin Atlantic Offers Popsicles in Economy

Jaunted: It's official; summer 2011 is the summer of sweets in the sky. First bmi is handing out free slices of cake onboard, and now Virgin Atlantic has introduced popsicles in economy!

The new desserts—Skinny Cow Skinny Dippers—are caramel ice cream pops dipped in chocolate, and they're totally complimentary to passengers flying Virgin from Manchester, London-Gatwick and London-Heathrow to the US, Caribbean and Tokyo-Narita. Even better still: each Skinny Dipper is only 65 calories (that's less than a tiny airline cup full of regular soda). They're new onboard from this month, and they should last through the end of the warm weather.

It's not exactly a regular occurrence to be served ice cream on a plane, but several airlines like Virgin Atlantic make the extra effort. To be served it in economy is another thing altogether. If you're traveling in Premium Economy or Upper Class, you get Haagen Dazs, but we're sure a special request for the Skinny Dippers can be made.

Another thing: this could possibly be the first instance of popsicles served as part of an in-flight meal. Anyone ever had one elsewhere? Yo, Virgin America, we could use a Bomb Pop or two. Would we even be able to mention Bomb Pops on a plane? Okay—"Freedom Pops" it is.

MLK Memorial Unveiled in Washington D.C.

MSNBC: Public art can be difficult. Artists and funding organizations are never going to please everyone. I remember the controversy when the Vietnam Memorial was built. Opponents blasted the design as “a black gash of shame.” Many veterans voiced displeasure.

However, time has shown how powerful Maya Ying Lin’s design was. The Vietnam Memorial receives over 3 million visitors each year and has become something of national shrine.

Controversy also accompanied the MLK Memorial unveiling today in Washington D.C. Critics are upset that the work of a Chinese artist was chosen. They say MLK’s 30-foot likeness is too confrontational and appears too Asian.

MLK’s son, Martin Luther King III, told USA TODAY that he likes the statue."I've seen probably 50 sculptures of my dad, and I would say 47 of them are not good reflections — that's not to disparage an artist," King said. "This particular artist — he's done a good job."

The memorial is scheduled for dedication on Aug. 28 which will coincide with the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

'The Help' Boosts Mississippi Tourism

Houston Chronicle: Less than two weeks since the nationwide release of 'The Help,' convention and visitors bureaus in Greenwood and Jackson have self-guided driving tours targeting fans of the book and movie. Tour requests from groups and individuals have risen dramatically over the past few days in Greenwood, where most of the movie was shot, said Paige Hunt, executive director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Inspired by the Steel Magnolias tour in Natchitoches, La., the bureau began planning its tour in May 2010, shortly after DreamWorks Studios announced The Help would be shot in Mississippi, Hunt told The Clarion-Ledger.

"We plan to have the tour indefinitely," Hunt said. "Steel Magnolias was released in 1989, and the tours are still around."

Hunt said the Greenwood tour not only includes both private houses used in the film and favorite hangouts of the cast and crew, such as The Alluvian Hotel, Tallahatchie Tavern and Webster's restaurant. "I received a call from a lady in Louisiana who is coming here with some girlfriends for a weekend getaway," Hunt said.

"They're not just doing The Help tour. They're taking a class at Viking Cooking School and exploring what Greenwood has to offer. The movie has brought a lot of excitement to our community."

Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman Marika Cackett says her agency offers two self-guided tours. A Belhaven tour highlights several Jackson streets mentioned in the book, as well as the childhood home of author Kathryn Stockett. A Jackson tour includes stops at the governor's mansion, Medgar Evers' home and Brent's Drugs, which is featured in the film.

Cackett said the tours could kick off a domino effect that proves profitable for hotels, restaurants and other businesses. "People read the book, see the movie, then Google Jackson, Mississippi," Cackett said. "It's cool to say we've been in a motion picture, and the residual effects from this could be a very good thing."

Bill Crump, chairman of the The Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Industrial Foundation, estimates the movie's direct economic impact at $13 million — a conservative figure, he says. "After seeing the success of the film and looking back on that Sunday afternoon in December 2009 when we first met with the production team, it's very emotional for me to see how successful it's been," Crump said.

"There's no reason we shouldn't have more films made here in Mississippi. With the movie's release, I think we have an excellent opportunity."

Crump said The Help gives Mississippi an advantage in the close-knit film industry. While attending the movie's premiere in Los Angeles, Crump reunited with some of the film's stars who reminisced about their time in Greenwood. "It doesn't hurt that Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard's little girl, had a wonderful experience here," Crump said. "Ron Howard is a prominent director, and through word of mouth, more people will hear about what Mississippi has to offer."

In addition, new film incentives approved by the Legislature have made the state more competitive, said Ward Emling, manager of the state bureau of film and cultural heritage. Mississippi's program this year increased its rebates to filmmakers from 20 to 25 percent to cover payroll for non-Mississippi cast and crew and 30 percent from 25 percent for in-state cast and crew payroll. Rebates are capped at $8 million per production.

During fiscal 2010, the Mississippi Film Office coordinated the activities of more than a dozen productions, including films, documentaries, music videos, short films and commercials. Emling said the film bureau is reviewing feature productions under the $20 million budget range.

A Bizarre New Hotel for London

"A Room for London"
Daily Mail: Visitors to London's South Bank could soon be left feeling all at sea.

A bizarre new hotel - shaped like a boat - is to be placed on top of the Queen Elizabeth Concert hall peering out over the River Thames.

The nautical building, due to be hoisted into position in December, will be equipped with a mast and look-out station and guests will be expected to keep a detailed log and hoist a flag to indicate they are aboard.

The designers of the building, called A Room For London, are David Kohn Architects and artist Fiona Banner who said they set out to create something 'playful, beguiling and thought-provoking.'

The hotel, which is expected to be massively popular during next year's Olympic games, will have panoramic windows and an upper viewing deck affording some of the most spectacular views of the capital.

But those demanding a degree of privacy will be left very disappointed. The South bank is one of the busiest places in town and guests will have to get used to a constant stream of curious tourists.

Inside it will be fitted-out using real timber and the designers promise it will be full of 'nooks and crannies' for guests to explore

The design was chosen from 500 entries in a competition set up by cultural organisations Living Architecture, and Artangel, in association with Southbank Centre.

Tickets for night stays during the first half of 2012 will be available from next month and tickets for the rest of the year, covering the Olympics, will go on sale in January.

A spokesman for the architects said: 'It will appear to have come to rest there, grounded, perhaps, from the retreating waters of the Thames below.

'The idea evolved from narratives of travel and displacement in literature, in particular Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness,’'

To compliment the literary theme there will be a well stocked library containing books about London by authors such as William Thackery, Henry Mayhew and Iain Sinclair.

Rock Start Icon Designing Theme Park Maze

NorthJersey: Rock icon Alice Cooper will help design a theme park maze for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights as Southern California theme parks battle to lure more fall visitors.

In recent years, Halloween has represented a new opportunity for huge revenues for theme parks such as Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland.

Universal recently announced that Cooper, known for his macabre-tinged stage persona, is the second celebrity that the park has named to help create horror-inspired mazes for the annual Halloween celebration that runs on selected nights Sept. 23 to Oct. 31.

Horror movie director and actor Eli Roth, who produced the 2002 horror film "Cabin Fever" and 2005’s "Hostel," among other movies, will design a maze called "Eli Roth’s Hostel: Hunting Season."

According to Universal Studios Hollywood, Cooper’s maze will include "guillotine decapitations, electric chairs, a sadistic insane asylum, predatory snakes and giant black widow spiders that have helped make his imagery timeless and indelible."

Are Travel Agents Obsolete?

The Economist: On Thursday, President Barack Obama said this during a town hall meeting in Atkinson, Illinois:

"One of the challenges in terms of rebuilding our economy is businesses have gotten so efficient that—when was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using the ATM, or used a travel agent instead of just going online? A lot of jobs that used to be out there requiring people now have become automated."

Travel agents flipped their lids. The American Society of Travel Agents wrote a letter to the White House, and Travel Leaders Group, another trade group representing travel agents, "strongly rebutted" the president in a press release. Here's ASTA's argument:

In its letter, ASTA informed the President that today, the U.S. travel agency industry "is comprised of nearly 10,000 U.S.-based travel agency firms operating in 15,000 locations. We have an annual payroll of $6.3 billion. Most importantly, our businesses produce full-time employment for more than 120,000 U.S. taxpayers."

Further, the U.S. travel agency industry:

• processes more than $146 billion in annual travel sales, accounting for more than 50 percent of all travel sold. This includes the processing of more than 50 percent of all airline tickets, more than 79 percent of tours and more than 78 percent of all cruises

• helps more than 144 million travelers get where they want to go each year.

It is true that travel agents are still a significant part of the American workforce, and $6.3 billion in annual payroll and 120,000 jobs are nothing to sniff at, especially in this economy. Suggesting that such a large number of Americans are doing a job that is no longer necessary was perhaps not the wisest move politically. But just as it's true that ATMs have changed the roles of bank tellers, so too have internet travel sites changed the travel agency industry. The number of agencies in America declined "from 32,000 in 1998 to somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000" by 2007, according to USA Today's David Grossman. The sector has seen further consolidation since then; as ASTA noted, the industry is now "comprised of nearly 10,000 U.S.-based travel agency firms."

Fewer agencies and industry-wide consolidation could be expected to lead to job losses even without technological change. The federal government, at least, doesn't foresee growth in the number of travel agents in the near future. America's Bureau of Labour Statistics projects that there will be about 1% fewer travel agents in 2018 than there were in 2008, despite population growth. IBISWorld, an industry research provider, believes that continued change in the industry will "effectively eliminate many smaller brick-and-mortar establishments," but there are good prospects for growth online.

The real challenge for travel agents going forward will be convincing younger business and leisure travellers who have never used anything other than a website to book travel that they can and should use an online travel agent. (Getting those folks to switch to using the phone or an in-person meeting to book travel seems like a lost cause.) There's a case to be made, but it won't be easy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

All Charges in DSK Case to be Dropped

Daily Mail: Prosecutors are reportedly set to ask ` judge to abandon the case against Dominique Strauss Kahn.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is preparing to ask that all charges against the former head of the IMF accused of attempting to rape hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo are dropped Tuesday.

Such requests from the DA 'are never denied', an expert told the New York Post meaning Strauss-Kahn could finally return to his home country after being forced to remian in the U.S for months.

It is thought the credibility of sole witness Miss Diallo is at the heart of the collapse of the case.

She has faced criticism for a series of magazine and television interviews before the case went to trial. The maid has also been accused of lying about her past in Guniea and being involved with criminal elements.

It comes after prosecutors asked to meetMiss Diallo's lawyers on Monday, in a sign the case may be headed for dismissal.

Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer for the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, said the Manhattan district attorney's office requested in a letter that Diallo meet with them at 3 p.m. The letter also said that, if she failed to appear, prosecutors would assume she was not interested in discussing the case, Wigdor said.

'This is just another piece of evidence demonstrating what may be the ultimate outcome of this case,' Wigdor told Reuters in a telephone interview from Paris. 'There have been many other facts in this office's handling of this case that have led myself and (Kenneth Thompson, another Diallo lawyer) to believe that unfortunately the district attorney's office may dismiss,' he said.

Thompson told the New York Times that the meeting could signal prosecutors are preparing to drop the charges against Strauss-Kahn. Thompson was travelling on Saturday and could not immediately be reached. Both parties were already scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, so he took the letter as a clear sign of defeat.

'If they were not going to dismiss the charges, there would be no need to meet with her,' the newspaper quoted Thompson as saying. 'They would just go to court the next day to say, 'We're going to proceed with the case.'
Erin Duggan, the spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, declined to comment.

Thompson said Diallo will have to cancel a physical therapy appointment to meet with prosecutors. He said she had suffered a shoulder injury during the alleged attack in May at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan.

There has been widespread speculation that prosecutors would drop the case since late June when they revealed that Diallo had lied repeatedly in her statements and in her application for U.S. asylum, casting a shadow over her credibility. Legal observers say the only way the case could be revived is if prosecutors turn up new evidence. That appears highly unlikely.

But Paul Callan, a former New York prosecutor, warned not to read too much into the meeting. He sad: 'In high-profile cases, meetings like this are routine' to ensure the accuser is kept abreast of developments.

Commentators say the case-pitting a West African immigrant against a rich, white man who was in the running to become the next president of France-could define the career of first-time prosecutor, Cyrus Vance Jr. It will also be remembered as one where Vance took stood in front of the world's media to vouch for the integrity of the arrest before completing the investigation and vetting the maid's credibility.

Observers say it may not have been wise to defend the case on the courthouse steps or to rush it into the grand jury before an investigation was done. But most applauded Vance for revealing that the alleged victim, who has spoken publicly about the case, lied on her asylum application about being gang-raped and has ties to a jailed drug dealer. 'He took all the right steps, even if he may not be happy where they took him,' prominent defence lawyer Paul Shechtman said.

Others, like radical defence lawyer and frequent Vance critic, Ron Kuby, were less supportive. 'It's an unmitigated disaster,' he said.

Diallo, 32, filed a civil claim against Strauss-Kahn last week in New York. Her lawyers had been exploring a deal to scuttle the criminal case in exchange for a monetary settlement in the civil lawsuit, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Strauss-Kahn had been seen as a leading contender in next year's French presidential election when Diallo accused him of sexual assault on May 14 at the Sofitel Hotel in New York, forcing him to resign as head of International Monetary Fund a few days later.

Plans for Bering Strait Tunnel Gains Support

MSNBC: A train could someday make a journey from New York City to London if a plan to build a 65-mile tunnel between North America and Asia comes to pass.

The Times newspaper in the U.K. said that idea to construct a $60 billion tunnel under the Bering Strait was this week backed by some of President Dmitry Medvedev’s top officials.

The paper described the idea as "the greatest railway project of all time."

The tunnel would mean Russian territory would meet U.S. jurisdiction underneath the islands of Big Diomede, which is Russian, and Little Diomede, which is American. One problem might be that there is no rail line to Alaska's west coast.

The Times named one of the officials supporting the plan as Aleksandr Levinthal, the deputy federal representative for the Russian Far East.

The idea dates back more than a century; the ill-fated tsar, Nicholas II, approved similar tunnel plans twice, but World War I and then the Russian revolution intervened.

Cheaper, faster than container ships
The paper said supporters of the idea believe it would be a cheaper, faster and safer way to move goods around the world than container ships, estimating it could carry about 3 percent of global freight and make about $7 billion a year. Levinthal and several other Moscow officials took part in a conference in Yakutsk in eastern Russia that discussed how to improve infrastructure in the region, the Times said.

A 500-mile rail line linking Yakutsk to the Trans-Siberian railway is currently being built and Russia plans to lay more track to connect mineral-rich areas to freight lines. "We should see advanced development of road and rail infrastructure here [in the Russian Far East] and improvement in the investment climate in Russia as a key aim," Levinthal said, according to The Times.

The tunnel would be the first dry connection between the two continents since a land bridge 21,000 years ago. Stephen Dalziel, head of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, sounded a note of caution, suggesting U.K. investors, at least, were unlikely to put money into the tunnel project until it actually began.

"It would be a great idea, if it worked," he said. The idea was discussed in 2007 at a conference in Moscow called "Megaprojects of Russia's East ."

George Koumal, president of the Interhemispheric Bering Strait Tunnel and Railroad Group, called on governments to back the tunnel at the meeting. He suggested it would bring the two people's closer together, noting the current lack of links. "There are very few [Russian] people who have stood on the beach in Alaska," he said. "Seemingly you can stretch out your hand and touch Mother Russia."

However, at that time, a Russian economics ministry official threw cold water on the idea, wondering who would pay for the project.

Thailand Seeks to Shed 'Sex Tourism' Slur

DaijiWorld: Arguably called the sex tourism capital of the world, Thailand is now deliberately using the family tourism tag to shed the sex destination tag, Tomwit Jarnson, the Royal Thai country consul general in Mumbai has said here.

Jarnson told IANS on the sidelines of an event organised Friday to promote Thailand as a tourism destination that family tourism would eventually edge Thailand away from the slur of 'sex tourism' in the years to come.

"We are trying to project Thailand as a family tourism destination. We are slowly changing the perception of Thailand to the rest of the world," Jarnson said.

He said the Thai food and dance festival in Goa, in association with the Vivanta by Taj hotels and resorts, was just such an attempt to project Thailand as a place steeped in culture, which is quite similar to the culture of the Indian sub-continent and tradition and a rich and diverse culinary palette.

"Destination Thailand is an annual event organised by us which helps us reach out to the people of India through our food, music and dance," Jarnson said.

"We are very happy to have the festival in Goa this year where the people of this city will experience the unique characteristics and rich cultural heritage which our country has to offer," he added.

"We are slowly developing facilities in Thailand which will attract family tourism. We have a lot of Indian families who travel to Thailand," Jarnson said.

He said the Thailand tourism authorities were trying to project Phuket - which along with Bangkok and Pattaya are regarded as the prime sex tourism areas in Thailand - as a family tourism destination.

Although banned by law, prostitution is common place in the tourism districts of Thailand, which see nearly 14 million tourists annually, a large chunk of which are single males or male groups of tourists seeking sex or sex-oriented fun.

A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report has pegged the number of female prostitutes at two lakh.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

World's Most Decedant Hotel Closes

Daily Mail: Every room has a story, most of them memorable and few of them printable. Dylan Thomas drank himself to death in 205, playwright Arthur Miller got over his break-up with Marilyn Monroe in 614 and Bob Dylan stayed up for days in 211 ‘writin’ Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’.

Sid Vicious claimed he couldn’t remember stabbing his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death in 100. But singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen never forgot what he got up to with Janis Joplin in 415. In fact, none of us will, because he wrote a song about it called Chelsea Hotel #2 (and later regretted his indiscretion).

Surely no other single building can lay claim to so much creativity, destruction and sheer scandal as the Chelsea Hotel in New York. For decades it was a byword for Bohemian eccentricity and hellraising excess, an imposing but squalid sanctuary for writers and artists too penniless or troublesome to live anywhere else.

Jack Kerouac wrote his Beat Generation bible On The Road there, in one drug-fuelled, three-week marathon. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there, too, training his telescope not into space but at the apartment windows opposite. And composer George Kleinsinger kept a tank of piranhas by his piano so he could dip his fingers into the water to bring him to his senses whenever he felt drowsy.

From writers such as Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, through the hippies and on to the nihilist punks of the 1970s and beyond, ‘the Chelsea’ has more than lived up to its understated description of itself as a ‘rest stop for rare individuals’. According to Arthur Miller, you could get high just by standing in one of the hotel lifts and inhaling the marijuana fumes.

Now, however, the hotel faces what its residents and fans fear is its final curtain. A property developer recently bought the down-at-heel building for $80 million (£48 million) and has turned it over to an architect best known for designing bland Holiday Inns. The management has closed its doors to new guests, putting paid to the stream of spikey-haired young tourists trailing in to ask for a night in the ‘Vicious room’ (they couldn’t have it anyway — the room was deemed too notorious even for the Chelsea and was knocked into adjoining rooms long ago).

Today, nearly half of the hotel’s 220 rooms are occupied by old-timers whose rent deals cannot legally be terminated without their agreement. Those who remain are resigned to being bought out to make way for a run-of-the-mill boutique hotel. If they aren’t still spinning from the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, the Chelsea’s famous ghosts will be turning in their graves.

Sitting in the 100ft-square hotel room he’s shared with his wife for 16 years, writer Ed Hamilton competed with the sound of squeaking mice in the wainscot this week as he described how successive owners had ‘destroyed the soul of the Chelsea Hotel’ since the old management was ousted in 2007. ‘It’s an endless source of inspiration because there’s such a weird bunch of characters here,’ he admitted. ‘They’re always doing something crazy.’

It wasn’t always like that. The Chelsea was built in 1884 by Philip Hubert, an Anglo-French immigrant, as a socialist experiment in which rich and poor would live in the same building. As a foretaste of its later eccentricity, Hubert stuck a pyramid on the roof. But the 12-storey building hit hard times in 1905 and was reinvented as a hotel. From the start, it attracted writers, artists and musicians, including Lillie Langtry, Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko and Edith Piaf.

The arty crowd didn’t always have the place entirely to themselves — survivors from the Titanic were put up there briefly in 1912, and some of the rooms were given to visiting young British merchant seamen in recognition of their countrymen’s service in the First World War I. According to Chelsea Hotel historian Sherill Tippins, it was Dylan Thomas who was later responsible for the hotel’s Bohemian reputation. The hard-drinking Welsh poet lived there for the last months of his life, competing in alcohol consumption with the Irish poet Brendan Behan (who became so notorious for chasing the Chelsea’s chambermaids that none would enter his room until he was fully dressed).

In 1953, a few months before Thomas collapsed in his room and later died after claiming to have drunk 18 whiskies at a local bar, the Beat poet Jack Kerouac and writer Gore Vidal pitched up at the hotel hoping to find him. Thomas was away, but the pair — both bisexual — got horrendously drunk and spent a night of passion at the hotel together.

The general anarchy was presided over by the hotel’s famously indulgent manager, Stanley Bard, whose family bought it in the 1930s and who ran the place for 50 years from 1957. Arthur Miller — who lived in the hotel for seven years from 1960 — recalled alerting Bard to a ‘young woman with eyes so crazy that one remembered them as being one above another’ who would come into the hotel lobby and threaten violence against men. Mr Bard ‘pooh-poohed the idea of her doing anything rash . . . he was simply not interested in bad news of any kind,’ Miller wrote. Two days later, the woman — a radical feminist named Valerie Solanas — shot Andy Warhol, though he survived.

Bard liked to assign different types of people to different floors — musicians on the second, tourists on the third, people he wanted to impress in the elegant suites on the eighth and ninth, and unstable people close to reception. The final category included Sid Vicious, but also Edie Sedgwick, the drug-addled model/actress and protégée of Andy Warhol played on the big screen five years ago by Sienna Miller in Factory Girl.

After an unhappy affair with fellow guest Bob Dylan (his song Like A Rolling Stone is one of several written about her), Sedgwick set a new standard for bizarre Chelsea Hotel behaviour in 1967. Glueing on her thick false eyelashes by candlelight one night, she set fire to her room and, after trying to hide in her wardrobe, barely escaped with her life.

There was equally odd stuff in the form of Harry Smith, a wild-haired avant-garde film-maker and occultist. His dabbling in the dark arts attracted other would-be wizards to the Chelsea.
It all ended badly after a 15th-century alchemist’s manuscript went missing, and civil war broke out, with the magicians casting spells and loudly denouncing one another in the lobby.

That decade saw the Chelsea invaded by rock musicians, mainly because no other hotel in New York would take them. Dylan was joined by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, the Grateful Dead and, later, Patti Smith. Inevitably, the musicians weren’t all good guests. The death of Nancy Spungen in October 1978 was a sobering moment, driving home to its management that things were getting out of hand. A heroin addict like her Sex Pistols boyfriend, Spungen was found in their room, dead from a single knife wound to her abdomen. The knife was traced to Vicious, who was charged with murder, but he died of a heroin overdose before he could come to trial.

Dee Dee Ramone, bass player in punk band the Ramones, once holed himself up in his room for two weeks to kick his drug habit. Finally emerging, he stepped out of the hotel’s front entrance only for a woman to land just feet away after throwing herself off the ninth floor.

The notoriety garnered by Spungen’s demise did nothing to drive away the celebrities. Madonna lived there in the 1980s and returned to shoot her raunchy book Sex in suite 822. The most famous recent resident, actor Ethan Hawke, moved in after breaking up with film star Uma Thurman, playing guitar to his neighbours and making Chelsea Walls, a film about Bohemians living there.

Today, however, the hotel is living on a reputation that has long gone, haunted by the ghosts of the hellraisers, hippies and chancers who lived and died among its famous guests.

Tourists Flock to 'Planet of the Apes' Park

Visitors are flocking to California's Muir Woods to glimpse backgrounds used in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

The movie starring Palo Alto's James Franco, features a scene where apes run across the Golden Gate Bridge and escape to Muir Woods. While none of the CGI filled movie was actually filmed in the park, the movie's producers took pictures of Muir Woods' famed redwood trees and replicated them on screen.

The park has seen an uptake in visitors this summer. For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, Muir Woods has at times drawn 5,000 people a day.