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Focus: Breaking Travel News investigates: Urban Cowboy Lodge in the Catskills

The Urban Cowboy Lodge is situated in the centre of the 68-acre Big Indian Wilderness, a nature preserve that boasts numerous trails and watering holes, all set to the backdrop of a haunting, mountainous landscape.

Due to its isolated and rural location, it is strongly advised that you travel to the property, which opened in spring last year, by car. As you find yourself driving down the highway and deeper into nature, there is a beautiful moment when your cell loses service and the breath-taking Catskill mountains suddenly come into view. Your GPS will stop working too, so be sure to download a map and directions in advance, as well as the curated Spotify playlist that the property will send you to accompany your journey.

Prior to my trip, the staff at the lodge were extremely communicative, their tone was chatty and familiar, ensuring I was fully prepared for my stay. Right from the off, the standard of service was set high, which left me feeling I was going to be well looked after during my two-night visit. They did not fail to deliver on arrival, when I was welcomed with a choice of bubbles or bourbon at check-in. When I was shown to my room, there was also a hand written note welcoming me on my bed.

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Now, about my room. No doubt the focal point of the Alpine Bathing Suite was the bright copper bathtub in the centre, with great views overlooking the Catskill Mountains. The décor takes on a maximalist feel, with a campy and yet considered approach to anything and everything woodsy – it felt like a Wes Anderson take on Twin Peaks. Every texture and print mismatched and no surface is left plain. But instead of this feeling overwhelming, the combination works. It felt inviting and cosy, from the plaid curtains, patterned woollen blankets and oversized wooden panel headboard. The colours are rich and warm, contrasting the pink cooper bathtub with deep greens and mustards. I felt immediately at home and at ease.

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Further comforts in the room included a functioning cast iron stove, heated floors and a large leather armchair. The ‘keeping it American’ theme is found in the mini bar, with its locally sourced candy, chips, beer and ales from a nearby brewery. There are also ready-made cocktails, crafted in house. The toiletries – provided by Khus & Khus and Detox Babe – are all botanical-forward brands using organic ingredients. To top it all off, a rubber ducky dressed as a cowboy was my companion during my multiple baths. 

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As the day came to a close over the Catskill mountains, I headed over to dine at the main cabin, which is where you can also find the bar, games room (aka ‘the Den’) and a private cinema (to be booked out in advance). Since the restaurant opened earlier this year, it has been thriving. It is evident that they have worked to create a menu as unique as their space. Sustainable-meets-simple-yet-delicious, seems to be the main theme of the menu, with a vegetable-heavy focus and an intentional use of proteins. This was evident with their pork dish, for which the restaurant buys an entire quarter back of a pig, with the cuts evolving through the night as they serve. Cooked and plated with a caramel and fish sauce, it was sticky and sweet with complex flavours.

I paired my meal with the locally baked Wilson’s bread (which only needed pickles and butter to complement its taste) and the beer battered shiitakes, a fun take on bar food. But the unsuspecting show stopper was the 18-hour slow cooked cabbage, which has been on the menu since opening. Cooked overnight, the dish was meaty enough to satisfy any carnivore, the charcoaled exterior crispy, with the inside soft and chewy. Served with parsnip and packed full of flavours such as apple and mustard, it was hearty and extremely satisfying.

As dusk settled in and I enjoyed my dinner, I admired the handpicked wild flowers on my table (a decorative touch seen throughout the Urban Cowboy Lodge). I watched the fire flies dance upon the vast green lawn, and I felt at peace.

The next morning, coffee was delivered to my room in thermos flask big enough for two, along with my choice of milk and breakfast. I chose to enjoy my coffee on the balcony, to admire the view of the mountains once more. Another sight that caught my eye as I sat back absorbing the view was the number of other guests doing just the same (all suites come with a balcony). All of us, in our jade green Pendleton robes, soaking up the morning. It was a vibe.

The room also comes with a guide to local activities within the Catskills area, as well as onsite events that the property hosts. The team at the lodge will meet weekly to discuss and keep the guide current as well as weather relevant. It is comprehensive to say the least, but I still had some further questions, so decided to head back to find out more. After a few words of advice, I hiked up Giants Ledge for stunning views, visited a local brewery with a pop-up food fair and swam in a waterfall. Following another conversation with the onsite bar-tender about the origins of their cocktail ‘Mahogany Ridge,’ I was also able to discover a local bar which housed a retro wooden ten pin bowling alley.

All of these unique experiences helped to make my stay so memorable and special. It is no wonder that so many of the lodge’s guests (despite being open for just over a year) are returning. I learned that the grand piano in the Den was actually a gift from a local who dines regularly, wanting to give it to a home where it would be loved. Talking to the staff it is clear that they are passionate about their place of work and its future plans, with an Estonian sauna due to open in a matter of weeks.

The finale of my stay was a trip along the recently cut ‘Jesses Trail,’ an onsite 20-minute stroll scattered with wild flowers, daisies and buttercups. On completion of the trail, there is the option to indulge in nature swim in the Esopus creek. While it certainly was cold, it will invigorate you more than any morning coffee and I highly recommend.

After staying at the Urban Cowboy, their tag line “arrive as strangers leave as friends” makes perfect sense to me. At the time of my stay, the lodge was fully occupied, so I encourage to book while you can and make yourself a part of the Urban Cowboy family.

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An easy escape from NYC, the Catskills are the perfect getaway for effortless social-distancing, offering a plethora of opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, stunning views and excellent accommodations.

Urban Cowboy Lodge is only 2.5 hours from New York City and offers rustic luxury accommodations, dating back to 1898, that have been artfully revived by Lyon Porter’s signature design style of bold patterns, repurposed structures, and hand-picked Americana antiques with a commitment to elemental experiences inspired by the power of nature.

Find out more on the official website.

Words: Emily Clark

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This post originally posted here Breaking Travel News

Focus: Breaking Travel News interview: Flavia Santoro, president, ProColombia

Colombia has announced a new brand manifesto for the destination: ‘Colombia, the most welcoming place on Earth.’

With the restart of international travel on the horizon, the country aims to stimulate international tourism growth and ignite travellers’ wanderlust by spotlighting the warmth and kindness of its populace.

The new manifesto, which is led by ProColombia, is the result of extensive quantitative and qualitative research, which identifies the core essence of Colombia to be the warmth and kindness of its people.

Here Breaking Travel News chats with Flavia Santoro, President of ProColombia, to find out more.

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Breaking Travel News: Where does tourism in Colombia stand in July 2021? Are the borders open to travellers? What requirements are currently in place to slow the spread of Covid-19?

Flavia Santoro: International air connectivity in Colombia is open.

Today the country is connected to 22 countries with 21 airlines, which means that we have recovered 62 per cent of the air frequencies we had in early 2020.

And during 2021, 28 new routes have been announced, flying from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Peru and 15 of these have already started operations.

New guidelines for the arrival of international travellers to our country include the following:

  • It is not mandatory to present a negative PCR test before the flight.
  • Travellers must fill out the Check-Mig form at least one to 24 hours before the flight.
  • Travellers must wear masks at all times.
  • They must report symptoms associated with Covid-19: cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or fatigue and should not board if they have these symptoms.
  • International passengers are obliged to give real information about their health status, their recent contact with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19, comply with the instructions of the health authorities and give exact information about their telephone number and address in Colombia. Foreign travellers must provide a national telephone number so they can be easily contacted.

BTN: There is hope the situation may return to something like normal over the coming months as vaccines begin to impact on the virus. What are your ambitions, in terms of visitor numbers, for Colombia this year?

FS: We are very optimistic about the future of tourism in Colombia.

The country had been enjoying steady, year-on-year growth in visitor numbers prior to the coronavirus pandemic, with the annual number of visitors in the 2012-2018 period growing at nearly double the average world rate.

Also, growth between 2014 and 2019 rose 11.6 per cent.

Average international tourism growth in the Americas between 2012 and 2019 was 4.4 per cent, less than half of the 9.1 per cent Colombia saw.

We are sure that we will continue improving on the good numbers that we have already been registering.

According to a recent study by Despegar, one of the most important online travel agencies on the continent, Colombia is one of the countries in the region with the greatest recovery of its tourism sector above countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and the United States.

There are also very good projections regarding the arrival of non-resident travellers to Colombia according to a study by FowardKeys, which reports more than 115 thousand air reservations made to our country, mostly from the United States, Chile, Spain, Argentina and France for travel in April – September 2021.

BTN: The country has seen continued political unrest in recent weeks – is this impacting on reopening, or tourism promotion, plans?

FS: The world has faced extremely challenging times due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Colombia has not been an exception.

However, our country is an example of how difficult times can be transformed in a positive way.

With a rich and diverse history Colombia has been through periods of transition and growth, always remaining resilient with a spirit of warmth and openness at its heart. We know we will rise again stronger together from the current situation.

We will continue to make every effort to promote the prompt recovery of our tourism industry, we are working to adapt the sector to the new requirements of international and local travellers.

We strongly believe tourism is a powerful and transformative tool for local communities with a tremendous impact on the development of the regions and we are looking to leverage this.

Colombia has undergone a positive transformation in recent years, and we have earned recognition as a must visit destination and key commercial ally for many markets.

People who visit Colombia know that Colombians are extremely friendly, welcoming, and warm!

There is no doubt that nowadays, Colombia is one of the trendiest destinations.

We are proud to won recognition at the World Travel Awards Latin America Gala Ceremony in 2020.

These same awards nominated the country again this year in 22 categories highlighting our biodiversity and cultural wealth.

We have also been considered a successful example of innovation and social transformation and as we continue to welcome visitors and show them that Colombia is a modern and evolving country, we believe our reputation as a safe, friendly and inclusive nation will only continue to strengthen.

BTN: As the market begins to reopen, ProColombia has launched a new, consumer-facing manifesto for the country. What can you tell us about that?

FS: Yes, I’m delighted to announce the destination’s new brand manifesto is ‘Colombia, the most welcoming place on Earth.’

At a time when a warm welcome, a kind embrace and a feeling of true community has never been so important, we feel that our bold yet simple message encapsulates what global travellers are seeking.

To clarify, we conducted extensive quantitative and qualitative research with more than 1,500 surveys and focus groups with Colombians and foreigners to identify what the core essence of Colombia is and ultimately, the warmth and kindness of our people lay at the heart of it.

When people say you can judge a place by its people, I couldn’t agree more and this is precisely why Colombia has chosen to build its new manifesto narrative around the warmth and kindness for which our people are known.

The international launch will be on Monday, July 19th and while we appreciate that those with wanderlust may need to wait a little longer before experiencing the warmth of

Colombia first-hand, we invite travellers and travel trade alike to experience ‘the most welcoming place on Earth’ via our dedicated ‘Neighbourhood of Neighbourhoods’ webpage.

Designed to look like a map of Colombia with local communities, the interactive ‘map’ will help visitors discover each of the six Colombian regions, showcasing it as a melting pot of cultures, flavours, rhythms and colours all underpinned by a consistent, familiar and local welcome.

With authentic video content and local narratives, we hope the ‘Neighbourhood of Neighbourhoods’ webpage will act as an extension of Colombia’s community, demonstrating its welcoming ethos and extensive offering.

We like to say ‘whatever you are looking for and whatever your needs, Colombia is a place where you don’t have to knock, because the door is always open’.

BTN: The new campaign seeks to place the people of Colombia as central to its offering. How is this different from how the country has been promoted in the past?

FS: We highly value the Colombia Country Brand; it is an asset that has informed the world about our wonderful country for the last ten years.

First, the message was “Colombia is Passion”.

It focused on showing the creativity, resourcefulness, talent and passion that characterises Colombians.

It served to reawaken a sense of national belonging and thanks to this foundation, in 2012, we moved to “The Answer is Colombia,” a message focused on telling the world that we were the answer to all its needs.

With this message, we focused on using facts and data to demonstrate the important progress that Colombia had made in terms of competitiveness.

With “The Answer is Colombia,” we decided to align the campaigns to promote ProColombia’s lines of work: non-mining and non-energy exports, foreign direct investment and international tourism.

ProColombia will incorporate these campaigns into the new Manifesto while retaining many of the prior campaigns’ elements and messages.

This manifesto has been created to get back to the beginning of it all, as the studies carried out demonstrate that Colombians’ warmth is what we are known for globally.

We are getting back to people, to what makes us unique.

BTN: How important is tourism to Colombia and how do you expect this to change over the coming years?

FS: In the last decade, tourism in Colombia has become an important source of foreign exchange and employment for the country.
President Duque has called the sector “the new petroleum”.

In 2019, the tourism sector reached historic figures: 4.5 million non-resident visitors arrived in the country, an increase of three per cent compared with 2018; hotel occupancy was 57 per cent (the highest in the last 15 years) and generated 6,751 million dollars, two per cent more than in 2018, which makes it the non-mining energy sector that generated the most foreign currency that year.

Last year was undoubtedly a year of high expectations for the sector.

However, the pandemic forced Colombia to change plans and quickly adapt to the new conditions.

So, we took isolation as an opportunity to prepare a safe reactivation of the tourism sector and at ProColombia we created a recovery plan with three priorities: adapting to change, facilitating air connectivity and generating confidence in the international traveller to visit Colombian destinations.

For us sustainability is more than an attribute, it is the heart and the pillar of our tourism industry.

We are making steady progress in this regard.

For example, the ministry of trade, industry and tourism reformed the general tourism law, putting sustainability as a fundamental axis.

It now formally recognises that the protection of the environment and local communities is essential for the recovery of the Colombian tourism industry after the pandemic.

In addition, we are the second most biodiverse country in the world; ornithologically, we come top with more than 1,900 species of birds, we also come top for our orchids and recently for butterflies too, as declared by the Natural History Museum of London’s study.

Also, we are second place for amphibians, third for plants and reptiles and fourth for mammals.

This means great responsibility that we embrace with total commitment.

More Information

ProColombia is a government entity responsible for promoting international tourism and foreign direct investment in Colombia, non-mining energy exports and the country brand.

Through its national and international network of offices, it offers Colombian companies support and comprehensive advice through services or instruments focused on encouraging the design and execution of their international strategies, as well as facilitating the generation and development of business opportunities.

Images: ProColombia

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This post originally posted here Breaking Travel News

WhatsApp just blocked two million accounts for breaking tough new rules – don’t be next

WhatsApp has gone on a blocking spree, purging millions of its two billion users for breaking a little-known rule on the app intended to stop the spread of hoaxes. Over two million accounts have been blocked from WhatsApp in just one month for violating the rule. The company said it had targeted users who were found to be sending a “high and abnormal rate of messages”.

What counts as too many messages? Luckily, you’d have to work pretty hard to fall foul of the rules. The company said over 95% of the bans were “due to the unauthorized use of automated or bulk messaging”, not regular texting.

Almost all the banned accounts are in India, WhatsApp’s biggest market with over 400 million users. Bans were triggered when users forwarded messages too many times, blasting past the app’s strict new limit on how many times a message can be forwarded to other people or groups.

The limit, which was announced in April 2020, is in place to combat spam and the spread of viral rumours, photos and hoaxes. This is a huge problem in India, where many people rely on the app for news.

Messages containing “fake news” have been blamed for outbreaks of violence and lynchings across the country.

The app has mass-banned users before. WhatsApp said it uses AI technology to block around eight million accounts around the world, every month.

It uses information like profile and group photos and descriptions as well as “behavioural signals” from accounts to decide whom to ban.

Reports submitted by other users were also used to help catch the rogue accounts.

WhatsApp said in a statement: “We are particularly focused on prevention because we believe it is much better to stop harmful activity from happening in the first place than to detect it after harm has occurred. The abuse detection operates at three stages of an account’s lifestyle: at registration; during messaging; and in response to negative feedback, which we receive in the form of user reports and blocks.”

It added that it had not read any of the spam messages sent on the app because of its end-to-end encryption.

Earlier this year, WhatsApp sued the Indian government to try and stop a new law that would have forced the app to hand over information on users accused of criminal activity. The company said this violated users’ right to privacy, adding: “Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy.” The lawsuit is still underway.

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This post originally posted here Daily Express :: Life and Style
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Focus: Breaking Travel News interview: Arvind Bundhun, director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority

Mauritius has unveiled plans for a phased reopening strategy over the coming months.

There are hopes the destination can be fully open to international travellers by October.

From today, 14 Mauritian ‘resort bubbles’ will open, with each having been specially set up to welcome vaccinated international travellers. 

Air Mauritius, Emirates and other global airlines will also add additional flight capacity this month.

Phase two of the reopening will begin on October 1st, whereby vaccinated travellers will be allowed entry without restrictions and be able to travel around the island.

This will mark a full reopening of the island ahead of its peak winter season.

Here we find out more from Arvind Bundhun, director of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority.

Breaking Travel News: Where does Mauritius stand with its vaccination programme against Covid-19 – and have tourism professionals been prioritised ahead of the reopening?

Arvind Bundhun: The response to the pandemic has ranked among one of the best in the world, as the Mauritian government responded promptly with stringent control measures and protocols.

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The safety of Mauritians and visitors has been a top priority since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the success is a result of a joint effort by the Mauritian government and the population of the island.

The responsiveness of the Mauritian authorities and the effectiveness of the health system are the core reasons behind our low death rate.

Due to the precautionary measures put in place by our government, we have been successful in containing the spread of the pandemic.

This is itself a reassuring message for visitors who can see the efforts that both the government and private sector in Mauritius have implemented to ensure safety of locals and visitors.

The local community had really banded together to respect the rules, follow guidelines and work together for the destination to reopen and we are very proud of how we have, and continue to, overcome this challenging period in our history.

The announcement follows the acceleration of the vaccination campaign and the progress made towards herd immunity by the end of September.

Tourism employees were prioritised during the vaccine rollout.

This has enabled a prompt and safe restart of the Mauritius tourism industry.

As of now, the island is well on track to reach its herd immunity as Mauritius has received most of its stock of vaccines.

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BTN: You have unveiled plans for a cautious reopening over the coming months – what can you tell me about that?

AB: Throughout the pandemic we have taken a cautious approach, placing the safety of our visitors and Mauritians at the forefront of our actions.

The reopening on July 15th is the first stage in a phased approach, with the first phase running to September 30th and enabling vaccinated travellers to experience our class-leading resorts and the varied range of facilities including pools, beaches, restaurants and many resort activities.

This will lead into phase two beginning on October 1st, whereby vaccinated travellers will be allowed entry without restrictions so will be able to once more enjoy all that our wonderful island has to offer.

We have been working hand in glove with our island stakeholders to move forward to this stage and are delighted to have a clear roadmap in place.

The UK is, of course one, of our most important and valued markets and we are greatly looking forward to working with the UK trade to invite holidaymakers back to our island and extend a warm welcome.

BTN: ‘Resort bubbles’ have been set up across the island – what will life be like for travellers during their stay?

AB: A total of 14 ‘resort bubbles’ have been specially set up to welcome vaccinated UK and international visitors to the island from today and enabling travellers to enjoy a resort holiday on the island.

The approved Covid-19 safe resorts are available on a new website.

Holidaymakers will be able to enjoy facilities within their chosen resort premises, including the swimming pool and beach.

If guests stay for 14 days and have negative PCR tests during their stay in the resort, they will then be able to leave the hotel and travel about the island freely for the rest of their stay, exploring the island’s many attractions.

However, for shorter stays, they may leave the resort earlier and travel back home.

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BTN: You have seen strong support from the aviation sector, with carriers returning. What role will Air Mauritius play after its administration process?

AB: Air Mauritius has confirmed a new schedule of three flights per week from Paris to Mauritius from July 15th in line with the reopening of Mauritius borders to international travellers. 

There are currently regular connecting flights using Air Mauritius partner carrier Air France from multiple regional points in the UK to Paris.

Air Mauritius will be confirming further updates for direct flights from Heathrow to Mauritius in the lead up to the full reopening on October 1st.

In addition, British Airways is currently working on scheduling direct flights to Mauritius from August, and Emirates and Turkish Airlines are looking to resume their indirect flights soon too.

BTN: What are your expectations in terms of visitor numbers for 2021?

AB: Our Mauritius hotel partners and UK tour operators are reporting strong forward bookings for quarter four of 2021.
We believe Mauritius is a strong destination brand and remains in the mind and heart of travellers when they leave, therefore we strongly believe tourism to Mauritius can bounce back in the long term.

More Information

Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority is considered the Indian Ocean’s Leading Tourist Board by voters at the World Travel Awards.

Find out more about visiting the island on the official website.

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This post originally posted here Breaking Travel News

Flight attendant harassed by passengers breaking mask policy – 'it is disgusting'

A TikTok video showing a flight attendant calling out rude passengers during a long delay has gone viral. The clip has prompted criticism of the passengers on social media.

The video has now gained more than one million views on the platform.

The flight attendant said to passengers: “Just like you, we have not eaten also.

“The fact that we get insulted and mistreated by passengers over things that we cannot control. It is disgusting.”

Following COVID-19 regulations, face masks are now required onboard the plane and during the whole duration of the flight.

“Hungry or not no one should be treated that way,” one user wrote.

Others were concerned with how the flight attendant was being treated by passengers.

“I’m with the flight attendant but I really hope the airline didn’t discipline him for this,” another TikTok user commented.

The passenger who posted the video commented: “I FULLY support the crew and praise the lead attendant for standing up for his staff and what’s right. Customer service is no cake walk under normal conditions, but for some reason the pandemic has made some customers think they can quadruple down on their self appointed entitlement!

“It’s my hope that this video is just the beginning of a ‘movement’ where we in customer service take a stand and demand to be treated with the respect we deserve,” he said.

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Travel Feed

Suspect shot by police is man wanted for breaking into Harris Co. deputy's home, HPD says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A wanted suspect was rushed to the hospital Sunday evening after an exchange of gunfire with Houston Police Department’s SWAT team in north Houston.

It happened in the 500 block of West Greens Road near Antoine Drive around 5:40 p.m.

HPD said the wanted man was involved in breaking into the home of a Harris County deputy constable.

SEE RELATED STORY: Off-duty Harris County deputy constable’s wife, stepdaughter injured in home invasion

SWAT officers were in the middle of serving the suspect a warrant when the incident occurred. HPD Chief Troy Finner said the suspect fired on officers and drove off but only made it two blocks down before firing on officers again.

The suspect then crashed into a tree, according to Finner. That’s when the man got out of the vehicle and fired a third time on officers. Finner said officers then fired back, striking him multiple times.

No officers were hit, according to HPD.

Finner said the suspect was in critical condition undergoing surgery.

Police later described the suspect as a 27-year-old Hispanic. Finner said his family was cooperating with police all day and also noted the suspect has a history of mental illness.

Follow Stefania Okolie on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.

Author: Stefania Okolie

This post originally appeared on ABC13 RSS Feed

'I'm at breaking point' EastEnders star Natalie Cassidy speaks out on health struggle

The soap star had told her followers at the weekend she was at “breaking point”.

She said in a video: “I wanted to see if everyone is enjoying the weather, because I’m not.

“I can’t breathe. I can’t see hardly, and this hay fever is off the wall this year.(sic)

“It’s not an enjoyable experience, and I’d like to pour Optrex into my eyes all day and get into a freshly-washed bed, which has been in the tumble dryer, unfortunately, not on a line, which you should want. 

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Celebrity News Feed

How Some Americans Are Breaking Out of Political Bubbles

Last October, students in Sarah Candler’s seventh-grade English class in rural Tennessee were discussing the presidential election, echoing each other’s pro-Trump sentiments. One student dared the others: “Who’s a Democrat, anyway?”

A lone girl raised her hand. “I saw looks aghast from the other kids,” recalls Candler. Then Candler, too, raised her hand.

The closed-minded dialog troubled Candler. She began searching online for resources beyond her go-to mainstream news sources, such as The New York Times, to help her understand others’ politics. She found AllSides, a site founded by former Netscape director John Gable that displays headlines on the same stories from left-, center-, and right-leaning outlets.

Candler is among a small but growing number of Americans who are trying to break out of information silos. They are searching for sites like AllSides; the Flip Side, which summarizes conservative and liberal news on one policy issue each day; and Ground News, which shows how various stories are covered by left, center, and right-leaning outlets. For video, TheirTube displays simulated YouTube feeds for conservatives, liberals, conspiracy theorists, and climate deniers.

“We’re in a country where people are either polarized or apathetic,” says Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU who founded Heterodox Academy, a nonprofit that seeks to encourage viewpoint diversity, particularly on college campuses. Adds Gable, the AllSides founder, “We have to get people outside of their information bubbles, but also their relationship bubbles.”

The majority of US adults say one-sided information on social media is a major problem, though many might mean only information that counters their own beliefs.

Visitors to sites like AllSides seek out views at odds with their own; they enjoy discussing political differences more than the fleeting satisfaction of tribal disputes on Facebook. Some are troubled by how their friend circles and social media followers mirror their own beliefs. A few, such as Candler, are looking to understand friends or acquaintances with differing political stances.

Alan Staney, an out-of-work graphics designer in Tallahassee, Florida, voted twice for Obama, and then twice for Trump. “Being politically heterodox just seems to make me enemies,” he says. “I’ve always felt politically homeless.” That feeling can extend to his family, where he navigates tensions between his liberal wife, a Biden supporter, and her conservative parents.

He’s visited the Flip Side and Ground News. “The more I looked into things like the Flip Side, the more I could understand her parents’ arguments,” he says. When he jokes about politics, half the room turns against him, depending on which side he’s teasing. They’ve resisted his advice to check out sites like the Flip Side.

Saira Blair was 18 when she was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican, which at the time made her the youngest person in the US ever elected to state office. After leaving office in 2018, she tried to read six newspapers and magazines every morning to get a full range of perspectives. But finding the time was a struggle—now that her job didn’t focus on current events—and the subscription fees added up. She grew frustrated with the biases in what she read.

“I started going down my own path,” she says, searching out the Flip Side and AllSides. She “fell in love” with Divided We Fall, another site that aims to bridge political divides. These resources helped her piece together what felt like the true stories behind important events.

Today, Blair thinks her positions are more nuanced. Recently she appreciated an article on Divided We Fall about the benefits of transgender women playing sports with cis gender women, before learning about West Virginia’s legislation to ban their participation. If she were still in office, “I would do things differently, having read that article,” she says. Overall, she’d have “a more balanced, educated platform. These sites didn’t exist when I first ran, and I really wish they had.”

She also regularly checks Blindspotter, a tool offered by Ground News that classifies a user’s Twitter actions as skewing left or right, based on the person’s tweets, retweets and other interactions with liberal or conservative news sources. Blair aspires to gymnast-like balance: 50 percent interactions with sources from the left, and 50 percent from the right.

“What’s needed is a way to curate and find the best thinking from left and right,” says Haidt, who created an online library for this purpose with videos, books, and essays. To better understand perspectives on the left, for example, the library offers sources such as Edmund Fawcett’s essay “Reclaiming Liberalism.” Choose the library door on the right, and you’ll find thought pieces like Yuval Levin’s “A Conservative Governing Vision.” Haidt also reads the Flip Side and AllSides daily.

Author: Matt Fuchs
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

BREAKING: 25-year-old man killed in downtown Austin mass shooting

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A 25-year-old man has died after being injured in a mass shooting attack Saturday morning on downtown Austin’s 6th Street, according to the Austin Police Department.

Douglas John Kantor, 25, died from his injuries at an Austin hospital Sunday at 12:01 p.m., police say.

The shooting left at least 14 people hurt early Saturday morning in the 400 block of East 6th Street. Police say one juvenile suspect is in custody. Another suspect is still at-large.

During a briefing, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said 11 people were receiving treatment at one hospital, while one victim went to a separate hospital, another received treatment at an emergency room and another self-transported from Austin’s busy strip of bars on 6th Street.

Chacon said most of the victims were innocent bystanders.

“Everything was totally fine,” witness Matt Perlstein said. “… there were just so many people in the street. And we just heard like, nine — a bunch — gunshots going off. Everyone got on the ground. We couldn’t even comprehend what was going on at the time. It’s still difficult to comprehend.”

APD is encouraging anyone in the community seeking support as a result of this event to contact Austin Police Department Victim Services at 512-974-5037.

Anyone with information or video of what happened is asked to call APD Homicide at 512-974-TIPS.

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Author: Andrew Schnitker
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Face mask shambles EXPOSED: Less than 0.5% fined for breaking Covid rules on trains

Under UK coronavirus laws, face coverings on public transport have been mandatory in England since June 2020, unless exempt. Those who refuse to comply face a fine – £200 for a first offence and doubling with each repeat offence, up to a maximum value of £6,400. But while many of us have seen passengers breaching these restrictions, exclusive research has revealed that only a handful of fines have been dished out.

An FOI conducted by Express.co.uk has revealed that, up to May 5, 2021, British Transport Police (BTP) has recorded 96,146 “interventions with passengers not wearing face coverings”.

Of these interventions, BTP has issued 7,325 “directions to leave” the station or train.

And in total, 447 Fixed Penalty Notices “relating to face coverings” have been issued.

This calculates to less than 0.5 percent of all interventions leading to a fine.

READ MORE: When can we stop wearing masks? Government guidance update

A spokesperson for BTP told Express.co.uk that the number of fines handed out is so proportionately low as they are a “last resort”.

The spokesperson said: “Our approach is to always begin by engaging with the public and explain the reasons why the protections are necessary and a lawful requirement.

“The overwhelming majority of people have listened, complied, and continued to play an important role in protecting other passengers and rail staff – we have seen compliance levels of around 97 percent.

“In those cases where people have refused to comply with the requirement, and they don’t have a valid exemption or reasonable excuse, officers have taken action by refusing entry to trains, directing passengers to leave services, and as a last resort, issuing fixed penalty notices.”

The spokesperson added: “Fines are low because they’re a last resort, and asking people to leave is low because compliance has been high.”

Bruce Williamson, a spokesperson for rail campaign group Railfuture, told Express.co.uk the number of fines handed out “seem fairly low” but that the approach of the BTP is “working”.

He said: “I think it’s right that fines are seen as a sort of last resort.

“We don’t want the rail travel to be like an experience with the Gestapo.

“But on the other hand, it’s right the British Transport Police are making it compliant and making the railway safe for people, you know, so that we don’t run the risk of getting a deadly disease on the train.”

However, anecdotal evidence still shows a large number of passengers will obey the rules in front of law enforcement or train staff, and then flout the rules in front of other passengers.

A 27-year-old primary school teacher in London, who declined to be named, has taken the London Underground and a bus daily to get to work throughout the pandemic.

She told Express.co.uk: “Since the lockdown was eased, fewer and fewer people are wearing masks, or they are wearing masks but wearing them under their chins, or incorrectly.”

She said when walking through stations, staff aren’t seen asking people to comply with face-covering regulations.

Asked if she ever witnessed BTP interventions, she said: “Once I saw them on the bus telling people to put up their masks…and they did. I don’t know if they then put them back down, but they did when they told them to.”

She added: “The other day I was on the train on a really full day, and I counted around me – there were 16 people that weren’t wearing their masks in my carriage alone, or that were wearing them incorrectly like either under the chin or nose.

“It’s irritating. Even if they’ve had the vaccine, it’s putting people at risk, it’s ignorant and an ‘I don’t care’ attitude, when it’s such an easy thing to do, to wear a mask.”

And it’s not just the general public breaking the rules – politicians have been photographed without face coverings, too.

Conservative MP for Devizes, Danny Kruger, apologised for forgetting to put on his face covering for a train journey from Hungerford to Paddington.

DUP MP for East Antrim, Sammy Wilson, was also caught on camera by a fellow passenger on the London Underground without a mask.

Mr Wilson said he accepted he “should have been” wearing a face covering and he would “accept whatever consequences there are”.

But while most passengers leave the enforcement to the authorities, some confrontations have led to violence between transport users.

Early on in the pandemic, a train passenger was head-butted to the floor and repeatedly punched in the face for asking a fellow passenger to wear a face mask on a service between Slough and Langley in Berkshire.

And in Bournemouth, a bus driver was hit over the head and kicked on the floor for refusing to let a man board without a face covering.

What do you think about face masks on trains and public transport? Should people be fined? Have your say in the comments below and vote in our poll: 

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: UK Feed