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Going Deep: Race and the Third Rail

Thu, 2014-07-03 23:21
Let's take a stroll along the third rail of American culture, shall we?

We can follow it straight into the grocery store, where Joy DeGruy and her sister-in-law are standing at the checkout line. The sister-in-law, who is biracial but looks white, chats amiably with the clerk as she writes out a check for her groceries, and life is lovely as can be. But when Joy, who is black, tries to pay for her groceries, the clerk stares at her coldly and asks for two pieces of ID, then searches for her name on the "bad check" list. Joy's 10-year-old daughter, standing with her mom, wells up with tears, unable to fathom why this sweet, friendly checkout girl has suddenly turned mean.

Well, here's why: ". . .these people are a danger to America greater and more insuperable than any of those that menaced the other great civilized states of the world."

We just need to follow the third rail back to 1884, as Harvard scholar Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (quoted above) holds forth in Atlantic magazine. Or back, back, across time and oceans, to a 15th century papal directive: "Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be 'discovered.'"

The third rail is, of course, race -- racial insanity, actually: the schism, deeper than the Mariana Trench, separating Europe from the rest of humanity. We've inherited it and we're stuck with it, whether we're black or white, brown or red, light-skinned or dark-skinned, abolitionist or flag-waving son of the Old South. And we don't talk about it, at least not during the normal course of the day. But race is ever-present as we go about our lives, igniting emotions we usually succeed in politely suppressing, unless . . . oh, an African-American woman, say, wants to write a check for her groceries.

Author Joy DeGruy tells her story in a remarkable documentary called Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality, produced and directed by Shakti Butler, who is the founder of World Trust, an organization committed to breaking through the shame, secrecy and dishonesty that American culture is trapped in regarding both its racial history and present-day practices. The other quotes were also part of the film, which dug relentlessly at the structural and institutional racism of our society for the purpose of getting people to talk about it.

DeGruy told her story not for the purpose of vilifying the clerk at the store, but to address the complexity of everyday racial encounters, which pull in everyone. The sister-in-law, Kathleen, turned around when she saw what was happening, using her "white privilege" to intervene and ask the clerk, "Why are you doing this?" Other customers then expressed outrage and eventually the manager came over. And a fragment of American society addressed its racial assumptions more deeply than it normally does.

The film, and the unique discussion that accompanied it, were part of a three-day conference on race and restorative justice I attended last week in Chicago. The planning committee for this amazing, multiracial event, held at Roosevelt University, included the Community Justice for Youth Institute, the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice Project and many other participants in this city's growing movement to change the criminal justice paradigm and replace a punishment mentality with the consciousness of healing.

I'm happy to say over 100 people attended it. Something big is happening here. The conference was called "Going Deep" and that's what we did, though I flail right now in wordlessness, not knowing how to dig at the complexity of what occurred.

We walked the third rail of racism and white privilege. We revisited the outrage and unhealed wound called slavery. Indeed, Joy DeGruy, who told the tale of being humiliated at the grocery store, is the author of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, a book that examines slavery's psychological legacy, which includes a slave mother's hesitancy to praise her own children for fear that positive attention could lead to their sale. She had to denigrate her children in order to protect them, DeGruy pointed out. And this perversely protective instinct may still be alive many generations later, wreaking damage on family ties.

This is not easy to talk about. That's why the discussions, often among smaller, breakout groups of conference participants, were unlike any I've ever participated in. I found myself at sea, some of the time, coming to grips with my own white privilege, which was usually invisible to me. I grew up in the then-all white suburb of Dearborn, Mich., where whiteness was disguised, simply, as "normalcy."

Race was an abstraction. We were far from its raw edge, unless we crossed Wyoming Avenue into Detroit. We said things like "That's very white of you." And much, much worse. The city fathers and the real estate industry were aligned in their commitment to keep Dearborn white. The schools taught a version of history that included such phrases as "the first white man to explore . . ." I grew up in fortified ignorance.

At the conference I confronted my upbringing and my whiteness. In one of the breakout circles we read the poem "The Usual Suspects," by Reginald Harris, which gouged a hole in the fortification of whiteness that I thought I had disavowed and dismantled. The poem addresses the phenomenon of criminalizing black males. It consists solely of police blotter descriptions of the usual suspects, which go on and on:

. . . Black Man, 50, says he is a college professor. See
how well he grades papers handcuffed in a cell
Black Man, 57. Occupation: jazz musician. Has clippings
in pocket as quote-unquote proof. Burn them
Black Man, 39. Protests he has no interest in, would never rape
a woman. Says he's gay. Mention this when throwing him
in cell with other inmates. If not one now, he will be
once they're done
Black Man, height 5'8", 5'7", 4'9", 6'1", 6'3", 6'5", 7'4" -
A 6'9" Senior from the University of North Carolina
Black Man, weight 150, 195, 210, 200, 260, 190, 300 -
Weighing in at two twenty-five, pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world
Black Man, age 27, 32, 48, 73, 16, 17, 18, 8 -
aged 13 and 9 respectively, under arrest for attempted murder,
have been charged as adults (charges later dropped)
Black Man Black Man Black Man Black Man Black Man
Black
Man


Somehow this undid me, but I wanted to be undone. The conference churned up discomfort for everyone, but in that discomfort -- as we discussed, among so much else, the prison industrial complex and the living continuation of legal racism -- I could feel a national conversation getting underway. This conversation has to continue and it has to expand. At the far end of it is, I hope, atonement and a different kind of world.

I know this much. I came away deciding I identify with one race only: the human race.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

America The Beautiful, In 14 Hypnotic Time Lapse GIFs

Thu, 2014-07-03 21:28
The Fourth of July usually means that most of us get a whole federal holiday to stop and smell America's roses.

And oh, how they smell good.

Seriously, look at her. With canyons so grand, waves of grain so amber, and national parks so vast that they include volcanoes, deserts and glaciers, it's obvious that America is a special place.

Below, take a tour of some of our favorite places in this great country, because somewhere in between a photograph and actually being there is a beautifully animated timelapse GIF.

Mount Hood, Oregon:



Central Park, New York City:



Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico:



Aurora Borealis, as seen from South Dakota:



Brian Head, Utah:



Greektown, Chicago, Illinois:



Haleakala, Maui:



Kalapana Coast, Hawaii Island:



Interstate 405, Los Angeles*:


*While this gif is awesome, we seem to remember the 405 being shut down when Endeavour crossed over in 2012, but we still think both NASA and a free-flowing 405 are equally awesome and the stuff of dreams.

One New World Trade Center, Manhattan:



A river in Wyoming:



San Francisco, California:



Very Large Array, San Agustin, New Mexico:



Hollywood, California:



Bonus video (because we just couldn't get enough of photographer Andrew Walker's time lapse footage:

National Hunt For Illinois Man Suspected Of 2 Slayings

Thu, 2014-07-03 19:49

July 3 (Reuters) - Authorities released new pictures on Thursday in a national hunt for an Illinois man suspected of killing a woman at a rest stop west of Chicago and taking her car a day after killing a man in the northern part of the state.

Terence Doddy, 36, is a person of interest in the killing of Todd Hansmeier, 37, on Monday in Rockford, Illinois, and Tonya Bargman, 44, at a rest stop on Interstate 39 about 40 miles (64 km) south of Rockford on Tuesday night, Illinois State Police said.

Police on Thursday released a surveillance photograph of Doddy, who lives in Rockford, exiting a Rockford-area store with several items in a shopping cart. They did not identify the store or say what date or time the image was captured.

State police said Doddy also might have a blue dome-style tent and urged the public to take precautions when visiting rest stops, campgrounds and other outdoor areas.

Police have said surveillance video showed Bargman being attacked by a male as she exited a restroom at the Willow Creek rest stop on I-39. She was found by a rest stop attendant.

Doddy was seen leaving the rest stop in Bargman's gray 2013 Nissan Altima, which bears the Illinois license plates BARGMN 2, police said. The car also has a silver colored "Illini Nissan" decal at the lower rear bumper, police said. (Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Sandra Maler)






Another photo of Terence Doddy provided by the Illinois State Police

Northwestern Professor Accused Of Sexual Assault Won't Get Rutgers Job

Thu, 2014-07-03 15:01
A Northwestern University professor accused of sexually assaulting a student will not be taking on a new job at Rutgers University as previously announced.

Peter Ludlow was slated to join the Rutgers philosophy department for the upcoming school year, but The Daily Northwestern confirmed Wednesday that Ludlow will instead remain at Northwestern. Ludlow is at the center of a Title IX lawsuit brought by a student who claims he sexually attacked her in 2012. The student, who still attends Northwestern, claims school officials mishandled her complaint and failed to properly discipline Ludlow.

Ludlow has denied the student's allegations, while the Northwestern maintains it took proper action on the student's complaint.

Ludlow reportedly accepted Rutgers' offer in the fall of 2013, before the student filed her Title IX suit against Northwestern and a civil suit against him. After news of the allegations drew sharp criticism from students and faculty on both campuses, Rutgers officials denied they had offered Ludlow a position to begin with.

In March, Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor told HuffPost via email, "No final offer has been made to Dr. Ludlow and the university intends to review all pertinent information before considering whether to make such an offer."

A spokesman for Rutgers told The Daily Northwestern on Wednesday, “When Rutgers learned of allegations against Professor Ludlow at Northwestern, the university requested relevant information from Professor Ludlow and his attorney. This information was not provided. As a result, Professor Ludlow will not be coming to Rutgers University.”

The tenured position at Rutgers would have been Ludlow's fourth such position in 12 years.

Growing controversy over Ludlow's continued employment at Northwestern -- inclduing a student protest in his classroom and a petition signed by faculty and staff -- prompted the administration to announce he would not teach for the rest of the academic year.

Good Riddance to Common Core Testing

Thu, 2014-07-03 14:46
A few years ago, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, David Coleman, and a merry band of policy wonks had a grand plan. The non-governmental groups like Achieve, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Coleman's own Student Achievement Partners would write the Common Core standards (paid for by the Gates Foundation); Duncan would require states to agree to adopt them as a condition of eligibility for a share of the billions of Race to the Top funds at a time when states were broke; the Feds would spend $370 million to develop tests for the standards; and within a few short years the U.S. would have a seamless system of standards and assessments that could be used to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.

The reason that the Gates Foundation had to pay for the standards is that federal law prohibits the government from controlling, directing, or supervising curriculum or instruction. Of course, it is ludicrous to imagine that the federally-funded tests do not have any direct influence on curriculum or instruction. Many years ago, I interviewed a professor at MIT about his role in the new science programs of the 1960s, and he said something I never forgot: "Let me write a nation's tests, and I care not who writes its songs or poetry."

So how fares the seamless system? Not so well. Critics of the standards and tests seem to gathering strength and growing bolder. The lack of any democratic process for writing, reviewing, and revising the standards is coming back to bite the architects and generals who assumed they could engineer a swift and silent coup. The claim, often made by Duncan, that the U.S. needs a way to compare the performance of students in different states ignores the fact that the Federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) already exists to do precisely that. In addition, critics like Carol Burris and John Murphy have pointed out that the Common Core tests agreed upon a cut score (passing mark) that is designed to fail most students.

As Politico reports, support for the federally-funded tests is crumbling as states discover the costs, the amount of time required, and their loss of sovereignty over a basic state function. The federal government pays about 10 percent of the cost of education, while states and localities pay the other 90 percent. Why should the federal government determine what happens in the nation's schools? What happened to the long-established tradition that states are "laboratories of democracy"? Why shouldn't the federal government stick to its mandate to fund poor schools and to defend the civil rights of students, instead of trying to standardize curriculum, instruction, and testing?

So far, at least 17 states have backed away from using the federal tests this spring, and some are determined not to use them ever. Another half-dozen may drop out. In many, legislators are appalled at the costs of adopting a federal test. Both the NEA and the AFT, which have supported the standards, have balked at the tests because teachers are not ready, nor is curriculum, teaching resources, and professional development.

Time and costs are big issues for the federal exams:

"PARCC estimates its exams will take eight hours for an average third-grader and nearly 10 hours for high school students -- not counting optional midyear assessments to make sure students and teachers are on track.

PARCC also plans to develop tests for kindergarten, first- and second- graders, instead of starting with third grade as is typical now. And it aims to test older students in 9th, 10th and 11th grades instead of just once during high school.

Cost is also an issue. Many states need to spend heavily on computers and broadband so schools can deliver the exams online as planned. And the tests themselves cost more than many states currently spend -- an estimated $19 to $24 per student if they're administered online and up to $33 per student for paper-and-pencil versions.

That adds up to big money for testing companies. Pearson, which won the right to deliver PARCC tests, could earn more than $1 billion over the next eight years if enough states sign on."

One of the two federally-funded testing consortia, PARCC, is now entangled in a legal battle in New Mexico, which was sued by AIR for failing to take competitive bids for the lucrative testing contract. This could lead to copycat suits in other states whose laws require competitive bidding but ignored the law to award the contract to Pearson.

Frankly, the idea of subjecting third graders to an eight-hour exam is repugnant, as is the prospect of a 10-hour exam for high school students, as is the absurd idea of testing children in kindergarten, first, and second grades. All of these tests will be accompanied by test prep and interim exams and periodic exams. This is testing run amok, and the biggest beneficiary will be the testing industry, certainly not students.

Students don't become smarter or wiser or more creative because of testing. Instead, all this testing will deduct as much as a month of instruction for testing and preparation for testing. In addition, states will spend tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or even more, to buy the technology and bandwidth necessary for the Common Core testing (Los Angeles -- just one district -- plans to spend a cool $1 billion to buy the technology for the Common Core tests). The money spent for Common Core testing means there will be less money to reduce class sizes, to hire arts teachers, to repair crumbling buildings, to hire school nurses, to keep libraries open and staffed, and to meet other basic needs). States are cutting the budget for schools at the same time that the Common Core is diverting huge sums for new technology, new textbooks, new professional development, and other requirements to prepare for the Common Core.

Common Core testing will turn out to be the money pit that consumed American education. The sooner it dies, the sooner schools and teachers will be freed of the Giant Federal Accountability Plan hatched in secret and foisted upon our nation's schools. And when it does die, teachers will have more time to do their job and to use their professional judgment to do what is best for each student.

'Life Itself' Crafts Heartfelt, Candid Portrait Of Roger Ebert

Thu, 2014-07-03 14:00
"Life Itself," the documentary about the many years Roger Ebert spent as the country's primo film critic and the rich but complicated personal life he led on the side, may be 2014's most wrenching film. Directed by Steve James ("The Interrupters," "Hoop Dreams"), the movie is based on Ebert's 2011 memoir by the same name. It's not a sycophantic take on the life of an American treasure, nor is it an excuse to fawn over an outsized personality who rightfully captured the nation's admiration.

James offers a warts-and-all take on Ebert's life, just as the former Chicago Sun-Times critic does in his own writing. Sandwiched between a recap of Ebert's childhood and a celebration of his contributions to popular culture, James delivers the portrait of a man who made no apologies for his bouts with alcoholism, his love of voluptuous women and his temperamental dynamic with "At the Movies" co-host Gene Siskel. The documentary proves that, even if not everyone loved Ebert's thumbs, no one denies his resilient legacy.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and his producing partner, Garrett Basch, approached James in 2012 with the rights to Ebert's memoir for their company, Film Rites. James hadn't yet read the book, but he quickly devoured it. A longtime Ebert fan, James watched "At the Movies" in its original, Chicago-based iteration (called "Sneak Previews") in the 1970s. When he later moved from southern Illinois to the Windy City, James began reading Ebert's reviews in the Sun-Times.

"I just thought, you know, what a great critic," James recalled when HuffPost Entertainment spoke with him at the movie's New York press day.

Ebert himself was the one to break the news that "Life Itself" would become a feature film. He did so in a tweet on Sept. 7, 2012, about a month after awarding "The Interrupters" four stars and 18 years after calling "Hoop Dreams" the best movie of 1994.

Whoa! My memoir has been optioned for a doc by Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") and Steven Zaillian, with Martin Scorsese as exec producer.

— Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) September 7, 2012


Days before the shoot was slated to begin, Ebert, who'd battled papillary thyroid cancer since 2002, entered the hospital with a fractured hip. "Life Itself" offers a glimpse at the days of a decaying cultural figurehead, told through the most intimate and compassionate framework. It's tough to watch at times, if only because we feel such deep sympathy for the subject. Ebert maintains a smile as nurses care for his needs and rehabilitation becomes increasingly onerous. That struggle provides a poignant fabric for the nostalgia of Ebert's heyday, when he was galavanting across the Chicago bar scene, the Cannes and Sundance film festivals, the Conference on World Affairs and other "cosmopolitan" (his word) stages, making friends and enemies aplenty along the way.

"My goal as a filmmaker is always to help you understand a main subject, including their warts," James said. "But I’m also trying to discourage you from sitting in judgment of them. I’m trying to sit back and look at it as the viewer and go, 'Okay, if you’re going to think he’s an asshole in this moment, it’s not like I want to take that out, but what can I do to kind of reposition you a little bit to think about that reaction, so that you don’t just condemn him?' No one articulated better than Roger: Movies are like a machine to help you generate empathy, to help you understand the hopes and fears of other people and their lives, and walk in their shoes, essentially."

"Life Itself" elicits deep empathy in candid interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese (whose career Ebert helped to propel), documentarians Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, TIME critic Richard Corliss, New York Times critic A.O. Scott and a plethora of Chicago newspapermen who knew Ebert in his early days. Together they share heartfelt memories of Ebert's best and worst times, his unflinching passion for cinema and his perennial status as the best raconteur in any room.

"Outside of Chaz, [Gene Siskel] was arguably the most significant relationship of his life."

The movie's most surprising moments are exposed in Ebert's volatile relationship with Siskel. While Siskel was writing for the Chicago Tribune and Ebert for the Sun-Times, the critics were bitter rivals. By the time they were cajoled into doing a television program together, their dynamic became the utmost blend of love and hate. Vintage outtakes from "At the Movies" show the men bickering over the way they read their lines for the camera. Each hurls insults at the other as they struggle to find the perfect take while recording intros to various episodes. One might think there is nothing but animosity between the pair. It's only through interviews with Ebert's devoted wife Chaz, Siskel's wife Marlene and the show's producers that we learn there was much more to the relationship.

"There are other things that he didn’t really write as candidly about in the memoir, like his relationship with Gene," James said, referring to Ebert having documented his own weaknesses in the book without fixating much on his struggles with Siskel. "He talks about it some and he definitely talks about how there was this competitiveness, but the tone of the chapter he devotes to Gene is much more wistful, like, 'Yes, we once had our battles, but I miss him every day. [...] I knew that if we were going to do this we have to dig deeper than this memoir does into that relationship, because, outside of Chaz, it was arguably the most significant relationship of his life."

Therein lies the documentary's charm. That unbridled honesty gives way to true joy, when Ebert is at his professional best or when portions of the memoir are read aloud, enunciating his affection for Chaz -- who is arguably the movie's shining star -- and the industry in which he works.



Chaz Ebert and Steve James attend the Los Angeles premiere of "Life Itself" on June 26.


It's that generous spirit that James says pervaded Ebert's life throughout his final years, even before he became ill. A.O. Scott says that's why Ebert was a "tougher" critic in his younger days, but James thinks it's because Ebert kicked some of his vices, fell in love and garnered a richer appreciation for, well, life itself.

"I think Roger became a more generous spirit in later years with films, because with all that he’d been through he kind of appreciated that he was able to be doing what he was doing at the level he was doing it," James said. "I do think that made him a little more generous of spirit. I don’t fault him for that."

America hasn't, either. Even after Ebert left broadcasting in 2006, he remained the nation's most celebrated critic. Not everyone appreciated his thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach to reviewing for television, particularly Richard Corliss, who challenged the binary approach in a 1990 Film Comment essay discussed heavily in the film. Yet, regardless of whatever objections arise, everyone seems to recognize the cultural fortress that is Roger Ebert. That's what the documentary sets out to depict. And it does, ever so lovingly. Listening to Ebert's passion for film, and for his own life, is so enriching that by the time his final days are upon us on-screen, it's sob-inducing.

"The level of candor was pretty remarkable, and the only place it really changed was at the end," James said. "You see in the movie that once he leaves home and goes back to the hospital and rehab, there’s not another image of Roger in the movie. And, in fact, there was not another image recorded of Roger anywhere. I have, I think, the last image of Roger. It’s not in the movie -- it’s a shot where my DP is on him and then pans off of him, and that was the end of the shoot.

"Even though Roger lived his life in this incredibly courageous, public way, and the way in which he dealt with the cancer he did in a very public way, just like this film shows a degree of candor you hadn’t seen before, there’s also a degree of candor beyond the scope of this film that you never will see. And that’s kind of as it should be."

"Life Itself" opens in limited release on July 4.

The 21 Most Perfectly American Things To Happen Since America's Last Birthday

Thu, 2014-07-03 09:43
Every day, amazing and unbelievable events take place across the United States. Sometimes, they fill us with pride and make us excited to celebrate the Fourth of July. But just as often, we're left shaking our heads, reminded that the land of the free and the home of the brave can be as embarrassing as it is great.

Why are these two emotions so frequently at odds? How can we have open-carry rallies, where people bring assault-style weapons into fast-food restaurants one day, and an open-carry guitar rally, where people just rock out in public the next? There's no doubt a complex answer. But there's also a simple one: Because America, dammit!

Here's a list of unbelievably "American" events that have taken place since last July 4. They represent this nation, in all of its flawed perfection.

1. A man called his neighbor to complain that her soccer viewing was getting in the way of his NASCAR.

In Amherst, Massachusetts, a woman called the police to report that her neighbor had verbally abused her for being too excited about the World Cup. He also apparently accused her of taking jobs from Americans. This line from the MassLive report is almost too good to be true:

He called her a name and said he wanted to watch the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but her celebration for the World Cup was disturbing him, according to the police report.

2. Coke released an ad celebrating American diversity, which of course led Americans to complain that it was un-American.

Coca-Cola's Super Bowl ad was a tribute to U.S. diversity, including multicultural actors, verses of "America the Beautiful" in non-English languages, even a gay couple.



You better believe those things pissed off some red-blooded Americans. Some complained that the people in the ad should "learn English," while others were upset to see a couple of gay dudes looking happy. But the last laugh was on them. As HuffPost noted, Katharine Lee Bates, the woman who wrote "America the Beautiful," was thought by many to be gay herself.


3. This badass WWII vet recalled slamming some Johnnie Walker with Patton after getting a Purple Heart.

Last month, World War II veteran Jack Schlegel recounted taking a shot of scotch with U.S. Gen. George S. Patton after being awarded a Purple Heart for his service, which included surviving capture by the Germans four times. Just a few weeks after his return to Normandy, where he was again honored on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Schlegel died. Remember this great American by watching his interview.


4. A dude ordered every single McDonald's sandwich to create the McEverything.



In September, a Wisconsin man threw down more than $140 at a Mickey D's to get every sandwich on the menu -- including the breakfast ones. He then stacked them up to create this delectable monstrosity. He didn't even try to eat it all, and claimed he'd have leftovers for a week. Nothing like week-old Quarter Pounders.


5. A Florida drug court judge showed up for work while intoxicated and tried to tell people that drugs are bad.

Broward County Judge Gisele Pollack may not have been the best person to oversee offenders with substance abuse problems. Late last year, she had a meltdown in court, and following her incoherent appearance, checked herself into a rehab program. Pollack's woes mounted later. It took a further on-the-job offense and DUI charges before she was removed from the bench without pay.

In Broward County alone, three judges have been arrested for DUI over the past six months. So much for the moral superiority of American judges.


6. This guy became a feature at U.S. World Cup soccer games in Brazil.




Dubbed Teddy Goalsevelt, this spitting image of the 26th U.S. president first made waves when he was captured by cameras celebrating in the stands. He later became a hit, getting invites to official press events and becoming a de facto mascot for the American team. His real name is Mike D'Amico and there's something distinctly American about his rise to temporary stardom, even if it didn't end with a U.S. World Cup trophy.


7. Cadillac crammed everything people hate about America into one douchetastic ad.



If you haven't watched this ad yet, don't -- unless you want to have a sad. It effectively encourages you to work yourself into the ground, trading family time and your mental well-being for money, so you can buy a $75,000 car and other material items that you will barely have time to enjoy. Isn't that what the American dream is all about?

8. An 84-year-old Army veteran fought off an armed robber trying to steal his car.

When a robber showed up at his door in North Carolina, 84-year-old Neil Meisch and his wife Bonnie weren't about to give him what he wanted. The suspect flashed a gun in Bonnie's face and demanded her car keys.

"I said like hell you're going to get my keys. It'll never happen. And he said yes it will and he put his gun further up to my face," Bonnie said. Her husband then tackled the robber and hit him in the face in their front yard. Police arrested him.

Stupid criminals mixed with geriatric stubbornness and resolve. You better believe that's American.


9. A Republican candidate couldn't win over Latino voters with his politics, so he just changed his name to Cesar Chavez.

After Republican congressional candidate Scott Fistler failed to win two elections in a heavily Hispanic district in Arizona, he knew he'd need a new tactic in his next campaign. So, in preparation for his 7th Congressional District race, Fistler changed his name to Cesar Chavez, like the famed labor leader and Latino icon. He also tried to become a Democrat. Fistler -- or Chavez -- was later thrown off the ballot due to invalid petition signatures.


10. A plastic surgeon sculpted his perfect woman, then married her.



Some true American romance here: When a patient entered Los Angeles surgeon David Matlock's office, the renowned doctor convinced her to get the "Wonder Woman Makeover," including liposuction of the chin, arms and thighs. Then he took her on a date, where he wasted no time proposing marriage. Matlock has since done a number of other procedures on his wife. But don't worry. He's gone under the knife himself a number of times, helping to ensure that he, too, keeps the perfect body.


11. This hands-free chokeslam happened.

We don't know what else to say. Professional wrestling. Magical powers. 'Murica.




12. Marine Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter won a Medal of Honor after taking a grenade blast for a fellow soldier.



If you think there's gonna be some snark here, there's not. This guy just kicks ass.

While guarding a base in remote Afghanistan in 2010, Carpenter's position came under attack by enemy forces. When a grenade came into the outpost, Carpenter used his body to shield his partner from the blast. He suffered extensive wounds from head to toe, and during ensuing medical procedures, flatlined three times, only to be revived. For being a real American hero, Carpenter received the nation's highest military honor.

Another service member, Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, also received a Medal of Honor last year for his valiance during a firefight in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama helped underscore the nation's best ideals by retroactively awarding the Medal of Honor to 24 ethnic or minority U.S. soldiers who were deemed to have been bypassed earlier because of prejudice.


13. A man tried to rob a gun store with baseball bat -- and failed very predictably.

There aren't many things more American than baseball and firearms, but things didn't go well for one Portland, Oregon, man who tried to mix the two. When a man entered a gun shop and laid lumber to a display case, the store owner pulled out his own firearm, pointed it at the man and detained him for police.


14. This minor league baseball team adopted a bacon mascot.

Phillies Triple-A team, @IronPigs, will wear bacon caps this season. Yes, they're for sale: http://t.co/14PnXkygFj pic.twitter.com/2VRn3uvHIF

— Mike Oz (@mikeoz) February 24, 2014


In February, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Pennsylvania revealed new uniforms that mixed two of America's favorite themes -- bacon and baseball. Sports fan or not, these threads are the USA at its best.

While we're on the topic of bacon, a bacon fan club held a competition that promised the winner a bacon selfie -- a life-sized bust of their face made entirely out of bacon. Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon. America.


15. This guy assaulted a fellow churchgoer after a dispute over pew seating.

A verbal dispute between two Mormon church attendees turned physical last year after a visitor tried to reserve three rows of pews, including a seat that a regular member usually sat in. When the regular church member refused a request to leave, the two got into a confrontation, which continued outside the church. The church member reportedly punched the visitor in the face and later struck him with his vehicle. #America.


16. When high schoolers trashed this ex-NLFer's house, he somehow ended up being threatened with a bunch of lawsuits.

Brian Holloway, a former NFL football star, was upset when he found that his New York home had been ravaged by 300 partying teenagers. But after discovering the kids were dumb enough to have documented the vandalism on social media, he called them out instead of seeking legal action, encouraging them to help clean up. When the parents caught wind of Holloway's response to their kids' crimes, they did what any loving suburban American mom or dad would do and made their kids clean up the mess threatened to sue him. Ain't that America?


17. A mother decided it would be smart to let her kid dress up as a Klansman for Halloween -- an idea that even the KKK thought stupid.



When a 7-year-old showed up to school in full KKK garb, people were understandably pissed. But the kid's mother couldn't understand the big deal. She claimed wearing the robes was a Halloween tradition that others in her family had observed. And while she appeared to know that it would bring her son negative attention, she didn't stop him from wearing the costume.

The move even upset the KKK. In a statement, the imperial wizard of the United Klans of America called the robes a "sacred symbol" that shouldn't be joked with, and went on to question the mother's judgment.

18. A proponent of arming schoolteachers accidentally shot one during a drill.

Late last summer, it was reported that Arkansas state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R), a supporter of giving teachers guns in order to make schools safer in the wake of of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, mistakenly shot a teacher with a rubber bullet during an "active shooter" drill.


19. KFC brought back a sandwich made completely out of fried chicken, bacon and cheese, and Taco Bell got in on the breakfast game.



Just in time for 4/20, KFC announced it would again offer the Double Down, promising to clog the nation's arteries by serving an item that replaced bread with fried chicken, and whatever normally goes inside a sandwich with bacon and cheese. It later retired the "sandwich" again.

Then, Taco Bell revealed its highly anticipated breakfast menu. Among the items, a waffle taco, or "breakfast sandwich of sausage and eggs wedged into the crevice of a folded waffle, then topped off with maple syrup." Pure American goodness.


20. An American state decided that guns should be allowed pretty much everywhere.

Earlier this year, Georgia passed a law allowing people with concealed carry firearms permits to bring guns into most bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and parts of airports. What could possibly go wrong? Guess we'll find out -- the law just went into effect.


21. A biker got buried in a see-through box casket, atop his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Billy Standley of Ohio loved his 1967 Electra Glide cruiser, and his dying wish was to ride it for eternity, or something. So, when he died at age 82 this year, his family made arrangements for an extra-large cemetery plot to accommodate a massive plexiglass casket that could hold both Standley and his Harley. As The Associated Press reported, "Five embalmers worked to prepare his body with a metal back brace and straps to ensure he'll never lose his seat."

God bless America.

This Is Not Your Independence Day

Thu, 2014-07-03 08:20
Every year, proud U.S. citizens across the country take a break from daily life to commemorate the birth of America. Dusting off the grill, buying frozen meat en masse, attempting to retreat to the nearest body of water, and putting sparklers in the hands of small children might not be exactly what our founding fathers envisioned, but who am I to argue with a long weekend? I enjoy a good fireworks show as much as the next girl. And beachside BBQs? I'm in. Red, white, and blue happens to be the color scheme of my most flattering bikini, so by all means, pass the veggie dogs and pump up the revelry.

But amidst the pomp and circumstance, please don't wish me a "Happy Independence Day!"

The 4th of July might commemorate the independence of our country -- but it also serves as a bitter reminder that in 1776, the country that I love had no place for me in it.

When our founding fathers penned, "All men are created equal," they meant it. Not all people. Not all humans. Just all men -- the only reason they didn't feel obliged to specify "white" men is because, at the time, men of color were considered less than men, less than human.

The 4th is not my Independence Day -- and if you're a Caucasian woman, it isn't yours either. Our "independence" didn't come for another 143 years, with the passage of The Woman's Suffrage Amendment in 1919. The 4th of July is also not Independence Day for people of color. It wasn't until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 that all men had the right to vote regardless of race -- on paper, that is, not in practice. People of color were systematically, and all too successfully, disenfranchised for another century. July 4th of 1776 was certainly not a day of Independence or reverence for Native Americans. It wasn't until 1924 that Native Americans could unilaterally become citizens of the United States and have the voting rights to go with it.

Now, before anyone argues that Independence is about more than voting rights, I'd like to point out that our Founding Fathers would fundamentally disagree with you. The Revolutionary War was fought, in large part, because of "taxation without representation" -- the then English colonists believed they were not free because their voices were not represented. The right to vote, the right to have your say is the delineating characteristic of a democracy.

There is nothing finite about freedom. July 4, 1776 was a definitive step forward in the struggle toward freedom and democracy but we were a long way off from achieving it. And while we have advanced in leaps and bounds -- my patriotic swimwear goes over way better in Williamsburg, Brooklyn than it would have in Colonial Williamsburg -- we are still a far way off from the freedom and independence we're celebrating.

A resurgence in voter ID laws put in place to once again disenfranchise minorities challenges our collective independence.

This week's Hobby Lobby ruling -- deciding that a woman's employer has any say in her health care -- is a challenge to the ideology of freedom and autonomy our country was founded upon.

The on-going fight for marriage equality prevents same-sex couples in many states from the pursuit of happiness that they are constitutionally guaranteed.

So by all means, enjoy your long weekend. Raise a beer to the ideals of progress and democracy that the 4th of July represents.

But remember that you are celebrating the birth of an imperfect union, remember that the fight for 'freedom' has yet to be won -- and if you must wish someone a "Happy Independence Day!", make sure you're doing something to maintain and advance the Independence you have come to appreciate.

33 Photos That Prove There Is No One Way To Be An American Family

Thu, 2014-07-03 06:30
The American family looks different than it did 50, or even 10, years ago.

The number of children living with two married parents has steadily decreased since the '80s. A 2012 Pew study found that 2 million dads stay at home with their kids -- a statistic that is also climbing. Around six million kids and adults have an LGBT parent. Minorities make up 37 percent of the population, but will increase to 57 percent in 2060. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2043, no group will make up a majority.

It's clearly time to celebrate all of the families in this country. So to ring in the Fourth of July this year, we asked our readers for family photos that represent the real America. The images we received include a single mom by choice who adopted her son when he was 2 years old, a military family with a dad who is in active duty in the Air Force, and a Sikh family who takes an annual road trip to Washington D.C. to celebrate the Independence Day.

Scroll down to seem them all below.

Shred, White and Blue: Freedom From Identity Theft?

Thu, 2014-07-03 06:29
It's finally here. You've been saving up for months. This is your day. You are the Master of the Data Security Universe, Ms. Never-Gonna-Happen-To-Me, Captain Try-Personally-Identifying-This. And you're going to... a Shred-a-Thon!

Yes, it's that time of the year when friends and neighbors gather in the haze of grilling hot dogs and burgers as they feed their old papers to a municipality-owned, or financial institutionally-leased shred-mobile, while talking about data security and sharing a horror story or two about identity theft.

While the goal of a shred-a-thon is laudable, and the action is certainly a concrete one, the gesture is more or less symbolic in terms of actually stopping identity theft. And as we ready ourselves to enjoy the colorful symbolism in the evening skies of Independence Day celebrations across the nation, it's crucial that you not allow a little something like document shredding to stand between you and the truth.

The Privacy Rights Clearing House estimates that some 867,810,607 records with personally identifiable information (PII) have been exposed in data breaches since 2005. Others have reported numbers far in excess of 1 billion files. The sheer quantity of purloined, as well as willingly over-shared, information floating in the cyber-sphere has pushed us way beyond mere symbolic gestures. The chances that chunks of that information include pieces of your own identity puzzle are pretty close to a slam dunk.

So it's time to trade that false sense of security pervading shred-a-thons for some real-world actions that can push off your inevitable day of reckoning and help keep you and your family as safe as possible. Because in this Everyone's Exposed world where pieces of your PII can be had for pennies, it's really just a matter of time before someone cobbles together enough of your data to cause you pain.

How Do I Prevent Identity Theft?

That was a trick question. There are no complete solutions, but if you follow the 3Ms -- minimize your exposure, monitor and manage the damage -- you can make your life a lot less painful when the inevitable happens. So while shredding gets you part of the way to the first M - minimizing your exposure -- you can't stop there. Instead, you have to change the way you think about identity theft and your PII, and most importantly, become significantly more vigilant.

A veritable cornucopia of companies are peddling all stripes of products and services to help protect you from identity theft. While I'm not going to rate them here, I would suggest avoiding those that promise to prevent identity theft, since the third certainty in life is that you will become a victim.

Monitoring for Signs of Fraud

Being vigilant means you have to keep a close eye on your credit. You can get a copy of your credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies for free every year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get a snapshot of your credit portfolio and two free scores (updated every month) any time of the year on Credit.com, where you'll find a number of tools to help you manage and monitor your personal identity and credit profile.

It's also a good idea to enroll in transactional notification programs that are offered for free through your bank, credit union and credit card issuers -- or you can purchase credit and fraud monitoring services. You can set notices so tightly that a new line of credit cannot be opened without a PIN code and/or be instantly alerted when someone tries to obtain credit in your name, or so loosely that you simply receive notice when activity occurs in any of your financial accounts. It may seem like a nuisance to field an email or text every time you buy something with your credit or debit card, but you'll be glad you have the notification set up the day you get one about a purchase you didn't make.

Another option: fraud alerts. All three reporting agencies offer a service that provides an initial fraud alert, extended fraud alerts and active duty military alerts. If you already subscribe to a credit monitoring service, fraud alerts may be an inexpensive add-on. There are also services that allow you to monitor your children's Social Security number for signs of identity theft.

Managing the Damage

How horrific will it be when you get got? Here's where choosing the right company and service matters. In many cases, a company with which you already do business--whether that's an insurance carrier, your financial services provider or your employer--may well offer a product or service that will help you navigate the turbulent waters of victimization and restore your credit and identity when the inevitable knocks on your door.

Check to see if any of your existing relationships can provide you with identity theft resolution services and other identity management products. You may be pleased to find out that they do, and it could cost you little or nothing to enroll.

If there is any hope of containing the nightmare of identity theft, you must be engaged and invested in the process. The goal of a shred-a-thon is peace of mind, but a false sense of security is in no one's best interest. Real peace of mind comes with real knowledge.

Contrary to what you may have been led to believe by the optimists among us, the threat of identity theft is very real, and feel-good symbolism won't keep you from getting got by one of the legions of fraudsters out there working the seams of the identity mines to make a quick buck (or worse) at your expense.

Chicago Yoga Program Aims To Reduce Violence

Thu, 2014-07-03 01:05

CHICAGO (AP) — With their brightly colored mats spread along a sidewalk, Tameka Lawson's yoga students try to follow her instructions: concentrate on their breathing and focus on the beauty of their surroundings.


But this is Englewood, one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, where streets are dotted with boarded-up houses and overgrown lots, and residents are as familiar with the crackle of gunfire as the chime of an ice cream truck. So while the students stretch their arms to the sky, a man the size of a refrigerator stands guard over the class.


It seems odd, all these slow movements, deep breathing and talk about being centered in a neighborhood ruled by drug-dealing gangs. It's simply the latest attempt to curb violence in a city where the number of homicides and guns seized leads the nation. The hope is that yoga's meditative focus will help cooler heads prevail the next time violence or vengeance looms.


The students "live in an environment where everything's rushed, everything's pressured. So if you breathe through certain things, you are able to see clearer. You really are," said Lawson, executive director of a nonprofit group called I Grow Chicago. "Then they can act rather than react."


The idea has even caught the attention of police. At least one officer has made Lawson's class part of an anti-violence program for at-risk youths.


With yoga training, "when they get in a tense situation, they can breathe and relax and make the right decision instead of jumping out at someone and hitting them," officer Daliah Goree said.


Students attest to the calming effect yoga has in an urban landscape of shifting rivalries and constant suspicion.


"I had a lot on my mind, and 10, 15 minutes (of yoga) eased my mind a whole lot," said Karl Mables, 25, after taking the class for the first time.


Lawson taught yoga at area schools for three years before bringing it to this street earlier in the year. She knew gangs might pose a threat. So before the sessions began, the man standing guard, Andres Brown, approached gang members who live nearby to assure them that the group posed no threat and sought their OK.


As Lawson's students take their places on the mats, neighbors watch from a nearby porch. She leads the class through a series of moves, asking them to reach as high as they can and bend slowly until they touch the ground. They're supposed to breathe in as they reach up and exhale on their way down.


The students go through similar moves while sitting, kneeling and lying down and sometimes put their hands together as if in prayer.


"Look at the sky, look at the beauty of nature and breathe in," she tells them in a soothing voice. When they bow, she adds, they're "bowing to the beauty of your Englewood community."


The group does what she says, quietly, though some of the children get antsy and start to make moves that are a lot quicker and seemingly intended to get a laugh.


But when 32-year-old Daisy Flowers warns, "You ain't getting no candy," the hands of her 6-year-old niece and those of her young friends are suddenly back together in the prayer position.


Not surprisingly, just a few of her students are men or teenage boys.


"Guys think it's for women (and) they say, 'I'm not doing that,'" said Brown, an I Grow Chicago employee and yoga practitioner who stood in the street to remind passersby that the teacher and her class were not alone — a message made clear by his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame and black T-shirt that read "Real Men Do Yoga" on the back.


Everyone here understands that getting young men and teenage boys involved is key if there is any chance of using yoga to reduce violence. But Lawson and others have hope.


"This can help because some people riding past, slowing their cars down, maybe next time, you will have people park their cars and get out and want to do yoga," Mables said.


Lawson thinks perhaps it already has.


Not long ago, she said, after a shooting a block away, a young man who has been taking yoga did what young men around here instinctively do: He ran to the scene.


But he soon returned to the building that houses I Grow Chicago and grabbed a hot dog from the snacks that are offered.


"He didn't respond" to the violence, Lawson said. "He was able to think and process the situation and come back. That's all we ask."

Is That Fireworks... Or Gunshots?

Wed, 2014-07-02 19:45
One of the loudest American holidays is finally here -- the Fourth of July! If you're fortunate enough to live in Chicago's Austin, Auburn Gresham, Belmont Cragin, Humboldt Part, Grand Crossing, Englewood, Logan Square, and many more!!! neighborhoods-- or in East and/or South Central LA, you'll find yourself playing a game a lot this week called...

"HOLY SHIT!!! Was that fireworks? Or was that gunshots?????"

Here's how to tell if you should go outside to ooh and aaahhh... or if you should take cover in your panic room.

If You Hear a Series of Pop-Pop-Pops:

Guess what? That's a gun! What to you may seem like really loud Jiffy Pop popping is actually coming from a small pistol, like a Walther PPK. Menacing? Not really. Powerful? Yes. Strong enough to shoot through most walls. Move your chips and guac inside and wait it out before putting the kebabs on the grill.

If It Sounds Like a Tire Getting Blown Out:

It's mos def being done by the 9mm Glockmeister, or "Glock" as trained police officers and any hip hop artist post-NWA refer to it. A shot outta this guy resonates with a quick crack and a burst that you could make you hit the floor faster than my dad hitting the ground for loose change.

If It Sounds Like 30 Seconds of Rapid-Fire Cracks:

A pack of M80s? Nope. And let's hope you're not on the business end of what's making the ruckus, which is a Soviet-Made Cuban AK-47! After making its debut in WWII, the AK-47 was resurrected during the Iran-Contra Affair and is a player's fave among Bloods and Crips. What's interesting is that the sound of an M80 is strikingly similar to that of the AK... except that M80s last for all of 10 seconds when set off. Either way, you might as well stay away from the windows.

If You Hear a Rocket Shoot Off Into the Air and Then a Streaking Sound That Ends in a Thunderous Boom:

Nope, don't even try to say it. You just heard an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) going off . Come to think of it, it was a SAM (surface-to-air missile). Aah... wait, wait-- I got it. It's actually called a GTAM (ground-to-air missile)! Yup, that's it! These guys are LOUD, but cool to watch! (Unless you live on a floor that is the same level of the explosive impact, then it's not so fun. And prepare for your place to shake and for stuff to fall.)

And If You Hear Nothing At All?

Then it's probably just someone playing with sparklers! Yay!! Or someone's just reloading.

Written by Rich Alfonso. This post originally appeared on The Second City Network.

Ten Unconventional Flags That Make Us Proud To Be American

Wed, 2014-07-02 18:58
In honor of The Fourth of July, we are revisiting a post originally published last year honoring the glorious holiday.

Happy birthday, America! We hope you're celebrating this festive occasion with no shortage of beer, fireworks and BBQ, and not spending too much time inside. But if you came for a brief party reprieve of the artistic variety, we've got you covered. This happy Fourth we're exploring all the many artistic interpretations of the grand ol' flag. From the thought-provoking work of Barbara Kruger to the unabashedly crafty wit of Olek, these artists surely did America proud. Behold, the artistic flags that make us proud patriots from head to toe.

**************************

1. "Flag" by Jasper Johns


Photo by Associated Press



2. "Deconstructed Flag #2 (Out of Order)" by Brian Kenny


2012, Cotton sateen and thread, 72 x 42 inches, courtesy of the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.



3. "The Knitting Machine" by Dave Cole.

Dave Cole: The Knitting Machine from Jack Criddle on Vimeo.





4. Flags by Claes Oldenburg


Image via Flickr



5. "Black Light Series #10: Flag For the Moon: Die N*****
" by Faith Ringgold



1967/69, Oil on canvas, 36 x 50 inches. Image from ACA Galleries.



6. Occupy LA flag by Saber





7. Roadside American flag sign with knobs, Wingdale, New York


Image via RM



8. "American Flag (Jasper Johns Tribute)" by Olek


Image courtesy of Jonathan Levine Gallery



9. "Flag" by Saber


Image via PA



10. "Who is bought and sold? Who is beyond the law? Who is free to choose? Who follows orders? Who salutes longest? Who prays loudest? Who dies first? Who laughs last?" by Barbara Kruger

barbara kruger - look for the moment when pride becomes contempt by beatrizruco on Pictify






Happy fourth of July! Show your stars and stripes in the comments.

USA vs. Belgium World Cup Match Breaks Another Ratings Record

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:11
The United State's World Cup run ended in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss, but not before making a little piece of history.

Tuesday's match was another ratings bonanza for ESPN and Univision: The game netted an average 16,491,000 viewers making it the nation's second most-viewed men’s soccer broadcast of all time, according to Nielsen and ESPN data.

Only last month's USA-Portugal match, which ran on a weekend, drew more viewers with 18,220,000.

Viewership smashed records on mobile platforms as well: The WatchESPN streaming app attracted a record-breaking averaged 3.5 million unique viewers while Univision broke a digital viewership record with 1.8 million viewers, according to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated.

As the Associated Press noted, an estimated 21.6 million people tuned in for the 4 p.m. Eastern match, with combined viewership from ESPN, online streaming and Univision (5.1 million viewers).

The total number of actual viewers is estimated to be much higher, thanks to massive viewing parties around the nation, like the Chicago event at Soldier Field that drew roughly 28,000 fans.

American interest in the World Cup has surged since the 2010, with overall viewership up 44 percent since the last tournament, ESPN said in a press release.

The D.C. market let the viewing pack once again, with Tuesday's match setting a ratings record in 20 markets.

Academy Award Winner Kevin Kline on the Chicago International Film Festival Summer Gala Red Carpet

Wed, 2014-07-02 16:45
It was a star-studded evening last Saturday night in Chicago as Cinema/Chicago and the Chicago International Film Festival - celebrating its 50th anniversary this year -honored actor Kevin Kline with a Career Achievement Award. The Chicago International Film Festival's Summer Gala is an important fundraising event for Cinema/Chicago, the not-for-profit arts and education organization that presents the Chicago International Film Festival, the longest-running competitive film festival in North America. Profits from the Summer Gala support Cinema/Chicago's Education Outreach Screening Program, which brings more than 6,000 Chicago Public School students to film screenings each year.

Upon receiving the award, Kline joined the ranks of many of the film industry's most influential talents through the decades, including past Chicago International Film Festival honorees directors Orson Welles, George Cukor, Oliver Stone, Lord Richard Attenborough, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg and actors Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Sigourney Weaver, Liv Ullman, Shirley MacLaine, Faye Dunaway, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, Michael Douglas, Tom Cruise, Sally Field, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino.

I spoke with Kevin Kline on the Summer Gala's red carpet and I was struck by how present and thoughtful he was during the otherwise chaotic madness of having a Hollywood star on a red carpet. As you will see in the video below, Kline was authentic, true and filled with integrity. I had come to expect these traits from his work, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they describe the man, as well.

Respected both on stage and in film, Kline seems to have managed to somehow work as a commercial actor and keep his vision and interest as an artist intact. In the interview, he talks about seeking out the challenge of playing both comedic and dramatic roles. In fact, Kline is one of the rare actors to have won an Academy Award for a comedic role, playing Otto West in A Fish Called Wanda.

Switching between film and stage and comedy and drama aren't Kline's only deft moves. As he notes in the interview, he seems committed to challenging himself as an artist, holding out for roles/scripts that interest him, rather than just those that are destined to be commercial successes. How often do you see that? A rare gem indeed!

Chicago International Film Festival Founder and Artistic Director, Michael Kutza agreed. "Kevin Kline's ability to transfix movie-goers was evident from his earliest appearances in such celebrated films as Sophie's Choice and The Big Chill," said Kutza. "As he matured as an actor, the breadth of his talent has been proven over and over again. From his outrageously comedic turns in Dave and In & Out to the heart-wrenching drama of The Ice Storm and Life as a House, Kevin Kline is one of the most versatile performers of his generation and truly deserving of the Chicago International Film Festival's Career Achievement Award."

More than anything, the interview below shows that Kline has remained grounded through the years, and steadfast with his stage skills. You see how he leans in, listens, and thinks before responding and engaging. He is genuine and intent on offering more content than a sound bite.

It was fitting that the Chicago International Film Festival honor such an artist on its 50th anniversary as the festival has earned the same level of respect over the years for its commitment to introducing the world to diverse, new filmmakers, stories and perspectives, and to sharing and promoting cutting-edge talents in film making. The 50th Chicago International Film Festival will be held October 9 -23 of this year.

George Ryan Says He Regrets Allowing Illinois' Last Execution

Wed, 2014-07-02 16:35
KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) — Former Gov. George Ryan regrets letting what turned out to be the last execution in Illinois proceed, he prays regularly for six children killed in a fiery crash linked to a state agency he once headed, and he's done answering questions about the marathon corruption trial led to his imprisonment.

The 80-year-old spoke in his first interviews since his 2013 release from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. The interviews with his hometown Kankakee newspaper, The Daily Journal, and the Chicago Sun-Times also coincided with the formal end on Wednesday of the Republican's supervised release.

"I don't have to get permission to do anything anymore," he told The Daily Journal.

Despite his five years behind bars, Ryan said he had few regrets in life.

But one, he said, was his decision in his first year as governor not to intercede and stop the 1999 execution of Andrew Kokoraleis. Soon after, Ryan placed a moratorium on executions and that eventually led Illinois to abolishing the death penalty by law in 2011.

"I regretted killing that Greek fella," Ryan said.

Kokoraleis, the last prison executed in the state, was killed by lethal injection for the rape, kidnapping and murder of a 21-year-old Elmhurst woman, Lorraine Borowski. Citing systemic flaws, Ryan declared the moratorium a year later. In 2003, he cleared death row.

Those measures by a one-time capital-punishment advocate made Ryan a hero to many death penalty foes.

But some of his prison guards in Indiana, Ryan told the Sun-Times, "were angry over my death penalty moratorium." Without additional details, he said, "They made things a little rough, but you deal with it."

Ryan also spoke about his wife, Lura Lynn, who died in 2011 while he was still in prison.

"I had planned to travel with my wife, who was the love of my life," he said. "I still plan to get in the car and travel. And I'll always have Lura Lynn with me."

One set of questions Ryan declined to answer was about his six-month trial. It ended in 2006 with convictions for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

"Everyone had a chance to read about it, write about it," he told the Daily Journal. "I've said all I'm going to say on it."

Ryan also addressed the deaths of six Willis family children in an accident involving a trucker who apparently bought his license when Ryan was secretary of state. The crash helped spark the Ryan investigation.

"It was a terrible, heartbreaking thing to have happened to the Willis family," Ryan told the Sun-Times. "Lura Lynn and I put them in our daily prayers then and that continues to this day."

___

Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/index

20 Ways To Turn Boring Hot Dogs Into Delicious Beacons Of Patriotism

Wed, 2014-07-02 16:16
Here we are at another Fourth of July! We're ready for fireworks, sparklers, star-spangled everything and that most all-American of foods -- hot dogs!

So what if they're not the most, um, homogeneous food? They may be made up of bits and pieces that come from all over, sure, but so is America, you guys. Fourth of July simply isn't the Fourth of July without a nice, hot frankfurter. Here are a few tips and recipes to make this year's hot dogs the best hot dogs you've ever had.

Look at these boring old hot dogs. It doesn't have to be this way!



"Snooze." -- Cat



Let's start out simple. Chicago-style is a deliciously easy way to make a non-boring hot dog.



Basically, you throw on some pickles, spicy peppers and a few other things -- including celery salt, which is magic. If you've got eight minutes on your hands, Hannah of My Drunk Kitchen will walk you through it, kind of.



Another way to go is just picking a couple tasty ingredients. Like Sriracha. And avocados.



Mash that all up together et voilá! A masterpiece. Get the recipe over at Damn Delicious.



Or, you know, an entire serving of macaroni and cheese.



Yes, please. Don't think about how difficult this would be to eat and head over to Taste and Tell for the recipe.



Hot dogs are incredibly versatile.



Few things showcase American culinary ingenuity like chip dip on a hot dog. Don't tell us you wouldn't eat that. Recipe available at Oh Sweet Basil.



Use them as a vehicle for whatever cuisine you'd like, such as this Vietnamese-inspired bánh mì number.



Get the recipe from I Believe I Can Fry, which is our new favorite name for a food blog.



If you make up a recipe, you can name it after someone. Here we give you the Tech Billionaire dog.



Celebrate the IPO, says Sunset magazine, with Kobe beef and a dash of arrogance. Fine, arugula.



Pro tip: Spiral dogs ensure a much better topping-to-dog ratio in every bite. Also, they look cool.





AND they aren't that hard to make.



Chow walks you through it in a video tutorial.



Recreating the world's most expensive hot dog, however, would be exceedingly difficult.

But if you really, really wanted to wow your guests and being a tech billionaire isn't impressive enough, a foot-long wagyu beef link drenched in black truffles and topped with truffle butter, organic ketchup, organic sauerkraut, onions caramelized in Dom Perignon, 100-year-old balsamic vinegar, platinum oscietra caviar, some kind of fancy relish and a sprinkle of golf leaf might do the trick.



Know that you aren't tied to traditional ballpark dogs. Hello, bratwurst...



Jalapeño poppers would make an incredible topping, wouldn't they? You'll find the recipe at Melanie Makes.



You too, merguez.



This spicy Middle Eastern sausage is made with lamb or beef and would make a happy substitute for your basic frankfurter. Get the recipe here.



Cast aside your plain ol' ketchup and mustard for some new sauces...



Like this delicious buffalo sauce. Recipe at Half Baked Harvest.



And some unexpected toppings. Yes, even fruit. Don't knock it 'till you've tried it.



You like sweet and you like savory; well, this is sweet and savory at the same time. Recipe here. (And their mole dog looks amazing, too.)



Chili dogs might be pretty standard, sure, but this black bean jalapeño variety is anything but.



Put down the canned chili and take a look at Milk and Honey for this recipe.



No one told this kimchi dog that hot dogs can't be trendy.



Take that, haters. Watch a video tutorial here, and if you're so inclined to make your own kimchi, you'll find instructions here.



Then again, the loaded baked potato treatment has never disappointed anyone.



You know, bacon, cheddar -- the works. Find the recipe over at How Sweet It Is.



Remember pigs in a blanket? Here's a version for the taxpaying crowd.



Adulthood isn't so bad, you guys. Have a pretzel dog. Recipe available on Buns in My Oven.



Below the border, Sonoran dogs are big. For a reason. Look at this guy.



Look at it. It's wrapped in bacon and doused in jalapeño salsa and we want some right now. Get the recipe over at Port and Fin.



Meanwhile, hot dog taquitos are proof that America is a melting pot, at least, of delicious cuisines.



Imagine something like these taquitos above, except stuffed with a hot dog that is itself stuffed with cheese. Head over here for the recipe and photos.



"Hot dog or hamburger?" is the eternal barbecue dilemma. Hot dog... Hamburger... Whatever, here's a hot dog covered in burger and wrapped in bacon.



If you're thinking there's a lot of gratuitous bacon happening in this list, we have nothing to say to you because anyone who complains about bacon is living a small, sad, deprived kind of life.



You know what'd make a really great Fourth of July treat, though...





Kidding! This variety, however, is as adorable as it is labor-intensive.



It's almost too cute to eat. Watch a tutorial here.


CPS Blew It Again... 8 Times Actually

Wed, 2014-07-02 14:15
The Chicago school closings of 2013 remain controversial.

On June 23, the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, a bi-partisan task force consisting of members from both houses in the Illinois Assembly, as well as representation from Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Teacher's Union and Chicago Principals and Administrators Association released its annual report. In this report, the CEFTF found eight things CPS did wrong while closing 49 schools following the 2012-2013 school year. Here's what the task force found:

1)      The school closings were finalized almost six months after the legal deadline
The CPS was supposed to finalize school closings on December 1, 2012, but instead waited until late May 2013 to do so. Families affected by the closings had little time to plan for the upcoming school year, including missing the deadline to apply to Magnet and selective enrollment schools.

2)      African American and vulnerable students were most affected by the closings
90 percent of the students affected by the closings were African American, while 2,600 disabled students and 2,000 special education students were affected.

3)      CPS ignored research about the negative effects of school closings
By closing 49 schools, CPS is increasing class sizes at other schools. Researchers argue smaller class sizes lead to better grades for low-income elementary school students. Additionally, the CPS has not released an analysis of class sizes both before and after the closings.



Walter Payton Preperatory High School, located at 1034 N. Wells Street, is an example of one of Chicago ten selective enrollment schools. 


4)      CPS ignored the advice of the required independent hearing officers
CPS hired Independent Hearing Officers, which are required by law, to preside over its 2013 School Actions meeting, yet rejected the officers' advice against the school closings.

5)      The publicized transition plan was insufficient to guide students and parents through the closing process, and the more detailed plan was never released to the public
CPS was required by law to release "transition plans" to help guide students and parents through the transition to a new school, yet the plans released to parents were insufficient. Over the summer, CPS created more detailed plans, but these were never released to the public.


6)      CPS has not evaluated the effects of the school closings on its students
Since the school closings, CPS has not studied the academic or psychological effects of the school closings on its students. In March 2014, CPS board members received a mid-year report, but this has not been released to the public.



Elihu Yale Elementary School, located at 7025 S. Princeton Avenue, is one of the 49 schools CPS decided to close after the 2012-2013 school year.


7)      CPS has not reported the financial effects of school closings
Due to the closings, CPS added 43 schools to its inventory of vacant buildings, and the cost of security and maintenance of these buildings is unknown. Additionally, CPS tripled its budget in 2013 to upgrade welcoming schools, while cutting $68 million from individual schools' budgets following the closings.


8)      The cost of the school closings was more than three times higher than expected
The contract of emptying and boarding the buildings cost $30.9 million. The projected cost originally was $8.9 million.

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    Feds Fine Cole Taylor Bank For 'Deceptive Practices' On Higher One Campus Debit Cards

    Wed, 2014-07-02 12:52
    On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve Board levied a $3.5 million penalty against Cole Taylor Bank of Chicago for its participation in deceptive practices with a former partner, Higher One, the leading provider of campus debit cards.

    Cole Taylor will pay another $600,000 to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, for a combined penalty of $4.11 million.

    "It is unconscionable for any company to seek profit by misleading customers about the terms of their financial accounts," Manuel Flores, acting secretary of the IDFPR, said in a statement. "Too many students and their families end up with a massive burden of education debt, so it is especially important to protect students from deceptive practices. I'm gratified by our efforts to protect these students' finances by holding a bank accountable for its unlawful business conduct."

    The federal probe was first reported in April by The Huffington Post, and came two years after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation accused Higher One of violating college students' consumer rights, leading to an $11 million settlement.

    The deceptive practices by Higher One, under Cole Taylor's oversight, included failing to provide students with material that would have made it clear they did not need to open an account with Higher One to get their financial aid reimbursement. The company was also found to have omitted certain information from its promotional materials, including information about fees and about the locations of ATMs where students could access their OneAccounts without cost, according to regulators.

    In addition, when a student signed up for Higher One, the logo of his or her school would be prominently displayed on the card he or she was issued, which the Federal Reserve said "may have erroneously implied that the school endorsed" Higher One's products. This has been a prime concern about campus debit cards raised by consumer advocates and members of Congress in recent years.

    Legislation presented in Congress this spring would prevent campus debit card providers from paying colleges and universities to link a student's ID with the bank account he or she held with those providers, a practice Higher One says it no longer engages in.

    Cole Taylor served as one of the banks providing deposit accounts in connection with the OneAccount from May 4, 2012 to Aug. 14, 2013.

    A spokesman for the Kineo Group, which represents Cole Taylor, said the bank has no additional comment.

    16 F'ed Up Things Kids Have Done

    Wed, 2014-07-02 11:49
    Comedians Shayna Fern and Tracey Tee understand that lovely and common feeling as a parent where your heart is so full of love for your child it could explode. They also know that there is a converse emotion -- when you feel as though it isn't your heart, but your brain that might explode.

    "We realize it’s hard to admit, but motherhood is filled with unglamorous and trying moments when it’s easy to feel isolated," they told HuffPost over e-mail. And so, at their stand-up comedy show, "The Pump and Dump: A Parentally Incorrect Comedy Show and Night Out, For Once" (natch), they ask everyone in the audience to share stories of those trying times. This way, Fern and Tee say, "everyone can see that it’s not just their kid that does f-ed up things.”

    For your pleasure (or pain), here are some of their favorite samples. "We recommend you read these while hiding in your upstairs closet with a bottle of wine," the funny ladies say. "You can clean up whatever just happened later. "



    For more information about "The Pump and Dump," and to find out about upcoming shows, visit Fern and Tee's website.

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