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How Boehner's 'False Prophets' Warning Could Apply to Rauner and Madigan

Mon, 2015-09-28 14:21
Tired of gridlock and wary of another potential government shutdown, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner opted to resign from the speakership last week.

In Springfield, Governor Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan appear quite content to watch and point fingers at each other as Illinois state government hurtles into shutdown mode and state finances become ever more disastrous.

When the federal government endured its 2013 shutdown, Illinoisans had reason for reassurance. We may have had the worst credit rating of any state, an incalculable pension problem and, at the time, nearly the highest unemployment in the nation, but at least things weren't as bad as in Washington.

Not so today. And, unlike the federal government shutdown of 2013, which had limited impact, state government's current budget-free status rapidly is being felt all over.

From schoolteachers whose class field trips to Illinois State Museum facilities must be canceled as of Wednesday to mental health patients who are seeing their lifelines snatched away as state funding vanishes, more and more Illinoisans are learning the consequences of the Springfield gridlock that finds the state three months into Fiscal Year 2016 with no budget to guide or control state spending.

There are big differences in the circumstances of Boehner's pending departure and Illinois state government's biggest problem.

Boehner is leaving because he can't reconcile with hardliners within his caucus who view any effort toward compromise with the Obama White House as capitulation. As the Washington Post reported Sunday:

Asked Sunday by host John Dickerson on a live broadcast of CBS's "Face the Nation" whether those hard-liners are "unrealistic about what can be done in government," Boehner exploded.

"Absolutely, they're unrealistic!" he said. "But, you know, the Bible says beware of false prophets, and there are people out there spreading noise about how much can get done."

Boehner referred, as he has in the past, to the ill-fated 2013 shutdown over funding of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare: "This plan never had a chance," he said, but he blamed outside forces for leading Republicans down an ill-advised path: "We got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town, who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know -- they know! -- are never going to happen."

Depending on your chosen perspective, you can apply Boehner's statement to either Gov. Bruce Rauner or House Speaker Michael Madigan. Or, ideally, you'll apply it to both.

You can read the rest of this article at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Did Illinois State Fair numbers lead to turbulence with Rauner's cabinet?

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10 Crazy Corn Mazes in Illinois

Fri, 2015-09-25 13:35
With all the corn fields in Illinois, you know there has to be some pretty awesome corn maze designs.

As you might have heard, an international architecture and design publication recently ranked the world's top 10 best mazes in 2015, and No. 2 can be found right here in Illinois. But there are plenty more mind-blowing designs that deserve some recognition, so we've compiled a list of nine more.

In no particular order, here are five of the craziest corn mazes we could find. Check out Reboot Illinois to see the other five, including the one that was ranked second best in the world.

1. Kroll's Fall Harvest Farm | Waukegan

Nothing says fall like a big ole' turkey carved into giant a corn maze. The pathways are flattened and covered with wood chips so they're baby-stroller friendly.

2. Jonamac Orchard | Malta

Jonamac Orchard in Malta honors first responders everywhere with this 10-acre corn maze complete with two bridges and three miles of trails.

3. Great Godfrey Corn Maze at Glazebrook Park | Godfrey

With the popular play "Wicked" coming back to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis this December, neighboring Godfrey, Ill., showed some cross-border love by designing this corn maze to promote the musical's return.

4. Fredbird Corn Maze at Eckert's Millstadt Fun Farm | Millstadt

It might be hard for Chicago Cubs fans to stomach this one: a 10-acre, redesigned corn maze rooting for the Cub's NL Central Division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.

5. Buxton's Garden Farm Corn Maize | Sullivan

This corn maze at Buxton's Garden Farm in Sullivan definitely will challenge your navigation skills -- good luck!

See the other five crazy corn mazes including the second best in the world at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: 10 scenic drives you need to take this fall

Sign up for our daily email to stay up to date with Illinois politics.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

10 Crazy Corn Mazes in Illinois

Fri, 2015-09-25 13:35
With all the corn fields in Illinois, you know there has to be some pretty awesome corn maze designs.

As you might have heard, an international architecture and design publication recently ranked the world's top 10 best mazes in 2015, and No. 2 can be found right here in Illinois. But there are plenty more mind-blowing designs that deserve some recognition, so we've compiled a list of nine more.

In no particular order, here are five of the craziest corn mazes we could find. Check out Reboot Illinois to see the other five, including the one that was ranked second best in the world.

1. Kroll's Fall Harvest Farm | Waukegan

Nothing says fall like a big ole' turkey carved into giant a corn maze. The pathways are flattened and covered with wood chips so they're baby-stroller friendly.

2. Jonamac Orchard | Malta

Jonamac Orchard in Malta honors first responders everywhere with this 10-acre corn maze complete with two bridges and three miles of trails.

3. Great Godfrey Corn Maze at Glazebrook Park | Godfrey

With the popular play "Wicked" coming back to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis this December, neighboring Godfrey, Ill., showed some cross-border love by designing this corn maze to promote the musical's return.

4. Fredbird Corn Maze at Eckert's Millstadt Fun Farm | Millstadt

It might be hard for Chicago Cubs fans to stomach this one: a 10-acre, redesigned corn maze rooting for the Cub's NL Central Division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.

5. Buxton's Garden Farm Corn Maize | Sullivan

This corn maze at Buxton's Garden Farm in Sullivan definitely will challenge your navigation skills -- good luck!

See the other five crazy corn mazes including the second best in the world at Reboot Illinois.

Sign up for our daily email to stay up to date with Illinois politics.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Rauner Administration, Democrats Getting Very Good at Driving Each Other Crazy

Fri, 2015-09-25 12:59
Anyone who's been paying attention to Illinois politics knows absolutely nothing is getting done in Springfield.

But both sides have made significant progress on one front as they master the art of driving each other crazy.

Illinois Public Radio reporters Tony Arnold and Amanda Vinicky this week teamed up for a pair of stories that, in highly entertaining and informative fashion, describe two methods the opposing sides have used this year to antagonize each other and whip up the hostility that defines the 2015 legislative session. (Arnold's story is here. Vinicky's is here.)

Arnold, political reporter with WBEZ-FM in Chicago, focuses on Richard Goldberg, Rauner's deputy chief of staff and the administration's anointed antagonizer-in-chief. A former deputy chief of staff with U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, Goldberg has drawn the ire of Illinois Senate Democrats with his direct manner and frequent departure from standard decorum during committee hearings led by Senate Democrats.

On the House side, Goldberg has made his presence felt through his absence. He often has declined to show up in person for committee hearings, sending sharply worded memos instead.

Vinicky, Statehouse bureau chief for WUIS-FM in Springfield, takes a look at House Speaker Michael Madigan's strategy of forcing Republicans to vote against their own legislative agenda by slicing and dicing the governor's proposals to the Democrats' advantage.

More than a dozen times, he's called a property tax freeze bill for a vote in the House so he can watch it fail spectacularly with many Republicans voting against it. The tactic has been the subject of many angry Republican outbursts on the House floor as the GOP claims Madigan is orchestrating "sham" votes so he can criticize Republicans in campaign mailers for opposing a freeze on property taxes.

On this week's "Only in Illinois" we're joined via Skype by Arnold and Vinicky, who discuss the origin of their "Proxy Wars" stories and give their takes on the state of gridlock in Springfield.

You can watch the full video here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Rahm Emanuel's historic property tax increase didn't play very well in its Springfield debut

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Learning How to Dance

Thu, 2015-09-24 21:25
"Native Americans have to concede that rain dances don't work."

Yeah, snort. How funny can you get? It's the "New Rules" segment of Real Time with Bill Maher and the host has just tossed his gag tomahawk at the First People. A picture fills the screen: Indians in full regalia, dancing. The caption below it says "Tribal Thumpers." He pauses, straight-faced, eyeballs rolling in sarcasm. There's a trickle of laughter amid the awkward silence, then Maher turns away from the camera, presumably toward the crew backstage, and calls out in his fake shame-on-me voice, "Are you making fun of Indians, Bill?"

The moment lasts about 20 seconds, then he's on to the next put-down joke.

So why am I still thinking about it a week later? Indeed, it has ahold of me like an insane car alarm that won't shut up. What's reverberating in my head isn't some moral offense at a politically incorrect joke, which I could, I think, shrug off. What I can't let go of is the arrogant American ignorance fueling this gag. It wasn't funny. It was just stupid -- but stupid in a way that celebrates and perpetuates pretty much everything that's wrong with who we are.

The humor in the joke was, of course, that it brought a "civilized," technologically advanced perspective -- our perspective, as smartphone-wielding American spectator-consumers -- to bear on the delusional rituals of savages. Snort, snort. They think some dumb dance is going to make it rain. Not only is this cheap, bully humor, perpetuating a sense of feel-good superiority, it's cluelessly Newtonian in a quantum world. The losers here are the ones trapped in linear thinking, who assume they understand a viewpoint about which they, in fact, know nothing.

"Regular Americans" have to concede that using up the planet's resources doesn't work. Perpetuating an economy based on war and environmental destruction doesn't work. Invading Third World countries doesn't work. Filling the ocean with plastic trash doesn't work. Destroying everything we value doesn't work.

"Humanity has entered a time of profound change," proclaims a website called Great Transition Stories. "We are pushed by necessity and pulled by opportunity. The push is a growing systems crisis, evident in the breakdown of financial institutions, climate disruption, resource depletion, unsustainable populations, and more... The pull is the opportunity to rise to a new level of human maturity, partnership and freedom...

"It is vital that the human community come together..."

This coming together is not a simplistic sort of acceptance or tolerance of other worldviews, e.g., the technologically advanced West benignly welcoming the primitives among us into the community of nations. The West -- the planet's colonizers and bullies -- has to do something far more profound. It has to arrest its sense of superiority and let go of what it thinks it knows, in particular that we live in a linear, mechanical, cause-and-effect universe, full of separate objects -- "facts" -- that are disconnected, inert and awaiting our exploitation. We have to start relearning the nature of things.

Quantum physics, the cutting edge of Western science, has known for a while now that we don't live in a mechanical universe. The universe is energy -- spirit.

As physicist David Peat writes in his book Blackfoot Physics: "... scientists who have been struggling at the leading edge of their topics have created ideas that resonate with those of Indigenous science. For example: Quantum theory stresses the irreducible link between observer and observed and the basic holism of all phenomena. So too, Native Science holds that there is no separation between individual and society, between matter and spirit, between each one of us and the whole of nature."

Such words start to deconstruct the joke. Maybe a rain dance isn't meant to be an action as linear as turning on a faucet, but rather a joyous, intense means of participation with the universe. Perhaps there is no dividing line between human beings and the rest of the universe, and what they do, if that action emerges from their depths, has a quality as natural as thunder or rain.

I say this not with any sort of expertise in indigenous knowledge, but simply as someone who is trying to push himself -- within the limits of my language and culture -- to the edge of what I think I know. The universe is a living organism. What does this mean?

"The assumption of the laws (of science) is that we're a non-living universe," biophysicist Beverly Rubik said at an event called the Language of Spirit Conference, in Albuquerque, that I attended a few years ago. "We ought to start over. We have a science that starts with deadness. It's time to re-envision science -- in a living universe."

Perhaps we have to break open language itself in order to begin to become, again, knowingly part of a living universe. Rupert Ross, in Returning to the Teachings, at one point discusses the differences between noun-focused Western languages and verb-driven indigenous tongues.

"It has to do," Ross writes, "with the difference between standing behind the triple-pane window of your cliffside mansion and watching the sun go down over a quieting ocean -- and watching instead the first beginnings of a sunrise over that same ocean, but from flat on your belly on a wet surfboard three hundred miles out from shore, as the ocean beneath you awakens.

"In the cliffside mansion, there is a conviction of separation, stability and control. On the surfboard, there is the conviction of intimate and inescapable exposure to unfathomable powers which, while they might let you ride them, will never let you gain control over them."

We've forgotten how to live with helpless awe, how to subordinate our knowing to our awareness of the unfathomable. Most of all, we've forgotten how to dance with it.

- - -
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 or visit his website at


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No Coasting With a Fixie... Ever

Thu, 2015-09-24 13:43
My 14-year-old son spent the summer biking all over Chicago on a "fixie". I spent the summer dreading a phone call from an ER. Fixies have a devoted following among teen-age boys. They are the cool, hip bikes to own. They also have created anxiety among parents like me, who just want their kids biking it from point A to point B in one piece. I know there are legions of adult fixie enthusiasts who swear by these bikes, but theoretically, they are more mature and have more cycling experience than the 13, 14 and 15-year kids I'm talking about.

For those who don't know, "fixie" is a generic term for a fixed gear bicycle. Its drive train has one gear that is "fixed" to the rear wheel of the bike. One gear. That's it. When I was a teen-ager, a three speed was considered lame, let alone a "one speed". Not anymore. A fixed gear bike is minimalistic and has sort of a "less is more" aura to it. However, once you start peddling a fixed gear bike, you have to keep on pedaling it. No coasting with a fixie. No coasting ever! The rider's legs are constantly moving around and around and around. No sitting and coasting with your feet at twelve and six. No doing a standing coast, with your feet at three and nine. Your legs have to be in motion, always. In case you think that this inability to coast is no big deal, I'll give you a real life scenario where coasting might have come in handy: One day this past summer, as my son and his friends were biking home from the lake, the seat of his fixie fell off. The bolt holding it on snapped in two and the seat dropped to the street. Luckily my son managed to avoid a painful impalement on the exposed end of the seat mount by quickly jumping off the bike. The ever-spinning pedals whipped around and gouged out a Morse code looking pattern in his calf. (It will probably leave a scar but I was told that would look cool.) My son retrieved the seat, put it in his drawstring bag on his back and then rode standing up, as in never sitting down, never coasting, just standing and peddling and peddling and peddling, from the lakefront to his friend's house, six miles away. Six miles of standing and peddling with no way to sit down and no ability to give his legs a break, because you can't coast on a fixie! Contrary to what you might be thinking, this entire scenario was absolutely no big deal for my son. It was a completely acceptable peril of fixie ownership. The only thing my son said after finally making it back home was "What's to eat?"

Another aspect to a fixie that disturbs parents of teen-age riders is the fact that the one and only brake is on the front tire. This is in complete opposition to what I grew up knowing to be true of bicycle safety, that if you try to stop your bike by squeezing the brake of the front tire only, you have an excellent chance of taking a header over the handlebars. Yes you will stop, but it's stopping the hard way. Here's another story, this one illustrating the danger of braking using only the front tire: My twin brother and I were fifteen, riding bikes home from a park. My brother was carrying a basketball under one arm, that hand holding the ball. His other hand was on the handlebars. He needed to stop and discovered too late that his handlebar hand engaged the front brake. The front tire stopped, and my brother kept going, flipping over the handlebars. He head connected with the road and he was immediately knocked out. The basketball rolled away to the curb. That's what can happen when you use the front tire only brake...the only brake a fixie has. Now, I've been told often by my son that there is some sort of magical thing you can do by simultaneously applying the brake while putting pressure on the back tire, but this process cannot be explained to, nor understood by anyone over forty. During our recent block party, four adult men asked if they could take my son's bike for spin. Not one of them could brake it effectively. They hopped off quickly handing the fixie back to my son, saying, "I can't stop this thing". As for my brother? The fifteen year old passed out in the street with a head injury? He lived to tell the tale. He might have had a concussion, but we'll never know. I shook him awake, retrieved the basketball, and then the two of us walked our bikes the rest of the way home. We agreed to never speak about what had happened, to never tell our mom, because "she'd just freak out". So I know full well that teen-agers routinely keep near catastrophes from their parents in an effort to keep them from "freaking out".

In addition to the inability to coast and the potential for flipping over the handlebars when breaking, the fixie tires are super skinny, like maybe they are meant for racing and not city streets skinny. Skinny tires are down the list of concerns, but seeing as how Chicago streets are made up of mostly cracks and potholes, it's definitely worth mentioning. It is really easy for these super narrow tires to get caught on uneven pavement and throw the rider off balance, perhaps into a moving car, not to mention the more that average risk of a blowout. My husband, who rides a decidedly uncool but serviceable bike, took one look at my son's fixie and declared "that is a flat tire waiting to happen".

Summer ended and my son and all his fixie peddling friends are back in school. They are biking a lot less now. Actually, my son isn't biking at all. As forecasted, by my husband, my son's last trip on Chicago streets ended in his skinny fixie tire getting a flat. The bike hasn't left the house since, because the words " how are you going to pay for it?" is a pretty effective method of stopping the foreward motion of any fourteen year old, even a fixie rider.

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Chicago aldermen vote to overturn city's ban on food carts

Thu, 2015-09-24 12:09
Food carts are legal in Chicago.

On Sept. 24, City Council registered a historic vote to establish a legal path to food-cart vending for Chicagoans.

For decades, Chicago's food-cart vendors struggled to earn a living in a city that banned their trade. Now, hardworking food entrepreneurs can make an honest living without the fear of expensive fines and police harassment.

In welcoming these vendors, Chicago could see up to 6,400 new jobs and up to $8.5 million in new local sales-tax revenue. This is growth and income the city desperately needs, as City Council is staring down a massive budget deficit and Chicago's population has flatlined - in 2013-2014, the city gained just 82 residents.

Above all else, Chicago's vote to legalize food carts is a victory for the entrepreneur - street vending is one of the most affordable ways to enter the food industry.

The ability to start this kind of low-cost business is a big deal to Chicago's street vendors, many of whom operate in low-income neighborhoods that lack access to sufficient food options. Customers in these areas in particular benefit from increased access to fresh food.

Food-cart legalization is especially important to Claudia Perez, a 62-year-old Mexican immigrant who has struggled for the right to pursue her food-cart business and support her family for years. Despite the city's ban, Claudia's business has remained popular and steady - at its peak, she had five carts operating throughout her neighborhood.

Food carts have long been part of the culture in Little Village, Pilsen, Rogers Park and many other Chicago neighborhoods. These communities rally around food-cart culture - kids pick up elotes for an after-school snack, walkers grab champurrado on cool mornings and anyone looking for a delicious lunch knows vendors' tamales won't disappoint. People drive from hundreds of miles away to get a taste of Chicago's food-cart fare.

Chicagoans love food carts. Now, their city laws reflect this fact.

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If You Think 'Straight-Acting' Is An Acceptable Term, You're An A**hole

Thu, 2015-09-24 10:12

In a recent interview, director Roland Emmerich attempted to explain his baffling decision to make the protagonist of his much-maligned new film, "Stonewall," a fictional twinky corn-fed white cis gay man instead of one of the many non-white transgender people, genderqueer individuals, drag queens, butch dykes and sissy men present at the iconic riots credited with birthing the modern queer rights movement.

"As a director you have to put yourself in your movies, and I'm white and gay," Emmerich told Buzzfeed in what qualifies as one of the most ahistorical, culturally tone-deaf and narcissistic soundbites printed in recent memory. But, sadly, that wasn't even the most ridiculous or troubling part of the interview.

"You have to understand one thing: I didn't make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people," he said. "I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny, the lead character] is a very easy in. Danny's very straight-acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him."

:: Shudder ::

As if hearing about Emmerich's inspiration for completely rewriting queer history and erasing the contributions of those who are already erased too often in order to be able to place and view himself in his own movie wasn't bad enough, now we learn he was concerned with making "Stonewall" palatable for straight people. And to make that happen, he apparently thought he had to create a "straight-acting" lead character.

The fact that Emmerich can earnestly trot out the term "straight-acting" (he apparently used it in the production notes for the film, too) with a straight (no pun intended) face (and without spontaneously vomiting up his Fruit Loops) means he's either luxuriously ignorant... or he's just an asshole.

Being "straight-acting," for a gay man at least, is directly related to how convincingly he is able to present traditionally masculine mannerisms. The term is so markedly offensive because its very existence insists that there is a particular, instantly identifiable manner of being gay (defined by effeminacy). And what's more, those qualities are seen as patently unattractive, undesirable and wildly dangerous. Conversely, it then follows that there simultaneously exists a particular, instantly recognizable manner of being straight (defined by "masculinity"). And what's more, those qualities are seen as incredibly attractive, desirable and wholly advantageous -- enough so that gay people would try to "act" in that way.

And there is a long history of straights attempting to straight-ify queer people (and of us trying to do it to ourselves). The performance of straightness is something that gay men have struggled with and against for as long as modern gay identities have existed. Because being gay has been so intimately connected with being effeminate, which was -- and still is -- equated with being submissive, weak and ineffectual. Gay men have been shamed (and attacked and murdered) for any display that does not reverberate with and reflect what our culture has determined is sufficiently masculine. Therefore many gay men have longed for and looked for any means by which they can throw off (or at least hide) the curse of even the slightest hint of effeminacy and thereby be welcomed into straight society or at least fly far enough under the radar to remain relatively unharmed.

I should know -- I was one of them.

I spent most of my young adult life trying to butch myself up. And it worked to some degree: I'm nowhere near the sissy I was when I was growing up. My deliberate metamorphosis was a survival mechanism. I survived. But I still mourn the little faggot inside of me who pretended to be Jem and secretly draped long-sleeved shirts over his head so he could live the dream of having mermaid hair for a few minutes at a time. I miss him. And I wonder what incredible things I've missed out on -- and who I could have been today -- because I euthanized him twenty years ago. But I also wonder if I would still be here -- if I would still be alive -- if I hadn't.

The bottom line is that we shouldn't have to choose between living as exactly who we are and death (figuratively or literally) because our society says in order for us to be worthy and valuable we have to "act straight." Too many queers have bought into this lie for much too long.

And we certainly shouldn't be sold out by our own kind, no matter how good their intentions may be. We haven't fought as hard as we have to ensure that once queers like Emmerich were able to get into positions of power and influence they could turn around and bleach our history while pandering to the very people who oppressed us.

By claiming that in order for straight people to like us or understand us, we need to be like them in very specific, stereotypical ways (or that if we are like them we must be "acting") Emmerich and anyone else who uses the term "straight-acting" -- including the legions of men on hook-up apps whose profiles read "Masc 4 Masc" and "Str8 acting only" -- is affirming all of the lies about who we are (and who we aren't) that we've been raging against for as long as we have been a "we." In fact, isn't this what the heroes of Stonewall were ultimately battling? Didn't they finally say "enough" to the constant tormenting they faced for being different from what society expected and demanded of them? And how stupendously offensive to take the story of these brave warriors and attempt to repackage it so that straight people can find a way to comfortably stomach our rebellion.

No. Enough.

It's time we stop using "straight-acting" as some kind of dreamy, aspirational bridge-building tactic or lure. There are all kinds of different ways to be gay and straight (and everything in between or outside of that binary). And while we're at it, how about we just stop trying to act like straight people all together and start acting like exactly who we are? And let's get some sissies up on the big screen. And let's get some more trans people in the spotlight. And let's remember that our community is not comprised of only gay white cis men. Let's tell our stories to each other and anyone else who will listen. And if they won't listen, fuck 'em. If they'll only take us seriously (or won't jail or oppress or exterminate us) if we look and sound exactly like them, fuck them. Seriously! We'll just keep telling our stories over and over again until we all know them by heart and they're so loud and powerful and yes, of course, awful and painful and tragic in parts, but finally so beautiful and true that when we're finally heard -- and we will be heard -- they'll know exactly who we are, what we have been through and why it matters.

There are enough bad guys out there making it hard for us, Roland, without you joining their ranks. There are enough assholes telling us that we aren't butch enough or white enough or safe enough or relatable enough, Roland, without you adding fuel to their already handsomely blazing fire. "Stonewall" is a mess -- but this isn't over: There's still time to ensure this becomes an invaluable lesson for anyone watching now or one hundred years from now. The sooner you -- and all of us -- stop acting and start being honest about who we are and what we've achieved, the sooner we'll no longer feel the need to make the hideous concessions and compromises we're told we need to make to be like everybody else because we'll no longer want to be like anybody else but ourselves.

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The John Wayne Gacy Investigation Just Solved An Unrelated Cold Case

Wed, 2015-09-23 21:27

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Chicago psychologist Willa Wertheimer spent two-thirds of her life wondering what happened to her kid brother, who disappeared in 1978 or 1979. On Wednesday, she stood alongside Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and a childhood picture of her half-brother, Andy Drath, to announce the mystery had finally been solved.

The teenager had been shot to death in San Francisco in 1979. But the "John Doe" remains were unidentified until this month, when San Francisco police matched the body with Drath's DNA -- a chance test result that came from a renewed push to identify Cook County victims of the prolific serial killer John Wayne Gacy. It turned out Drath wasn't killed by Gacy, who was active in Chicago around the time the teen disappeared.

Missing and unidentified persons cases like Drath's are complicated, often expensive and once were near-unsolvable. They rarely take top priority on a police docket. In 2007, the Department of Justice called the crisis of missing persons and unidentified remains "the nation's silent mass disaster." 

"One of the things we found out, sadly, is the way missing persons are handled is atrocious," said Dart, who said San Francisco was an exception. "You want to talk about people no one cares about? 

But that's changing. Advancements in databases and DNA processing are boosting the closure rate for missing and unidentified persons investigations toward a tipping point, according to Todd Matthews of NamUs, a federal database for the cases that can be accessed by the public. 

"There was a point in time where a 30- or 40-year-old case being solved was unheard of," Matthews said. "It’s not so uncommon now. It’s a totally different world.”

Wertheimer and Drath were maternal half-siblings whose mother died when they were young. After their mother's death, Drath's stepfather turned the boy over to be a ward of the state. Wertheimer said she now believes that Andy, then around 16, traveled to San Francisco to get his guardianship transferred to California. 

"I didn’t memorize when it was because I didn’t realize that was the last time I would see him,” said Wertheimer, now 51.

Gacy raped and murdered dozens of young men in the Chicago area throughout the 1970s. He preyed on teens and young adults, including those who were gay, drifters, homeless or employees of his construction company. Eight of the 33 bodies found in the crawlspace under Gacy's home were never identified. 

In 2011, Dart reopened the investigation and made a national appeal to anyone whose relative disappeared from 1970 to 1979. 

Tips came flooding in, and Dart's office identified one of the Gacy victims, William George Bundy, almost immediately. In the course of investigating the seven Gacy victims who remain unidentified, Dart's office has closed 12 unrelated cases. 

At least four missing men once considered possible Gacy victims have been found alive and reunited with their families. Other closed cases include a man whose remains were found on a mountainside in Utah, and another whose body was found in the woods of New Jersey with no foul play suspected. 

Drath was among the approximately 84,000 missing persons in the U.S. in 2011, when his half-sister saw the sheriff's appeal. She contacted Detective Sgt. Jason Moran, the Cook County detective leading the Gacy cold case investigation, and submitted her brother's DNA. 

San Francisco police had taken exceptional care of Drath's remains. In 2014, Drath's DNA samples were uploaded into the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. This month, Dart's office was notified of a match with a San Francisco homicide victim.  

With her brother's fate now confirmed and San Francisco police pursuing a murder investigation, Wertheimer said she takes comfort in closure.

"There’s a certainly that he’s not suffering anymore and no one can hurt him anymore,” she said.

"We missed out on so much. My sons will never know their Uncle Andy. I never got to know him as a man," Wertheimer said. "I would have liked to have just had the ordinary: life's ups and downs, Thanksgiving dinner. I'd like to think we'd have had each other's back in this world ... pals though it all." 

In the 10 years since the formation of NamUs, based at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, the database has led to a number of "collateral solves" like the Drath, said Matthews. 

The university has one of nine forensic labs that submit data into the FBI's CODIS system. Matthews said the combination of the FBI's DNA database and NamUs' missing and unidentified persons database has been "amazing." 

Matthews singled out Cook County sheriff's detectives as “power users" of the system. "I have other agencies coming to me saying, 'I want to do what Chicago just did,'"he said. 

But many police agencies lack the funds, manpower or resolve to take advantage of the systems, Matthews said.

The university lab, and several others nationwide, process DNA, fingerprints and dental records for free. But even at zero costs, Matthew said, "maybe it’s not enough."

Matthews said the federal Help Find the Missing Act, dubbed "Billy’s Law" would require law enforcement agencies to use NamUs. The bill would streamline reporting for police and medical examiners by connecting NamUs with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database and provide grants to medical examiners and law enforcement to enter data. 

"That’s going to change everything,” Matthews said of a universal system where missing persons reports can match up with unidentified remains data. "Without that one little puzzle piece, you’ll never solve it" 


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What Is So G**damn Special About Riot Fest Anyway?

Wed, 2015-09-23 18:08
The end of summer means many things. Chief among them, for music fans, is the end of festival season.

Sure, festivals have a whole lot of downsides -- we've previously detailed them here at HuffPost -- but there are a lot of positives to consider about the experience as well, and, in the mind of this writer, perhaps no music festival this year epitomized these more than Riot Fest's latest edition in Chicago.

While Riot Fest was held in three cities again this year -- including Denver and Toronto, where the fest wrapped last weekend -- its heart, and headquarters, is in Chicago. And despite a great deal of controversy preceding the event and likely impacting its planning, the Chicago affair in the city's Douglas Park has received overwhelmingly glowing reviews.

Merle Haggard seen at Riot Fest in Douglas Park on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 in Chicago. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP)

And deservedly so. When it came to the lineup, the key to any music festival's success, the musical acts varied wildly in age, genre and gender, from 78-year-old country legend Merle Haggard in Chicago to rapper GZA's 12-year-old hype man in Denver.

At a time where most of the major music festivals are built around lineups that are virtually indistinguishable from one another -- and seriously lacking in diverse talent -- Riot Fest somehow managed to book one of the more varied and unusual collections of musicians despite (or perhaps because of) its punk-centric ethos.

The Chicago festival also clearly took complaints about the 2014 festival's sprawling, bottleneck-prone layout -- which often meant at least a 20-minute walk between stages at opposite ends of the grounds -- to heart and concocted a common sense-driven layout to this year's festival which somehow balanced improved access to its seven different stages while still avoiding significant noise bleed between stages. Access to the festival's signature carnival rides was also greatly improved over the previous year.

As an added bonus, the festival this year took place less than a five-minute walk away from the CTA Pink Line train, which encouraged more festivalgoers to refrain from driving to the park, likely reducing the traffic impact on surrounding communities.

Ice Cube seen at Riot Fest in Douglas Park on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 in Chicago. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP)

But, again, back to the most important part: the music. Phenomenal sets in Chicago from older acts like L7, Iggy Pop, Ice Cube, the Prodigy and Echo & the Bunnymen allowed festivalgoers to rock out to songs they love by bands they probably thought they would never have the opportunity to see live. Who could resist singing along to Chicago deep dish lover Gwen Stefani to No Doubt's "Don't Speak"?

On the younger end of the spectrum, acts like Joyce Manor, FIDLAR, Psalm One and Meat Wave were granted the chance to win over new fans in an environment already friendly to their musical genres of choice. How else can you see (a not-very-punctual) Snoop Dogg, Against Me! and Tenacious D all on the same weekend? And no festival is complete without the theatrical GWAR showering the crowd with various "bodily fluids."

Laura Jane Grace and Inge Johansson of Against Me! seen at Riot Fest in Douglas Park on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 in Chicago. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP)

Of course, it rained on Friday and Saturday in Chicago, meaning that wide swaths of the field difficult to traverse, the porta-potties pretty gross and, much like Lollapalooza does each year, leaving behind a six-figure price tag for park repairs (fest organizers are covering the tab). There were sound issues throughout the weekend, too, but all of this comes with the territory of any outdoor music event. On the plus side, the festival's natural setting provided a refreshing backdrop for three days packed with hours upon hours of live music.

Even better, local businesses also seem to have benefited from the festival's presence in the West Side neighborhood and the number of arrests -- one! -- reported for the weekend was incredibly low for an event attended by tens of thousands of people that also served a whole lot of alcohol.

So, this is all to say -- farewell, summer; until next year, festival season. And three cheers to Riot Fest for capping it off spectacularly.

Iggy Pop seen at Riot Fest in Douglas Park on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 in Chicago. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP)

More Riot Fest coverage from HuffPost:

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Famed Rock 'N' Roll Photographers Tell Their Stories

Wed, 2015-09-23 16:25
What does it really mean to party like a rock star?

On The Dinner Party podcast, I turned the WGN Radio A1 studio into a British pub to welcome Pattie Boyd (photographer, author and first wife to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton), Carinthia West (Rolling Stones photographer, working on a documentary) and Henry Diltz, often recognized as one of the great music photographers of this century. Over quintessential savory pies and bangers and mash made by Chef Art Jackson and his wife Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson from the Pleasant House Bakery, along with lots of Guinness, Pattie, Carinthia and Henry share great stories from the 1960s and 1970s rock era, and comment on just how much has changed in today's celebrity world.

We also talk about the ravages of fame, Jackson Brown, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison's creative process, if Pattie regretted leaving George for Eric Clapton and, of course, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Click here to listen to the podcast, a British invasion of sorts.

Photo by Henry Diltz, "Keith Richards", courtesy of the artist and the Hilton Asmus Gallery

Photographs from Pattie Boyd, Carinthia West and Henry Diltz can be seen at the Hilton Asmus Gallery in Chicago or at .

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If the Pope Came to Chicago

Wed, 2015-09-23 13:19
Was it a dream? I really did not see that. Did I?

What if the Pope really did come to Chicago? Do you think it could have looked like this?

Cassie and The Pope

In the pre-dawn chill of the first day of autumn, peering out our front window, waiting for the plumbers to come fix decades of cheap, easy patches to the plumbing in our house that had left us with water cascading through walls, sewer gas permeating our souls and two stories of sludge from a stack pipe that should have been removed around the time that Herbert Hoover was President.

In the shadow of the streetlight, I thought I heard a truck door slam. Plumber's truck?

No, it was Cassie. Head down, skeleton frame in giant white gym shoes, pushing her shopping cart through the darkness.

Each morning she walks north past our little city cottage, crosses Irving Park Road, and continues north past the unmarked, engine running cop cars posted in front of the stately home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Cassie walks alone. Pushing her shopping cart. Then come night time, she reverses her homeless commute. The sound I had heard was Cassie's shopping cart creaking. Not the plumber's truck.

Startled by the creaking noise, l looked out the window one more time and that's when I saw it. Didn't believe what I was seeing. I scrunched shut my eyes, looked again. And he was still there.

This morning, for the first time ever, Cassie wasn't alone. Walking next to her was Pope Francis. White robes reflecting the light of the coming dawn. Just the Pope and Cassie. How he got to Chicago, I don't know. Hard to believe.

So as not to disturb, and forgetting all about my plumbing problems, I slipped on some gym shoes, slid out my front door and down the steps to follow.

Cassie and the Pope. Neither said a word. Their footsteps slapping the pavement in rhythm. They stopped for a moment at Irving Park Road. I saw him point to the right. To the morning sun rising over the lake to the east. Turning right, they kept walking till they came to the diner. The smell off morning coffee in the air.

I saw the Pope hold the door open for Cassie. She hesitated, and then went in. Neither of them speaking.

Three other early morning diners on the red topped stools at the silver counter staring wide eyed in disbelief. The counterman comes over with a coffee pot. The Pope nods yes and the man pours the coffee into the thick white coffee mugs.

The Pope nods. Looks straight at Cassie, who raises her weary head. And for the first time in anyone's memory.

Cassie smiles.

The Pope had come to Chicago, too.

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These 30 Colleges in Illinois Have the Highest Violent Crime Rates

Wed, 2015-09-23 11:55
How safe are Illinois' public and private colleges?

Law Street Media recently published its campus crime rate data for 2015, which ranked hundreds of national colleges based on their campus' crimes. Law Street Media says about its rankings:

Campuses are ranked according to their average violent crime rate per 1,000 enrolled students using statistics from a three-year period (2011, 2012, 2013). Violent crimes include: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Enrollment numbers are based on the Fall 2013 count, which is also provided by the Office of Postsecondary Education. The number of violent crimes are totaled, converted to a rate per 1,000 enrolled students, and then divided by three to yield the average violent crime rate between 2011 and 2013. Only colleges offering four-year degrees are ranked.

While some nonviolent crimes are tracked by institutions according to the Clery Act, they are not factored into Law Street's rankings. Data for crimes that occurred on campus as well as select non-campus buildings were combined to provide the most accurate statistics for each school.

Here are the top 30 large and mid-size colleges in Illinois with the highest violent crime rates.

NEXT ARTICLE: Myth vs. facts about Common Core in Illinois

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Chicago Station Uses Nazi Yellow Star For Yom Kippur Segment

Wed, 2015-09-23 11:22

Oy vey, someone’s in trouble. 

In a broadcast segment about the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday Wednesday, Chicago station WGN-TV used a stock image of the Nazi yellow star -- a badge in the shape of the Star of David imprinted with the word “Jude” that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust  -- as the anchor’s over-the-shoulder graphic.

Twitter reacted quickly to the screwup.

Holy crap, @WGNNews, this is your stock photo for a Jewish holiday?? Nobody thought that's a bad choice of photo?

— Marc Karlinsky (@MarcKarlinsky) September 23, 2015

The station responded just as quickly, apologizing for the error and to those who were offended.

We are truly sorry for inadvertently using an offensive image in our Yom Kippur story. We apologize and deeply regret the error.

— WGN TV News (@WGNNews) September 23, 2015

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People Before Politics: The Pope's Call to Congress

Tue, 2015-09-22 16:09
This week, His Holiness, Pope Francis, is making his inaugural trip to the United States and will deliver the first ever speech by a Pope to a Joint Session of Congress. It will be a historic visit, and I believe I speak for the majority of my colleagues when I say that we are truly honored that Pope Francis has accepted our invitation.

The pontiff's message of compassion and human dignity has brought together people of all faiths and backgrounds. His teachings, prayers, and very example inspire us to refocus on our sacred obligation to serve our neighbors. And there's reason to hope that his address will have the same effect on Congress.

Pontiff literally means "bridge builder," and while it's unlikely that the Pope's words will change the minds of America's elected representatives on any specific issue, when the Pope speaks, I hope he reminds us of our common purpose in Congress - to enact policies that serve the people, bolster our communities, and better our nation. I hope he inspires us to work together to recapture some of the values that made our nation great: the diversity, the generosity, and the compassion for those in need.

All too often we focus only on the politics of the issues we debate in Congress. Success is defined by scoring political points and winning the next election, as opposed to supporting middle class families and growing our economy. But Pope Francis has the unique ability to rise above the fray of politics and provide a moral legitimacy to important issues that are otherwise pushed aside.

The policies we debate and enact in Congress have a real impact on people across the country. Climate change, immigration, economic inequality - each of these issues have become hot button, partisan topics, but support or opposition on these pressing issues shouldn't come down to party. Climate change is not just about carbon dioxide levels and melting polar ice caps. It is about our public health and protecting our Earth for future generations. Immigration is not about visa numbers or building a fence. It is about reclaiming our roots as a nation of immigrants and a refuge for those who have been cast aside. Economic inequality is not about food stamps and homeless shelters. It is about being a devotee of social justice and equality. Pope Francis has reminded us that these issues are not political issues - they are moral issues. We must always strive to remember that fact.

I think leaders of conscience, particularly leaders of faith, who say what they believe in their heart, often make people uncomfortable. And we need that. We need more of that. All of us must do better, and I hope Pope Francis calls us to do that.

So, welcome to America, Pope Francis. I eagerly await your address.

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A Weekend in Central Mass: The Stadium

Tue, 2015-09-22 16:02

This is the second installment of a three-part series. You can read the first part here.

General Foley Stadium is where the Worcester high school football teams play. I can picture the scene on Friday nights: traffic backed up on Chandler Street, teenagers trying to be slick with their beer chugging in the small parking lot, friends congregating in the small concourse, hot dogs and nachos and Gatorade for sale, popularity dictating seating arrangement, freshmen embarrassed to be sitting with their parents, seniors unaware that their concept of fun will not always remain slickly chugging beers in a small parking lot before watching your classmates try to finally beat the team from two towns over.

The field, with its abstract collection of painted lines for different sports, sits at the bottom of Newton Hill, one of the city's seven hills. There's only seating on the field's south side, a tall set of bleachers. Sitting in the bleachers, looking North past the baseball field and up at Newton Hill, when green Summer leaves turn into brown, red, golden Autumn leaves and the sun sets in the west and everything glows--I can picture the scene. I won't soon forget.

Congressman Jim McGovern, a Worcester native, with volunteers on the World Cup's first day.

When I arrived, just before four on Saturday, the World Cup was on its second day. Kenya was playing Ecuador, the last game before the quarterfinals. The small parking lot across the street was almost full, so was the concourse. Instead of hot dogs and nachos, there were foldout tables at the entrance with fare from represented countries. Today: Caribbean beef patties. Tomorrow: tacos, burritos, and ceviche. While there were still groups of teenagers hovering around, the crowd is mostly families. If football games feel like festivals, the World Cup feels like a fair. Less debauchery, more wholesome fun. There was even a bouncy castle east of the bleachers. Further east was a face-painting station. All around toddlers and preteens, face paint smeared and runny, wondered the stands. I found one of the principle organizers, Kevin Ksen, sitting underneath a tent close to the bouncy castle. He gave me a smile and a gold-paper program.

The gold-paper program names the World Cup Organizing Team, a list 25 deep. Last names on the list range from Abdulahad to Suroviak, Kalombo to O'Leary. The volunteers are easy to recognize. They all wear the expression typical of volunteers on their seventh hour of doing good. Theirs is a happy and fulfilling exhaustion. Their constant smiles slight and sincere.

Kevin introduces me to a few volunteers. There's Jermaine, a Jamaican electrician, who moved to Worcester with his mom more than 10 years ago; Jermaine helps the World Cup with all things electric. There's Manny, from El Salvador, who joined CETS when he was seven and is now seventeen; Manny runs the scoreboard. There's Laura, the person I saw hurrying around the most, who moved to Worcester almost two decades ago for college and decided to hang around. In her sunglasses, Laura appears the most happily exhausted. She also appears the one most responsible for how the event proceeds. Most times I see her she's waving somebody down. She doesn't want to talk about herself. Because that's not what this weekend is about.

What is this weekend about? When I spoke with Laura, Jermaine and Manny, I received the same to-good-to-be-true answer. This weekend is about, simply, bringing people together. The phrase "this is what soccer does" was used more than once.

In Chicago, an event like this -- a community-organized all-day weekend-long end-of-summer event centered around sports and bringing people together -- almost always has an anti-violence, or anti-drug, or stay-in-school caveat. Put rival gang members on the same basketball team and see if the magic of sports brings peace to the community. When I asked the volunteers about ulterior motives, it's clear that I'm an outsider. It's clear that I've been making up my own narrative for the city.

There's nothing here. I think I heard a friend talking about how dangerous Worcester is. There must be violence and drugs overflowing the streets. This is a forgotten city. I think I heard a friend saying there is a lot of drug-related crime in the area. There's nothing here.

Worcester's drug and gun problems seem typical of any New England city. For example, a week after the World Cup, a man was shot and killed a few blocks from General Foley Stadium. That 24-year-old male was the fifth homicide of 2015. Springfield, the third-largest city in Massachusetts, clocked 13 homicides before July. 14 people were reportedly killed in Chicago over July 4th weekend.

So, I asked, what's the point? What problems is the Worcester World Cup solving?

Here's the explanation I received: Imagine you're looking to start a new life in a new country. Your home country is suffering through political turmoil that has turned violent. Or your parents got divorced and your mom wants to go live with her cousin in America, she wants to take you with her. Or your brother is living in America and has a good-paying job lined up for you. Or your boyfriend dumps you. Or you just want to experience something different. Whatever the reason, you leave your home country and move to Central Massachusetts. You move to Worcester. If you're a refugee, you'll probably be placed in a neighborhood with other refugees from your country. If you're moving to Worcester to live with your aunt, there's a good chance your aunt moved to a certain neighborhood because she heard that's where the Ghanaians lived, the Armenians lived, the Liberians, Iraqis, Jamaicans, Salvadorans. This ethnic clumping, as it was explained to me, is the problem.

Photos courtesy of me and Kevin Ksen.

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Eliminate Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Tue, 2015-09-22 15:47
Recently, I have seen an exorbitant number of new clients with pets with chronic ear infections, called otitis. One new client brought her sheltie to see me with a six-month history of ear mite infestation. I asked this new client who diagnosed this problem. She said a pet store clerk told her that it was ear mites after she described dark, gritty debris in her sheltie's ears. Every week, for the last six months, this client has been cleaning her pet's ears and treating with ear mite medication with no success.

After gathering her pet's history and performing a complete physical examination, I took a swab of her pet's ear debris, applied a special stain, and looked under the microscope for presence of yeast, bacteria and mites. As you may have guessed, there were no mites. This pet had a terrible yeast infection.

This client was upset and embarrassed. She could not believe that she allowed her pet to suffer six months. "Good news," I told her, "today we will begin a new treatment plan to resolve your pet's yeast infection."

Why do ear infections happen?

Ear infections do not spontaneously occur. Some event or underlying disease must precipitate it. My top reason why pets get ear infections is allergies.

Allergies may be triggered by ingestion of certain foods, like beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, eggs, corn, wheat, and soy. Allergies may also be triggered by allergens your pet's skin, eyes, ears and nose may come in contact with - like tree pollen, grasses, house dust, molds, weeds, perfumes, aerosol home cleaning products, insects and wool.

In the unlikely event that allergies are not the underlying cause for your pet's ear infection, I would then suspect the following predisposing factors: high moisture (swimming), poor ventilation (big floppy ears), suppressed immune system (like pets with hypothyroidism and Cushing's Disease), mites, foreign bodies (like plant material) and poor conformation (like narrow ear canals found commonly in Chinese Shar-pei, Pug and Pekingese dogs).

How can I resolve it?
First, see your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. Your veterinarian will take a complete oral history before he/she performs a comprehensive physical examination. During this discussion, your veterinarian will ask you some key questions:

1. Have you noticed that your pet gets an ear infection around the same time every year? For example, "Does your pet itch and rub his/her ears every spring during peak tree pollen season?"
2. Does your pet have ear problems all the time? Food, house dust and mold allergies occur year-round.
3. Does your pet itch elsewhere? Pets with food allergies frequently scratch their ears and shake their head, rub their face, and lick their paws and anal area.
4. Is your pet on flea preventative? Pets with allergic reaction to fleabites will frequently scratch their hindquarters, but may also scratch around head and neck area. This is especially true in cats.
5. Does your pet get ear infections two to three days after swimming or being groomed? Increased moisture in ear canal may be an issue for this pet.

Second, your veterinarian will use a special instrument, called an otoscope, to closely examine your pet's ears. In a tolerant pet, your veterinarian will visualize the ear canal to see if it is swollen or ulcerated, debris or mass present, and if the tympanic membrane (a clear, curtain-like membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear) is intact. Sometimes, the pet is so painful; it is impossible or inhumane to examine the ear canal while it is awake. It is not unusual for us to sedate pets with severe ear infections to properly diagnose, clean, and treat the ears.

If a ruptured tympanic membrane is discovered, the outer ear will then directly communicate with the middle ear and may result in temporary hearing loss. Pets with a ruptured tympanic membrane will require special ear cleaning instructions and medication.

A swab of debris will be collected and evaluated under the microscope for yeast, bacteria, and mites to help characterize the problem and allow for proper selection of medication. A bacterial culture and sensitivity may be recommended if the infection is severe, reoccurring and/or tympanic membrane is ruptured to insure the best treatment protocol.

How do I treat the ear infection?
In order to properly treat the ear infection, your veterinarian first must properly clean the ear canal. It would be foolish to apply topical antibiotics or antifungal agents into an ear that is filled with debris. Debris traps the organism and provides a safe environment for it to thrive and avoid contact with the ear medication. Sometimes it is not possible to clean a dog's ear when he/she is awake and painful, and sedation is required. Many times, however, it can be performed with minimal restraint of your pet.

To clean your pet's ears effectively requires the proper selection of ear cleaning products. Recently, there has been an explosion of ear cleaning products available for your pet. Please ask your veterinarian for the best ear cleaning solution for your pet. Please do not ask a pet store clerk or groomer for advice. They are not medically trained to deliver veterinary medical advice.

At Animal Medical Center of Chicago, if my patient's ears are full of waxy debris, I frequently recommend a gentle product, called Cerumene by Vetoguinol, to soften and loosen the earwax. For pets with a bacterial ear infection, I frequently select a product that has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, like Douxo Micellar Solution by Sogeval. I tend to gravitate to alkalizing ear-cleaning solutions that contain triz EDTA if I am highly suspicious of a nasty bacterial infection called Pseudomonas. For yeast infection, I frequently recommend an ear-cleaning product that contains ketoconazole. Alternatively, for mild yeast infections I will recommend a homemade mixture of 1- part white vinegar to 2-parts warm water as a nice cleaning solution. Remember, before purchasing any ear cleaning solution, please contact your veterinarian for advice. Using the wrong ear cleaning solution may aggravate your pet's ear infection.

Additionally, to clean a pet's ears requires patience and respect. Do not use cotton tipped applicators to clean your pet's ears. Cotton tips are abrasive and feel like a coarse pad on the surface of your dog's sensitive ear canal. In addition, these tips can push ear debris further down into the canal making the ear infection worse. I recommend gently squirting the veterinary recommended ear cleaning solution directly into your pet's ear canal and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before wiping it out with a lightly moistened gauze or cotton ball. It is advisable to do this activity outside or in a bathroom where the walls can be easily wiped clean after your pet shakes its head.

After your veterinarian cleans your pet's ears, he/she will prescribe topical ear medication. The exact selection of medication will be based on your pet's history, physical examination findings, and ear swab results. Topical ear medication is almost always recommended for ear infections because of the high local active drug concentration it can achieve. In some situations, I will prescribe oral antibiotics or anti-fungal agents if I believe that topical therapy will not be sufficient, a middle ear infection is suspected, or the owner cannot properly administer it. A new favorite ear medication of mine, called Osurnia by Elanco, was recently introduced. This product is designed to help pets with bacterial and yeast ear infections. Your veterinarian will apply one medication-filled tube in each ear on first and seventh day of treatment, and that's it! It works really well and my clients are happy that they do not need to medicate their pet's ears at home.

How long do I treat the ear infections?
This is a great question to ask your veterinarian for it is dependent on the cause and severity of the infection. I strongly recommend before you stop the medication to schedule a recheck appointment with your veterinarian. Don't incorrectly assume after 10-14 days your pet's ear infection has resolved. Often my clients think the ear infection has resolved completely and I discover at their recheck appointment that it's only dramatically better not 100% resolved. Failure to resolve the ear infection completely only guarantees your pet will suffer from reoccurrence.

How to avoid ear infections?
One must first discover and control the underlying cause of the ear infection to avoid reoccurrence. If inhalant or contact allergies are suspected, then you must address the allergy issue to break the cycle. This may include allergy testing via single blood sample collection or intra-dermal skin testing by your veterinarian. Once your pet is diagnosed with inhalant or contact allergies, you may begin symptomatic treatment with avoidance, antihistamines, steroids, immune modulating products, shampoos and/or topical spray products to help minimize your pet's signs of allergies. Specific desensitization to the offending allergen(s) can be performed and should be discussed with your veterinarian.

If food allergies are suspected, your veterinarian will recommend that you feed your pet a single, unique protein diet exclusively for 8 to 12 weeks. Only a veterinary prescribed prescription diet or a homemade diet will meet this allergy food trial criteria. Even though there are numerous over-the-counter labeled single protein source diets at pet and grocery stores, these diets are frequently contaminated with other protein products by virtue of how they are processed.

If there is an underlying thyroid issue, I recommend a thyroid blood test for your pet. If there is an underlying metabolic issue, like hyperadrenocorticism, this must be pursued.

If you find that your pet gets ear infections after swimming, bathe the pet with a hypoallergenic shampoo after swimming or, at the minimum, rinse your pet's coat with water and then, dry out the ears with a cloth. There are a few topical ear-drying products available for purchase to decrease moisture in your pet's ear. Please discuss this concept with your veterinarian before using one.

Finally, inspect your pet's ears bi-monthly. If you see mild waxy debris, clean it out with appropriate cleaning solution. In most patients, I strongly recommend not to clean your pet's ears more than once every 2-3 weeks otherwise you disrupt the normal self-cleaning mechanism that naturally exists in the ear. In fact, I can't remember the last time I cleaned my own dog's ears. If all is well, leave the ears alone. If your pet's ears are red and inflamed, substantial debris present, or a pungent odor exists, see your veterinarian.

Are ear infections painful?
Absolutely. Please discuss appropriate pain medication with your veterinarian. Most ear medications delivered topically include an anti-inflammatory drug in its composition to reduce your pet's discomfort. For pets who have swollen ear canals and it is impossible for you to deliver topical ear medications properly, it is not uncommon, that I send the pet home with pain medication and oral steroids for a few days. Then, I have the client and patient return for re-evaluation, ear cleaning and topical drug therapy.

Ear infections are almost always the result of another disease process, like allergies, thyroid or adrenal disease. Please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as your pet starts shaking or rubbing his/her ears. Pets with ear infections are uncomfortable and your veterinarian can help relieve his/her pain immediately. Please don't dismiss your pet's chronic ear infections with the comment, "He always has one". Instead, ask your veterinarian, "Why does my pet have an ear infection?" This knowledge will allow you to begin an effective treatment plan to break this annoying and painful ear infection cycle in your pet.

Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to

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After a Traumatizing Past, One Cicero Woman Fears What the State Budget Impasse Will Bring

Tue, 2015-09-22 15:15
As the state budget impasse continues with no end in sight, the livelihood and health of Illinois' most vulnerable residents are at stake.

The fear that comes with this uncertainty is telling, especially for one Cicero woman who sat down with Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek to talk about her horrifying story when she was a young girl.

Fear gripped 49-year-old Tina Wardzala of Cicero by the throat at a young age. It rarely has loosened its grip.

As a young girl, Tina said while her father was away driving a truck, her mother would invite men in, get drunk and pass out. Then the men would come to "play" with her.

About 15 years ago, Tina worked as a line cook at a diner and the regulars were like family. One of those regulars was elderly and ill. Tina was delivering a meal to the customer when she entered a dimly lit apartment hallway and found three men waiting. They raped her.

Before that moment of terror, Tina had worked at the diner and a branch library. She enjoyed music and waded into crowds at Grateful Dead and Neil Young concerts. In that moment, fear took her hostage. Mental illness enveloped her. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and bipolar disorder. Cloaked in black, Tina shared her scariest secrets. At times, she choked out the words. At times, tears spilled. Fear has its hold. Now she also lives in fear of the state's intractable politicians.

You can read the rest of Doubek's column here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Truth in Accounting report paints bleak picture for Illinois finances

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<i>U.S. News & World Report</i> Names 9 Universities in Illinois Among Best in Nation

Tue, 2015-09-22 14:33
U.S. News & World Report named nine universities in Illinois as some of the best in the nation for 2016, and two of them were among the top 12.

The schools were ranked based on their undergraduate academic reputation, freshmen retention rates, six-year graduation rates, ACT/SAT test scores, class sizes and faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving and were based on the class that began college in the fall of 2014.

The report outlined its two "pillars" upon which the rankings were based:

First, regionally accredited schools are categorized by their mission, which is derived from the breakdown of types of higher education institutions as refined by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2010. The Carnegie classification, which is used extensively by higher education researchers, has been the basis of the Best Colleges ranking category system since our first rankings were published in 1983...

Once schools have been divided by category, we gather data from each college on up to 16 indicators of academic excellence. Each factor is assigned a weight that reflects our judgment about how much that measure matters. Finally, the colleges and universities in each category are ranked against their peers, based on their composite weighted score.

As the report on the rankings points out, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of "intangibles," or factors that go into college choice decisions by students and their families. On top of the metrics measured by U.S. News & World Report, finances, location, student life, areas of specialty, sports, student activities and many other factors must be considered before enrollment. But this list helps quantify a small portion of the variables facing future college students.

Here are the nine schools that were ranked, along with each college's acceptance rate, six-year graduation rate, test scores and national rank.

NEXT ARTICLE: Emanuel outlines the big tax and fee hikes in 2016 Chicago budget proposal

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It's National Voter Registration Day. Here's How You Can Register To Vote.

Tue, 2015-09-22 13:21

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day, and what better way to celebrate than to ensure your ability to vote?

You can do so by submitting a form online, by mail or in person, depending on where you live. 

Registering To Vote Online

Currently, 23 states offer online voter registration. Five states -- Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Virginia -- and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to set up an online voter registration system, but those have not yet been implemented.

Check out this list to find your state's voter registration site, or head to the National Voter Registration Day website to complete the voter registration form.

Registering To Vote By Mail

The national mail voter registration form is available here. You can access it in seven different languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese. The forms include specific instructions for completing the form state-by-state, including registration deadlines and the address to which you should send your form. 

Registering To Vote In Person

Voting in person varies by state. Check out your local election office's website for forms and submission instructions and locations. Some states will allow you to register to vote at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or through other public assistance agencies. Check this map to see if your state fits that description.

Other Tools

If you can't remember whether you've registered to vote, "Can I Vote?" is a good place to start. If you're having a hard time checking your registration status using that tool, contact your local election office

If you're serving in the military, or are an overseas U.S. citizen, the Federal Voting Assistance Program is a good resource for registering to vote, acquiring an absentee ballot and more.

This interactive map by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission will take you straight to your state's voting guidelines website. You can also search for your local government's contact information here.

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