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Illinois' Financial Crisis Has Parallels in Greek Tragedies and Greek Politics

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:56
The financial crises for Chicago city government and Illinois state government aren't unique. Detroit, Puerto Rico and Greece all have or are currently struggling with problems that have similar roots to those of Illinois. Madeleine Doubek of Reboot Illinois wonders why Illinois leaders have offered only speeches and political gridlock as their own Greek tragedy plays out before their eyes.

We've known for several years now that big payments were due the Chicago teachers, police and fire pensions this year, and that Chicago Public School finances were tilting toward insolvency. And yet, school officials are making payments at the last second with money they don't really have after a dangerous deal to borrow from the teachers' pension fund fell apart. Now, school officials and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are warning of more mid-year budget cuts to schools and blaming the crisis on Springfield.

We've known for many years that Illinois isn't paying its bills or funding its pensions properly. We're more than $100 billion behind on paying for pensions -- the worst in the nation -- and another $5 billion behind on paying for goods and services. And yes, lawmakers did pass one plan to try to fix the pension crisis, but it was found unconstitutional, something just about anyone who was watching the court a year ago saw coming when it issued a ruling saying public worker health care benefits must be covered by taxpayers.

We've known since, oh, I don't know, statehood in 1818 (she wrote facetiously), that there's often waste in government, especially in a state known for corruption, like Illinois. Perhaps the poster child for that waste was the $50 million spent on the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative that dominated political discussion most of last year.

We've known since last November that Democrats no longer control every aspect of state and Chicago government, when Republican Bruce Rauner won the governor's race by four percentage points while Democrats maintained their super majorities.

And what's happened since then? Rauner called for shared sacrifice, but proposed a budget more than $2 billion out of balance by offering up a pension plan that clearly wasn't going to work. Emanuel ran scared and won, avoiding talk of financial doomsdays as much as he could. House Speaker Michael Madigan and his fellow Democrats gave Rauner a budget that spends at least $3 billion more than the state will collect from taxpayers this year.

Read the rest of Doubek's thoughts at Reboot Illinois, including how she compares the city and the state to a house that has been set on fire.

One of the factors that could have contributed to this unfortunate state of affairs in state finances is the political fights that delay real solutions. Mark Fitton of the Illinois News Network says Rauner, Madigan and their supporters in Springfield are "locked in a battle of wills" that is getting "testy." Check out Reboot Illinois to see how the standoff between the two parties has escalated and what could happen next.

NEXT ARTICLE: Best of the best: The top 10 hospitals in Illinois

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Nerlens Noel: I Think Joel Embiid And I Could Be A Nightmare

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:52
Nerlens Noel missed his entire rookie year after suffering a torn ACL during his lone collegiate season. The 21-year-old former Kentucky star was selected sixth overall in the 2013 NBA draft by New Orleans, before being traded to Philadelphia. The 76ers, whose almost unprecedented rebuilding process has been both maligned and celebrated, are hoping that he can become another Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins -- or Karl-Anthony Towns for that matter -- in the long line of stellar Kentucky big men.

The 6-foot-11 Noel, now healthy after a productive year averaging 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, is a key component to rebuilding a Philly franchise who most recently drafted yet another big man in Duke's Jahlil Okafor and who also learned it likely won't have former No. 3 pick Joel Embiid for the second consecutive season.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Also, please note that this interview was conducted before the news about Embiid's injury and before the 76ers drafted Okafor.

Athletes of all sports -- and young ones especially -- tend to want to work on their strengths more so than their weaknesses. How have you tried to avoid that since coming into the league?

I definitely feel like that is one of the most important things. You are playing against much better competition, there's going to be a demand where you have to do some things you're not comfortable with, and if you don't work on them, it's going to be that much more difficult when you're older.

With that in mind, what has been the biggest improvement to your game since becoming a pro?

Becoming a pro? I'd just say my shot. I think that's my biggest improvement. Spending a lot of time with it, my free throws, my form -- every little thing about it. It takes a lot of work, working with the same couple of people consistently. That's something you want very concentrated when you're changing your whole shot. It's not easy, because it's pretty easy to revert right back. It's a consistent thing you have to stay mindful of.

What was the dynamic, then, going from your rookie year to year two in terms of how you approach the game and also how you approach your offseason?

Definitely improve my shot. Then looking at tape and my body. Getting stronger and packing on some size. You know how physical the NBA is. Continue to work on the overall skill set, you know. I want to come back and improve statistically through every category I can. And just overall impact on the game, I want to be a complete, two-way player.

From your body perspective, where does the strength need to come from? Because you're already such a good and fluid athlete. Where does the strength need to come from for you to get to that next level or next two levels?

I think it just has to come on steadily. I think I just need to continuously add on five or ten pounds from year to year, you know. Adding muscle and size while being able to maintain my athleticism, and I think with my shot and being able to hit that 15-footer, that it would help me utilize that quickness. I think that will take my game to another level by having to have that first step on the bigger-sized centers and power forwards in this league.

In talking to point guards, I've learned that pick-and-roll is one of the hardest adjustments they have to make because of the decision-making and the speed of it at this level. As a big man, though, how hard is it to become comfortable all over the floor on both pick-and-roll and as a pick-and-pop guy?


I was going to start with offense and then go to defense, but if you could talk about both that would be great, particularly given the fact that you've played with multiple point guards already.

Offensively, it's a little different. You have to really learn how to really roll out of the screen and learn the timing, especially when you play with so many guys throughout the season. You have to learn the players that you're playing with and their tendencies. Playing with different point guards and learning what they like to go with, whether they do it a lot -- there's so many different things that come through it.

And defensively, I mean that's definitely a different type of thing too because you play with some guys like Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving that you really never know what's going to happen in a pick-and-roll. Then there's the more traditional point guards that you have to be more disciplined on. I think discipline is the most important thing because you can reach and try to cheat and mess up the point guard, but if you let the guy get a step behind you with the momentum of a roller, you know he's the best offensive rebounder in the gym, so you've got to keep up on him with all the momentum that he has going to the basket. Defensively, I think it's a little harder trying to read them, especially depending on who the point guard is.

What exactly are you looking for? What is the read? From an offensive standpoint, are you reading your point guard more or are you reading what the defensive big will do? And then on defense, are you reading the point guard more?

Well, we had a couple different defensive schemes through this year. We had me being up, then we had one with me being back. When it was me up on the screener, I'd always read the big guy and what angle he was setting the screen. You sort of get used to it in the NBA as the season goes along. If you're up on the screen, you push it towards the sideline and you wanna ice [or trap] it. That starts to become more of a natural call and you start to get a little more fluid, but you always want to be careful of the guys in back.

In watching the finals, we saw Cleveland jump the ball screen really high trying to force the ball out of Stephen Curry's hands. How difficult is it to do that from the big's perspective? Because now you're getting to a point -- even with you, who's very laterally quick -- where you're 25-30 feet away from the basket and I know no big wants to be that high.

You know it definitely is tough, it takes a lot of commitment and work. You have to stay up there and have a conscious effort of doing your best to contest the shot while staying in front of a smaller guy, especially with the abilities of Curry and being able to put the ball on the floor and shoot it with just a little bit of space. You just definitely have to have that weak side rotation so everyone's on the same page. You can work the advantage, but then again, it's a pretty tough thing to stop.

Is there somebody you look at and think, "His game is closest to me"? Or, "I can be like that guy"? Is there somebody you're trying to model yourself after while also maintaining your individuality?

Kevin Garnett is someone I looked up to growing up a lot. I think I'm a little different than him in some ways, but I think overall his game defensively and offensively -- I like to emulate his game.

In terms of your improvement, is it more about game experience, or tape? How much is it playing game experience versus watching and re-watching?

I think it's a lot of everything, really. I think playing is the No. 1 thing. Like I've said before about my year of sitting out, it's great to sit on the sidelines and learn, but there's no substitute for experience. I think that's something I learned this year as the season went along, after the break I felt a little more confident that I knew what the NBA game was about and I think I was in a better position of just really coming out and playing. Because you've been there before, you know? I had played in 30, 40 games or so, and then you understand what you have to work on, whether it's the little things like the types of shots you're going to get in games, so you take those, you rep those out, then you come back in year two and you're feeling even more confident.

How much weight do you think you've put on at this point since you were drafted?

I came in at about 215 and right now I'm 223, so I've put on about 8 pounds.

Is a lot of that functional strength, where you can feel it? Eight pounds isn't a lot of weight, but do you feel like it's made a positive difference for you?

Oh yeah, it's definitely made a big difference, even through the season. I put it on through this past season and you start to feel it, and your numbers go up as well. When I put on a few pounds this past season, I started playing a little better and I felt stronger and more confident going to the basket. So I think strength is a big issue in taking my game to a new level.

Is a lot of that the recovery as well? With the travel, the back-to-backs, not necessarily just playing?

What do you mean?

Well, getting stronger physically, I know it helps in the game. But how much does it help you recovery-wise when you're traveling, you're playing back-to-backs, to get your body stronger to take and endure the grueling nature of the NBA?

Definitely. I think that's the biggest part about getting stronger. It definitely helps to keep you healthy, and when you take a bang, you won't feel it as much when you're more solid. Taking bumps and bruises and having it not really affect you night in and night out.

What has been the hardest part for you going from winning so much at Kentucky to the losing in Philadelphia?

There has been some frustration at points, but I think we've just done such a great job of staying close-knit. We have a great group of young guys with a lot of common interest in the locker room, and I think we do a great job of complimenting each other on and off the court. There hasn't been hardly any animosity toward anybody; the coaches keep everybody close-knit as well.

When you look at Joel Embiid, what has your advice been to him? He's dealt with severe injury woes, as have you.

This past season, he was one of my great friends. Me and Joel have been very close since he's been in Philadelphia and I've always told him just stick to the work ethic, and he has. He's done a great job. Things happen and I think he'll be just fine with a little bit of time.

How lethal would you guys be -- especially defensively -- because we know you both can interchange playing the 4 and the 5?

I think we could be a nightmare. [We could be] dominant. I think the defense will speak for itself, but I think the offense as well as me and Joel continue to work on our jump shots. I heard Joel has a pretty nice touch now. I think as we continue to work on that we'll be able to be pretty dominant on both ends, especially with my passing ability. I think that's something that can be underrated as well -- look at Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and their relationship, I think [we] can be something crazy.

Email me at, ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report, or follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report.

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9 Illinois Critters That Could Be Lurking in Your Backyard

Mon, 2015-07-13 15:45
Illinois-native animals are frequently in competition with other species attempting to take over their habitats. We call Illinois the "Prairie State" because there are hundreds of miles of mostly flat, grassy land that are home to thousands of different species of plants and animals. Many of those animals, such as raccoons, made Illinois their home a long time before humans arrived. Others, such as certain kinds of rats and mice, only showed up with European settlers.

According to the Illinois State Museum, at one time there were 29,000 native animal species living in the state. Shrinking territory has driven out some species, such as the gray wolf, mountain lions and the American elk. Others, including the passenger pigeon, have become extinct. Bison are the biggest mammals to have lived in Illinois.

Black bears, which the University of Illinois Wildlife Directory says were common in Illinois until 1870, currently do not have any permanent populations in Illinois, though three individual bears have been spotted since 2008. (If Illinoisans see a black bear, they are encouraged to report the sighting to the state Department of Natural Resources.)

Here are 9 animal species native to Illinois, meaning they have lived in the state without being introduced by humans:

White-tailed deer

The white-tailed deer is the state animal of Illinois and is protected under the state's wildlife code. The U of I's Wildlife Directory it is the biggest native herbivore in Illinois. The animals live throughout the state and their population has grown larger today than it was at the first arrival of Europeans in the area. They were nearly eliminated from the state in the 1800s and a conscious "restocking effort" began in the 1930s. They live in woods near rivers and can weigh up to 250 pounds. White-tailed deer eat leaves and twigs and are sometimes hunted by coyotes and bobcats. They can be legally hunted in the fall and winter.

Eastern wild turkey

The eastern wild turkey is the only turkey species found in Illinois, says the U of I Wildlife Directory. It became extinct in Illinois in 1910, but was reintroduced through conservation efforts. Males can weigh up to 24 pounds. They live in wooded areas, but usually establish nests near tree lines. They eat plants and insects and can live up to 10 years. Eastern wild turkeys can run faster than 12 mph and can fly up to 55 mph. The Wildlife Directory advises Illinoisans to "make a lot of noise" and "wave your arms" to chase away an aggressive turkey if it tries to intimidate you. The Department of Natural Resources administers fall and spring turkey hunting seasons in Illinois.


Coyotes are members of the dog family that have gray or reddish bushy fur and usually weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. They have green eyes and the University of Illinois Wildlife Directory says coyote's "yaps and howls...may be their most distinguishing characteristic." They live all over Illinois, mostly in "semi-open country," but can be found living even in the urban landscape of Chicago. There are approximately 30,000 coyotes living in Illinois, says the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Illinoisans are discouraged from approaching coyotes and should keep an eye on small outdoor pets in the evening in areas where coyotes may be present.

Lake sturgeon

Lake sturgeon are the biggest species of fish in North America. They can grow to be more than six feet long, weigh up to 200 pounds and live to be 150 years old. The family of fish to which they belong has existed for more than 135 million years, says National Geographic. They are gray in color and eat snails, fish eggs and other creatures from the bottoms of lakes and rivers. They were once especially abundant in the Great Lakes, says National Geographic, but faced "unsustainable" catch rates for their meat and because they are so big they damaged fishing gear. It is protected as an endangered fish in 19 states and is seeing a resurgence in its population.


Woodchucks are rodents that sometimes also are called ground hogs. They are the largest members of the squirrel family in Illinois, weighing up to 14 pounds. The Wildlife Directory says they live in open meadows of crop fields and live much of the time underground. They eat mainly grasses and other plants and have been known to steal a bite from crops such as carrots or soybeans. They are one of the only hibernating mammals in Illinois, going dormant from October to February. They can live up to three years, but often face predation by dogs, coyotes and hawks and are frequent victims of car strikes. Woodchucks can be hunted in rural parts of Illinois with a permit.


Bobcats look like common house cats, but are about twice the size, says the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. They live in forests throughout Illinois. Because their habitat is so limited, development began to threaten them in the 1800s, and bobcats became the first animal to be listed as a threatened species in Illinois in 1977. They were removed in 1999. There are an estimated 5,000 individuals in the state. They are nocturnal and can climb trees, where they eat birds and squirrels. The biggest threat to adults is car collisions, not other predators. They are known to howl and meow. A bill to allow hunting of bobcats was passed by the General Assembly in 2015 and now awaits action by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Mallard duck

Mallard ducks are the ancestors of almost every other domestic duck breed. They have wingspans of up to 37 inches and males have a distinctive green head. They live in open water lakes and ponds in Illinois, and are especially common in suburban areas in the northern two-thirds of the state. They eat worms, bugs, seeds, seaweed, and most anything else they can get their bills on. They are eaten themselves by crows, foxes, coyotes and snapping turtles, says the U of I Wildlife Directory. They have state protection status under the Illinois Wildlife Code alongside their protection under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Eastern cottontail rabbit

Cottontails get their name from the short, fluffy white tails that contrast with the rest of their brow fur. They weigh about four pounds. In Illinois, the rabbits live in open and wooded areas in rural and urban settings. They live throughout the whole state, but are most common in the southwest parts of the state. One female can have up to 25 offspring in a single year. They eat various types of vegetation, such as grass and dandelions, and will take garden crops, says the U of I. When avoiding predators such as owls, snakes and bobcats, cottontail rabbits first remain quiet and still and then run away in a zig-zag pattern.

Red fox

Red foxes are members of the dog family and weigh up to 14 pounds. The U of I Wildlife Directory says they are the only Illinois mammals with red fur. They live throughout the state in rural and urban areas and are especially common in the north. They live in the abandoned and expanded dens of woodchucks and other burrowing animals. Both male and female red foxes care for their young, which can live up to seven years. They hunt at night for rabbits, mice, eggs and fruit. Sometimes they'll collect extra food and save it for later. Illinoisans usually are discouraged from approaching red foxes, as they can carry rabies. They are protected under Illinois law, but nuisance animals can be removed with a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

Check out Reboot Illinois to see six more animals native to Illinois that you can find both in water and on land, and even a few you might see in both! Also, be sure to check four species which are invasive to Illinois, including the scary-looking Sea lamprey.

NEXT ARTICLE: Chicago has the most rats of any city, says pest-control company

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  6. Want to tell your elected officials what you think of the state of government in Illinois? Use our Sound Off tool. 

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Are Illinois' elected officials running a government or a political campaign?

Mon, 2015-07-13 11:31
Capitol Fax's Rich Miller has an argument to make: If one were to look at the workings of Illinois state government last week, they might not be able to tell whether they were examining a political campaign or the negotiations of actual elected officials:

After staring at my computer screen for over an hour, I realized that my goal of providing you a succinct and thoughtful analysis of what happened on a very weird day last week in Illinois government was impossible.

Instead, we're going to have to take this in pieces.

* The Court Case - CJ Baricevic was one of the lawyers representing a host of unions in their successful St. Clair County lawsuit last Thursday to force the state to pay its employees without a budget. The victory came just two days after a Cook County judge ruled that paying employees without an official state budget was a clear and total violation of the Illinois Constitution.

Why was St. Clair County's ruling so different?

Well, Baricevic happens to be the son of the county's chief judge, John Baricevic, who was once the county board chairman and is regarded as one of the most powerful Democrats in the region. The younger Baricevic is the local Democratic choice for Congress against freshman Republican Congressman Mike Bost. According to Ballotpedia, the judge in Thursday's case also appears to be up for retention next year in the heavily unionized county.

Hey, I'm not saying nothing bad about no judges. I visit that fine county every now and then. I'm even told the judge in the case isn't the type to be sensitive to such pressures. "He's just a pro labor guy at heart," explained one area politico, who added that I was "reading too much" into the local political angle.

I'm just saying, is all.

Anyway, it appears that the legal issue of whether state workers get paid without a budget may have to go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court - if, that is, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is willing to endure the political flagellation she'll most certainly receive for her almost Ahabian pursuit of this great white whale. The Democrat could've easily stepped aside and let the paychecks be processed. But, she's convinced this is a constitutional violation, so onward and upward.

Check out how Miller came to his political-campaign-or-government conclusion at Reboot Illinois, where he analyzes a few other examples of state government craziness.

And watch an in-depth analysis of the relationship between the two biggest players in that state government: Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Rauner has a message for Madigan when it comes to the use of tax hikes to end the budget crisis and shutdown:

NEXT ARTICLE: Best of the best: The top 10 hospitals in Illinois

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Man Dies After Ambushing Officers With Shotgun At Suburban Chicago Home, Police Say

Mon, 2015-07-13 04:16

July 12 (Reuters) - A man who opened fire on police with a  shotgun was killed as  two officers returned fire at a suburban  Chicago home where two more people were found to have been shot  earlier, one of them fatally, police said.

The two officers, called to the house in a normally quiet,  tree-lined neighborhood in the village of River Forest, just  west of Chicago, were ambushed at the door by the suspect, said  the town's deputy police chief, James O'Shea.

The officers were treated at a nearby hospital for  non-life-threatening injuries. One was struck by a round in his  body armor, O'Shea said.

The gunman, reported by Chicago-area media to be 24 years  old, was killed in the ensuing shootout.

Neighbors told television news outlets they heard 20 to 30  shots fired. One man who lives next door described how he saw  one of officers stumble behind a tree before shooting into the  house following the initial gunshot.

Officers entering the home later found two people who had   apparently been shot by the suspect before police arrived - a  60-year-old man declared dead at the scene and a 59-year-old  woman who survived with gunshot wounds and other unspecified  injuries, O'Shea said.

Chicago-area media reported that the woman, believed to be  the assailant's mother, was hospitalized in critical condition.

There was no word on a possible motive for the violence, and  police declined to immediately release any further information  about the shootings.     (Reporting by Steve Gorman from Los Angeles; Editing by Paul  Tait)

Also on HuffPost: 

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54 Stingrays Die At Chicago Zoo

Mon, 2015-07-13 03:44

More than 50 stingrays in a popular exhibit at a Chicago zoo died on Friday after oxygen levels suddenly dropped in the tank where the animals lived.

Chicago Brookfield Zoo said an equipment malfunction caused the dip in oxygen at the Stingray Bay habitat -- a shallow pool where visitors were allowed to touch and feed the 50 cownose rays and four southern stingrays that lived there.

 According to the Chicago Tribune, an alarm alerted zoo employees to the change in the pool's oxygen levels on Friday afternoon.

 Veterinary staff are said to have immediately rushed to the scene to provide treatment to the rays. However, “despite tireless efforts by staff, all the animals … succumbed,” the zoo said in a Facebook post, adding that it’s still investigating the cause of the malfunction. 



"We are devastated by the tragic loss of these animals," Bill Zeigler, a senior vice president at the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates the zoo, said in a statement. ”Our staff did everything possible to try and save the animals, but the situation could not be reversed."

This isn’t the first time that stingrays have died en masse at the Chicago Brookfield Zoo due to an equipment malfunction. The Tribune reports that in 2008, 19 stingrays died after a faulty heater caused water temperatures to rise in a tank.

The Stingray Bay exhibit will be closed for the rest of the summer.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for the exhibit's permanent closure

Also on the HuffPost:

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Starbucks To Announce Youth Jobs Program

Mon, 2015-07-13 02:00
WASHINGTON -- Starbucks on Monday will announce a major new jobs program designed to combat youth unemployment, the company said. A collaboration with a host of other companies, including Macy's, CVS, JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft, the program -- dubbed 100,000 Opportunities Initiative -- will create 100,000 apprenticeships, internships or jobs for people ages 16 to 24 by 2018.

"It’s not just about writing a check," Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement. "Rather, our approach is focused on creating a coalition of like minds with local knowledge, expertise on-the-ground and the ability to scale the social impact of an initiative like this to create pathways of opportunity for the literally millions of young people who can benefit from this program."

Alongside the jobs program, Starbucks will also spearhead a training program that will focus on providing tangible skills for young people, such as time management, customer service and other skills associated with retail. According to company spokesperson Linda Mills, upon completing the program, participants will be prepared to work at any retail company.

While overall job growth is fairly robust and the unemployment rate has reached a seven-year low of 5.3 percent, youth unemployment remains high. As of June, the unemployment rate for people ages 16-19 was 18.1 percent, amounting to more than 1 million unemployed youth.

There are a variety of causes. According to a report from the Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy organization, the 2007-2009 recession disproportionately affected young people. In addition, jobs often require advanced skills and experience, which bars young people from even applying.

The program will begin in Chicago, where the companies hope to recruit employees for about 200 positions at the Chicago Opportunity Fair & Forum next month. It will then expand to other cities around the country.

In a statement, Labor Secretary Tom Perez praised the companies' efforts to engage young people.

“In America, your ZIP code should never determine your destiny. Breaking down barriers to employment for young people doesn’t just help the individual workers – it benefits entire communities and the economy at large," he said. "The corporate leaders championing the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative recognize that promoting career opportunities for youth is a win-win, and I hope more employers will follow their lead."

Mills said that each company has its own training programs, goals and metrics -- for example, Starbucks intends to create 10,000 jobs for young people by 2018. However, the initiative will also be a collaborative effort. The participating companies joined forces with the goal of being able to share strategies for recruiting, training and retaining employees.

“The idea is that all the companies can come together, learn from one another and use best practices,” she said. “We’re just excited to learn from one another and continue to grow and develop. The 100,000 is just the starting point. It’s a pretty aggressive goal for the next three years.”

The program is being funded by the participating companies and corporate foundations, as well as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Aspen Institute's Forum for Community Solutions, led by Melody Barnes, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The corporate collaboration builds upon the efforts of the Aspen Institute's Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, which has been working on combating youth unemployment through public-private partnerships in 21 U.S. cities.

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The Subtle Language Of Sounding Gay

Fri, 2015-07-10 18:12

David Thorpe has a "gay voice." For the filmmaker's latest endeavor, an autobiographical documentary, he embarked upon a long-delayed confrontation with his own "internal homophobia." He was in his early 40s, recently single and he was bitter about "sounding gay." 

For the project, Thorpe sets out to change the way he speaks. He meets with a Hollywood voice coach and a speech pathologist. "Do I sound gay?" he polls strangers on the street in Times Square, echoing the title of the film.

Often humorously, the film explores the origins of an effeminate manner of speaking, taking an unexpected approach rooted in the study of linguistics as Thorpe learns about his own speech patterns and acoustics. It's hilarious, thought-provoking and ultimately heartening. Thorpe dives deep into issues of self-loathing, stereotyping and the idolization of hyper-masculinity.

 "I'm embarrassed to say this but sometimes somebody will say, 'I didn't know you were gay.' It's like, why does that make me feel good? I hate myself for thinking that," says author David Sedaris in the film. (Sedaris first broached the topic of "sounding gay" in his essay "Go, Carolina" from Me Talk Pretty One Day.) "It's very disturbing I thought I was beyond that. Whats the problem if somebody assumes that I'm gay when I open my mouth. Why do I have a problem with that?" 

 The film works to detach shame associated with the "gay voice," and replace it with pride. But where did the shame come from? Why do gay men demean other gay men for their perceived effeminacy? Dan Savage nails it: “Misogyny,” he says. “They want to prove to the culture that they’re not not men -- that they’re good because they’re not women. They’re not like women, they don’t want women, they don’t want to sleep with women, they don’t want to act like women. And then they’ll punish gay men who they perceive as being feminine in any way.” 

Savage's assertions could be the foundation of an entirely separate documentary. But for gay men and boys who face the brunt of criticism and violence at hands of their straight counterparts, punishment is a constant consideration. Thorpe notes that voice can give away sexuality long before a boy has the courage to come out, exposing him to consequences. "I think that there are a lot schools where kids feel safe and are able to be gay and express themselves, but I don't think that's always the case," said Thorpe, adding: "It's a heavy burden for young people to bear."

"Do I Sound Gay?" endeavors to show how Thorpe, once a child with a similarly heavy burden, comes to terms with the complexities of his outward identity. He recognizes the importance of being part of a greater "chorus of gay voices," because what's so wrong with sounding gay? "If you can't handle the answer," he says, "that's a question you've got to ask."

"Do I Sound Gay?" opens July 10 at IFC Center in New York City.

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10 Things You Should Know About Gov. Rauner's Pension Reform Proposal

Fri, 2015-07-10 16:27
The pension reform plan proposed by Governor Rauner could impact more than just public pensions. State and local public workers in Illinois would lose collective bargaining rights for pensions, wages, work hours and tenure through this single reform.

The plan, which Rauner announced Wednesday, contains significant pension reforms, but also contains other measures that Rauner has tried unsuccessfully to get through the legislature. A higher standard of proof for employee injury claims and bankruptcy eligibility for Illinois municipalities are among them. It also allocates funds from a Chicago casino for Chicago police and firefighter pensions even though legislation for a city casino has not been debated during Rauner's time in office.

While Rauner said his bill includes suggestions from Senate President John Cullerton and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, it quickly became clear that it was not a collaborative effort.

From Natasha Korecki of the Chicago Sun-Times, who quotes Cullerton's spokeswoman, Rikeesha Phelon:

President Cullerton recognizes that the governor is accepting of many of the principles he's outlined but the specifics that the governor is advancing is far away from policies that Cullerton could support.

To simply co-opt language that the Senate President has used and call that negotiation, really does change the definition of negotiation and compromise. You can't simply co-opt language and pay lip service to someone's leadership and call that a negotiation.

Here are the main points of Rauner's proposal:

1. Removes pensions, wages, hours of work and employee tenure from the collective bargaining process.

2. Applies changes to items removed from collective bargaining:

Wages would not decline for five years.
Vacation resets to two weeks for members with less than 15 years of service, and three weeks for those who have more than 15 years of service.
Adjusts vacancy and overtime rights.
Overtime pay would kick in at 40 hours instead of 37.5 hours, matching federal law.

3. Offers incentives for employees to move to the lower benefit plan:

Salary package - $2,000 transition bonus, one-time $3,000 salary increase, overtime pay at 37.5 hours and no additional vacation days.
Vacation package - $2,000 transition bonus, one-time $2,000 salary increase, overtime pay at 37.5 hours and two additional weeks of vacation
Overtime/vacancy package - $2,000 transition bonus, no salary increase, overtime pay at 37.5 hours, two additional weeks of vacation; priority rights in work schedule, vacation, overtime and "bumping."

4. Those now eligible for the highest pension benefits (in the Tier 1 plan that applies to employees hired before 2011) would have to choose between switching to a reduced cost of living adjustment in retirement or agreeing that all future salary increases will be excluded from their pension calculations. Under current law, they receive a 3 percent, annually compounded increase in their pension every year. The new formula would grant annual, non-compounded increases of the lesser of 3 percent or half the U.S. Consumer Price Index.

5. Employees in Cook County would have to choose between the pension plan introduced by the county-except for the aforementioned collective bargaining changes-or choose between a reduced COLA benefit or agree that all future salary increases are excluded from pension benefit calculations.

6. The funding schedule for Chicago Police and Fire pensions would change from the current target of 90 percent by 2040 to 90 percent by 2055, including a five-year period from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2021 where mandatory pension payments are set in statute.

7. Downstate police and fire pension funding schedules would also change to 90 percent funded by 2055.

8. Transfers the investment assets of 642 individual downstate police and fire pension funds to the $35.6 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. The state's police and fire pension funds would remain independent entities administered apart from IMRF.

9. Changes the definition of catastrophic injury in the Public Safety Employee Benefit Act so it clearly states that such an injury would preclude the injured employee from performing gainful work.

10. Newly hired public safety employees would receive Tier 3 benefits, which is a hybrid defined-benefit and defined-contribution plan with local control on defined contribution benefits.

Check out Reboot Illinois to see four more ways Rauner's pension reforms could impact you, including effects on schools and teachers.

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Grateful Dead 'Fare Thee Well' Report Card

Fri, 2015-07-10 12:30
John Lennon died on Dec. 8, 1980, breaking the hearts of millions of fans and laying to rest any hope of a Beatles reunion. During the ensuing years, the remaining members of the band carried on by continuing to perform individually and sometimes collectively, keeping the beloved canon of Beatles music alive and satisfying the desires of fans worldwide for whom the Beatles were an important, even fundamental, part of their lives.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and imagine for a moment that a diehard fan of the Beatles, who also happened to be a very successful and well respected concert promoter, envisioned a Beatles reunion on a single weekend to include the remaining members of the band and guest musicians, headlined by someone to fill in for John Lennon 20 years after his death. He would first have to convince the remaining Beatles to embrace the idea, which would be no easy task given the antipathy that existed between some of them. Then a venue large enough to hold as many fans as possible would need to be secured; and an entire organization established to handle publicity, conduct ticket sales and create the infrastructure of a huge concert -- stage, lights, sound system, etc. And then there is the matter of who would play the part of John Lennon, a no-win proposition if ever there was one, as nobody could ever measure up to the stature and abilities of John Lennon, and any choice would be met with overwhelming criticism.

Now, substitute Grateful Dead for Beatles and Jerry Garcia for John Lennon and you have a crystal clear window into what promoter Peter Shapiro was up against when he envisioned the "Fare Thee Well" Grateful Dead shows that took place over the last two weekends at Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium and Chicago's Soldier Field.

"To bring that feeling back again, the feeling we all had when we went to Dead shows," Shapiro answered when I asked him what his original intention had been. "That feeling was most potent at summer outdoor shows, so that is why I went in the direction I did in putting on these shows."

When asked about the seemingly impossible task of convincing the remaining members of the band -- Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann -- to get on board, Shapiro again turned in a personal direction. "I really missed it, which probably helped create the scenario where I wouldn't stop pushing to make it happen until I had gotten each of the guys to say 'yes.'"

Shapiro has been the subject of intense criticism (including by myself) ranging from the way ticket sales were handled to the choice of Chicago's Soldier Field. There have been accusations of "bait and switch," questions about a seemingly sudden $4 per ticket increase and even suspicions that the Santa Clara shows were planned all along but withheld until the Chicago shows were sold out.

Throughout the entire process, Shapiro has kept his head up and his eye on the target, all the while encouraging his critics to make their final assessments on the basis of the music -- "Can't wait for the music to start after all of this!" -- and insisting that "the truth will come out." Therefore, now that the shows have come and gone, I offer you my official Grateful Dead "Fare Thee Well" Report Card.

"Fare the Well" broke capacity records for Soldier Field with attendance
over 71,000 on July 5.

The venues

Levi's Stadium and Soldier Field are NFL stadiums built to accommodate huge numbers of people. Indeed, all-time attendance records were set each day at Soldier Field, with the final show topping out at 71,000 people. Staging a musical event at a huge megastadium is extremely problematic, especially for Deadheads who are known for their musical sophistication, and many of whom have seen the Dead and splinter groups, such as the Jerry Garcia Band and Kingfish, at small intimate venues that accommodate as few as several hundred people.

The sound system that is required to reach every corner of a venue that holds 70,000 people is enormous, very loud (more on this below in the music section) and not conducive to appreciating fine details in music.

On the plus side, in terms of pure spectacle these venues were extremely impressive, and conducive to a moving experience. Singing "brown-eyed women and red grenadine" or "love is real, not fade away" in unison with 70,000 people were powerful experiences capable of bringing the audience to tears, and not possible in a small, intimate venue.

Getting in and out of these venues was a true test in patience and tolerance, especially given the sheer numbers and the Draconian policies (which were not consistent between the two venues -- or even from day to day within the same venue) concerning backpacks, food, water and other prohibited items.

In short, a Dead concert in a stadium is not conducive to the truest Grateful Dead experience. And while I recognize that there was no other option, given the enormous demand for tickets, I still have to give the venues a low but passing grade of C.

The staging

The trappings, such as the stage, the light show, the archival footage and photographs of the band, the large monitors (particularly during the drum solo, which enabled everyone to see some of the crazy percussion equipment Mickey Hart was playing), the banners outside, the artwork and the archival photos placed throughout the venue, were all very well done. Shapiro and Co. succeeded in creating a truly outstanding tribute to the Grateful Dead in this area and deserve a lot of credit for it.

Handing out a rose to every single attendee on the first night in both venues was a really nice touch, and the "video curtain call" during the final encore, "Attics of My Life," in which a photo of each of the seven musicians was shown on the monitors, engendering a warm and enthusiastic round of applause, was nothing short of ingenious. Therefore, I'm giving the staging a solid A.

Original Grateful Dead drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart celebrate after a drum solo.

Ticket sales

There were two venues, and ticket sales were handled in a much different way for the Levi's Stadium shows than they were for the Soldier Field shows. (For some details on this, please refer to stewart-sallo/grateful-dead-additional-fare-thee-well-shows_b_7041670.html" target="_hplink">my follow-up article). Therefore, I will be giving two grades, one for each venue.

A lot has changed over the course of the Grateful Dead's 50-year history in the way concert tickets are sold, and not for the better. In short, the concert ticketing machine has been corporatized in much the same way that many other industries have. But the Grateful Dead has always represented a decidedly non-corporate, alternative approach to doing business (see Barry Barnes' brilliant book, Everything I Know about Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead for more on this).

The corporatized customs of the modern era collided with the very persona of the Grateful Dead in connection with the originally announced Chicago shows, leading to some serious controversy. Accusations of a money grab and the selling out of the band by the promoter were rampant at one point, and rightly so. The way ticket sales were handled -- with an initial mail order that resulted in only 30,000 tickets being fulfilled out of 700,000 ticket requests -- left literally hundreds of thousands of fans feeling betrayed and alienated from their beloved band.

This miscalculation on the part of the promoter -- both in terms of the demand for tickets, as well as the fallout that resulted -- was the biggest blunder of the entire event, and it almost cost the band its rightful legacy. So, for the Chicago part of the event I am giving a grade of D.

However, as Shakespeare said, "He who laughs last, laughs best." Or, put another way, it's not the impression you make, it's the impression you leave. And when Peter Shapiro responded to the criticism by working hard to convince the band to add the two Santa Clara shows and selling 90 percent of the tickets through an online mail order system, he left a very positive lasting impression that preserved the Grateful Dead's legacy as a vehicle for independent thought and socially responsible action. Bob Weir illustrated this when he roared a previously unheard verse -- "You can buy the whole damn government today" -- during the Dead's anti-establishment anthem, "Throwing Stones," on the final night in Chicago.

Even with the improvements brought about by the Santa Clara shows, there were still accusations of impropriety. Numerous fans claimed there had been a "bait and switch" in which the seating chart was revised after the mail order was already complete, in one case resulting in a customer saying, "This is shameless. I was overcharged by around $50 per ticket. Someone needs to hold them accountable." And there was also a $4 per ticket increase across the board between Seating Chart No. 1 and Seating Chart No. 2.

Further, the original intention was to have two sections on the "floor," one immediately in front of the stage (the "pit") that was standing room only, and one towards the rear that would be reserved seating. This, too, changed in midstream when the entire floor area became standing room only.

According to Shapiro, the $4 increase was a service charge, and all of the other changes were made to accommodate more people. "We did make changes, and we did them to get more people in."

As far as the "bait and switch" is concerned, Shapiro says many of the ticket orders did not match the sections that were being requested, and in the interest of providing access to the shows, certain decisions were made that did not always result in a perfect match between the order and the tickets issued. He also says that anyone who feels that they were overcharged will have an opportunity to request a refund.

"What we did we felt was better than rejecting them. After the show there is a period where you can send [the ticket stub] back and receive a refund. The instructions will be posted by July 10."

With all of that in mind, I'm giving the Santa Clara part of ticket sales a B grade.

The 'core four'

The surviving members of the band -- Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann -- were simply fabulous during these shows. Weir's voice was as true and powerful as ever, and during his rendition of "Wharf Rat," during the Sunday show in Santa Clara, he sang so well that it was easy to forget that this had been Jerry Garcia's song prior to his death.

At the age of 75, Phil Lesh hasn't lost anything as a bass player, and his playing was simply excellent throughout. Lesh was never a strong vocalist, but the absence of Garcia during the last 20 years has called upon him to step forward as a singer, and he has done so admirably in the various post-Garcia bands he has played in.

In terms of authenticity, the drum solo was the most satisfying part of these shows. Hart and Kreutzmann were in top form and provided one hell of a ride when the rest of the band left the stage. Hart, in particular, has continued to refine and hone his craft over the years, and the audience was treated to a skillful and dynamic performance each night that was absolutely Grateful Dead in every way.

It's unbelievably noteworthy that the "core four" have been doing this for 50 years. How many people do you know who have stayed at any job for 50 years, much less a job so physically demanding as playing in a rock band? Seeing them do what they're doing at their age is truly an inspiration in that they refuse to allow their age to be a factor that prevents them from continuing to do what they love and to do it with ever increasing excellence. The "core four" get an A grade.

Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist, Bob Weir, exhibited a youthful energy that belied his 67 years.

The guest musicians

The problem of replacing Jerry Garcia was ever-present throughout these shows, as it has been in every iteration of the Grateful Dead that has been attempted for the past 20 years. It simply can't be done, and there's no getting around it.

Trey Anastasio is a very talented guitarist. He filled in admirably and at times brilliantly. But his playing lacked the sensitivity and subtlety that Garcia played with, and this was an issue throughout the five shows for anyone who saw the Dead with Jerry or who has studied his playing. On the more straight ahead rock 'n' roll tunes, such as "Hell in a Bucket," "Alabama Getaway" and "Not Fade Away," Anastasio was a great fit, and his playing was especially enjoyable. On the more subtle material, such as "Box of Rain," "Crazy Fingers" and "Jack Straw," his playing was too predominant and he frequently played over the other musicians and even the vocals, at times.

Anastasio's background vocals were a great addition to the band, and his lead singing was overall solid. His voice has a sweet quality to it that made him a good substitute for the similar sweetness with which Garcia sang.

There is no question that Bruce Hornsby is the most talented pianist to ever play with the band. And his lead and background vocals were second only to Weir's. I only wish he was given more of an opportunity to shine. His piano playing was often lost in the mix, and he was not given enough opportunity to sing the lead parts.

Jeff Chimenti was fun to watch, and he delivered some memorable organ solos, but like Hornsby he was mostly lost in the mix and didn't really have the chance to show his stuff. I wondered at times why there was a need for two keyboards in a band that was already overstaffed.

Overall, the guest musicians get a B.

Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh, a liver transplant survivor, urged the audience at the end of each show to become organ donors.

The music

This band repeatedly delivered a Grateful Dead experience that was deeply satisfying to even the most discerning in attendance. With the exception of the first show in Santa Clara -- which was all but ruined by a lack of chemistry among the members of the band and a perplexing set list (more on this below in the next section) -- there were moments of true ecstasy in every show.

Still, the volume was excessively loud throughout, as if a stage full of musicians were trying to establish themselves, rather than playing their part in a cohesive musical act. As a result, the sound was often muddy and it was difficult to hear what each musician was playing.

Despite the truly outstanding skill level of the individual musicians, this was a band that never had a chance to achieve its true potential, as true band chemistry cannot be achieved over the course of just five shows. There were times when I was reminded of the movieInvasion of the Body Snatchers, in that it looks like a person you recognize and sounds kind of like the person but it's nagging at you that there's something missing, like a body that is inhabited by the wrong soul.

Nevertheless, this band left nothing on the table and gave it their all, despite the challenges of too little rehearsal time and insufficient opportunity to develop chemistry. It was an incredible effort to put this thing together and to pull it off as well as they did, and because it was such a remarkable achievement that delivered a truly outstanding Grateful Dead experience overall, I am giving the band an A.

The set lists

Just to get this out of the way, the first night in Santa Clara was by far the worst of the five shows, and I would attribute this largely to the set list, which covered far too much material from the band's early period, and none of it very well. I admired the commitment to stray from the "hit parade," but songs like "Alligator," "Born Cross-Eyed," "Cream Puff War," "Viola Lee Blues," "Cryptical Envelopment" and "What's Become of the Baby" should have been integrated gradually over the course of the five shows (or skipped entirely).

The fact that this group presented five entire shows while only repeating two songs ("Truckin'" and "Cumberland Blues") was simply phenomenal. They covered a lot of ground and the fact that the shows varied a lot from one to the next was very Grateful Dead-like.

Here are the most glaring omissions:

"Going Down the Road," "Dancing in the Streets," "Mama Tried," "Mexicali Blues," "Big River Blues," "Good Lovin'," "Cold Rain and Snow," "Beat it on Down the Line," "Iko Iko," "Ramble On Rose," "Ship of Fools," "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," "Greatest Story Ever Told," "Big Railroad Blues," "Dire Wolf" and "New Speedway Boogie."

I would have rather heard any of these than "What's Become of the Baby." In any case, simply by virtue of the immense ground that was covered with only two repeats, I'm giving the set lists an A.

The full band at Soldier Field, left to right, Bruce Hornsby, Jeff Chimenti, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Trey Anastasio, Bill Kreutzmann

The overall experience

While there were times when I felt like I was in a time capsule that had travelled to the future, rather than being taken back to the good old Grateful Dead of the '60s, '70s and '80s, the predominant feeling that was shared among those who experienced these shows ranged from very positive to absolutely ecstatic. Just having the opportunity to see the incredible canon of the Grateful Dead, arguably the most beloved band of the rock 'n' roll era, performed live is quite a gift, regardless of the details.

The Grateful Dead are a true American band with a concept of America that so many of us want to come true. That is why their fans came up with $40 million (ticket sales) to bring them back one more time, and despite the many issues that popped up along the way, they did not disappoint us. In turn they gave us one more dose of inspiration and a chance to share their unique message with a new generation.

The "Fare Thee Well" shows brought forward a broader cultural awareness of what the Grateful Dead really is and what the band means to its fans that can't help but be infectious. And despite the problems associated with taking the Grateful Dead to yet another level of popularity, the mainstreaming of the Dead has legitimized the band and the movement it represents by bringing it to a larger group of people than ever before.

Peter Shapiro, Madison House, all of the staff and crew, especially the band, deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what can only be seen as a stunning musical achievement. In the final analysis, this was the most Grateful Dead-like band that we've seen since Jerry died. It was not the Grateful Dead, simply because nothing could ever be the Grateful Dead without Jerry. But it was a damn good Grateful Dead cover band. And it was a Grateful Dead concert.

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10 Seriously Funny Comedians From Illinois

Fri, 2015-07-10 09:46
Could your hometown also be the home of your favorite comedians? These 10 actors, singers, and writers all grew up in Illinois before they led wildly successful careers in Hollywood, Broadway, and beyond. In no particular order, here are the unveiled origins of these 10 Illinois comedians. Who are your favorite comedians? Let us know in the comments below!

1. Gary Sinise (Blue Island)

Sinise has not only topped the charts with his stand-up, directing, and voice acting, but he has also been a familiar face in movies such as "Of Mice and Men" (which he directed), "Forrest Gump" (in which he was nominated for a Golden Globe for best supporting actor), and "Open Season."

2. Seth Meyers (Evanston)

Meyers has made regular appearances on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," specifically on the "Weekend Update." He was also a head writer for SNL, producing some of the show's funniest material. He currently has an NBC talk show called "Late Night with Seth Meyers."

3. Jim Belushi (Chicago)

Belushi followed in the footsteps of his older brother, John Belushi, and joined the Chicago theater group The Second City. After making his debut into the comedy world, Belushi became a regular on "Saturday Night Live." He later dominated the film world in movies like "The Man with One Red Shoe" and "Little Shop of Horrors." With his amazing voice impersonations and sharp humor, Belushi is truly one of the greatest comedians of our time.

4. Betty White (Oak Park)

From her role as Rose Nylund in the television sitcom "The Golden Girls" to her recent roasting of Justin Bieber on Comedy Central, Betty White has captivated her viewers with an elegance paired with a devilish wit. She has not only won seven Emmy Awards, but she is also the oldest winner of a competitive Grammy Award.

5. Richard Pryor (Peoria)

A winner of an Emmy and five Grammys, Pryor has seen national acclaim through a multitude of artistic facets. He was known for his biting humor during his stand-up performances and for his regular appearances in Hollywood films. Jerry Seinfeld called Pryor the "Picasso of our profession."

6. Robin Williams (Chicago)

We fell in love with him as the voice of the Genie in Disney's "Aladdin," and we marveled at his comedic (and even very serious) acting in "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Good Will Hunting," and "Dead Poets Society." Robin Williams was one of the most successful comedians of our time. Not only were his stand-up performances held in sold-out, colossal venues, but his film credits are of utmost acclaim.

7. Melissa McCarthy (Plainfield)

Though she first rose to prominence for her role as Sookie St. James on "Gilmore Girls," McCarthy quickly made a name for herself, ultimately appearing on "Saturday Night Live," "Mike & Molly," and the outrageously funny hit "Bridesmaids." She recently starred in the comedy "Tammy" and continues to charm us with her warm, fearless humor.

8. Kathy Griffin (Oak Park)

Griffin is a stand-up and television comedian who also has her own talk show. She had her big break on her show "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List" and since then her career has skyrocketed. She remains a prime example of strong female comedians in Hollywood and an activist for LGBT communities.

9. Bob Newhart (Oak Park)

Newhart is a stand-up comedian and actor well known for his billboard-topping comedy album "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" which remains the 20th best-selling comedy album in history. He's known for his straight-faced delivery and biting conviction, as well as his roles in "Catch-22″ and "Elf."

10. Danitra Vance (Chicago)

Vance was the first African American woman to appear as a repertory player on SNL. She inspired hundreds of women in her field, and she consistently produced some of the greatest comedic work of her time. She is known for her work in movies such as "Sticky Fingers" and "Limit Up" as well as "Miami Vice" and "Trying Times."

To see 9 more comedians from Illinois, check out Reboot Illinois.

Sources: Biography, IMDB, Lifetime

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The Collateral Damage of Austerity

Thu, 2015-07-09 15:15
"Officials in France and in Brussels said on Monday that they were unhappy and dumbfounded with the no vote, but let it be known that they would hold the door open to the possibility of a compromise between Greece and its creditors."

Dumbfounded? Why? Because the godlike power of the creditors was insulted?

Mainstream coverage of economic matters -- the above quote is from the New York Times -- seldom cuts very deep into the world of money, seldom questions who's in charge, and seldom dares to suggest that an economic system ought to serve humankind rather than vice versa.

The austerity packages Greece has endured as its condition of economic bailout over the past half-decade -- dictated by those who wielded financial power and were determined to profit enormously off the suffering of Europe's economic losers -- have not only further gutted the country's broken economy and prevented any sort of recovery toward self-sufficiency, but have shattered the socioeconomic structure of life for a huge segment of the Greek population. All of which is... you know, too damn bad. Money is as money does. The creditors have no choice but to impose severe restrictions on Greek social spending.

As Robert Kuttner wrote recently at Huffington Post, Greece's economic comeback, including needed governmental reforms such as more effective tax collection, "would be so much easier and more effective in the context of a recovery program as opposed to a debtors' prison."

Much of what I read about the situation reminds me of the way the mainstream media cover war: as both necessary and, in human terms, utterly abstract, with its consequences the stuff of separate, lesser stories, which have no bearing on the war's national value and ongoing necessity.

The collateral damage of Greece's austerity includes:

• An unemployment rate of more than 25 percent, and nearly double that for young people. "Meanwhile, our future flees. A quarter million university graduates have abandoned our nation. They have no choice: unemployment for those under 25 has hit 48.6 percent," Michael Nevradakis and Greg Palast write at OpEd News.

• Pensions slashed multiple times, "two-thirds of pensioners live below the poverty line," according to Nevradakis and Palast.

• Devastating cuts in healthcare, leaving nearly a million people without any, the U.K. Independent reported last year. The article quoted Dr. David Stuckler of Oxford University, lead author of a report on the crisis in the medical journal The Lancet: "The cost of austerity is being borne mainly by ordinary Greek citizens, who have been affected by the largest cutbacks to the health sector seen across Europe in modern times." The consequences of this have been particularly devastating to the most vulnerable, with infant mortality rising by 43 percent between 2008 and 2010, and stillbirths up 21 percent, according to the article.

• "And, for the first time since World War II, widespread starvation had returned," Nevradakis and Palast write. "500,000 children in Greece are said to be malnourished. Students fainting from hunger in frigid schools which cannot afford heating oil is now a common phenomenon."

Debtors' prison, indeed. "Imagine," Kuttner writes, "if the Europeans came bearing genuine technical assistance, investment capital and debt restructuring as opposed to more austerity demands."

Imagine an economic system focused on serving human, and planetary, needs. Yet in the current dying howl of capitalism, human needs are reduced to frivolous luxuries. Where's the profit in good schools and healthy children? As the profiteers impose austerity on the vulnerable, indebtedness becomes a condition to be mocked. Yet we are all indebted. Our lives depend on the good will of others.

In the wake of World War II, for instance, Germany was forgiven most of its Nazi-era debt. "In the 1950s, Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts," Thomas Piketty and other economists point out in an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, published in The Nation. This forgiveness allowed it to make "a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover . . ."

And Kuttner asks us to "consider the many hundreds of billions of dollars of official aid that went to the big banks that caused the financial collapse of 2007-2008. Their sins, and the resulting damage to the global economy, were far worse than those of Greece. Yet they were showered with official aid. That double standard is also staggering."

A bogus moral authority seems to accompany the accumulation of wealth -- a sense that one deserves it, while those without wealth deserve servitude and hopelessness. Beyond this moral authority lies the desperate need not to recognize the common humanity of those who are struggling to survive.

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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Maybe Bad News Would Be Good for Illinois' Budget Crisis

Thu, 2015-07-09 11:41
That old adage about crisis begetting opportunity loses its punch when you take the crisis out of the equation.

It was only last week that Gov. Bruce Rauner was both bracing for and embracing a looming Illinois government shutdown.

"Change is hard. Change was always going to be hard, but we need to have change. If all we do is keep the status quo, and if all we do is just raise taxes to cover up the status quo, we'll continue in our long-term, slow decline," Rauner told employees of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency in Springfield on the final day of FY 2015.

Rauner's message, repeated in numerous headlines, was clear: The pain of a government shutdown is worth it if eventually it brings real change.

A week into a new budget year with no budget, however, the message seems to have shifted. Now Rauner, in a once-in-a-lifetime alliance with public employee unions, has vowed to make this budget-free period as painless as possible. Either by court order or by legislation, Rauner says he'll make sure government never shuts down, state employees never miss a paycheck and most Illinoisans will be minimally inconvenienced during what still will be referred to as a "shutdown."

I understand Rauner's desire to shield non-combatants from the flying shrapnel of his power struggle with House Speaker Michael Madigan. I also know the hardship that can come from missing a single paycheck, let alone several months' worth, as easily could happen in the situation at hand.

But I also know that Illinois politicians' chronic avoidance of these kinds of painful choices got the state government into the miserable financial condition it's in now.

For years, our leaders in Springfield deceived voters into believing they could afford far more government than they actually paid for.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois, and check out this video of Rauner speaking July 8.

In his discussion, Rauner made it clear that he wanted to get the budget sorted out. But he wouldn't do it at the price of his dearly held ideas for "structural reforms," and so had a message for legislative Democrats: If you want to pass a tax increase in order to balance the budget, go ahead. But I'm not signing off on it, so you'd better make sure you have enough votes to override a veto. Read more about Rauner's remarks at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Best of the best: The top 10 hospitals in Illinois

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My Daily Routine -- Haunted by Chicago Inner-City Violence

Thu, 2015-07-09 10:54
I have a routine. On my morning bus rides to my job on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campus, I peer down at my phone, scrolling down my various news-feeds, reading the latest information from news outlets, specifically looking for information about my hometown of West-side Chicago.

Photo Credit: Rasheena Fountain

Then, I see the dreaded headline -- a headline that gives me pause, a burst of sadness, followed by feelings of helplessness and defeat, a headline usually starting with "Over the weekend..." I brace myself and continue to read the numbers of gunshot and homicide victims, frightened by the fact that in recent months the victims being well into the double digits in a single weekend.

While the news stories are disturbing for anyone's eyes, my eyes have witnessed firsthand the devastation of gun violence running wild in my neighborhood. I have seen bloody concrete, bullet-riddled side paneling on houses, broad daylight muggings and gunfire, a bullet-riddled body lying outside of the corner store. When I lived in the Austin area on the Westside of Chicago, shootings and drugs were a normal part of the environment. Kids in our neighborhood enjoyed many laughs on a daily basis, doing what is normal for children, but a big topic of discussion for even younger children was too often, who got shot. And over the years even after having left the Westside in my teenage years to live with my dad in Fairfax, VA, there was always news from back home of former classmates being lost to the war and family being shot. It never stopped.

My childhood in the Austin area started in 1990 -- a time before a growing public awareness of Chicago's inner-city violence, yet the news headlines in 2015 feel all too familiar even over 20 years later. I feel as if I have long left a war that is continuous, feeling guilt for my knowledge that many will not escape and for the voice in my head that normalizes the violence, because it is all I have ever known there to be.

It has been seven years since I packed my bags, with a less-than-one-year-old baby with me, to head the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to finish my bachelor's degree. Leaving the city I love, was one of the hardest decisions I made, but knowing how much harder life for a single mother is, I knew I had to try better myself if I did not want my daughter to experience some of the challenges I had living on the Westside of Chicago as a little girl where many of my family still live.

Now six years after I earned my bachelor's, my daughter turned eight years old, the age I first witnessed gun violence. I have taken extra pride in tucking her in at night, hearing the cricket sounds mix with the silent nights surrounding our Urbana, IL home. I take pride in her innocence that is still intact -- without the images and sounds of gunfire in her memories. And while there is this peace, I still yearn for home; I yearn for the familiarity of home, sweet Chicago. But the familiarity I find is the one I find to be sad. This familiarity haunts me and has been following me for years.

Some little girl similar to me will lose a classmate. Some mother will lose a son, and somewhere in Chicago a life will be lost senselessly to gun violence, all to be included in the next day's headline that has become part of my daily reading routine. And although years and miles away from the violence that was once a common occurrence in my life, I empathize with those dealing with it because I am them, I was them, and I struggle daily with the fact that it shouldn't be anyone.

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10 "Buzz"-Worthy Beers Brewed In Illinois

Wed, 2015-07-08 17:11
There are hundreds of beers brewed at more than 80 breweries in Illinois, as listed in the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. These include famous classics like Goose Island's 312 and smaller, niche brews known only to locals and true hops aficionados.

A scan of user ratings on the website shows the 25 brews listed below earned the highest marks for Illinois beers. Most of the beers came from just a few different breweries, most notably Half Acre, Pipeworks and Goose Island.

Goose Island began in Chicago in 1988, inspired by founder John Hall's interest in the local breweries he saw while traveling in Europe. The brewery was built in 1995 at its original location of Sheffield and Clybourn Aves. in Chicago.

Half Acre began in 2006 with help from a contract brewer in Wisconsin. The company's brewery, taproom and store now are at 4257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.

Pipeworks, brewed at 1675 N. Western Ave., is sold throughout Chicago and the Chicago area. It does not currently operate a taproom and its brewery is for production only, not for retail sales.

ABV refers to the alcohol content of each beer. Rankings are based on a combination of expert ratings and user votes on the site.

25. Double Daisy Cutter-Half Acre Beer Company

Rating: 95

ABV: 8.5%

BeerAdvocate description: Double Daisy Cutter is a monster version of the original Daisy Cutter Pale Ale. A heftier grain bill amps up the weight and double dry hopping insures there's enough hops to recede your gums.

24. Spotted Puffer-Pipeworks Brewing Company

Rating: 98

ABV: 9.5%

BeerAdvocate description: N/A

23. Mathias Imperial IPA-Haymarket Pub & Brewery

Rating: 96

ABV: 10%

BeerAdvocate description: In honor of Officer Mathias Degan, the first of 8 of Chicago's Finest to lose their lives in the line of duty during the Haymarket Affair. Copious amounts of Citra Hops deliver wonderful citrus and mango notes. At 10% ABV, we feel Mathias is a proper representation of the strength and courage of our Boys in Blue. Raise one to thank the fine Officers of the Chicago Police Department for their sacrifice.

22. Mosaic-Pipeworks Brewing Company

Rating: 97

ABV: 10%

BeerAdvocate description: This shadow warrior is known for epic stone fruit and citrus notes. This merciless mercenary will most certainly stun the senses. Pipeworks Mosaic is our IIPA generously hopped with pounds and pounds of Mosaic hops per barrel.

21. Unicorn Hits Rock Bottom-Pipeworks Brewing Company

Rating: 97

ABV: 9.5%

BeerAdvocate description: (Read to the tune of the "Cheers" theme song OR sing aloud on a bus to the tune of the "Cheers" theme song)
Makin' this beer in the world today takes all the Citra you've got...
Grainin' out with some buddies sure would help a lot...
Wouldn't PW like to collaborate
Sometimes the brewers at Rock Bottom want to go
where everyone knows their names
and pdubz is glad they came
You wanna brew where you can see
all our troubles are the same
As part 1 of a 2 part collab with Rock Bottom Brewery Chicago, we've made a single hopped Citra DIPA brewed with honey.

20. Barrel Aged The Jones Dog-Pipeworks Brewing Company

Rating: 97

ABV: 13%

BeerAdvocate description: The first batch of Imperial Jones Dog we ever brewed found its way into some Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace barrels for 10 months and we are sure glad it did. The imperial milk stout brewed with cacao nibs and vanilla beans came out of the barrel with wonderful notes of bourbon, oak, barrel char, vanilla, coconut, dark fruits and dark chocolate. Delicious now or good to cellar in a temperature controlled environment.

19. As You Wish...-Pipeworks Brewing Company

Rating: 98

ABV: 11%

BeerAdvocate description: In my own story, you are roaring off into the unknown on a grand quest, with beer and bacon to nourish and nary a green vegetable for miles. One day, I'll read that book aloud to you. Go then, my love, there are other worlds than these. Until we meet again.

18. Galactic Double Daisy Cutter-Half Acre Beer Company

Rating: 97

ABV: 8%

BeerAdvocate description: We've brewed a variant of Double Daisy Cutter we're calling Galactic Double Daisy Cutter. This version highlights Galaxy hops, a bruiser grown in Australia specifically to make palates numb. This beer insisted on being a beast. Uber-hazy and jam packed with the sticky, Galaxy hops, this beer isn't for the faint of heart.

As if pulled from the core of a distant, inhospitable planet, The Galactic Double Daisy is juicy and dank, rough and tumble and beautifully ugly. Strap on your boots and pull down some of the ooze, Galactic Double Daisy is here.

17. Three Floyds Anicca-Half Acre Beer Company

Rating: 97

ABV: 7.3%

BeerAdvocate description: Anicca IPA is single hopped snake juice showcasing the Mosaic hop, a plant throwing off a cornucopia of fruit flavors. Bitter sweet and full of force, this IPA bends your brain into a tropical storm of writhing glory. As the philosophy explains, Anicca will come and go, so come sip this before all is gone.

16. Crimson Snapper-Pipeworks Brewing Company

Rating: 98

ABV: 9.5%

BeerAdvocate description: Imperial IPA brewed with honey & blood orange juice.
Duuuuuuude. Wait what was I saying? Oh that's right. Doritos, like what if they grew on trees? Dud, if a Dorito tree fell in a forest, and no one heard it, I'd like eat the whole thing. Ever get insulted by what Netflix like suggests you would like? I don't want to watch Roseanne. Again.

To check out the top 15 rated Illinois-brewed beers, visit Reboot Illinois.

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Illinois state employees don't have many options left for pay during shutdown

Wed, 2015-07-08 13:44
Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Larsen on Tuesday ruled that without a state budget, the Illinois Comptroller's Office can't issue paychecks to the vast majority of state employees.

In essence, Larsen said there is no creative interpretation to this line in the Illinois Constitution: "The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State."

No budget, no employee paychecks.

The ruling was a setback to Gov. Bruce Rauner and Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger, both of whom argued that the state needs to continue paying all its employees their full salaries during the current budget deadlock so it can stay in compliance with federal labor law. Readers should take note: This may be the only time that Rauner and government unions see eye-to-eye no matter how many terms Rauner serves.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan had sought the opinion to make clear what Munger's office can and can't pay when there is no state budget signed into law. Madigan had argued that without authorization via a state budget, the comptroller's office could pay only essential state employees the federal minimum wage, as required by the Federal Labor Standards Act.

"I absolutely want state employees to be paid their full wages. But the Illinois Constitution and case law are clear: The state cannot pay employees without a budget. The judge's order reaffirms this," Madigan said after Larsen issued her ruling. "It remains up to the governor and the Legislature to enact a state budget to allow for necessary government operations and programs to continue."

But Madigan's motion also contained a memo from the state Department of Central Management Services that said the state's payroll is maintained using "several different payroll systems" and it would take "nine to 12 months" to process roughly 45,000 state employee records to come into federal compliance. When a budget eventually is in place, according to the memo, it will be equally difficult to restore the employees' original payroll status.

Thus, the best way for the state to remain compliant with the federal rules is to simply continue paying everyone their full salary on schedule, the memo concludes.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

One unusual affect of the court ruling that determined state employees could not be paid during the shutdown was that it united Rauner and union the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who are usually adversaries. Check out at Reboot Illinois the ins and outs of this unlikely ally-ship.

NEXT ARTICLE: Best of the best: The top 10 hospitals in Illinois

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An Open Letter to Muslim Americans: Stop Self-Segregating

Wed, 2015-07-08 13:22
My fellow Muslim Americans,

I'm endlessly proud to be part of our community, but I still recognize that you, my fellow community members, and I have a huge problem when it comes to our integration and assimilation, both with each other, and with larger American society. A quick disclaimer: This isn't a call to action to give up cricket for baseball, tell our women to take their hijabs off their heads and wear them around their necks, or start calling it "chai tea" (honestly, I cringed even just typing all of the above). What I do mean, though, is that there's a reason other religious groups in the U.S. have what the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) President Trita Parsi calls a "critical mass" of political-ideologically similar people, and therefore don't have to fight as hard to get their voices heard when it comes time for Congress to vote on certain issues.

Right-wing conservatives are actually correct in saying that this problem does stem partially from immigration, though they're wrong about in what sense. It's not that too many Muslim immigrants are causing a safety hazard by coming to America -- it's that too many of us are coming and self-segregating. There is a lot-I repeat, a lot-of structural and institutional racism that goes into this segregation, but it is also at least in part undeniably willful. Many families, portions of mine included, emigrated from their homelands to the U.S. (and even Canada) with the intention of simply gaining a degree from a good university before going back to their homes and living the good life. But whether they left and could not return because of political circumstances or by choice, the fact remains that these families are still here, gravitating towards each other, and sticking to themselves.

Despite only consisting of a few families, the Muslim community I grew up in still fell victim to this alarming trend; everyone's children would play together, but as the community grew larger and larger, ethnic subgroups began forming: Pakistanis in one corner, Bangladeshis in another, Arabs in another. Black Muslims were few and far between in our tiny area, but had they not been, they, too, would have likely been boxed in by themselves. Of course, this is not always the case- as one of my friends very wisely put it, self-segregation is truly a spectrum of which there are varying levels. Nonetheless, whether obvious or implicit, the condition is ubiquitous.

It's at least partially due to this implicit racial superiority that every ethnic group feels over the other that Muslim Americans ourselves have forgotten what we look like. The first image that jumps to mind when we hear the word "Muslim" is of a bearded man in a kufiya or lungi. We've started to equate "Arab" with "Muslim" and vice versa -- despite the fact that Black Muslims make up the largest percentage of American Muslims in the country.

This is extremely problematic, especially given our country's current political climate and the current state of race relations in America. How can we continue to stand by while our Black brothers and sisters face double discrimination? Worse still, how can we ourselves continue to contribute to this discrimination by otherizing the largest group of Muslim Americans by casually throwing around racial slurs, with the excuse that it must be okay since that's how it was in our home countries, or that here in America, we're minorities, too? If we cannot tackle issues like racism within our own community, how can we expect to be taken seriously when we protest targeted surveillance and discrimination against all of us?

"Intersectionality" is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the academic world these days. In the two weeks that I've been in DC alone, I must have heard at least a hundred times, and for good reason: It's the key to overcoming our individual differences and engaging with each other. After all, it's commonly defined as "the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another" -- the exact opposite of single-issue activism and self-segregation. But for all of our talk about intersectionality, Muslim Americans fail to recognize and exercise it within our community.

I saw the beauty of intersectionality in practice for myself this past winter when my fellow Northwestern University students passed a resolution through the student senate calling for divestment from corporations complicit in the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. The issue on its own was so contentious (for whatever reason) that had other minority groups on campus -- from members of MeChA to those of For Members Only to those of the Rainbow Alliance, and all those in between -- not also seen how the debate affected them and identified with it, the resolution would most certainly have failed.

It's time that we Muslim Americans in general learn from groups like NUDivest, and come out of the shadows of their own separate corners and engage with each other first, and then identify with other communities outside ours as well. No, we do not have to play to the critics and actively condemn terrorist attacks (both attempted and executed) by people who have warped interpretations of our peaceful religion, especially when all of White America and Christian America has yet to apologize for colonialism and the Crusades respectively. But we must recognize that we are all by default the intersection of various identities. We cannot pretend that we can separate out our ethnic parts from our Muslim parts, or that Islamophobia can be tackled without also addressing the racism our Black brothers and sisters face.

Our struggles are one and if not exactly the same, at least similar and connected enough that we must address the issue of intracommunity racism and embrace intersectionality head on. The fate of the Muslim American community is dependent on this. After all, if we do not overcome our own differences with each other and speak collectively on our own behalf -- who will?

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How to Be an Ex in Another Person's Life

Wed, 2015-07-08 12:25
I don't know how to be a good ex-girlfriend.

The statement alone seems contradictory -- after all, why should I want to be a good ex-girlfriend?

I didn't know what to expect after my boyfriend and I broke up in the fall of 2013 after six years of being in a committed relationship. We were together most of the time, either in person or connected by text or social media. But when our relationship became long-distance when I moved to New York, certain cracks appeared in our foundation. I could feel the door to my past and my relationship closing.

For some reason, there's this expectation that we'll automatically know what to do after a break up. We're supposed to figure out on our own how much space is good space and how much time we should spend talking about our exes, thinking about our exes and devoting to analyzing (or, in some cases, over-analyzing) what could have changed, if anything.

We're supposed to figure out how to fill these 24-hour days with chunks of time that were once spent with a person that has since been ripped from our lives, occasionally with little or no warning.

Sometimes, the decision to break up is easy. Sometimes, the significant other was toxic and you needed the support of friends and family to come to the conclusion that you're better off without them, anyway. Sometimes, the significant other did something so terrible it really wasn't forgivable.

But sometimes, when the relationship needed to end mutually and on good terms, what happens then?

There is no guide to being a good ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend in someone's life. At first, this made sense to me -- there was no reason to be a good ex. There was no reason to continue being a shadow that lingers as a constant reminder of a past life that is no longer given the light of day.

An acquaintance once told me that exes who remain in communication with each other are either f*cking or fighting, and while it does seem to be true in many cases, I think there's a third way as well: An ex can be a friend.

I'd like to think I've been a good ex-girlfriend. If my ex-boyfriend needs space, I can give him the appropriate amount of space. If he needs someone to talk to, I can be that person there for him over the phone or via text or Facebook message. If he needs support, I'm available to talk and offer advice if and when I can.

The most important thing I've realized since the breakup is that respect is a key factor in determining whether an ex can be a friend or not. To figure this out, I asked myself many questions: Have I forgiven him for anything that I was upset about while we were together? Do I have any lingering feelings, any unanswered questions, any residual regrets I haven't worked through yet?

I think a big factor in determining whether you can be friends with an ex is determining whether you're mature enough to handle that kind of friendship. If it's too painful to be friends with an ex, then you have to let them go. If you get upset whenever you talk about new significant others or if you are still debating whether you love your ex or not, I don't think it's a good idea to be friends. However, if it's a platonic love, then I think it's possible.

At times, I wonder how I'm supposed to move on with my life when so much of my past was spent with one person at such an important stage of my life. How can I cut someone out who was there through all four years of college? This was the guy who consistently backed my creative pursuit in writing even when I, at times, lost confidence in myself. He's the one who had an undying faith in us and who we were as a couple and in a relationship.

Eventually, you realize a few things about being an ex in another person's life. If you decide to remain in touch, you'll realize that there's a special kind of friendship that's created when you're friends with your exes. Conversely, you might realize that there are some exes you're not able to be friends with -- not now, and not ever.

You'll realize that when you're an ex, you're no longer that special person in someone's life, and that they are moving on. But then you'll realize that it's OK, because eventually, you'll move on, too.

Also on HuffPost:

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My Q and A With Sleep Expert Mathias Basner on the Science of Sleep

Wed, 2015-07-08 11:28
Mathias Basner is an assistant professor of sleep and chronobiology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, and the deputy editor of the journal SLEEP. In answer to my questions, he shared his insights on the effects of sleep deprivation, the relationship between work and sleep, and the small steps anyone can take to improve their sleep immediately.

Describe your research on the effects of sleep loss on neurobehavioral and cognitive functions.

We perform both experimental laboratory studies and observational field studies. In the laboratory studies we sleep-deprive subjects (e.g., one night without sleep, or multiple nights with, for example, only four hours of sleep opportunity) and observe how their behavior, physiology and metabolism changes. We are obviously interested in the question "How much sleep do you need?" but also in the questions "How fast do you recover?" and "What happens if you get re-exposed to sleep deprivation after a short recovery (e.g., after a weekend with sufficient sleep)?"

Our observational studies are mainly funded by NASA and the FAA. We currently investigate the effects of aircraft noise on sleep around Philadelphia airport. We have also developed brief cognitive tests for astronauts and are currently investigating how cognitive performance changes during spaceflight. We have already investigated 24 astronauts during six-month missions on the International space Station with the so-called Psychomotor Vigilance Test. This test is based on simple reaction time and is very sensitive to sleep loss. We also investigated how astronaut performance is affected by sleep medications if they are woken up due to an emergency.

Finally, we have analyzed data on large population-based time use surveys.

You have done population studies on sleep time and waking activities. What have you found?

Our research overwhelmingly showed that time spent working was the most prominent sleep thief. It was evident across all sociodemographic strata and no matter how we approached the question.

Short sleepers started working earlier in the morning and stopped working later at night. With every hour that work or educational activities started later in the morning, sleep time increased by approximately 20 minutes. Those working multiple jobs were 61-percent more likely to be short sleepers. Moreover, self-employed respondents with more flexible work times were less likely to be short sleepers on weekdays, and average sleep time was higher during the economic crisis years with lower employment rates.

The findings also point to behaviors unrelated to work that are associated with short sleep. Common culprits appeared to include watching TV late at night or spending prolonged periods of time in the bathroom grooming each morning. In these areas, the researchers say, raising awareness about the importance of sufficient sleep for health and safety may be necessary to reduce the prevalence of short sleep.

Do you have a bedtime routine that helps you transition into sleep mode? What are a few tips you would give to someone looking to improve their sleep right now?

This is typically subsumed under the topic "sleep hygiene." Some of the tips are:

  • Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex. Entering the bedroom should be a signal for your body that it is time to retire. Importantly, keep the television out of your bedroom.

  • A light- and noise-free environment is important for undisturbed sleep. If your house is facing a busy road, try to move your bedroom to the back of the house. Closing the windows and shades may help keep the light and noise out, but make sure to vent the bedroom properly before retiring.

  • Bright-light exposure immediately before going to bed suppresses melatonin secretion, and melatonin helps us fall asleep. Turn off the lights in the bathroom and instead use the light from the hallway while grooming before bed. Bathroom mirror lights can be excessively bright and thus suppress melatonin excretion. Also, turn the light down during the late evening, and try not to expose yourself to bright light from the TV, e-readers, etc., late at night.

  • No excessive food or alcohol intake or exercise in the hours pre-bed.

What tangible improvements would a later start to the workday bring?

Our research suggests that for every hour work (and school) starts later in the morning, sleep time increases by circa 20 min. Also, we found that self-employed respondents were less likely to be short sleepers, probably due to the greater flexibility in their timing of work. Therefore, postponing work and school start times, or making them more flexible, could potentially increase sleep time. However, the supporting evidence is still scarce, and more intervention studies are needed.

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NBA Free Agency Winners And Losers

Wed, 2015-07-08 10:26
NBA free agency may not be officially over, but the marquee dominoes are off the board and we can start to evaluate what has happened.

Kevin Love turned out to be telling the truth all along when he said he would return to Cleveland, while LaMarcus Aldridge opted for a return to his home state of Texas to play for San Antonio. Plenty more happened, though, so let's take a look at the winners and losers of free agency sweepstakes 2015. If you missed it, here is my piece on the draft's winners and losers.



Hardly a free agency fixture under Gregg Popovich, this is an organization that has largely done its damage through the draft. Inking Aldridge, a four-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection with endless offensive ability, to a sparkling new max contract worth $80 million over four years sustains the Spurs' championship window that much longer. He allows Tim Duncan -- perhaps in his final year -- to play fewer minutes and the opportunity to be defended without the slew of double teams.

Moreover, Aldridge, an elite pick-and-pop big man, can run it from anywhere on the floor with Tony Parker, who excels under Popovich's side pick-and-roll action and spread out floor full of shooters. That's where Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard come into play. Signing Aldridge was huge, but retaining Green and Leonard, two of the premier perimeter defenders and corner 3-point shooters in the league, is equally significant. San Antonio now ensures itself of being competitive for at least another four years, and in addition will be buoyed by the 34-year-old former All-Star David West taking the veteran's minimum and turning down $10 million from Indiana. Frontcourt depth for the Spurs now goes from being a legitimate concern to a strength.


Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. In the case of Golden State, not reaching for a name was part one, and part two was retaining two hugely important assets in Mo Speights and Draymond Green. Green, an All-NBA First Team defender and a natural playmaking forward, will earn $85 million over the next five years. He will actually make more than MVP Stephen Curry, who signed a "smallish" four-year, $44 million deal before the 2013-14 season in the midst of his ankle woes. Green, at 25 years old, is the rare four-year collegian and second-round pick to turn from afterthought to bonafide star. Losing him would have been catastrophic because of his remarkable two-way versatility and winning characteristics.


Since when did Milwaukee become a free agent hot spot? After keeping their budding young star Khris Middleton -- albeit on a slightly robust five-year, $70 million extension -- GM John Hammond somehow convinced former Detroit power forward Greg Monroe to come on board for three years and $50 million, turning down the infamously bright lights of New York City. Monroe, as I recently highlighted, is a splendid passer and a downright workhorse who hasn't averaged fewer than 15.4 points and 9.3 rebounds over the past four seasons. And, because of his offensive nimbleness, he can allow scoring dynamo Jabari Parker to play both forward slots depending on the matchups and what suits Parker the best. Hey, if Zaza Pachulia can be effective from the elbows for coach Jason Kidd, then Monroe should thrive.

The 23-year-old Middleton, at 6-foot-7, is a big-time scorer and dead-eye shooter (40 percent career from 3) who has also shown the propensity to guard multiple spots. Because of it, he blends nicely with another emerging star on the Bucks, folk hero favorite "Greek Freak" Giannis Antetokounmpo. All of this is great news for a Milwaukee team that ranked 25th in offense on a per-possession basis, the lowest mark of any playoff team. You have to retain your top-tier talent to consistently win in this league -- just look at the Spurs and Warriors -- and the Bucks acted swiftly and appropriately with Middleton.

Reggie Jackson

The cap is expanding, so most of these contracts seem bloated, but Detroit just committed five years and $80 million to a shoot-first point guard whose career shooting percentages of 29 percent from 3 and 43 percent from the floor are only made scarier that he couldn't rack up consistent assist numbers playing with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the wide-open Oklahoma City offense. Detroit couldn't retain Monroe and losing Reggie Jackson would have hurt a lot, but there were bargains at point guard in this market, including Houston's defensive stud Patrick Beverley, who will sign a reasonable four-year, $25 million extension with the Rockets. In other words, Jackson hit the lottery, and not the little one either. I'm talking about one of those big lotteries they have in cities you've never heard of.


Memphis wins with grit and selfless team basketball on both ends. Brandan Wright hasn't exactly jumped onto your radar screen, but the Grizzlies newest power forward gives them both, along with a terrific pick-and-roll partner for Mike Conley. Plus, at three years and $18 million, he is precisely the type of bargain you're looking for after locking up Marc Gasol to a max deal. What's more is that he's a better player than Kosta Koufos, and a cheaper one too. The Grizz think they are close. The West is a constant grind and a battle of attrition. A lack of frontcourt depth is one way of making sure you don't contend and they just fixed a need.


Big-Market Teams

The Bucks and Pelicans (resigning Anthony Davis) struck it big, while some of the league's wealthiest big market franchises continue to miss out. The Knicks couldn't lure Monroe or Aldridge -- let alone secure a meeting -- and the Lakers whiffed on Aldridge, Love and Monroe, while the Celtics thought they had a real shot at Love only to find out they didn't.

What does this all mean? Maybe it's twofold: players feel like they don't need the lure of a major city to build their own brands off the court. Social media keeps everyone connected and seemingly on the same page. Perhaps more importantly, the massive leap in salary cap during the 2016-17 season means that everyone -- including the stingiest GMs -- can pony up the big bucks. Maybe the most pertinent question left is when exactly Jim Buss will finally retire from the Lakers and let someone with real basketball acumen take over as head of basketball operations?


Damian Lillard is the only remaining starter from last year's playoff team. That's how dismal the summer has gone in Portland, who not only lost Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews, but also dealt Nicolas Batum. To be fair, it retained an interesting former top-10 from Charlotte in 19-year-old Noah Vonleh and also picked up an ace rebounder in 26-year-old power forward Ed Davis, a former lottery pick himself. But giving $30 million over four years to Al-Farouq Aminu is hardly a consolation prize.

As it stands, we know one thing for certain: the Blazers have effectively missed their title window. Lillard is a fine young triggerman, but this is now a roster bereft of high-level talent and athleticism. GM Neil Olshey's team now goes from a 50-win Western Conference club into the depths of next June's lottery. It's worth noting that a central component of that is the litany of poor free agency moves by Olshey in years past, a list highlighted by Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland and Chris Kaman.

Chris Paul/Clippers

DeAndre Jordan leaving was a monumental blow for a team that loves to run and relies on its bigs to finish at the rim. Jordan was not an offensive weapon, but he finished everything around the rim (league-leading 71 percent field goal percentage) and covered up Blake Griffin's defensive flaws. The Clippers' epic postseason collapse against Houston wasn't necessarily the impetus either. Rumors of dissension between Jordan and Chris Paul have long plagued the relationship. For all of Paul's greatness, what's worse is a patterned history of incessant whining, lack of leadership and worst of all, inability to find playoff success. Not once during his brilliant 10-year career has Paul reached a conference final. With his nemesis now in Dallas, we shouldn't expect that streak to change anytime soon either.


Let's head up to the California state capital to a Kings franchise in utter disarray. He may not have had an outstanding rookie campaign, but former lottery pick Nik Stauskas appeared to be the shooting guard of the future in Sacramento last summer. Instead, the team sent him packing to Philadelphia, along with a 2018 protected first-round pick and the option to swap 2016 and 2017 first-rounders for two second-round draft choices whose names I can't even pronounce.

As if that weren't bad enough, Sacramento will spend $10 million on a one-year deal for point guard Rajon Rondo when the market clearly showed he wasn't even worth a third of that. Rondo, after all, is coming off a season in which he shot 33 percent from the line in Boston, who then dealt him to Dallas where he "improved" to 45 percent. His best basketball is clearly firmly in the rearview mirror and yet, he's going to make more money than Conley, and nearly as much as MVP Curry and All-Star Kyle Lowry.

Meanwhile, lost amid all this drama is a looming disaster with DeMarcus Cousins, the team's best asset and one of the dominant young bigs in the league today. Here's a thought: George Karl is a 64-year-old coach who's never won a title and feuded his way through a laundry list of great players. Cousins is a 24-year-old franchise cornerstone for the next decade. If this is going to turn around, Karl needs to stop acting like a petulant child and mend his tarnished relationship with Cousins. Like I said, something is very, very wrong in Sacramento.

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