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NFL Wild Card Weekend Schedule, Matchups Set

Mon, 2014-12-29 12:55
NFL fans, mark your calendars: All of the spots in the 2015 NFL Playoffs have been locked up and the schedule is set for Wild Card Weekend.

While the top two teams in both the NFC and AFC will be resting up for the Divisional Round, eight teams will be in action on Saturday, Jan. 3 and Sunday, Jan 4. In the NFC, the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks and No. 2 seed Green Bay Packers will be watching the action from home. In the AFC, the top-seeded New England Patriots and No. 2 seed Denver Broncos will be idle.

Here is the schedule for the NFL's 2015 Wild Card Weekend:

Saturday, Jan. 3

Arizona Cardinals (11-5) at Carolina Panthers (7-8-1)
Time: 4:35 p.m ET

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET

Sunday, Jan. 4

Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Time: 1:05 p.m. ET

Detroit Lions (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
Time: 4:40 p.m. ET

One Of These 12 NFL Playoff Teams Is Going To Win Super Bowl XLIX

Mon, 2014-12-29 12:49
The Super Bowl march is on.

Twelve teams have locked up spots in the 2015 NFL Playoffs. Four teams have earned first-round byes, but all of them harbor dreams of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLIX. It wasn't until the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the very last game of Week 17 that all playoff seeds and Wild Card-round pairings were set.

Here is a look at each of the 12 playoff teams, including their conference seed, regular-season records, Wild Card-weekend matchup and odds* of winning the big game in Arizona on Feb. 1, 2015:

*All odds courtesy of Bovada

Opponents Of 'Redskins' Team Name Hold Largest Ever Protest At Washington Home Game

Mon, 2014-12-29 12:48
More than 100 demonstrators gathered Sunday outside FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, home of Washington's NFL team, to protest its name and mascot on the final game of the season. While organizers had hoped for a bigger turnout, according to the Washington Post, the protest marked the largest of its kind at a home game.

The crowd reportedly formed at a church a short distance from the stadium before marching up a road heavily trafficked by Washington fans going toward the stadium from parking lots. Protesters of all ages, both Native Americans and activists of other ethnicities, held signs and chanted as people walked past.

#changethemascot rally halting #Cowboys #Redskins gameday
traffic outside FedEx

— John Woodrow Cox (@JohnWoodrowCox) December 28, 2014

We're human beings, #NotYourMascot. Our culture is beautiful, not a costume.

— tara zhaabowekwe (@zhaabowekwe) December 28, 2014

This is a huge banner. And the largest ever protest by Native Americans at a Washington home game.

— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) December 28, 2014

The event was organized by a coalition of groups that have spoken out against the use of Native American imagery in sports. Organizations like the National Congress of American Indians, The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, and Change the Mascot have argued that such mascots dehumanize Native Americans, reducing them to racist stereotypes rather than real people facing real challenges. They say such imagery makes it harder for indigenous people to advocate for themselves, and also has direct effects on the psychological health of Native youth.

While most fans walked past the protest in silence, other supporters of the Washington team name were more confrontational. The Washington Post reports on one fan:

"I'm so sorry that your feelings are hurt," the woman shouted, smiling. "We all have things to boohoo about."

Such sentiment was not an isolated incident.

A "loyal fan" greets a 6-year-old Navajo child named Justice, his mother and aunt at today's #ChangeTheName protest

— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) December 28, 2014

Activists have been pushing back against the Washington team name for years now, and some progress seems to have been made in the 2014 season. The largest protest in more than two decades was held in Minnesota in November, before Washington fell to the Minnesota Vikings in one of its 12 losses this year.

Public support for the use of the name has also been diminishing among a number of large news outlets, including The Huffington Post, as well as among several TV commentators. In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team's trademarks, claiming the name is "disparaging to Native Americans." An appeal is still pending.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has remained insistent that the name isn't going anywhere. Earlier this year, he created a foundation intended to help indigenous communities, claiming that his team's mascot wasn't one of the "genuine" issues facing American Indians. As part of this broader argument, supporters of the team often point to Native Americans who say they aren't bothered by the name as proof that the controversy is overblown. On Sunday for example, the Washington Post spoke to one person who identified as both a "quarter Native American and a member of the Cherokee Wolf Clan" and a lifelong fan of the team and its name.

But opponents of the team name argue that a lack of consensus among the nation's 566 federally recognized tribes and millions of Native Americans does nothing to invalidate the objection. For many, the primary problem with organizations like Snyder's is that they are built on Native stereotypes and mischaracterizations that contribute to a broader environment of disrespect for indigenous people. It's this damaging attitude that allows many on the other side of the debate to deny Native Americans the simple request to be seen as equals in the eyes of their non-Native peers.

Opponents of the name have been working to take their fight deep into the postseason, even if the team itself has long been out of playoff contention. As Think Progress points out, the National Congress of American Indians and the Change The Mascot campaign have launched a fundraiser to create a new ad against the name. So far, they've raised more than $20,000, which will help pay for a digital campaign.

In anticipation of the Super Bowl earlier this year, the NCAI released a powerful video that spoke to the legacy of Native Americans and their communities today. The groups plan to have a new video ready for the upcoming Super Bowl in 2015.

Remembering Tomaž Šalamun

Mon, 2014-12-29 11:59

Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014)

When Tomaž Šalamun arrived at a poetry festival in San Miguel de Allende two years ago with a bad back, which he had hurt tobogganing down the Great Wall of China, I was not surprised to learn that he had risked life and limb to have a little fun. The Slovenian poet seemed to possess the gift of eternal youth until he passed away on Saturday, at his home in Ljubljana. He was always alert to what young poets were doing -- they fed his imagination -- and they repaid him in kind with translations and imitations of his work; it is a great irony that although he wrote in a language spoken by less than two million people English versions of his poems have for several decades profoundly influenced American letters. What surprised me about his Chinese adventure was that he had not escaped unscathed. I had imagined him to be indestructible.

He was born in Zagreb, Croatia in 1941, raised in the coastal city of Koper south of Trieste, and studied art history at the University of Ljubljana. Jailed when he was 23 for editing a literary journal, he was released after five days, thanks in part to pressure from the international media, and in his newfound celebrity decided to devote his life to poetry. Robert Hass notes that his is "a poetics not of rebellion but of quest," influenced by Rimbaud and Lautréamont, French Surrealism, the Russian Futurists, and the New York School. In one of his first poems, "Eclipse," he established the terms of an aesthetic argument that he would conduct in his improvisatory style through scores of books: "I grew tired of the image of my tribe/ and moved out." His would be "a world of sharp edges./ Cruel and eternal." Here is the second section of "Eclipse":

I will take nails,

long nails

and hammer them into my body.

Very very gently,

very very slowly,

so it will last longer.

I will draw up a precise plan.

I will upholster myself every day,

say two square inches for instance.

Then I will set fire to everything.

It will burn for a long time,

it will burn for seven days.

Only the nails will remain,

all welded together and rusty.

So I will remain.

So I will survive everything.

He did indeed survive, though for some time the Yugoslav authorities forbade him from holding a regular job. At one point he was reduced to selling encyclopedias and how-to books door to door, without much success. One woman told him she was not interested in the books he was peddling. What do you like to read? he asked her. I only like Kafka, Proust, and Šalamun, she replied. I am Šalamun, he said. Meanwhile he exhibited environmental and conceptual art in Yugoslavia and at the Museum of Modern Art, and in 1970 he was awarded a fellowship to the University of Iowa's International Writing Program; the friendships he forged there with Anselm Hollo and Bob Perelman, who translated his poems into English, along with his discovery of the work of Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, Walt Whitman and Wallace Stevens, expanded his sense of possibility. For the rest of his life he would take advantage of every opportunity to return to this country -- for residencies at artist colonies, visiting teaching positions, reading tours.

The vast spaces in America opened his cells, he said, insisting that his poems did not begin to breathe until they had been translated into English. The publication of an edited selection of his work in 1988 introduced him to American readers, just as Yugoslavia was imploding. It seemed as if he had prophesied the wars of succession: "No one is allowed on my land," he wrote in "Eclipse." And he was in despair when I met him in Ljubljana in the summer of 1992: Serbian-run concentration camps for Bosnian prisoners had come to light; the cruel, sharp-edged world he had glimpsed in a poem was taking shape all around him; he did not write for four years.

After the carnage ended, though, poetry returned to him, as he once said, dropping "like stones from the sky," and soon he was named the cultural attaché at the new Slovenian Consulate in New York City. "Tomaž Šalamun, please," was how he answered the phone, as if he were the Muse himself. I visited him on his first free day, which we spent translating his poems. His wife, the acclaimed painter Metka Krašovec, had warned him not to rent the first apartment we were shown after we had finished working, knowing that breathing life into his poems in English would leave him so exhilarated that his judgment about real estate would be impaired. Which is exactly what happened. Whenever I visited them in their small flat on 14th Street, Metka would tease me about our working methods, which sometimes resembled a comedy routine. If I asked Tomaž what a certain line or image meant, he might reply, "Apparently," or "I don't know." Rational logic was the enemy of his poems, which ricocheted in every direction:

Tomaž Šalamun is a monster.

Tomaž Šalamun is a sphere rushing through the air.

He lies down in twilight, he swims in twilight.

People and I, we both look at him amazed,

we wish him well, maybe he is a comet.

Maybe he is punishment from the gods,

the boundary stone of the world.

Tomaž Šalamun was in fact a gift from the gods, a soft-spoken man blessed with the gentlest soul, and this gift, his poems, will keep on giving for a very long time. They will survive.


Christopher Merrill directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. His books include, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars (nonfiction), Boat (poetry), and, as editor, The Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun.

Massive Fight At Chicago McDonald's Caught On Video

Mon, 2014-12-29 11:38
A popular McDonald’s restaurant in downtown Chicago was the site of a large disturbance captured on dramatic video early Saturday.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago police confirmed that they were called to respond to a fight at the Rock ’n Roll McDonald’s in the city’s tourist-friendly River North neighborhood about 1 a.m. Saturday.

The crowd involved with the disturbance, which was captured on video and posted to YouTube, had already dispersed by the time officers arrived at the scene, DNAinfo Chicago reports.

Police officials told WGN no further investigation of the incident will take place, as only minor property damage and no injuries resulted from the altercation.

According to police, the McDonald’s incident was not connected to another large altercation at Navy Pier downtown about 7:45 p.m. Friday. According to NBC Chicago, a pregnant woman was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and five people were arrested for reckless conduct after at least 30 people were involved in a series of disturbances at the tourist hotspot.

The Navy Pier incident caused the attraction to shut down its Winter WonderFest event two hours early and will result in increased security, Fox Chicago reports.

NFL Black Monday Brings Annual Wave Of Coach Firings

Mon, 2014-12-29 10:45
The NFL's "Black Monday" has returned. As has become an annual tradition, struggling teams fired coaches and general managers one day after the conclusion of the regular season in 2014.

Here is a look at the team's announcing changes:

New York Jets: The Jets announced the firing of head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik on Monday, one day after the team completed a 4-12 season. The Jets have not appeared in the playoffs since making consecutive runs to the AFC Championship, under Ryan, in 2009 and 2010.

This morning Woody Johnson informed John Idzik and Rex Ryan that they will not be returning to the team in 2015.

— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 29, 2014

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons announced the firing of head coach Mike Smith, one day after the team completed a 6-10 season. With the NFC South title on the line, the Falcons were routed by the Carolina Panthers, 34-3, in Week 17. The Falcons have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons after reaching the 2012 NFC Championship Game.

Head Coach Mike Smith was released from his contract today.

— Atlanta_Falcons (@Atlanta_Falcons) December 29, 2014

The Chicago Bears: The Bears announced the firings of head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery, one day after the team completed a 5-11 season. The Bears missed the playoffs in both of Trestman's two seasons as head coach.

#Bears have informed GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman they will not return to team.

— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 29, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers got a jump start in their own coaching search, announcing on Sunday that the team had mutually agreed to part ways with head coach Jim Harbaugh after a disappointing 8-8 season. Under Harbaugh, the team reached the NFC Championship Game in three straight seasons (2011, 2012, 2013). Citing an unnamed source, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Monday that Harbaugh will be announced as the next head football coach at the University of Michigan.

The #49ers and Jim Harbaugh have mutually agreed to part ways.


— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 29, 2014


Being Born on New Year's Day Taught Me How to Make Resolutions I Actually Keep

Mon, 2014-12-29 10:44
A lot of people embrace the new year with open arms.

But when the clock hits midnight on the night of Dec. 31, what exactly are we celebrating?

We're celebrating a new slate. We're celebrating the reminder (and human ability) to hold ourselves to higher standards. We're celebrating the things we've gained, the lessons we've learned and the friendships we've kept. We're honoring the failures, the pain and the losses -- all of which are there to remind us that we lived through another year.

The collective celebration inspires individuals to be better, do better, live better.

We're inspired every year. This will be the year... the year we run that marathon, start that business, reconnect with that person, have more patience, eat healthier, read those books, learn that language. This is always the year.

We live our lives in a linear timeline, broken up by milestones identified by years. And our emotions at the end of each year revolve around these experiences -- involving both love and pain that we endured in the 364 days prior.

Birthdays, like New Year's Eve, are mile markers for our experiences, societal expectations and our personal goals. At 7, I broke my first bone. At 11, I attended my first funeral. At 18, I graduated high school. At 21, I became an aunt. At 22, I experienced a series of traumatic events causing me to shift my love and purpose from traditional medicine to psychology and mental health. At 24, I moved to a new city and subsequently worked tooth and nail to make a living before landing my dream job at 25.

Life happens, and we're able to recall and remember our lives from our experiences that are marked on a convenient calendar in our brains. But most importantly, new years and birthdays are a celebration of life and existence.

I believe we should try to spend every day working on ourselves, our passions, our relationships and on reaching our goals. By being able to divide life into separate years, it sometimes feels like time might be on our side; but life is short, and most people have two days a year (New Year's Eve and their birthday) that are unavoidable... reminding them to check in on their paths, reflect, celebrate life and also create and pursue new dreams and goals.

I, however, was born on Jan. 1. I get one chance, and my friends and family know I take it very seriously. So how do I combine the madness of New Year's resolutions and the mindset of being a year older all in one day?

Instead of creating an endless list of New Year's resolutions that I will naturally not complete -- because let's be honest, we are all way too ambitious on Jan. 1 -- I choose one word that will be my word, my way of life, for the year to come.

I wait until the first of the year to choose my word, and this past year it was rebirth. Of all my friends and family I've told, no one has understood why... I can't even tell you why. I just knew at the beginning of the year, I needed to make transformational changes. It was something I was seeking, and I even asked my closest friends to send me a few notes of my flaws so I could internalize the need to be a better version of myself.

Accordingly, within a few weeks after my birthday, my oldest childhood friend and I had a falling out... removing toxic relationships from one's life is important but nevertheless devastating. It wasn't until March that I landed a job I love after eight months of looking for something that would make me feel happy and purposeful. It wasn't until August that I ended a four-year relationship with my college sweetheart. And it wasn't until October that I decided to go on a 2.5-week solo trip across the world to be reminded of who I am and find purpose greater than myself.

For 2015, I don't know what my theme will be, but I know that no matter what it is, it will encompass a variety of goals, urging me to be a better version of myself every day. Maybe it will be trust and urge me to trust in my instincts, other people and even the universe, prompting me to learn how to relinquish control over certain things. Or maybe it will be healthy. Instead of setting goals to go to the gym more often or eat healthier, this can serve as a constant reminder for me to make healthy decisions when it comes to my body but also for my mental and emotional health. Or maybe it will be compassion, urging me to do affirmations in the morning and have a kinder internal dialogue with myself through the year.

Whatever it is, picking a theme will inspire me to take action and will inevitably lead to more positive and healthier habits, rather than having a to-do list that weighs me down and makes me feel heavier (and thus more disappointed that I am not crossing things off of it). I encourage you to do the same.

Maybe the Best College Trustee in Illinois

Mon, 2014-12-29 07:49
Kathy Hamilton stands four foot eleven, is a mother of two, a classic violinist, and a director at her local ballet. In 2012, she was elected as Trustee of the local community college and won with the most votes in the school's fifty-year history. She has ferociously battled corrupt practices and an imbedded culture of insider trading.

During board meetings at the College of DuPage (COD) in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, IL, Kathy Hamilton is the only Trustee that will stand for the pledge of allegiance. Students, constituents, and taxpayers are literally fenced off from the seven-member board, eleven senior managers and the board lawyer. General public comment is last on the meeting agenda and therefore citizens often wait until midnight for a chance to speak.

Still, she's inspired hundreds of people to attend the meetings.

From the outside, COD looks like it's an impossible environment for systemic reform. It appears that Hamilton is just one mom versus a corrupt machine. But, the fresh faced newbie armed with the mandate from the voters is winning the battle at COD. She's been a driving force to freeze property taxes, reverse a February student tuition hike with an August freeze, open $100 million in hidden "Imprest" spending, and helped stop a corrupted $20 million state construction grant.

Hamilton's leadership has generated national media attention while uniting the teacher's union, tea party, good government groups, prominent business leaders, student organizations, and the citizens-at-large. These are unprecedented alliances in Illinois and a model that could be useful statewide for reformers.

"Thanks to the professors, College of DuPage is one of the nation's top community colleges. But the lack of administrative executive ethics has been troubling. Ethical business practices haven't been a part of COD governance for a very long time," Hamilton said recently. "Therefore, all the groups are helping to squeeze out corrupt practices."

A case in point was when our organization,, unearthed the college president's unethical strategy to procure $20 million in state construction grant funding. President Robert Breuder outlined a political strategy to the board to bring support to then-incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn. After three front page news stories and a Chicago Tribune editorial, the governor stopped payment.

Hamilton was the only board member to battle this corruption. Her reward? The other six board members censured her. The Chicago Tribune editorial board rightly opined that this was a "badge of honor." For the first time in the six-year tenure of President Dr. Breuder, the faculty voted "no-confidence." At the next few board meetings, activists gave hours of public comments.

Distinguishing herself from the rest of the board came at a professional cost. COD Board Chairman Erin Birt, violating board policy, retaliated by removing Hamilton (the elected Vice-Chairman) from the mandated monthly board agenda-setting meeting. Birt also unilaterally removed Hamilton (the only CPA on the board) from the board audit committee. In his weekly newsletter, President Breuder frequently takes shots at Hamilton based on hearsay and uses college resources to try in vain efforts to besmirch her clean reputation.

Hamilton's opponents on the board and the college administrators became unhinged by the transparency. The craziness seemed to peak at the October and November board meetings. In October, COD Treasurer Thomas Glaser put his fourteen accountants behind the podium and for 45 minutes declared, "We're clean." Then, the college admitted "possible fraud" within their radio station for amounts up to four times annual revenues. In November, Trustee Dianne McGuire bizarrely compared Hamilton's allies to Nazis. This obscene comparison was strongly answered by American Transparency Deputy Director Matthew Tyrmand who lost family in Poland during the Holocaust.

Why have Hamilton and her allies been so voraciously attacked? Recently released spending records show that the board and administration have "gamed the system for personal gain."

Examples of irregularities seem to be endless: the 2013 Five Days of Christmas party where thousands of dollars in gifts, parties, dinners, and alcohol flowed to trustees, senior managers, and the president; over $27,000 not disclosed to the board in payments and fees to the president's private shooting club; $192 million in college checkbook payments to COD foundation board members with troubling circumvention of competitive procurement on some contracts; allegations of insider trading and admission of "possible fraud" in the radio station; a quarter million dollars of alcohol and accessories for the upscale French restaurant tagged as "educational supplies;" six contract extensions and amendments ("executed" without board votes and even through the mail) creating a president's contract worth nearly $500,000 a year.

So, the one mom versus the machine continues, and Hamilton's critics continue to be welcome foils. Trustee Alison O'Donnell spoke derisively of Hamilton, "Are you really a CPA? Weren't you just a stay at home mom?" Trustee Kim Savage battled transparency to open the books on the hidden "Imprest" accounting scheme saying that reviewing every check would "bog down the board." Trustee Nancy Svoboda has consistently voted to hoard up to $220 million in cash balances, hike tuition, and hike property taxes.

Both Trustees Svoboda and Savage are up for re-election in April. Both seem to be sitting ducks for Hamilton's reform agenda. If the reformers prevail, Hamilton will be just one step away from executing on real, systemic reform at COD:

Her critics would have to call her... Chairman.

The Greening of a Suburban Downtown

Mon, 2014-12-29 07:35

If planners for Bethesda, Maryland fully realize a conceptual vision now being offered to community leaders and the public, the once-quiet but now-bustling suburb's downtown could become a nationally relevant example of urban sustainability.

While the thinking is in its infancy, the Montgomery County Planning Department - under Maryland law, the county has legal authority - is considering a comprehensive green overhaul of Bethesda's downtown plan, currently being updated by for the first time in twenty years. Particularly significant, in my opinion, would be two to three neighborhood-scaled "ecodistricts" within the downtown that would lead the way with showcase practices to accelerate and intensify environmental performance. The Department is being exceptionally cautious in stressing that for the moment its ideas are only conceptual and preliminary in nature, and will be subject to extensive review and refinement, but they point in the right direction.

Bethesda, just a few miles outside of Washington, DC, has been a leader in the smart growth and urbanist trends that were born in the 1990s and are still being put in place in many jurisdictions. A lot of progress has been made, and most of its downtown is now highly walkable and transit accessible, especially for a suburb. But, with a few exceptions, the community has not taken the next step to become "green" as well as "smart." What was progressive two decades ago is merely good practice now. Leadership requires more, and the county's new initiative is timely.

Bethesda was once best known for housing beautiful, upscale, single-family neighborhoods, the National Naval Medical Center, and the neighboring National Institutes of Health. (Those in the know also made the trip from elsewhere in the DC metro region to Bethesda for the Tastee Diner, Gifford's Ice Cream and O'Donnell's Seafood Restaurant.) But the sleepy suburb's downtown area was transformed in the last few decades by the region's booming growth and, in particular, by the arrival of the region's MetroRail system, which has a busy station in the heart of the commercial area.

It is now one of the region's most walkable suburban downtowns, served also by one of the region's most popular bicycle trails, multiple bus lines (including a downtown Circulator) and soon, I fervently hope, the long-delayed Purple Line light rail system intended to link Bethesda with other suburbs to the east. While some of the downtown's architecture is a bit undistinguished and not sufficiently relatable at the human scale, there are important exceptions including what in my opinion is the country's very best example - and certainly one of its most successful and popular examples - of a mixed-use, walkable retrofit of what was previously a very run-down, automobile-oriented suburban strip. (See photo immediately above.) Over 10,000 residents live within the downtown planning boundary.

Judging by slides presented to a planning board meeting in December and posted online, the planners did a good job of identifying downtown Bethesda's strengths and weaknesses. Assets include established residential neighborhoods, adjacency to the two major federal employers, excellent arts, entertainment and nightlife, and good walkability and transit service. But the presentation concedes that downtown lacks central green spaces and continuous tree canopy, contributes an abundance of impervious cover within watersheds with substandard water quality, and provides insufficient affordable housing. The presentation also notes that Bethesda has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

Green responses to these conditions are infused throughout the planning framework, which includes attention to such sustainability concepts as vegetated walls and roofs, habitat restoration, tree canopy, streetscape character, urban agriculture, bicycle infrastructure, shared streets, "parklets," and public gathering spaces, including expanded green spaces.

I took a close look at the proposals for two of the nine planning districts: First, the Woodmont Triangle, a low- to mid-rise sector northwest of the heart of downtown, is being considered for enhancement as an arts district with mixed-income housing, improved water quality, and enhanced green space. Second, the Wisconsin Avenue corridor is Bethesda's main commercial street, running north-south with the Bethesda Metro station at its heart. The current streetscape is seriously unappealing to my eye. It would be slated for multi-modalism (including a bus rapid transit line and better sidewalk and pedestrian infrastructure), enhanced "downtown atmosphere," and energy conservation and generation. The historic Farm Women's Cooperative Market, south of the Metro station, would become the centerpiece of "a newly green and connected civic space."

Both Woodmont and the area around the Metro station in the Wisconsin Avenue corridor are under consideration for treatment as ecodistricts, according to a story written by Katherine Shaver and published in The Washington Post. Shaver, who spoke to a county planning official, describes the districts in terms of their environmental, economic and social goals:

The 'environmental' piece could include more environmentally friendly high-rise office and condo buildings, perhaps with renewable energy sources such as solar panels, and surrounded by more trees and green space. The 'social' goal eyes more public gathering spots and better-connected paths to encourage walking and cycling. The 'economic' goals could include more affordable housing and retail space.

Tina Schneider, a senior environmental planner for the county, said planners want to 'push the envelope' to make downtown Bethesda a 'really vivacious, desirable place that's seen as being innovative and technically advanced.'

'It would be doing more good for the community and the ecosystem rather than doing less harm,' Schneider said. The designated areas, she said, would 'function in a way that's not depleting our resources but perhaps even improving them.'

Bethesda already has decent green-building incentives, but the designated high-performance areas, according to the presentation, would seek to reach an enhanced level of environmental sustainability by further reducing energy demand and water use, using green infrastructure - including green roofs - to control stormwater runoff, and employing green streets with enhanced tree canopy and high efficiency street lighting, among other things. There's a slide headlined "getting to zero," which implies that the ultimate goal in these districts would be to achieve net-zero performance for energy and water.

The conceptual framework also references good sources of standards, including the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, among many others. (The Natural Resources Defense Council, which cofounded LEED-ND, has been working with clients and partners to use the system to guide sustainability planning across the country, including in downtown Los Angeles's Little Tokyo neighborhood.) Planners say they will aim high for the showcase districts, to create national models of sustainability and design, accelerate performance to reach goals sooner than in other parts of the planning area, and use density bonuses among other tools to reward developers for pursuing environmentally progressive techniques.

(I didn't take the time to watch the full, two-hour video of planners' presentation to the planning board, but it's on the website for those who want more.)

It's all a bit vague, to be honest, and at best the vision would take decades to fully realize. Shaver's article quotes a local developer as grumbling that county environmental requirements are already stringent enough, which only reinforces my hunch that the preliminary framework points in the right direction. This is not a time in the history of our planet when we should be resting on our laurels. Local environmentalists would do well to push the planning department and, ultimately, the County Council, to pursue these objectives with specificity, rigor, and dedication.

Will Bethesda indeed become the sort of national model that its planners envision? It's way too soon to know, but I applaud the effort.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Huffington Post and in other national media. Kaid's latest book is People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities.

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Why 401(k)s Shouldn't Replace Pensions

Sun, 2014-12-28 19:11
It's not just basic finance, it's common sense: A large pool of money invested by professionals will yield far greater returns than small, separate accounts managed by individuals with no professional training in finance.

So why do some think that ending Illinois' defined benefit pension system and moving workers into privatized, 401(k)-style accounts is a good idea?

In an effort to get investment risk off their backs, corporate America made a wholesale switch from traditional pensions to 401(k) plans over the last 30 years. Since these inadequate retirement vehicles are accepted as the only choice for the majority of workers, their inefficiencies in comparison to a traditional pension are little understood.

But new data from the National Institute for Retirement Security shows just how much Illinois taxpayers stand to lose if we switch to privatized accounts. To provide workers with the same modest retirement benefits, traditional pensions are 48 percent less expensive than 401(k)-style plans. That's a 48 percent savings to Illinois taxpayers.

According to NIRS, there are a few key reasons why defined benefit pensions are more cost effective:

  • Pension plans enjoy higher investment returns and lower fees than individual accounts, generating a 27 percent cost savings.

  • Unlike individual investors who generally enjoy high-risk, high-reward investment strategies when they're young but switch to lower-risk portfolios that yield far lower returns as they age, pension plans can maintain a balanced portfolio that yields consistently high returns, generating an 11 percent cost savings.

  • Pension plans pool longevity risk, meaning that they only have to save for the average life expectancy of a group of individuals. Workers in a 401(k) plan need an investment strategy that provides for the event that they live a longer than average life. Longevity risk pooling generates a 10 percent cost savings.

What's more, cutting public workers' retirement security by transitioning them to a 401(k) has its own set of unforeseen costs.

The average Illinois public employee makes a salary that is 13.5 percent less than their similarly educated counterparts in the private sector, trading front-end benefits like salary for back-end benefits like pension payments. With pension benefits gone, the state of Illinois may have to drastically increase public sector salaries or risk losing teachers, police officers, firefighters, and thousands of other critical workers.

In addition, some 80 percent of Illinois public employees (including teachers, police, fire fighters and university employees, among others) are ineligible for Social Security due to old laws that exempt workers who have a public pension. Switching to a 401(k) system could require Illinois workers to participate in the national program, forcing cities, school districts and universities to begin paying Social Security taxes, now 6.2 percent of each workers' salary.

Lastly, moving public workers to 401(k)-style accounts will not fix the unfunded liability problem Illinois faces. In fact, such a move will likely increase the state's pension debt, as it will reduce revenue in the form of employee contributions going into the pension funds and lower investment returns due to the change in the makeup of participants.

The problem with pensions in Illinois is a creation of politicians who spent years underfunding the system, essentially using the retirement savings of public workers as a credit card to pay for other priorities while ratcheting up state debt.

But it makes no sense to use the past misdeeds of politicians as an excuse to switch state workers to an inferior, less cost-effective retirement plan. Instead, we need to find ways to strengthen and Illinois pensions for future generations.

Further reading:
Reuters: Phoenix voters reject proposal to convert city pensions to 401(k)-style plan
National Public Pension Coalition: Making It Worse, A Case Study In Failed Transitions To 401(k)-Style Plans
PBS Frontline: Why The 401(k) Is A Failed Experiment

Bears End Mess Of A Season In 13-9 Loss To Vikings For Worst Single-Season Finish Since 2004

Sun, 2014-12-28 18:54
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings were just getting started, with a rookie quarterback and a first-time head coach in Mike Zimmer so eager to maintain momentum he told the players to report to practice in a few days.

The Chicago Bears played again as if they were ready for this season to be over.

Teddy Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 44-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the third quarter, guiding the Vikings to a 13-9 victory on Sunday to slap one more blemish on a forgettable year for the Bears.

"I don't want to stop. I want to keep going," Zimmer said, joking that he gave the players a day off on Monday. They countered that they'd see him in April instead.

Bears coach Marc Trestman might not make it until Tuesday.

"I expect to be back. I couldn't look at it any other way or with any other kind of focus," Trestman said.

Blair Walsh kicked two field goals, linebacker Audie Cole had 11 tackles, three assists and a pass breakup in his first start of the season and the Vikings (7-9) ended Zimmer's first season on a winning note. Bridgewater was so thrilled by Zimmer's first NFC North win that he gave him the ball from the last snap of the game.

"I was so excited and so caught up in how well the guys played today. We showed a lot of character," said Bridgewater, who went 17 for 25 for 209 yards to finish 6-6 as a starter in his first year.

Jay Cutler returned from a one-game benching with 172 yards on 23-for-36 passing without a fumble or an interception, but he rarely threw long and the offense was off all afternoon with a series of unforced errors. The Bears (5-11) finished with their worst record in 10 years.

"I don't think anyone knows what's going to happen," said Cutler, acknowledging his own uncertain status. "No one knows what direction we're going. But I'm pretty confident that we'll know relatively soon."

After the Vikings drove to the 3, Matt Asiata was stuffed for no gain on the same play on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 to give Cutler and the Bears one last opportunity with 2:53 left and a four-point deficit.

They bungled it, metaphorically for this mess of a season. Three penalties, including two false starts, plus an incompletion doomed the drive.

"Just boneheaded mistakes sometimes, and it happens to all of us," said Matt Forte, whose eight receptions gave him an NFL-running-back-record 102 for the season.

From players to coaches on up to general manager Phil Emery, just about every key figure entered the offseason on a tenuous note as the Bears missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year after reaching the NFC championship game following the 2010 season.

Alshon Jeffery had only two catches for 34 yards after totaling 23 receptions, 384 yards and three touchdowns over the past two games against the Vikings. Without Brandon Marshall to attract attention elsewhere, the Vikings led by cornerback Xavier Rhodes had Jeffery well under control.

Kyle Fuller intercepted a short pass by Bridgewater that was behind Cordarrelle Patterson but bounced off both of the wide receiver's hands. Fuller reached the end zone with his return, but the replay revealed his knee was down at the 9-yard line.

That was the second of three touchdowns, two by the Bears, overruled by an official review. The Bears had to settle for the second of three field goals by Jay Feely, who later missed a 43-yard try.

Bridgewater responded with a bang, connecting with Thielen for 22 yards and finding him wide open for the score on the ensuing play for a 10-6 lead when Fuller and safety Brock Vereen blew the coverage.

"It's huge for our confidence going into next year. We had a good team, and we just had a lot of close games that we lost," Thielen said. "We want to be in the playoffs."

NOTES: Forte took the record from Larry Centers, who had 101 catches for Arizona in 1995. Forte also topped 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fifth time in seven years. ... Asiata had 91 yards on 19 carries, including a season-long 19-yard run, to finish with a team-leading 570 yards rushing. He had 10 touchdowns and 882 yards from scrimmage. ... Cole had an interception negated by an offside penalty on Corey Wootton, but Cutler finished turnover-free for only the third time in 15 games this season. ... Bridgewater finished with a 64.4 completion rate, the third-highest by a rookie in NFL history behind Ben Roethlisberger (66.4) and Robert Griffin III (65.6).

'The Interview' Becomes Sony's No. 1 Online Movie Of All Time

Sun, 2014-12-28 17:46
By Liana B. Baker

Dec 28 (Reuters) - Sony Pictures said on Sunday that the "The Interview" had been purchased or rented online more than 2 million times, generating more than $15 million in the first four days after the controversial comedy's wide theatrical release was shelved.

This would rank the film, which angered North Korea and triggered a cyberattack against the studio, as the No. 1 online movie ever released by Sony Pictures, the company said in a statement.

The film has also brought in $2.8 million in the limited theatrical run that began Christmas Day in more than 300 mostly independent theaters, according to tracking firm Rentrak.

Sony is likely to reap larger receipts. The company's first online revenue figures do not include Apple's iTunes purchases or rentals after Apple agreed on Sunday to carry the movie on iTunes, the biggest and most-used store of online content.

The $44 million film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco had been expected to gross at least $20 million in its opening holiday weekend if it had gone to wide release, according to

After large movie theater chains refused to screen the comedy following threats of violence from hackers who opposed the film, Sony stitched together a limited release in theaters and a $5.99 video-on-demand (VOD) rental option on YouTube, Google Play and other sites starting Dec. 24. (Reporting by Liana B. Baker and Mary Milliken; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Odell Beckham Jr., Russell Wilson Lead Pro Bowl Snub Team

Sun, 2014-12-28 11:44
By Joel Corry, National Football Post

Despite what some may say, the new unconferenced teams format for the Pro Bowl does not decrease snubs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deserving players who didn’t make it this season because popularity and reputation play a role in the selections. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which will be played on January 25 in Glendale, Arizona.


QB-Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
RB-Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
FB-Anthony Sherman, Kansas City Chiefs
WR-Odell Beckham, New York Giants
WR-Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
TE-Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
T-Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
T-Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
G-Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
G-Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
C-Rodney Hudson, Kansas City Chiefs

The unconferenced format really hurt Wilson, as only two NFC quarterbacks were selected. The league’s top dual-threat quarterback is 15th in the NFL in rushing with 842 yards and has a 95.7 passer rating (ninth in the NFL). Forsett leads NFL running backs with 5.3 yards per carry and his 14 runs of over 20 yards tie him with DeMarco Murray for the most in the NFL. The NFL’s sixth-leading rusher (1,147 yards) has also been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Beckham is among the NFL’s most productive wide receivers since recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Giants’ first four games. During the second half of the season, Beckham leads the NFL with 858 receiving yards and is second in receptions (61) and receiving touchdowns (8). Tate has set career highs with 96 catches and 1,286 receiving yards. The Lions aren’t in the playoffs because they don’t go 3-0 without Calvin Johnson if Tate doesn’t catch 24 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns in those games Megatron missed. Whitworth anchors the offensive line and hasn’t given up a sack this season.


DE-Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
DE-Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
DT-Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
DT-Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
OLB-Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
OLB-DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
ILB-Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
CB-Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
CB-Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills
FS-Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
SS-Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers

Stuffing the run was undervalued in this year’s selections. Bennett is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top rated 4-3 defensive end against the run and is also second among all defensive ends with 68 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits). 3-4 defensive ends Richardson and Wilkerson were listed on the Pro Bowl ballot at defensive tackle. Wilkerson was PFF’s No. 2 rated 3-4 defensive end this season before being sidelined for three games (Weeks 13-15) with a toe injury, which opened the door for Richardson to move into the slot. Mack quickly established himself as a dominant force against the run. The lack of sacks (only four) contributed to him being overlooked, but the rookie matches Connor Barwin with 54 quarterback pressures and has more than Clay Matthews (48) and Tamba Hali (42).

Levy has been a tackling machine (third in NFL with 140 tackles) for the NFL’s second-ranked defense in total yards and points allowed. Patrick Peterson was a reputation pick, as he’s given up eight touchdowns this season. As the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, Peterson should be limiting quarterbacks to a 48.4 completion percentage for a 56.5 passing rating when targeted like Graham.


K-Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
P-Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
PR-Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
ST-Kelcie McCray, Kansas City Chiefs

Bryant has the most field goals from 50 yards and beyond in the NFL this season, with seven. Overall, he has converted 90.3 percent of his field goal attempts (28 of 31), which is fourth in the league. Jones may have gotten a berth if kickoffs were still a part of the Pro Bowl. He’s leading the NFL with a 33.2-yard kickoff return average and is third in punt returns (11.9 yard average).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at

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U.S. Formally Ends War In Afghanistan

Sun, 2014-12-28 06:54
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from U.S.-led combat troops to the country's own security forces.

In front of a small, hand-picked audience at the headquarters of the NATO mission, the green-and-white flag of the International Security Assistance Force was ceremonially rolled up and sheathed, and the flag of the new international mission called Resolute Support was hoisted. U.S. Gen. John Campbell, commander of ISAF, commemorated the 3,500 international soldiers killed on Afghan battlefields and praised the country's army for giving him confidence that they are able to take on the fight alone.

"Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership" between NATO and Afghanistan, Campbell told an audience of Afghan and international military officers and officials, as well as diplomats and journalists.

"The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph," he added.

Beginning Jan. 1, the new mission will provide training and support for Afghanistan's military, with the U.S. accounting for almost 11,000 of the 13,500 members of the residual force.

President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, signed bilateral security agreements with Washington and NATO allowing the ongoing military presence. The move has led to a spike in violence, with the Taliban claiming it as an excuse to step up operations aimed at destabilizing his government.

ISAF was set up after the U.S.-led invasion as an umbrella for the coalition of around 50 nations that provided troops and took responsibility for security across the country. It ends with 2,224 American soldiers killed, according to an Associated Press tally.

The mission peaked at 140,000 troops in 2010. U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a surge to root the insurgents out of strategically important regions, notably in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban had its capital from 1996 to 2001.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called Sunday's event a "defeat ceremony" and said the insurgents' fight would continue.

"Since the invasion in 2001 until now, these events have been aimed at changing public opinion, but we will fight until there is not one foreign soldier on Afghan soil and we have established an Islamic state," he said.

Obama recently expanded the role of U.S. forces remaining in the country, allowing them to extend their counter-terrorism operations to the Taliban, as well as al-Qaida, and to provide ground and air support for Afghan forces when necessary for at least the next two years.

In a tacit recognition that international military support is still essential for Afghan forces, national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar told the gathered ISAF leaders: "We need your help to build the systems necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the critical capabilities of our forces."

Afghans have mixed feelings about the drawdown of foreign troops. With the deteriorating security situation, many believe the troops are needed to back up the Afghan effort to bring peace after more than three decades of continual war.

"At least in the past 13 years we have seen improvements in our way of life — freedom of speech, democracy, the people generally better off financially," said 42-year-old shop keeper Gul Mohammad.

But the soldiers are still needed "at least until our own forces are strong enough, while our economy strengthens, while our leaders try to form a government," he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Afghanistan's 350,000-member security forces are ready to take on the insurgency alone, despite complaints by officials that they lack the necessary assets, such as air support, medical-evacuation systems and intelligence.

On Sunday, he said that ISAF's mandate was "carried out at great cost but with great success."

"We have made our own nations safer by denying safe haven to international terrorists. We have made Afghanistan stronger by building up from scratch strong security forces. Together we have created the conditions for a better future for millions of Afghan men, women and children," he said.

As Afghan forces assume sovereignty, the country is without a Cabinet three months after Ghani's inauguration, and economic growth is near zero due to the reduction of the international military presence and other aid. The United States spent more than $100 million on reconstruction in Afghanistan, on top of the $1 trillion war.

This year is set to be the deadliest of the war, according to the United Nations, which expects civilian casualties to hit 10,000 for the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008. Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by Taliban attacks, the U.N. said.

In the latest insurgent violence, two teenage boys were killed late Saturday in the Nirkh district of eastern Wardak province when a rocket was fired near a children's volleyball match, an official said. Another five children, ages 11 to 14, were wounded by shrapnel, said the governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani. He blamed the Taliban.

In Kapisa, also in the east, Gov. Abdul Saboor Wafa's office said eight insurgents were killed Saturday night in an army counter-insurgency operation.

This has also been a deadly year for Afghanistan's security forces — army, paramilitary and police — with around 5,000 deaths recorded so far. Most of those deaths, or around 3,200, have been police officers, according to Karl Ake Roghe, the outgoing head of EUPOL, the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan, which funds and trains a police force of 157,000.


Associated Press Writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this story.


Follow Lynne O'Donnell on Twitter at .

The 29 Most Spectacular Space Photos Of 2014

Sat, 2014-12-27 08:10
The year 2014 was a stellar one for spaceflight, what with ESA's Rosetta mission putting a robotic lander on a distant comet and NASA successfully testing its Orion spacecraft.

But 2014 was also a great year for space photography, as you can see from these remarkable 29 images (scroll down) picked for your viewing pleasure by your friends at HuffPost Science.

Join us for a trip through the cosmos--and be prepared to pick your jaw up off the floor.

Photos curated by Damon Scheluer and Macrina Cooper-White.

Sony Tries Unusual Experiment With Simultaneous Release Of 'The Interview' In Theaters, On Demand

Fri, 2014-12-26 17:16

LOS ANGELES (AP) — "The Interview" was never supposed to be a paradigm-shifting film. But unusual doesn't even begin to describe the series of events that transpired over the past few weeks, culminating in the truly unprecedented move by a major studio to release a film in theaters and on digital platforms simultaneously.

Sony is in uncharted waters now with the film, which earned $1.04 million from 331 locations on Thursday, according to studio estimates, in addition to the untold VOD grosses.

"Considering the incredibly challenging circumstances, we are extremely grateful to the people all over the country who came out to experience "The Interview" on the first day of its unconventional release," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures in a statement.

For a film that would have just come and gone in the usual 3,000 theaters without much fanfare, the $40 million comedy has now become an accidental case study in the world of day-and-date releases, in which titles are available both in theaters and for digital rental simultaneously. The industry is watching closely to see just where audiences will choose to place their dollars in the coming days and weeks. The big question is whether or not this strategy could be viable for major releases in the future.

While a $3,142 per-theater average and sold-out showings when audiences had the option to watch the film from the comfort of their own homes is nothing to scoff at, analysts agree that it probably doesn't signal the beginning of a significant change in how Hollywood does business.

Day-and-date releases are nothing new, for one. Independent distributors have embraced this strategy for years. But those are generally small films with even smaller budgets_ones that can't afford a more traditional, widespread marketing campaign.

For the major studios, it's never really been an option.

Theater chains depend on exclusive first-run content to survive. If audiences were given the choice to just rent anything from a mid-budget comedy to a $200 million blockbuster on the day of its release, theaters would undoubtedly suffer.

"The last thing the major theater chains want is for this kind of strategy to be employed by the major studios on a more frequent basis," said editor Gitesh Pandya. Earlier this year, Warner Bros. experimented with an unconventional day-and-date release for "Veronica Mars." Theater chains Regal and Cinemark declined to screen the film because of its online availability. The film ended up showing on 270 screens, most of which were AMC.

"The relationship between big studios and exhibitors is so monumental that they're not going to start changing things around anytime soon. Possibly down the road, little by little. But the old-school model of putting your major releases in 3,000 theaters nationwide will stay intact for the time being," Pandya said.

Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for box office tracker Rentrak, agreed. "Theatrical is the engine that drives everything else. I don't think this is a sudden gateway to studios wanting to release films this way," he said.

Also, "The Interview" is an imperfect case. Patriotism, free speech, pure curiosity and even the desire to be part of the nationwide conversation have all played in to why audiences flocked to theaters on Christmas Day to see the movie.

"Awareness is through the roof," Dergarabedian said. "People went out to the theaters and made an event out of it. They're going to be talking about this for a long time. That's a very interesting and unusual phenomenon that's usually reserved for films like 'The Hobbit' or 'Star Wars.' "

Added Pandya: "Audiences who would otherwise never go to see a Seth Rogen movie were hearing about it and decided to come out to see what all the fuss is about."

Long-term prospects for "The Interview" at the box office remain a mystery. Pandya believes that theatrical grosses will be frontloaded, and that's at least partially attributable to the quality of the film.

"The movie is mediocre," he said. "If it were a brilliant film, the word of mouth would carry it week to week." He predicts a dramatic drop off when the holidays end.

Also, the public may never know how the movie fared on the digital platforms. Smaller distributors like Radius-TWC, who released "Snowpiercer" on demand while it was still in theaters, have started pulling back the veil on VOD financials, but it's unlikely that Sony will ever give the public a peek into "The Interview's" success or failure online.

"I'm sure they're not that impressive. For studios, the biggest part of reporting box office is to brag," Pandya said. "If the numbers aren't brag-worthy, they're probably going to keep it in their own files."

"The Interview" might now forever be in the history books, but it probably won't change the way audiences see new movies. For the big movies, theatrical will always come first, Dergarabedian said.

"It's a system that works and audiences like it," he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sam Kass, Obama Family's Personal Chef, Hanging Up Apron After 6 Years

Fri, 2014-12-26 10:10
WASHINGTON (AP) — Political advisers, chiefs of staff, press secretaries and national security advisers have come and gone in the nearly six years Barack Obama has been president. Now, Obama's personal chef is waving goodbye.

Sam Kass has been a fixture at the executive mansion, serving up nutrition policy alongside meals for Obama, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha. He was not only their personal chef but senior adviser for nutrition policy, giving him a seat at the table where administration officials hashed out everything from updated food labels to new requirements for healthier school lunches. Kass, a newlywed, is leaving the White House at the end of the month, but don't ask him what the Obamas like or don't like to eat. "Top secret," he said.

"I love this family and believe in everything the president and first lady are doing and this has been the greatest job of my life and I assume will be the greatest job of my life," the 34-year-old Chicago native said in an interview. "But I'm going to be with my wife. Once you're married you kind of need to be together."

Kass' wife, MSNBC host Alex Wagner, is based in New York City.

Kass' relationship with the Obamas started when they hired him to cook healthier meals for the family in Chicago before the 2008 elections. Michelle Obama was a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center and caring for young daughters, while Obama was a U.S. senator spending most of his time in Washington.

But the relationship sprouted well beyond the professional. Besides Kass' tireless work for Mrs. Obama, for whom he wore a third hat as executive director of her anti-childhood obesity campaign, Kass sometimes traveled with Obama and joined his weekend or vacation golf outings. Obama, in turn, blocked out several hours on his busy schedule to attend Kass' late-August wedding.

Obama said Kass "has grown from a close friend to a critical member of my team" and has left "an indelible mark on the White House." Mrs. Obama praised Kass' "extraordinary legacy of progress," which she said includes healthier food options in groceries, more nutritious school lunches and initiatives to improve how food is marketed to kids.

Unlike any White House chef before him, Kass helped make decisions with far greater potential consequences than whether the president's veggies, which Kass often plucked from the first lady's garden on the South Lawn, should be steamed or sautéed.

The school lunch changes have led Mrs. Obama into a public spat with the School Nutrition Association, an industry-backed group that represents school cafeteria workers and food companies that sell to schools. The group has lobbied Congress to weaken the standards, arguing they are a burden on financially pinched districts and a big reason why kids are throwing their lunches into the garbage.

A House Republican-led effort to allow some districts to ignore the new lunch standards altogether failed to advance in Congress, but requirements for more whole grains in school foods will be eased instead. The fight over the broader standards is expected to heat up again next year when Republicans, who are sympathetic to the association's arguments, will control both houses of Congress.

Nutrition advocates say anyone who hopes these issues will disappear with Kass will be disappointed.

"This administration is very committed to nutrition and obesity prevention. That commitment runs very deep," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who has pushed for healthier school meals.

Despite her group's issues with the lunch standards, Patricia Montague, the School Nutrition Association's chief executive, said Kass and "Let's Move," the first lady's anti-childhood obesity initiative, played "an important role in promoting healthier lifestyles for children both at school and at home."

Kass will stay involved with "Let's Move," along with broader efforts to improve childhood nutrition, the White House said.

Testifying to Kass' commitment, former colleague Kristina Schake said Kass spent weekends living the work he did at the White House, including visiting farms, farmers markets and food purveyors. "He can talk about different types of lettuce the way other men talk about sports teams," she said.

Kass said his plan after leaving the White House is to get some sleep, and "I guess I'll also be the chef for my wife."

As for who will prepare Obama's dinners going forward, Kass said the White House kitchen staff has it covered.


Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.


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2 Critically Wounded In Shooting At Chicago Train Station

Thu, 2014-12-25 09:16
CHICAGO (AP) — Police say three people have been wounded, two critically, in a shooting at a Chicago Transit Authority train stop.

Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Amina Greer says the shooting occurred on the mezzanine level of a Red Line "El" station on the city's South Side. She says a 25-year-old man and a 41-year-old woman were shot and taken to a hospital in critical condition. A third victim, a 24-year-old man, sustained wounds to his face from glass fragments. He was hospitalized in stable condition.

Greer says preliminary information indicates that the female victim was arguing at the station with an acquaintance, who produced a gun and fired shots.

No one is in custody.

There was no service interruption for the CTA.

Academy Award Winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood Vies For Yet Another Nomination

Wed, 2014-12-24 15:15
You might not know her by name, but costume designer Colleen Atwood's visual impact on the silver screen has hardly gone unnoticed. A frequent collaborator with heavy hitters Tim Burton, Jonathan Demme and Rob Marshall, Atwood has lent her creative talent to more than 60 feature films, including "Edward Scissorhands," "Beloved" and "Silence of the Lambs." She's picked up three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design ("Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Alice in Wonderland"), with another seven nominations. And she shows no signs of stopping there.

"I moved to New York in 1980 with $800," she told The Huffington Post. "I sewed labels on for bespoke designers in SoHo." Her technical skills would quickly improve as she's become known for inconceivably intricate designs and brilliant, one-of-a-kind pieces. Honored recently at the Middleburg Film Festival, Atwood received the Distinguished Costume Designer award.

Colleen Atwood, with an Oscar-nominated design for "Snow White and the Huntsman.

Atwood's latest project embodies her strengths, creating far more elaborate designs than fans would recognize from a stage production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." "The trickiest aspect of about 'Into the Woods,' and the thing that changed when it became a Disney film, is that Little Red was played by an adult [on Broadway] and in the film she is played by a child," Atwood explained.

Rob Marshall, director of the ambitious and star-studded adaptation of "Into the Woods," in theaters Dec. 25, has had the good fortune to join forces with Atwood on numerous occasions.

"Johnny [Depp] was actually very involved in the creation of [his costume]," Marshall told HuffPost, "because he is a creative force, obviously. He was very inspired by the wolf of the cartoons of Tex Avery from the '40s, where the Wolf is dressed in a zoot suit and a fedora, and it’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing."

"In costuming, a lot of actors dread the fitting -- a new form of punishment -- but once they're in the room they love it," Atwood said. "It's about presenting a point of view. In a fitting, you can see right away whats not working for an actor."

The Witch. A sketch by Colleen Atwood for "Into the Woods."

For "Into the Woods," Marshall used Atwood's longstanding relationship with Depp to his advantage. "[Atwood and Depp] have worked together on everything from 'Edward Scissorhands' to 'Alice in Wonderland,' they’ve done a million movies together and I’ve done a million movies with Colleen. So, we were able to find our stylized version of the Wolf, and let Johnny play it."

Atwood reiterated Depp's influence in the design process: "Johnny has a certain intuitive sense of style and character that is definitely something he owns," she said. "I've known Johnny for 20 years, so I've seen Johnny become Johnny, in a way. In designing for him, I try to give him little magical things: for instance, when I did 'Alice,' thimbles for his fingers and a pin cushion ring I found on eBay."

These "magical things" foster the talent's eccentricities, Atwood explained, offering something more prominent costume pieces do not. "I don't particularly like films where I have to go shopping and go through 25 people to decide which white blouse is the right white blouse," she said. "That's not for me."

She's managed to avoid being pigeonholed throughout her decades-long career, designing costumes for everything from ballets to commercials. But Atwood admits her most remarkable creations have appeared in Burton's films, and that she's turned him down just once. "The only time I've ever said no to Tim was 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' for personal reasons, but initially I was supposed to do it," Atwood explained. "It was very tough, but its strange, because at the same time, right after I said no, which was heartbreaking because I really wanted to do it, they called me to do 'Memoirs of a Geisha,' which was a blessing in a different way," she said. (Atwood's work on "Memoirs of a Geisha" was recognized with an Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design -- her second.) "In my career I've been extremely lucky."

Not every film Atwood has worked on earned an Oscar nod, but that's not what drives her work. "The Martian Girl dress [for Burton's 'Mars Attacks'] went through many evolutions. But it was the most awesome kind of costume, because it was so low tech," she said. Known for fantastic, hand-made designs, Atwood proves that sometimes all it takes a little glitter and glue to pull off a showstopper. "People just didn't get ['Mars Attacks'] at the time and it's such a cool movie. I remember the premiere was very industry. It's a shame that the reaction wasn't more positive -- like one finger clapping -- and I was really bummed for time. We went across the street to the party and Jack [Nicholson] and he looks and me and says, 'Who cares! It's a great movie,' and I think he's right and I'm really glad I did it."

Though often months of planning goes into a single design, a somewhat abbreviated conceptualization has produced exceptional results at least once for the designer.

"I did that mask [worn by Hannibal Lecter in 'Silence of the Lambs'] and it was loosely based on a hockey mask -- and originally it was going have a different surface, but a sample came in to try on Anthony [Hopkins] and it was in raw fiberglass, which looked like skin, and I said, 'Well, I think it's done.' It was so creepy that way that it worked," Atwood explained. "We had no idea it would be so creepy."

Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in "Silence of the Lambs," wearing Colleen Atwood's now-iconic mask.

The impeccable severity to the costumes for "Gattaca," 1997's absorbing sci-fi flick starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, were a testament to the designer's resourcefulness. "'Gattaca' had a really low budget, but I found a lot of really beautiful '30s men's suits, and I recut some '80s suits with modern fabric to make it work," she said. "I could dress that way myself in that it's urban timelessness, almost like a uniform."

Amused by the notion that she'd ever imagine herself in, say, seductress Velma Kelly's shoes, however, Atwood described her design philosophy as it relates to the dazzling pieces she created for "Chicago," Marshall's 2002 musical adaptation that racked up six Oscars of 12 nominations (including Atwood's for the costumes). "When I design costumes, it's an external thing," she said, "not something that I see myself in. It's a vision that I have of other things. My wardrobe, I tend to keep it rather simple." In her own closet, Atwood reaches for Saint Laurent, and "usually something black."

To emerging costume designers with aspirations to work in Hollywood, Atwood offers sound advice: "It's different now, but it's not different. If you get a job on a film, even if not in the department you want to be in, take it. If you're good at your job and you work hard, people will notice -- It's a foot in the door ... At the end of the day, I'm proud to say that I experience continual joy in what I do," Atwood said, racking up Oscar nominations along the way.

In 2014, Students Around The Country Stood Up For Their Beliefs

Wed, 2014-12-24 15:01
Students around the country have clearly been paying attention in civics class.

This past year saw a number of instances where high school students refused to leave political activism to the adults. Whether or not you agree with their views, teens around the country showed this year that they were able to stand up to authority and protest peacefully and respectfully.

Below, we've compiled a list of five times in 2014 when teens made their voices heard in a meaningful way.

1. Protests for Michael Brown

Demonstrations broke out around the country in November after a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer. These protests were not limited to citizens of voting age. Teens walked out of class around the country to peacefully show their objection to the grand jury's decision, and many conducted "die-ins" in honor of Brown.

Below are photos of some of the protests.

Brookline, Massachusetts

Minutes of silence at Brookline High #HandsUpWalkOut

— Aarón Martel (@aaronmartel) December 1, 2014

Manhattan, New York

The kids are alright. A big group of students from Bard HS just showed up for #HandsUpWalkout in Union Square.

— Ted Alexandro (@tedalexandro) December 1, 2014

St. Louis, Missouri

RT @stltoday: #HandsUpWalkout at Clayton high school. RT @jessicabock:

— bluecheddar1 (@bluecheddar1) December 1, 2014

#diein #Ferguson #handsupwalkout #claytonhighschool #clayton

— The Globe (@chsglobe) December 1, 2014

2. Protests for Philadelphia teachers

In early October, the School Reform Commission (SRC) that governs the Philadelphia school district voted to cancel its labor contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the local teachers' union. The cancellation of this contract means teachers may have to start paying their own health care premiums, which could cost up to $140 a month.

The SRC canceled the contract in order to save the district money -- the five-member board of state appointees has said that the move will help funnel about $44 million back into the district’s classrooms. This isn't an insignificant point, since the district has long been in a state of financial distress and has had to undergo massive layoffs and close dozens of schools in recent years.

Still, some students disagreed with the SRC’s decision, and walked out of class to show support for their teachers. Below are some images from the students' rally:

The student protest outside of CAPA highschool #StudentsForTeachers #phled #education #stoptomcorbett #amazing #RT

— Jacob Morgan Howie (@realjakehowie) October 8, 2014

Morning Storify updated with more photos from #StudentsForTeachers: (Photo via @ALDIANews)

— Anna Orso (@anna_orso) October 8, 2014

3. Norman High School students demand sexual assault reform

This past year, multiple students at Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma, claimed to have been raped by a particular classmate. The alleged victims also said they were subsequently bullied, and that the school’s administration was less than supportive of their plight.

In support of the alleged victims, students organized a protest outside the school in late November that drew up to 1,000 participants. The organizers presented the district with a list of demands, including that the “school must fully accommodate the educational needs of the victims and take all necessary steps to ensure the victims feel welcome and safe at all times on school grounds” and that the “school shall prioritize the immediate implementation of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and bullying prevention education for students and faculty," according to local outlet KOKH-TV.

The school principal commended the protestors and said in a statement that "we continue to be very concerned about victims of sexual assault and are committed to doing what we can to support them and ensuring our schools provide a safe, secure and supportive environment for our students." Below are pictures of the event:

Organizers with #YESALLDAUGHTERS say the lives of these 3 girls have been put on hold. @OKCFOX #LiveOnOKCFOX

— Danielle Dunn (@DanielleDunnOKC) November 24, 2014

Students walking out of class at Norman HS. #YesAllDaughters

— Rachel Calderon (@RachelTRAFFIC) November 24, 2014

4. Colorado students boycott standardized tests

In November, hundreds of seniors from Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, refused to take the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), a statewide test on social studies and science. Instead, they protested outside their school and collected food to donate to charity.

A vast majority of the school’s seniors refused to take the test, with only nine out of 530 seniors ultimately participating.

Protesting Fairview High seniors said the test included material that not all students had covered in class, and said the exam was an unneeded source of stress in students' lives.

"The amount of testing and time away from teaching and learning is a shared concern among our teaching staff, principals and community," Principal Bruce Messinger told HuffPost at the time.

Below are some photos of the students' rally:

Student Protesters outside Fairview in 18 degree weather #CMASProtest #edcolo @9NEWS @DianeRavitch

— FHS Royal Banner (@FHSRoyalBanner) November 13, 2014

Hundreds of students at a Boulder high school protested the #edcolo standardized test today. |

— Chalkbeat Colorado (@ChalkbeatCO) November 13, 2014

5. Colorado students protest proposal to whitewash history classes

For two weeks in September, hundreds of Denver-area students left class to protest a proposal from their school board.

The students, from schools all around Jefferson County School District, were protesting a proposal put forward by conservative school board member Julie Williams. The proposal called for a review of Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum material to make sure the courses promoted patriotism and did not "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law." An APUSH framework released by the College Board, which oversees the Advanced Placement program, had recently been the subject of much controversy among conservatives who said the framework was overly critical of American history. Williams' proposal might have modified the way this material was presented in classrooms, something many students vehemently opposed.

"APUSH rejects the history that has been taught in the country for generations," Williams said in a statement about her proposal at the time. "It has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American history for generations."

In response, students said the school board was effectively trying to censor teachers and promote a bowdlerized version of history. Students' efforts proved somewhat successful: Ultimately, the school board backed away from the proposal to review the APUSH curriculum with the aim of promoting patriotism. But the board voted to expand existing curriculum review committees that could still look at the course material -- a development that led to further student protests in October, according to the Associated Press.

"This isn't over," Ashlyn Maher, a district senior who helped organize the protests, told the Associated Press at the time. "We are going to fight until we see some results."

Below are some photos of the demonstrations:

Chatfield junior Scott Romano leads a protest. #jeffco #edcolo

— Nic Garcia (@nicgarcia) September 24, 2014

More than 700 #Jeffco students protested this morning. Most are returning to class now.

— Larry Ryckman (@larryryckman) September 24, 2014

About 1,000 students from Chatfield have left class this morning. #Jeffco #edcolo

— Nic Garcia (@nicgarcia) September 24, 2014