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Peek Into "Drool-Worthy" Restaurant Dining Rooms

Thu, 2014-12-18 12:38
There has been a revolution in restaurant design! Diners crave the artistic theatrical experience in a casual and sophisticated environment. The constant pursuit of excitement and beauty has led to elevated dining experiences that offer next level taste in food and design. Let's peek into these tasting spaces for some mouth-watering and lip-puckering design inspiration!

1. Arlington Club, New York



Arlington Club gives "vibe dining" its name.

Why We Love It: Designed in Beaux-Arts style, arches are prevalent in the architectural details as well as in the leather bench seating. Brick detail, dark woods, tufted leather, crane neck ceiling lighting and decorative sconces work together in perfect harmony to create this rich and classic dining room!

2. One Up, San Francisco



One Up indeed!

Why We Love It: The modern streamlined look with warm rich tones! How can you not be wowed by the burgundy velvet seating, persimmon red tile, maple wood tables, beautiful built-in bar at window, French oiled oak floors and stunning drop Edison bulb fixtures. The food must taste better here!

3. Fat Rice, Chicago



Fat Rice likes to mix it up with a a lot of flavor as well as some industrial eclectic design at this Chicago hot spot.

Why We Love It: Check out the detailed ceiling tiles, horizontal reclaimed and ebony wall panels, old oak room divider, ebony stained floors, bold art, bright chairs and antique Chinese ceramics! All in all, it looks and, we hear, tastes amazing!

4. Spago, Beverly Hills



Spago, in Beverly Hills has been remodeled and it's looking sleek and modern!

Why We Love It: The modern and sophisticated space features dark jade velvet seating, modern wood carved chairs, white washed floors and a "James Turrell - esque ceiling light. A delish palette not only on the plate but in the space!

5. Lafayette, New York



Layfayette makes you want a cigar immediately with its moody traditional lounge.

Why We Love It: The warmth of walnut wood walls and ceiling is enriched by the flush mount ceiling fixtures, beautiful sidebar with dramatic floral decor, mirrors to reflect and create sexy light and classic French cafe chairs. Cozy, sexy, and totally delicious!

6. Juniper & Ivy, San Diego



Junipuer & Ivy is an architectural gem with industrial rustic vibe.

Why We Love It: Metal, concrete and wood are the main elements here which make for an industrial yet rustic feel. There is natural lighting and simple architectural detail which keeps in line with the style. Modern seating, bold pops of art and simple plant accents make the space casual and easy going.

7. Alma, Los Angeles



Alma is cool as a cucumber slice with its modern minimal design.

Why We Love It: Oh so soothing! Besides Alma's having the Bon Appetit award, they also have a pretty sleek interior space. Cool palette, neutral wood floors, sage back walls in the tiny seating nook, globe drop lights, bar seating and ghost chairs with simple plant accents make this zen space relaxing in it's approach to fine dining.

8. Maysville, New York



Maysville has us all ears, eyes and tastebuds with this stunning glamorous modern space that highlights geo design lighting and graphic elements!

Why We Love It: The granite counters have an organic movement down the entire bar and the carved wood seats give an industrial chic touch. The walls look like they are textured in a dark slate and the art work is bold and scaled perfectly for the space. The checkered floor is a fun way to keep the kinetic energy moving and the mouth watering!

Happy dining to all of you! ...We're here every step of the way to make sure where you eat is as delicious as the food they serve!

#GetYourDesignOn

xo,

Laurel & Wolf


Laurel & Wolf is the world's leading interior design marketplace. We provide online interior design services to residential and commercial spaces powered by our talented community of professional interior designers.

The Highest-Paid Quarterback In The NFL This Season Got Benched

Thu, 2014-12-18 12:06
By Aaron Wilson, National Football Post

The Chicago Bears are starting Jimmy Clausen at quarterback and have benched a struggling Jay Cutler.

Cutler has gone 5-9 as a starter and had three interceptions in a loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

Cutler leads the NFL with 24 turnovers.

Cutler is the highest-paid offensive player in the NFL this season at $22.5 million.

"We haven't been able to do the things that we want to get done," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We're working towards that. But the answer to that is obvious. I'm trying to give you the most truthful answer, and that is, we've seen moments of it, but it's not where we need to go. It's not where we need to be. But it's not all about Jay. It's about our entire offense, working together to get it done."

Clausen is a former Carolina Panthers second-round draft pick from Notre Dame.

[Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

NFP's Introduction to Scouting Class is now registering for our Winter sessions! Save $200 if you register before December 20th! REGISTER NOW!

Petcoke on Our Parkways? The Crudification of Chicago

Thu, 2014-12-18 11:58


There has been movement on the piles of oil refining waste along the Calumet River, which have been such a powdery black eye for Chicago of late. KCBX, the company holding massive mounds of petcoke at the edge of homes, schools and parks on the Southeast Side has been looking for a little help from the City--seeking looser enforcement of the laws put in place after neighbors in the area revolted over clouds of dust descending on their communities.

So far, KCBX hasn't had much luck.

Quite the opposite, actually.

Last week, the City rejected requests for variances that would have allowed petcoke to be piled much higher than allowed (the higher the piles, the more potential for petcoke to be windblown). Additionally, an ordinance introduced in City Council makes clear that the City doesn't put a lot of stock in the petcoke pilers' happy talk about the impact of their facilities.

A letter sent to KCBX this week by the Commissioner of Public Health explains why. It turns out that the City has a study showing the material on sidewalks nearby:

"A [Chicago Department of Public Health] analysis using electron microscopy found petcoke dust on neighborhood sidewalks, in direct contradiction to a flawed study from KCBX that claimed to have found no petcoke in soil samples. CDPH takes the complaints and concerns of the residents who live merely hundreds of feet from your facilities seriously and expects your company to do the same."

And that comes at a bad time for the petcoke pilers, as this week the company rolled out anodyne drawings of giant sheds-in-grass within which they might enclose their black mounds. The imagined sheds are, of course, giant because they intend to put lots and lots and lots of crud under those roofs. Hundreds of tons of it coming from the reviled BP refinery nearby in Whiting, IN, as well as facilities in the suburbs and far flung states as far as Wyoming.

On one hand, this announcement is an unacknowledged "win" for the Southeast Side community. KCBX likely would not have made this investment without the community's full-throated pushback forced further actions. Up until now, the company has crowed about spending millions on a series of sprinklers on sticks that are supposed to wet the piles to prevent the material from blowing. (Of course, the City's study seriously undercuts those claims.)

On the other hand, the proposal is far from what the community needs, legitimately deserves, or has properly advocated for: the withdrawal of the piles from the neighborhood, and investments that build and fully protect the community.

The KCBX press release brags that this enormous metal shed would be the biggest investment in years on the Southeast Side. But really, is this the investment you would want in your neighborhood? Are Chicagoans supposed to applaud making piles of petroleum refining residue a permanent feature of their neighborhood --or should they be bothered that these folks think our town is clamoring to be a dumping ground for Big Oil's gunk? Being a transfer facility for petroleum refining byproducts would further marginalize the Southeast Side--not move it into a vital 21st Century economy?

Frankly, the whole thing stinks. As I told the Trib's excellent reporter Michael Hawthorne, "The company might be putting its dirty industry inside a shed, but this is still a crudification of the neighborhood."

Southeast Environmental Task Force's Peggy Salazar had it right when she told ABC-7's Paul Meincke, "Some businesses do not belong in residential areas. Dirty businesses like the handling of coal and petcoke do not belong in communities. They just don't."

KCBX disagrees.

And they want the City of Chicago to let them take their sweet time end the open, outdoor storage of petcoke that Salazar and neighbors have rightly been battling against. That big shed? The company needs extra time to get it into place. More than a year beyond what the law says they are allowed. Until 2017, Southeast Siders will just have to deal with the mess.

But the City doesn't look anywhere near ready to go along with that.

The letter sent Wednesday showed a lack of patience for KCBX's cavalier response to the City's petcoke regs, noting that the company has already burned through a quarter of the two-year grace period they had to get the piles covered or close up shop. Tick tock, tick tock.

As we have said over and over, these are not the investments that make a great city. These are the investments that make a crud city. They marginalize the community and the city. Chicago cannot be a city that puts petcoke over people. That is not what Chicago is, and Mayor Emanuel's response to date to the petcoke has been to stand with the community for a safe, vibrant future. We hope the city will continue to work to push this dirty industry out of town, and rebuild the Southeast Side.

The news that the City's own study shows petcoke continues to blight Chicago beyond the confines of KCBX's fence line, despite the company's assertions, should signal a clear course of action.




Watch What Happens When You Let A Punk Rock Marching Band Take Over An Art Museum

Thu, 2014-12-18 10:59
When a large, loud and raucous group needs to get together and make some noise, an art museum isn't typically the first place you'd pick.

But when the punk rock marching band Mucca Pazza needed a space to film a video for their new single, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art let them walk right in.

"We've never heard so many yeses," Chicago-based Mucca Pazza cheerleader Meghan Strell said in an email statement on behalf of the band. "MASS MoCA prepared a stage for us but we wanted to perform all over the factory campus and they let us."

Strell said the museum invited the band to "serenade" the giant phoenix sculptures by Chinese artist Xu Bing and dance amid the ongoing Sol LeWitt installation.

"We felt an instant affinity with the color and movement of Sol LeWitt's wall drawings so we asked if we could dance with the drawings," Strell said. "MASS MoCA told us the drawings were chalk, but yes, we could dance with them, and film them."

The 30-odd-piece band, which plays everything from Eastern European brass music to American rock and funk to classic ’60s TV themes, went on to perform five shows at the MASS MoCA in August as they filmed the video for the new single "All Out Of Bubblegum."

In the event program, the museum said "MASS MoCA strives instead to be an open platform" and "to make the whole cloth of art-making, presentation, and public participation a seamless continuum."

Turns out, letting a freaky, fun marching band with cheerleaders, helmet amplifiers, bikes and streamers into an art museum isn't such a crazy idea after all.

"The weekend was magic," Strell said.

This is the premiere of "All Out Of Bubblegum," the first single from Mucca Pazza's latest album "L.Y.A."

So You Want To Run For President? Congratulations! Here Are The Stages Of Your Quest

Thu, 2014-12-18 09:06
As you may have heard, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) announced that he was going to “actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.” This may cause you to wonder, “What does actively exploring a presidential run mean?” Is it like actively exploring your body? Or taking a semester off to, I don’t know, get a Eurorail pass and visit other presidential runs? And isn’t “active exploration” redundant? I mean, you can’t “passively explore” something, can you? Like, you’re just living your life until one day you realize that you’ve somehow thoroughly vetted the possibility that you should run for president?

These are all excellent questions, probably. But the key thing to focus on here is that Jeb Bush has proceeded from one stage of running for president, which we’ll call “not actively exploring a presidential run,” to a new stage, “actively exploring a presidential run.” What you want to get a sense of are things like: What is the level of Bush’s presidential ambitions? What trajectory is he on as a potential candidate? And, of course, how soon can we expect him to get to the next stage of this decision-making process, which is “resigning yourself to spending the winter in New Hampshire, and ordering the requisite outerwear online"?

In order to get a fix on where Jeb Bush is, on this long and winding road to the White House, we have to enumerate the many stages of running for president. We are going to be ridiculously exhaustive in this enumeration, because running for president is a ridiculous and exhausting thing to do. Seriously, in America it’s probably easier to just become one of the billionaires who then buy their own presidents. Why not just do that? You get to own yachts and stuff!

The Stages Of Running For President Of The United States Of America

Actually Not Running For President: You have no interest in running for president. You don’t need to do anything. If anyone asks, “Hey, are you thinking of running for president?” you say, “Nah” and go about your day. Naturally, this stage is considerably easier if you’re the sort of person who would not, in a million billion years, be thought of as presidential material. Then you don’t even get asked the question in the first place. If you are in the U.S. Senate, this stings a little!

Being Encouraged To Run For President: Some people out there in the world really like you, and they’ve formed a little posse, and maybe created a website or something, called “Draft [Your Name Here] Dot Tumblr Dot Com,” and maybe Politico has written a thing about that effort and now it’s well beyond your control. Obviously, this year we’ve seen the emergence of “Ready For Hillary,” but it hardly stops there: Ben Carson has the “National Draft Ben Carson For President Committee” behind him, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has “Ready For Warren itching for her to jump into the race. Also: Mitt Romney’s “backers” seem to have a near-galactic gluttony for punishment.

Not every “Draft A Candidate” campaign is realistic or capable of capturing the popular imagination -- just ask the person who started the “@Sebelius2016” Twitter account, in a truly cockeyed bout of optimism. But once your draft movement becomes a thing, you naturally have to proceed to some new stage of running for president or become much more convincing in your attempts to clarify that you don’t want to be a candidate. Which leads us to ...

Aggressively Not Running For President: You had no interest at all in running a presidential campaign, but the people who keep asking you if you’re considering it just don’t want to take a “no” for an answer. So now you’ve got to run a “campaign for not running a campaign for president.” This is a lot like running for president, only it’s more tedious, and most of the time it seems like you are surrounded by morons.

This is the stage of running for president where Elizabeth Warren currently finds herself. (Or does she?) This week, after NPR became the 34,763rd news organization to ask three separate times if she had presidential ambitions, Warren replied, “I am not running for president. You want me to put an exclamation point at the end?” This was not nearly enough to convince anyone that she is not running for president. Sometimes you have to stand in front of reporters for hours, repeatedly telling them that you aren’t running for president, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) did in October 2011.



“Seriously Considering” A Presidential Run: At this stage, you are someone who cannot legitimately answer “no” to the question of whether you are running, because hey, maybe that’s something you’d like to do. You could be someone who’s strongly favored to win the eventual nomination, like Hillary Clinton. You could be someone who lost the last time out and thinks things might be different this time, like Rick Perry. You might be any number of candidates who everyone hoped would run the last time, like Chris Christie. Or you might genuinely have nothing better to do with your life, like George Pataki.

RELATED: You Are Donald Trump: You have cultivated this schtick in which you always say that you’re considering making a presidential run, but you are never going to do so. Maybe because for all your boastfulness, you understand that deep down, you're too thin-skinned to put yourself out there like that. On the other hand, one can’t rule out the possibility that you're a long-running, Andy Kaufman-esque performance art piece designed to identify the most hilariously credulous political reporters in America. Either way, at the intersection of "You" and "Running For President" is a pile of hot garbage.



Passively Exploring A Presidential Run: It’s only been done once in history, but it was executed to near perfection:

Tim Pawlenty RT @ryanbeckwith: Has anyone ever decided to "passively explore" a run for the White House?

— Simon Maloy (@SimonMaloy) December 16, 2014


Pawlenty went from passively exploring a presidential run to passively participating in campaign events. He even made some passive appearances at a couple of presidential debates. Eventually, however, he did get around to making an active choice about the presidential race (he dropped out).

Actively Exploring A Presidential Run: So this is the stage Jeb Bush officially reached this week. You should take this to mean that Bush understands people are interested in his possible candidacy. He is now on a sort of vision quest. He could decide that he sees a future in which he runs for president, in which case further “explorations” will primarily focus on answering questions like, “Who will fund this campaign?” and “What elite support am I likely to garner?”

But bear in mind that Bush’s “active explorations” might not mean any of this. As Republican strategist Liz Mair recently wrote in The Federalist:

There is also plenty of evidence to back up the conclusion that Jeb wants to look like he might run for president and scare the crap out of the entire rest of the prospective field and make them listen to what he’s got to say and heed his advice and instincts on things like education and immigration and the importance of executive leadership. However, looking like you’re running is not the same as running, and people close to Jeb know it. Jebites who would -- if Jeb were seriously considering running -- be staying away from other candidates like the plague are engaging in a lot of candidate dating. In fact, some of them have even already put a proverbial ring on it.



Significantly, however, there is talk about forming a presidential exploratory committee.

Have any exploratory committees ended in a finding of let’s not run?

— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) December 16, 2014


Thus, at some point Bush may find himself arriving at the next step, which is ...

“Laying The Groundwork” For A Presidential Run: At some point, you have to stop thinking about running for president and you have to either test your viability as a candidate, or create an official campaign. People who arrive at this step are said to be “laying the groundwork,” because it’s amusing to imagine a bunch of affluent elites digging post-holes and laying concrete and stuff.

But the key word here is “concrete.” At this stage, you’re not simply pursuing a thought exercise, you’re doing tangible things to advance a presidential campaign. At the late stage, “groundwork laying” involves some of the more boring but necessary tasks -- forming a presidential exploratory committee, getting your ducks in a row with the FEC, building your campaign staff and infrastructure, and winning the support of top donors and party elites.

But there are lots of things you can do even prior to this that constitute “groundwork.” For instance, are you going on a “listening tour”? That probably means you are about to run for president, because who goes on a “listening tour” without hearing what they want to hear? It should be called a “hearing tour.” Actually, if you want to save a lot of money, the “listening tour” can simply be done with a Ouija board and a bottle of scotch.

i would love for a potential candidate to finish a "listening tour" and announce wow, no way do i want to represent these morons

— Jim Newell (@jim_newell) December 16, 2014


Other examples of groundwork-laying include: publishing a gauzy biography that only campaign reporters will read, producing a 14-minute video at the local cable-access studio, suddenly deciding that the theory of evolution looks fishy, and traveling to Iowa or New Hampshire for basically any reason whatsoever.

Announcing That A Future Announcement About Running For President Will Be Happening: This is one of the new stages of running for president that former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich invented in an effort to inject even more pointless tedium and high weirdness into the process of running for president.



Announcing That You Are Running For President: Your groundwork is laid and your infrastructure is built and now it’s time to stand behind a lectern and tell the world about your intention to seek the highest office in the land. Reporters will confuse the lectern for a podium.

Then, Actually Just Running For President: It’s all happening! Look at you, you’re a real live presidential candidate.

Now things are about to change. Any illusion you had that the process of running for president was going to be a glamorous, high-minded exercise in which you get to experience the gorgeous tableaux-vivant that is American life while conducting a campaign of big ideas will be shattered about a week into the effort. That’s when you realize this is about traversing the country in a wretched bus, showing up to county fairs to eat whatever foodstuff they’ve impaled on a stick, constantly intruding on people in diners who just want to eat lunch in the half-hour they have, and periodically being called away to participate in what seem like hundreds of debates, each more ludicrous -- but potentially game-changing! -- than the last.

You’re also going to start to notice the way the media covers you. Back when you were a lovable mensch with an outside shot at the White House, the press wanted to be your buddy. This is only because they never, not even for a minute, imagined that you might actually end up winning this thing. If that changes -- if you suddenly emerge as a contender -- that’s going to change, and you won’t like it.

You also won’t like the fact that back when you were just thinking about running for president, reporters and pundits seemed to want to engage with your ideas and your biography. You thought big, and reporters treated your ideas as things worthy of contemplation. When you were quoted, you were quoted in paragraphs. You maybe even started to believe that this campaign was going to be about substance.

Now that you’re in the thick of it, however, it’s like the average IQ of every reporter just dropped by 40 points. Now everyone is looking for that moment you fumble a pronoun or mess up a verb tense, so they can rush out a story about how you gaffed it up. You’ll show up for a debate and discover that the whole thing is being presented as if it’s some reality show. If you struggle, every cable news panelist is going to inundate you with a hot idea for turning things around.

This is basically hell.



RELATED: Running For President In The Hopes You Will Get Something Else: Blessed are they who, in the midst of running for president, aren’t really running for president. And there’s always a couple of these guys in either party -- not just “long shots,” but the “really, come on now, what are you doing heres” that are plainly only in this for the side benefits of a presidential campaign.

And they are pretty sweet benefits! Your presidential run might net you a job as a Fox contributor, or some other place in the media firmament. Maybe you secure a perch on a corporate board or a foundation. Whatever your speaking fee was prior to running for president, it’s going to get a nice goose.

Really, when you think about it, those who are fortunate enough to be able to mount a presidential campaign but lucky enough to not end up responsible for running this screwed-up country are the most #blessed people on any campaign trail.

Running For President But Then Going On A Long Vacation For Some Reason: This is another stage of running for president that Newt Gingrich invented in 2011, when he inexplicably left the campaign trail to go on a Mediterranean cruise, during which time his campaign staff resigned en masse.

Announcing That You’re Not Dropping Out Of The Race Despite The Fact You’ve Got No Shot At The Nomination: At some point, it’s going to become clear that you’re not going to end up as your party’s nominee. That moment is now, but for some reason, you don’t see it. Why don’t you see it, man? It is basically obvious to everyone.

You’re coming off your most recent terrible finish in a primary, and the road ahead is only looking bleaker, so you’ve called a press conference and every reporter assigned to your campaign (now dreaming about getting assigned to a better campaign) is there, and the moment is freighted with wistful solemnity. It looks like this is it. Only -- no! The reason you’ve called this press conference is to announce you are sticking it out! All the assembled reporters roll their eyes and grit their teeth, knowing that they now have to file a non-story: “Area candidate doesn’t get the hint.”

This might also be the stage where you start telling people that you’re going to “pour all your efforts into South Carolina,” or “build a firewall in Florida,” or “get the game changed in Guam.” Will this work? Check out the next stage:

Announcing That You Are Dropping Out Of The Race Because You’ve Got No Shot At The Nomination: Yeah, your zany plan to alter reality didn’t pan out. Time to bow out gracefully; you had a good run.

RELATED: Dropping Out Of The Race But Calling It A Campaign 'Suspension': Once more, we have a stage of running for president that Newt Gingrich came up with because he just can’t not be weird. As he told reporters in May of 2012: “Today I am suspending the campaign, but suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship." Whatever, Newt!

RELATED: Running For A Vice Presidential Nod: Maybe this whole time that you were running for president, what you actually revealed was you’d make an excellent vice presidential candidate. It’s possible, so it pays to be nice to the people who vanquished you, because that’s one way of getting onto a vice presidential shortlist. (Note to Republicans in the 2016 cycle: This is probably not an option you should count on, because “running for vice president” is something that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is already doing, and he is really good at it.)

Actually Becoming President: Well, look at you! Congratulations! After a long hard slog through every battleground state in the country, every debate, every trumped-up controversy, every moment of despair, you have made it to the White House. Now you have about eight weeks to actually do stuff before you have to start running for president again and life becomes even more hellish and ridiculous than you ever thought possible. It will all be worth it after you leave office and your regular access to billionaires whose desires you enabled, and they return those favors with plum appointments that require neither work nor merit for the rest of your life.

A Look Back At LGBT Milestones In The 21st Century So Far

Thu, 2014-12-18 08:29
For queer people, in many ways, there has never been a time in history like the present. Although oppression and inequality are still rampant, there have also in recent years been a number of firsts, breakthroughs and other positive developments that once seemed like they would never come.

2014 was an especially good year for queer equality in the U.S. Over 60 percent of Americans now live in states that permit same-sex marriage, and advocates in ever-increasing numbers are speaking out for the cause.

We don't mean to suggest that there haven't been setbacks, or that things aren't still wildly unjust in almost every part of the world. But at the same time, we think it's worth observing, and celebrating, the real progress that the 21st century has brought to many.

Below, we've rounded up some of the most important milestones in queer rights from the past 14 years. We can't wait to see what's in store for 2015 and beyond.





Furries Set The Record Straight: There's Nothing To Be Afraid Of

Thu, 2014-12-18 08:15
It is frequently said that it is only human nature to fear the unknown, to assume the worst of the unfamiliar. Perhaps no group of people is more familiar with this tendency than the furry community.

For most in the general public, their knowledge of furries — individuals who share an interest in fictional animal characters that walk and talk like humans — stems from a 2001 Vanity Fair article, a 2001 episode of MTV’s “Sex 2k” show or a 2003 episode of “CSI,” all of which presented the community as a sex-focused subculture, a sort of fetish community.

But furry enthusiasts say those media portrayals have told a misleading story about furry fandom, focusing on extreme behaviors of some members of the community while ignoring more mundane, less sensational elements.


Catherine (Marg Helgenberger) attends 'Fur Con' a 'furries and plushies' convention in a 2003 episode of "CSI." (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images)

Last week, furries were back in the headlines when 19 people were taken to the hospital due to a chlorine gas leak at Midwest FurFest, an annual Chicago-area furry convention that attracts thousands of participants. Photos of participants wearing full-body fursuits ran as one of the Chicago area’s biggest local stories and the incident received picked up national coverage as well.

Though most of that coverage was relatively straightforward, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski was the subject of more headlines when she burst into laughter and ran off the set after she apparently learned about furry fandom live on the air.

MSNBC Mika Brzezinski runs off set after learning about furries: http://t.co/zQLO6jnhM8 pic.twitter.com/xLWflBEqti

— AOL.com (@AOL) December 9, 2014


Contrary to what one might guess based on past media portrayals, a dramatic reaction like Brzezinski’s to furry fandom tends to be the exception, rather than the rule these days, furry fans recently told The Huffington Post.

“In my experience, most of the time when real people meet real furries you get smiles, and general amusement,” said Laurence Perry, a London-based “furry fan” also known as GreenReaper.

Perry is the editor-in-chief of Flayrah, a furry-centric news website, as well as the creator of WikiFur.com, a furry encyclopedia, and Inkbunny.net, an online gallery of furry art. As Perry sees it, many individuals outside of the community reduce furry fandom to either being “about kinky sex” or about “believing you’re an animal.” Such a belief, Perry explains, would be like believing “Star Trek” fandom is solely about dressing in “Trek”-inspired costumes or that “surgery is all about the scrubs.”

“In reality, furries are fans of a concept: ‘What if intelligent animals lived among us, or replaced us?’ From this, all else flows — art, crafts, stories, roleplaying and costuming,” Perry explained.

Demographically, the furry community isn’t too different from the fantasy and science fiction fandom communities from which it is an outgrowth.

Furries exhibit their interest in a number of ways, ranging from online-only interactions or role-playing with other furries -- often using an avatar-based “fursona,” like a wolf, fox or cat, as one’s identity -- to wearing costumes as simple as animal ears and a tail or as complex as a complete, elaborate fursuit worn at conventions.

The advent of the Internet in the late ‘90s was a major factor in the growth of furry communities and the many gatherings organized for and by community members, the first of which was actually held in 1989.

Today, Perry said most conventions are enjoying continual growth of the number of participants and many new events continue to be created. Despite the gas leak, Midwest FurFest chairman Toby Murono told HuffPost in a statement that the convention attracted its highest attendance to date this year — 4,600 attendees from 15 different countries.

According to the most recent data from the Anthropomorphic Research Project (ARP), considered to be the most thorough analysis of the furry community’s characteristics, the furry community skews younger than comparable fandoms like anime but is fairly comparable” to similar groups of young, college-age students socioeconomically.


Furry enthusiasts attend the Eurofurence 2014 conference on August 22, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

The ARP also reports that less than 15 percent of furry-identified individuals own their own fursuits, which typically run between $2,000 and $3,000 on the cheap end. So for most furries, their identification with the fandom takes other, more ordinary forms, like sharing and creating one’s own furry-themed art, writing and music.

Still, there are other ways the furry community is markedly different from the general population. Furries, both online and at conventions, are overwhelmingly male (78 percent-85 percent), overwhelmingly white (83 percent-90 percent) and generally “liberal-minded,” according to the project’s research, based largely on surveys conducted both online and at conventions.

Only 35 percent of furries identify as “exclusively or predominantly” heterosexual — compared to an estimated 90 percent of the general population — and 2 percent of furries identify as transgender, a rate much higher than comparable fandoms. No clear answer as to why queer communities are so overrepresented in the furry community is yet known.

As for the underrepresentation of females in the furry world, Courtney “Nuka” Plante, lead researcher of the ARP, said the discrepancy can trace its roots to demographics of the science fiction convention community that started in the 1970s. Plante said he believes the community is well on its way to seeing that change, however, as more females continue to get involved in online communities and at conventions.

Lucas “Roo” Raymond lives in Toronto and is the creator of the Fuzzy Notes furry music podcast, an organizer of the Camp Feral wilderness summer camp and is also working on another podcast titled “This Furry Life,” modeled after the popular Ira Glass-hosted NPR program, "This American Life." Raymond identifies as gay and has been with his partner, who is also a furry, for 17 years.

For Raymond, his introduction to furry fandom started very early, when he was a youngster watching cartoon programs. Growing up in the small town of Erin, he put up pictures of the cartoon characters he appreciated in his locker and “told people as a joke that I thought I was half-kangaroo because they were interesting."

"I had no other explanation,” he said.

It wasn’t until he attended university that he, like many other furry enthusiasts, stumbled onto the fandom via the Internet, which was still in its early days for most people in the mid-‘90s. Through the Internet, he found others like him who lived nearby, formed new friendships and finally had a name for that admittedly unusual interest.

“We all met each other because of furry, but we stay together because we’re friends,” Raymond told HuffPost.

Raymond says he was “definitely” out as gay before he identified as a furry, but said the community almost immediately felt like a “safe” space where he didn’t need to conceal his sexual orientation. At conventions, he says the crowd is a mix of “people of all orientations” and that such identities “don’t seem to really matter” there.

Despite the apparent growth of interest in furry events and communities, Plante said he doesn’t see the community ever “becoming mainstream.”

“People look at furries wearing fursuits or at conventions and they almost forget that there are people underneath those suits,” Plante told HuffPost. “People still have a long way to go before they can treat furry as what it is, just something to do for fun, like a model train enthusiast or a comic book fan. It’s good-natured and not anything scandalous or horrifying.”

Raymond, however, sees signs of progress for the furry community. The bottom line, he says, is that furries are just like everyone else.

“When you see a sports fan or a fan of a band at an arena during a game or concert, you’re probably not seeing them the way they look 24/7, at work or at home watching TV,” Raymond said. “Furries at conventions are no different from a sports fan wearing a cheesehead or a person all gothed up at a dark music show. The only difference is that one is culturally accepted, the other one, I guess, is shocking for some to see.”

9 of the Best-rated TV Shows Set in Illinois

Thu, 2014-12-18 08:10
Chances are that people who have never even been to Illinois or Chicago have some idea of what it's like here: the brutal weather, the corrupt politicians, the iconic pizza. And they probably got most of those ideas from watching TV shows set in the Windy City and beyond.

There have been dozens of shows set, shot and produced in Chicago and Illinois as a whole since the inception of television. The International Movie Database compiled a list of almost 900 user-rated TV shows. 19 of the 859 shows are set in Illinois. Here are nine of the best user-rated set in Illinois. Users rated each show out of 10 stars, and aggregate scores determined each show's ranking. The overall rankings are included in parenthesis.

19. (851) Shake it Up (Disney)



Stars: 4.8

Years aired: 2010-2013

18. (802) Mike and Molly (CBS)



Stars: 6.5

Years aired: 2010-present

17. (798) Family Matters (ABC)



Stars: 6.5

Years aired: 1989-1998

16. (716) Roseanne (ABC)



Stars: 7

Years aired: 1988-1997

15. (583) Samantha Who? (ABC)



Stars: 7.5

Years aired: 2007-2009

14. (549) Early Edition (CBS)



Stars: 7.5

Years aired: 1996-2000

13. (471) ER (NBC)



Stars: 7.7

Years aired: 1994-2009

12. (461) The Chicago Code (FOX)



Stars: 7.7

Years aired: 2011

11. (452) Happy Endings (ABC)



Stars: 7.7

Years aired: 2011-2013

Check out Reboot Illinois to see the Top 10 Best User-Rated Shows set in Illinois, including some current hits and forever classics. Plus, find links to where you can watch the shows online.

Sign up for our daily email to stay up to date on all things Illinois politics.

NEXT ARTICLE: 13 highest-grossing horror movies filmed in Illinois

Lights, camera, action: Here are the 100 highest-grossing movies filmed in Chicago
Catchin' some zzz's: What time do Illinoisans go to sleep?
That's right, the Simpsons live in Illinois. Here are 20 reasons why.
Watch: Fiery to the finish: Recalling Judy Baar Topinka

Illinois is One of the Worst Places in the Whole Country to Retire

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:23
Retirement is a working life-long goal for most people--great amounts of thought are given to planning and saving and making sure all ducks will be in a row when it's finally time to clock out for the last time. This work should all be worth it, though, when retirees get to spend their last years enjoying family, friends and hobbies worry-free. But maybe Illinois is not the place to do it.

After deciding when and how to retire, deciding where to retire is the next step. Careful consideration of possible activities, weather, taxes, cost of living and proximity to family and friends is undertaken.

USA Today ranked the 10 worst states in the U.S. in which to retire. The newspaper named Illinois as the fourth-worst state in the country in which to spend your last years, citing the state's rough labor laws and the fact that the population of retired people in the state is relatively low.

From USA Today:

A combination of a weak labor market and high property taxes place Illinois as the fourth worst state in the nation for retirement. It may seem unusual to include labor conditions in a retirement ranking, but MoneyRates notes that more retirees are working part-time jobs these days. Illinois' proportion of older people in its population is well below the national average.

Combine all that with Illinois' other economic woes (underfunded pensions, unpaid bills and income tax disagreements) and our familiarity with polar vortices and it's not difficult to see why the 65-and-older crowd might want to stay away.

Alaska was named as the number-one worst state to retire in the United States because of its harsh economic conditions and even harsher weather conditions.

Check out this map to see which other states USA Today would advise retirees to stay away from. Click on each marker to see to which state it belongs.



Check out Reboot Illinois to see what other kinds of considerations retirees take into account when choosing where to live and how Illinois stacks up.

Sign up for our daily emails to stay up to date on all things Illinois politics.

NEXT ARTICLE: Bergman: States are hiding nearly $1 trillion in retirement debt
Chicago has more retired police than working
Maisch: State should leave private sector retirements to professionals
BGA: Video gambling at retirement home
Tributes: Illinois politicians remember Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka

Abolishing the CIA

Wed, 2014-12-17 14:27
The shock resonating from the Senate Intelligence Committee's CIA torture report isn't due so much to the revelations themselves, grotesque as the details are, but to the fact that they're now officially public. National spokespersons (except for Dick Cheney) can no longer deny, quite so glibly, that the United States is what it claims its enemies to be.

We're responsible for the worst sort of abuses of our fellow human beings: A half-naked man freezes to death. A detainee is chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days. The stories have no saving grace, not even "good intelligence."

The Axis of Evil smiles, yawns: It's home.

The question is, what do we do with this moment of national self-awareness? Beyond demanding the prosecution of high-level perps, how about really changing the game? I suggest reviving S. 126, a bill introduced into the U.S. Senate on Jan. 4, 1995, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, titled Abolition of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Abolish the agency that has secretly stirred up hell on earth. Its sins go far beyond torturing suspected terrorists. This agency, with its annual budget (in 2013) of nearly $15 billion, has covertly carried out the bidding of special economic and political interests since its founding, orchestrating, among much else, the overthrow of democratically elected, populist governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile because the U.S. couldn't control them. In each case, the regime that followed was darkly repressive, murderous; the blood of their victims is also on American hands.

The abolition of the CIA could be a conscious step in tearing our government out of the grip of the war consensus -- this unelected force that feeds on perpetual global mistrust and hatred, the exact opposite of what true security requires.

In Moynihan's speech introducing the bill to the Senate, he declared that the end of the Cold War "was a victory achieved by openness, not secrecy. By frankness, not intrigue.

"The Soviet Empire," he continued, "did not fall apart because the spooks had bugged the men's room in the Kremlin or put broken glass in Mrs. Brezhnev's bath, but because running a huge closed repressive society in the 1980s had become -- economically, socially and militarily, and technologically -- impossible."

A U.S. senator took a stand for openness and common sense. He noted that the Information Security Oversight Office, which monitors how many secrets are classified each year, "reported that in 1993 the United States created 6,408,688 secrets. Absurd. While each agency has different procedures and criteria for classifying documents, all seem to operate under the assumption that classification is preferable to disclosure.

"Secrecy," Moynihan proclaimed, "is a disease. It causes hardening of the arteries of the mind."

What if we knew and acknowledged this at the level of national government? Secrecy perpetuates rather than exposes mistakes and accommodates the agenda of special, highly limited interests. Moynihan's criticism of the agency was focused on the secrecy itself, not the games the agency played in secret or the horrors it inflicted on the innocent, but it was a start.

The torture report opens the door to the nature of the CIA's secrets and forces public scrutiny of them. The agency operates in what has to be called a moral vacuum, seeking and claiming authorization to extract "intelligence" from people by cracking them open physically and emotionally. I call it Human Trash Syndrome: the belief that humans under one's complete control have no innate value and can be abused and discarded at will.

As Ray McGovern wrote, ". . . one can no more 'authorize' torture than rape or slavery. Torture inhabits that same moral category, which ethicists label intrinsic evil, always wrong -- whether it 'works' or not."

As though absurdity could further degrade intrinsic evil, however, torture as practiced by the CIA didn't work at all. It produced no information of value to the national cause. But as McGovern also pointed out, referencing Gen. John Kimmons, former head of Army intelligence, ". . . if it's bad intelligence you're after, torture works like a charm. If, for example, you wish to 'prove,' post 9/11, that 'evil dictator' Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda and might arm the terrorists with WMD, bring on the torturers."

That's because a torture victim, under sufficient duress, will say anything you want him to. And it was torture testimony, specifically that of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, that Bush administration officials used in their marketing of the Iraq war, McGovern noted. Al-Libi provided CIA interrogators with the golden (and nonexistent) link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, which was cited by, among others, Colin Powell in his infamous address to the United Nations in February 2003. Al-Libi eventually recanted all his testimony, to, of course, minimal publicity, and it didn't matter anyway because by then the war with Iraq was already underway.

Abolish the CIA. It serves national insecurity. It serves everything about this country we need to change. Waterboarding and "rectal rehydration" and the infliction of unendurable stress and terror on detainees are today's headlines, but what they guarantee is even worse: a world that will never learn how to live at peace with itself.

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

© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Tony Romo May Not Be NFL MVP, But He Has Become An Elite Quarterback

Wed, 2014-12-17 13:24
Tony Romo is not going to win the NFL MVP this season, that much is clear. There are too many other great quarterbacks having monstrous seasons: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, to name a few. And his teammate in the Dallas Cowboys backfield, running back DeMarco Murray, is firmly in the conversation as well. But at 34 years young, Romo, fresh off his second serious back surgery, is enjoying the best season of his illustrious (if highly criticized) career, and he has most definitely earned the right to be at least in the conversation about MVPs and elite players.



Romo has always been a lightning rod for the media and for fans because of his late-game gaffes, such as ill-timed interceptions or the infamous fumbled snap during a playoff game in Seattle some eight years ago. But the Racine, Wisconsin, product is actually one of the NFL's most impressive success stories. He went undrafted out of little-known Eastern Illinois; he entered the training camp as a fourth-stringer with little chance of making the team. Fast-forward over a decade later: He is a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the longest-tenured quarterbacks in pro football. Perhaps the biggest misconception about Romo, however, is that he loses or fails in the clutch. Granted, he has just a lone playoff win, but he also ranks near the top in game-winning drives since his rookie year, with 27 in total. Moreover, his 23 fourth-quarter comebacks rank 17th ... in league history.

Quarterback, the most important position in sports, brings with it one truly important metric: wins. And Romo has proven this year that he can win. The 10-4 Cowboys boast arguably the best win of the year with a victory in Seattle back in Week 6, and are fresh off a monumental divisional win in Philly -- a virtual play-in game to the postseason. Romo, teeming with confidence, was brilliant during that one, tossing three touchdowns without a turnover. His crucial fourth-quarter touchdown throw to Dez Bryant helped cement the game, and was another reminder of how dynamic he has been with the game in the balance. In fact, during the last two minutes of a half this season -- easily his most prolific as a pro -- Romo is completing 69 percent of his passes to go along with 6 touchdowns and zero picks, good enough for a 119 quarterback rating. All in all, his fourth-quarter QB rating places him fourth, better than "bigger" names like Rodgers, Manning, Luck and Drew Brees.



The Cowboys have a mere single playoff win since 1996. The franchise has been mired in mediocrity and disappointing .500 seasons, basically since Troy Aikman was under center. Romo was called upon from a young age to be the savior, a role that was perhaps bestowed upon him unfairly, considering the offensive line and general defensive woes around him. The controversial $108 million contract extension he signed in 2013 certainly brought with it an added dose of pressure from a desperate fan base. And to be sure, he is most definitely not without his faults. But in a sense, Romo's fearlessness and gunslinging attitude fits the mold of Jerry Jones and "America's Team" anyway, does it not?

Regardless, the past is immaterial when it comes to this season for Romo. All in all, he been terrific (28 TDs, 8 interceptions), at times playing through obvious pain, and leading Dallas to a likely NFC East crown and a potentially deep postseason run. And, in a "what have you done for me lately" league, Tony Romo has become an elite quarterback.




Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report. Also, be sure to catch my NBC Sports Radio show "Kup and Schultz," which airs Sunday mornings from 9 to 12 EST and 12-1 for fantasy football, right here.

HuffPost Teams Show Off Their Holiday Pajamas

Wed, 2014-12-17 12:53
Each December, HuffPost editors eagerly await the cozy sweaters that Arianna Huffington gives her employees for the holidays. The tradition dates back to the site's launch in 2005, so some editors have developed quite the sweater collections over the past nine years. But this season, Arianna decided to switch things up and give the gift of sleepwear.

You're probably wondering why a boss would gift her employees PJs. Well, when you have a leader who takes her sleep so seriously that she encourages people who work for her to "sleep their way to the top," it makes perfect sense.

After all, putting on a comfy pair of PJs helps create a ritual at bedtime. Just like your morning routine revs you up for the day ahead, your night time behaviors can help you prepare for more restful sleep. Dim the lights, power down your devices and give yourself some time to unwind before hitting the hay -- and don't charge your phone by your bed!

We have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, including reaching 126 million unique visitors and expanding HuffPost to 13 international editions around the world! So after nine years of finding perfectly wrapped sweaters on our desks, we're looking forward to ringing in the next decade of HuffPost with plush pajamas.

Check out the photos below of HuffPost teams across the world showing off their holiday PJs and toasting to another year of success and sleep.







HuffPost pajama party goods were provided by Home Depot, Casper, Love Sac, Boll & Branch and Moët.

Holiday Hooligans Are Targeting Atheist Billboards, Secular Group Claims

Wed, 2014-12-17 12:41
(Reuters) - Holiday hooliganism is no longer limited to thieves running off with baby Jesus from a nativity scene or vandals throwing eggs at mangers.

Atheist decorations also have become a target for destruction after their addition to some public forums in recent years as a counter-argument to menorahs and creches, a Wisconsin-based secularist group said on Friday.

"It's not unusual at all to run into these heavy-handed tactics," said Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Of a dozen FFRF displays erected in winter 2012, five were stolen or vandalized, Gaylor said. In 2013, 14 displays were put up, and two were vandalized.

An atheist banner in a park of the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights vandalized twice, in 2013 and 2014, and the Chicago FFRF chapter is offering a $2,000 reward to find the culprit.

The now-repaired banner asks "Are you good without God? Millions are."



Last year in Pitman, New Jersey, someone tried to set an atheist billboard on fire.

Gaylor said the banners and lighted "A" for atheist signs are in response to religious displays, which the foundation said should not be in public places such as parks or government buildings.

One of the foundation's displays is a "Bill of Rights" nativity scene, to commemorate the Dec. 15 ratification of the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

"It's the founding fathers gazing adoringly at the Bill of Rights in a crib. James Madison is on bended knee," said Gaylor.

One out of five U.S. adults do not identify with a specific religion, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, the highest percentage ever for that group in Pew polling.

"There has to be room at the inn for non-believers," Gaylor said. "Many more people are offended when they encounter religion at the seat of their government."

Tom Brejcha, a lawyer for the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, which has fought to protect religious displays in public forums, said vandalism of both atheist and religious displays is wrong. But he thinks the atheist displays are an attempt to discourage free speech.

"I think it's really an attempt to try to get people angry and make it divisive so the public officials involved will suppress people expressing themselves on something that's important to them," said Brejcha.

Legal corruption? It's real, and it's a problem for Illinois.

Wed, 2014-12-17 11:43
Illinois is famous for its corrupt politicians, exemplified by its long list of former governors who went on to serve jail sentences. But the state also has plenty of political corruption that's perfectly legal.

Truth in Accounting's Bill Bergman explains some more:

A recent study published by the Edmond Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University ranked the 50 states on both "legal corruption" and "illegal corruption." The authors described the shortfalls in relying exclusively on legal measures like conviction rates, and defined "legal corruption" as "political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups. ..."

After ranking the 50 states on both measures, the study identified seven states that appeared in the list of both "most legally corrupt" states and "most illegally corrupt" states. The study also identified 7 states ranking among the least corrupt states in both categories.

The "most corrupt" states included Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, Alabama, New Mexico, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

Another legal question: What to do about filling the office of Illinois comptroller after the Dec. 10 death of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Everyone seems to have an opinion about appointments, special elections and what the late elected official herself would want. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has said she thinks the Illinois Constitution mandates that Gov. Pat Quinn fill the vacancy with an appointment to last just about a month while Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner deals with the candidate's failure to qualify in January with another appointment. But even though Rauner could wield the legal authority to make a four-year appointment, she urges him to call for a special election in 2016 in the interest of democratic ideals. See how other politicians responded at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Cartoon: Roland Burris gets a second chance at comptroller's office

23 Things That Didn't Even Exist A Year Ago But Are Absolutely Vital Now

Wed, 2014-12-17 09:53
Each year, creative geniuses gift us with amazing new products that change our daily routines. Sometimes these inventions occupy so much of our time we forget that they were just recently not a part of our lives.

Here are some of the attention-grabbing innovations that made our 2014:

2048



Even if it's just a copy of another game, 2048 continues to keep us occupied during idle time ... or at work.



This Bizarre Air Umbrella



It may not be available yet, but this Kickstarter campaign was a huge success in 2014. Apparently a device that shoots out air to protect us from rain could be the future of umbrellas we've been waiting for.



HBO's "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver"



Initially, people were skeptical when John Oliver stepped down from "The Daily Show" to launch his own late night show on HBO that would recap the news once a week. But he delivered with some incredible takedowns.



Opting out of group texts on the iPhone



Finally, iOS 8 lets you remove yourself from group iMessages. Sure, there were some other fun features too, like interactive notifications and shareable location data, but nothing is more crucial than easily silencing convos.



The law that says we can’t wear Google Glass in theaters



Enter a movie theater, and you know you can't use a device like your phone to record the movie. But what about those “glassholes” who can record using their faces? The Motion Picture Association of American cleared that up by updating its policy in October.



Yo



Texting was once considering a revolutionary innovation that made our communication so much quicker and easier. Then, Yo came along.



This Amazing "Let It Go" Cover



Disney's Frozen was released in 2013, but we just couldn't let it go as people created their own parodies and covers. Christina Bianco blew us away.



Snapchat Our Story



Snapchat went through some tough times this year. But it also revolutionized its app by introducing "Our Story" -- a public feed for events from football games to concerts. Another big change we can't forget -- geofilters!



ClickHole



"Because all content deserves to go viral."



Serial Podcast



Was it "Mail Kimp"? Is it all just a big promotion for Best Buy? These are the questions that plague the minds of 1.5 million listeners an episode.



Kim Kardashian: Hollywood



Just take our money, Kim. The mobile game that puts you on a quest for fame earned more than $43 million.



Recreational marijuana shops



The year started off with Colorado opening its stores legally selling marijuana for recreational use. The excitement drew $5 million sales in the first week. D.C., Oregon and Alaska have legalized recreational use since then.



Bunch O Balloons




It's true: We can now fill and tie 100 water balloons in less than a minute thanks to a genius dad on Kickstarter. Some people who pledged early received theirs in October, but in case you missed out, you can go ahead and pre-order one now for next year.



Taco Bell's Breakfast Taco



Mmmm ... need we say more?



Hyperlapse by Instagram

A video posted by Disneyland (@disneyland) on Aug 8, 2014 at 3:45pm PDT




Making timelapse videos got so much easier when Instagram launched its newest mobile app.



A $55,000 Potato Salad party



Online crowdfunding isn't just for artists and tech. One guy just really wanted to make a potato salad and had one epic party.



The Snapshotr



Genius. The decision whether to hold a shotglass or a chaser is over. Finally, we can take shots without making the usual "alcohol is disgusting" face.



Posting Facebook stickers to people's walls



There may never be a "dislike button" on Facebook, but at least the social network made it possible for us to share giant stickers on our friend's walls and in comments, rather than just leave them within messaging.



Mario Kart 8



The console game helped Nintendo make an unexpected quarterly operating profit, and also fulfilled our dreams of racing around Mario in a Mercedes.



Soylent



The latest diet fad made food arbitrary. People took to the challenge of a liquid diet with Soylent. Life changing? More like ew.



The iPhone 6 Plus



Remember when we were all about phones getting smaller? The 5.5-inch screen took some getting used to, but now what would we do without the giant size? So long, iPad.



Push for Pizza



Calling to order is way too much effort. Even Seamless requires time. Thankfully, five teenagers from Brooklyn alleviated our woes by letting us order pizza with JUST ONE button.



Taylor Swift's "1989"



Haters gonna hate, but "Style" is the best.

You Can Record Police in Illinois

Wed, 2014-12-17 08:09
You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. And in Illinois, you have the right to record police officers.

That wasn't always the case. In March, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's harshest eavesdropping laws -- a statute responsible for the arrest and prosecution of ordinary citizens just trying to hold law enforcement and public officials accountable. The Supreme Court rightly called the law overbroad and a violation of the First Amendment.

As a result, Illinois became the Wild West of eavesdropping, with no prohibitions in place. That's great if you're interested in recording a political rally or an altercation between a cop and a suspect. But it's terrible if someone secretly records your phone conversation and ruins your reputation by posting it online.

Since the court decision, Representative Elaine Nekritz and I have been working on a new law that draws a line between these two types of situations, making sure the former is legal and the latter is not. There's nothing new about this distinction; for decades, the U.S. Supreme Court and federal law have recognized that in some cases (a phone call, a chat with a friend in your living room), people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and in some cases (a loud argument on the sidewalk), they don't.



Recently, a federal appeals court clarified in ACLU v. Alvarez that law enforcement officers cannot reasonably expect that their interactions with members of the public -- conducted in the course of their public duties -- will be considered private. The language in our legislation was carefully chosen to be consistent with this opinion so as to prohibit recording or eavesdropping on police officers only when they do have a reasonable expectation of privacy. That exception is necessary because bugging a squad car or listening in on a phone conversation at police headquarters could compromise an investigation or put people at risk -- for example, if an officer were talking on the phone with a complaining witness wishing to remain anonymous.

After legislators publicly debated our proposal in the spring, we listened to critics and made changes; a tweaked version passed this month and will become law if signed by the governor.

We can improve accountability even further by laying the legal framework for officers to record themselves using body cameras. Several communities where officers wear cameras have seen significant reductions in the use of force and the number of complaints against police, and many towns and cities in Illinois are interested in using this technology to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the public at a time when this is sorely needed. Rep. Nekritz and I are crafting legislation that will allow them to take this step.

Throughout my career, I've pushed for robust oversight of law enforcement. I sponsored the legislation that created the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission to bring to light the truth about torture perpetrated under ex-Chicago Chief of Police Jon Burge. Whenever citizens expose police misconduct or excessive force, our society gets a little closer to living up to its ideals.

That's why it's so important to me to explain that the legislation I sponsored greatly expands the public's right to record police officers as they go about their duties. Those who claim the proposal bans such recordings are simply wrong.

By all means, exercise your right to record. Keep the cameras rolling. Our democracy depends on it.

Obama Talks About His Own Experience With Racial Profiling

Wed, 2014-12-17 08:07
The Obamas opened up about their experiences with racial profiling in an interview with People magazine that will hit newsstands Friday.

"I think people forget that we've lived in the White House for six years," Michelle Obama told the magazine. "Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs."

In the interview, the president said it's common for black men to understand what it's like to be racially profiled. The first lady specifically mentioned an incident where Obama was asked to get coffee while attending a black-tie dinner.

In a Nov. 2008 piece published by the Wall Street Journal, Susan Davis recalled a 2003 party she attended with Obama, when another guest told her he had asked Obama "to fetch him a drink."

"There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys," Obama told People.

Amid discussions over race relations sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York City, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and others, Obama has made several recent comments on race, highlighting his concern for "when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law."

"It's incumbent on all of us as Americans ...that we recognize that this is an American problem and not just a black problem," Obama said after a grand jury announced it would not indict the NYPD officer who killed Garner. "It is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law."

Obama told People his experiences "are nothing" in light of more serious situations of racial profiling by police.

"The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced," Obama said. "It's one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It's another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress."

See more from the interview at People.

Bears Safety Chris Conte: It's Worth Dying '10 To 15 Years Early' To Play In NFL

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:34
After a lingering back injury kept Bears safety Chris Conte off the field during Monday night's game, the 25-year-old NFL player told Chicago's WBBM-AM 780 he thinks playing in the NFL is worth sacrificing his health for -- even if it significantly shortens his life.

"I'd rather have the experience of playing in the NFL and die 10 to 15 years earlier than not play in the NFL and have a long life," he told the station in a pregame interview. "I don't really look toward my life after football. I'll figure things out when I get there. As long as I outlive my parents."

"I'm not saying I'm going to go die when I'm 45, 50," he added. "I'm fortunate to go out and play football."

Conte has been forced off the field in seven of the 12 games he's played in so far this season, reports the Chicago Tribune, with incidents ranging from eye and back injuries to two concussions.

Conte's perspective is a dangerous one for multiple reasons, notes SB Nation, not the least of which seems to be a complete misunderstanding of how injurious concussions can really be. Brain injuries don't simply end a player's life 10 to 15 years early, they can lead to dementia, depression and "long term cognitive problems" long before then, a report by the New York Times notes.

In recent years, the NFL has sought to emphasize player safety.

In January, ESPN's NFL Nation asked 320 players whether they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion; 272 players said they would. All 10 Chicago Bears players surveyed said they would continue to play.

12 Numbers That Show The Larger Tragedy Behind Pakistan's Devastating School Attack

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:20
A group of Pakistani Taliban militants infiltrated a military-run school in Peshawar on Tuesday and opened fire on students and faculty. The resulting massacre killed at least 141 people, at least 132 of whom were students, and injured more than 100 others.

The attack in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province was one of the bloodiest in the nation's history, so brutal that it even drew condemnation from the Afghan Taliban. The massacre comes amid an ambitious army offensive against Islamic extremists in the KPK.

The tragedy of Tuesday's massacre is unimaginable, but it is an all too familiar story for Pakistanis who have been locked in a battle to improve education for their children, often against the will of Islamic extremists. The attack must be understood in the context of life at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially for schoolchildren.

These figures give some idea of the terror faced by school-aged children in the region:

1,800

The number of militants killed by the Pakistani army in its ongoing offensive in the KPK and particularly North Waziristan, according to The New York Times. The Taliban has claimed that Tuesday's attack, which targeted a military-run school with close ties to the army, was a retaliation for the operation.



838 to 919

The estimated number of attacks by militants on schools just in the KPK and the neighboring Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) between 2009 and 2012, according to a report published earlier this year by the International Crisis Group. Many believe that the total number of attacks on Pakistani schools since 2009 has now eclipsed 1,000.





Members of Pakistani civil society and journalists light candles for the victims of the attack. (M SHAHID/AFP/Getty Images)

400

The number of schools destroyed between 2008 and 2012 in the Swat valley region of the KPK alone. Seventy percent of the attacks targeted girls' schools.



50%

The percentage of destroyed schools in the KPK that had been rebuilt by the end of 2013. The slow pace of recovery has compounded problems of access to education, especially for girls in the region.



At least 30

The number of children estimated to have been killed in attacks on Pakistani schools and school transport between 2009 and 2012, according to a calculation by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. More than 97 students were also injured, and at least 138 school students and staff were reported to have been kidnapped.





Pakistani girls attend class at a school in the Swat valley. (A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)

29.2%

The national secondary school enrollment rate for girls in Pakistan, according to UNICEF. The enrollment rate for boys, by comparison, is 39.7 percent.



21%

The percentage of Pakistani children aged 6 to 16 who were out of school in 2013, according to the Annual Status of Education Report, which is issued by a coalition of NGOs. Poor children, and particularly girls, are much less likely to attend school. Among the poorest quartile of people surveyed by ASER, 53 percent of girls in this age group were out of school, compared to only 20 percent in the richest quartile.



17.6%

The difference between female and male literacy rates for Pakistanis aged 15 to 24. According to data gathered between 2008 and 2012, Pakistani males in this age group had a 79.1 percent literacy rate, while 61.5 percent of females were literate.



2%


The percent of gross domestic product Pakistan spends on education, the lowest proportion in South Asia, according to the ICG report. In contrast, neighboring India, a historic rival of Pakistan, spends 3.1 percent of its GDP on education.

0%


The percent of government and private schools in Pakistan that had computer labs, according to ASER.

14

Malala Yousafzai's age when she was shot by Taliban militants for her education activism. Yousafzai -- now the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate -- rose to international prominence after the Taliban made a failed attempt to kill her while she was on her way to school. She had been an increasingly powerful and public voice for education access prior to being shot, and after surviving the attack, her activism has only grown stronger.





Malala Yousafzai greets the audience at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert at the Oslo spectrum on December 11, 2014. (ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

40,000

The number of private schools in Pakistan that have banned Yousafzai's book out of fear of extremist retaliation, according to the Associated Press. The All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, which banned the book in the 40,000 schools it controls, has been hesitant to embrace Yousafzai's message because of the Taliban's opposition. Another school group, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, also reportedly banned Yousafzai's book in 2013. Earlier this year, the organization also held an "I am not Malala" day and urged the Pakistani government to ban her memoir.


Following Tuesday's attack, Yousafzai released a statement on the tragedy.


"I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us. Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this," she said. "I condemn these atrocious and cowardly acts and stand united with the government and armed forces of Pakistan whose efforts so far to address this horrific event are commendable.

"I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters – but we will never be defeated," Yousafzai added.

After 22 Years, 'The Real World' Seems Pretty Confident It Can Get Back On The Radar

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:01
At a point in television history where “reality” TV feels anything but authentic, can the program that started it all find its way back to reality relevancy?

Its producers seem to think so.

When “The Real World” kicks off its 30th season on Dec. 16 (yep, the show is still on), the grandaddy of reality TV will raise the stakes by reaching for skeletons in the closet, so to speak. Unbeknownst to the seven houseguests, a person from each contestant's past -- think estranged parents, former frenemies and worse -- will pay a visit.

The beauty of this season’s format, according to producer Jonathan Murray, is that despite all the predictable ways narratives can be manipulated with reality TV, there’s no controlling for the element of surprise.

“It’s going to make the show more watchable,” Murray told The Huffington Post in October on the day after filming wrapped in Chicago. “We needed a twist; Our show was feeling a little quaint in today’s reality.”

In the words of one houseguest, it's “‘Real World’ Grows Up."

Murray, who co-created “The Real World” 22 years ago, said “The Real World: Skeletons” is MTV’s way of “raising the decibel level” of the once-groundbreaking show to younger viewers more familiar with reality TV shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Duck Dynasty.”

“We wanted to figure out something that would stay true to our core DNA, which is diverse people coming together, forming their own decisions, taking responsibility for their decisions, and hopefully growing.”


Inside the "Real World: Skeletons" house in Chicago's West Loop.

With confessional booths, omniscient mics and cameras (except in the bathroom stalls and showers), and stylish furniture that’s discreetly bolted to the floor, the West Loop warehouse space feels like a TV set doing its best impression of a (very well-lit) residence.

Despite the trappings of TV and a cast of media-savvy 20-somethings weaned on reality TV, Murray and the houseguests are emphatic that the experiences and emotions on the show are authentic.

“I think our job as producers is to find people who don’t have an agenda and don’t think they’re going to become this or that [through reality TV],” Murray said. “We actually don’t choose people who come to us. We have to convince them to come on the show. It ultimately made it a very narrow pool to choose from.”

In order to qualify for this season, each houseguest had to have some kind of juicy “skeleton” in his or her past -- and, as Murray noted, everyone had to be up for the challenge. Producers and cast kept tight-lipped about exactly who the "skeletons" would be, but the framing of housemates' bios are certainly suggestive.

A few of the cast members copped to just how grueling it was to be surprised and confronted with a person who, in most cases, represented a painful part of their pasts. But despite the discomfort, they all told HuffPost the experience was therapeutic and overall positive.

“I thought it would be a mini-vacation, but it was more like therapy,” said Bruno, the 24-year-old houseguest from East Providence, Rhode Island.

“The show was like young adult bootcamp," Sylvia, the 25-year-old Kansas City, Missouri houseguest, told HuffPost. "I definitely got something from my skeleton.”

People who bristle at the term “reality TV” shouldn’t be put off by this season, said Violetta, the 23-year-old Sarasota, Florida native on the show.

“What is reality? Sitting in a cubicle 8 to 5?” she said. “Everyone has their own idea of what reality is.”

Whether you want to call it “reality” or just “drama,” Nicole, a feisty Staten Island, New York, native said one thing is for certain: “It’s going to an amazing time.”

"The Real World: Skeletons" premieres Tuesday Dec. 16 on MTV at 10 p.m. EST.

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