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The High Stakes of Life and Death

Wed, 2015-02-18 16:32
Over the past two years my opinion of high stakes testing has evolved. When I was a teacher I had no problem preparing my students for the ISAT, the Illinois standardized test, without giving up guided reading and writer's workshop. Before I became a principal I spent a year in the Performance Management department of our district office, assigned to low-performing schools to help them improve. I drank the Kool-Aid and believed test scores were an accurate measurement of success.

When I became a principal I still believed in the accuracy of test scores, but I also wanted our teachers to adopt proven methods that were student-focused. I threw out the podiums that our elementary and middle school teachers had in their classrooms, reminding teachers that even at the college level not many people enjoy listening to a professor's lecture. Our school had been deemed 'failing' for all but one year since the inception of No Child Left Behind. It was on "probation" and the school was constantly inundated with people telling them what to do, regardless of whether their advice worked or not. To help increase the test scores we did some test-prep, which might, or might not, have contributed to significant gains the first year. The second year we achieved test score gains again, and I was confident we would accomplish what was required to be taken off "probation." Our electronic ankle bracelet would finally be removed.

We had to wait for the official calculations of the value-added scores. Our raw test scores outpaced the district by two-to-three times the average, but when our value-added scores were released we missed the cut-off by tenths of a percent. We failed, despite all the effort we put in. Due to the established rules, it would take another two years to get off probation. I immediately regretted not forcing more test-prep the second year.

Regret didn't last long as I became livid when I found a potential flaw in the value-added formula linked to how we calculate which children qualify for free-and-reduced lunch status, a small part of the value-added formula. I argued that because the numbers might not be entirely accurate, the value-added score should be thrown out. Despite some key people in central office admitting that the underlying data used in the formula might be flawed, they claimed it was a minor issue, and one they couldn't fix since they didn't know the truthful rate of who qualified for free-and-reduced lunch. I even hand-delivered a letter detailing this issue to our mayor, but eventually I realized it was falling on deaf ears.

It was at that moment I realized that everything teachers and principals had been complaining about regarding high stakes tests, that the tests were not the paragon of objectivity they had been touted as, was true. The schools that tended to succeed on the tests were in more affluent neighborhoods. The schools in poor neighborhoods that did well were magnet, selective-enrollment, and charter schools, which could filter out the students and families who faced the most significant challenges. It was a wake-up call for me, but not nearly as much as what happened next.

Two months later, a week before Christmas, we received news that a fifth grade student had died. Unfortunately news of students dying wasn't that unusual. In my less than four years as principal we've lost six students. Four were gang-related; teenagers killed the year after they graduated from our school. One of the worst cases went missing for over a month during one of the snowiest winters in Chicago history. It wasn't until the snow and ice melted that his body was found in one of the lagoons at Marquette Park.

The loss of the fifth grade student was different only in part because it wasn't gang-related. His family had done everything "right". His parents were married and both employed. All the family members were upstanding citizens. His aunts worked at our school, and he was often one of the first and last people at our school. He probably spent as much time there as I did. Everyone in the school knew him for his infectious smile and sense of humor.

The boy, his father, and older brother had been driving to get haircuts for the holidays. The police were in a high speed chase pursuing a carjacker. The criminal ignored a stoplight and barreled into their family van, spinning it so violently that the boy was ejected from the back seat and died on the scene, before his older brother could say his final goodbye. It was a death that could have been avoided since police aren't supposed to engage in high speed car chases, especially in residential neighborhoods. The tragedy and senselessness of it all was partially encapsulated at his funeral, when one of the ministers sarcastically asked how the police couldn't find the carjacker, who was white, in Englewood, an all-black neighborhood on Chicago's south side.

We held a vigil at our school and several hundred people attended. Sweet Baby Ray's donated over a thousand dollars of food to the event. News crews attended and interviewed the family.

I was still angry that our school was deemed failing due to test scores, but in the midst of grieving for our student, I realized that not only are the tests not objective, they are absurd and irrelevant to the real goals of the members of the school community.

Here we are, administrators, teachers, students, and parents, focused on developing the social, emotional, and academic skills of our children so they grow up to be happy, healthy, and successful, but it is all reduced to a single standardized test score. A number. We mourn the losses of those who make bad decisions and join gangs, but at the end of the day, what matters are the test scores. We work with organizations to help stabilize local housing, train parents to be leaders, offer counseling for mental health, and mentor our youth in positive directions. We implement restorative justice, reduce suspensions, get more students on track to graduate high school and attend college. We develop the capacity of teachers to adopt student-centered instructional methods, hoping it will translate to higher test scores, but all is for naught if the scores don't meet a certain number. The school and the community are deemed as failures, compared and pitted against schools and communities with more resources, or with rules that make the comparison apples to oranges. It forces schools to abandon anything and everything that strays from focusing on the test. I know of PE and art teachers that are pressed into service as reading instructors; recess that becomes time for test-prep; science perverted into practice with nonfiction reading, and no time doing science.

I became an educator because I believe in the power of schools to change people's lives and to ensure a more equitable society for all. Yet high stakes tests have only furthered the inequity by punishing schools and communities that are already struggling. Currently the vast majority of schools that are the lowest ranked schools in Chicago are predominantly African-American in the most struggling communities. The tests simply affirm what we already know, the status quo, they don't help to change it.

I firmly believe teachers, administrators, and schools need to be held accountable for their effectiveness, but high stakes tests clearly aren't the solution. There are other methods of assessment, such as student learning portfolios that can demonstrate more holistically and meaningfully about what a child has learned, and how the child has learned. Unfortunately, there is no conversation about alternatives to high stakes tests.

The loss of that young student made me realize more than ever just how fragile life can be. I want to focus the time I have left helping students, families, and teachers. Regardless of what method we use to hold everyone accountable, students and schools can't be reduced to a number. That boy wasn't just a test score: his life mattered.

Illinois Governor Unveils Bleak Budget Plan With Billions Of Dollars In Cuts

Wed, 2015-02-18 15:20
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois' new Republican governor called Wednesday for deep spending cuts to Medicaid, pensions and other programs to fix the state's budget mess without raising taxes - a pitch met with quick opposition from Democrats who control the Legislature.

Delivering his first budget address since winning office last fall, Gov. Bruce Rauner said his plan would end "the irresponsible and reckless practices of the past." He said lawmakers must be willing to make politically unpopular decisions to close a more than $6 billion budget hole next year.

"This is our last, best chance to get our house in order," Rauner said.

According to budget documents released Wednesday afternoon, Rauner is recommending $1.5 billion in cuts.

Rauner's budget blueprint is among the first concrete tests of whether the Republican first-time officeholder can begin to bring the change he has promised to one of the last Democratic strongholds in the Midwest.

The multimillionaire former private equity investor follows other Republican governors who've taken over states and attempted to make them more business-friendly by shrinking government and taxes.

But Rauner, who was seen as a rock star for winning the governor's office in Barack Obama's home state, faces an even greater challenge in a post-recession state where Democrats have super-majorities in both chambers.

They criticized Rauner's plan as disproportionately hurting working families while leaving corporate tax "loopholes" in place.

"He's putting lives and livelihoods in jeopardy by treating our state's most vulnerable people like burdens," said state Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat.

Many Democrats want to raise Illinois' income tax rate, which dropped on Jan. 1 from 5 percent to 3.75 percent, to avoid some spending cuts. House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, said he believes the state needs a mix of spending cuts and new revenue. He also renewed a call for an additional tax on incomes over $1 million.

The bleak budget picture has led major credit agencies to give Illinois the worst credit rating of any state in the U.S. It also has the nation's worst-funded public pension system, with a shortfall of $111 billion.

Rauner said Illinois could save more than $2 billion by moving all state workers to a less-generous pension system lawmakers approved in 2010 for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011. Workers also would have the option of moving to a 401(k)-style plan. He said firefighters and police would be able to keep their current benefits.

Projected savings from any pension changes aren't likely to be realized in the next fiscal year, however. Even if Rauner could get a bill through the Legislature, the state's powerful labor unions - with whom Rauner has clashed repeatedly since taking office - would challenge it in court.

Those unions and retirees already have sued over a 2013 pension overhaul that cut benefits. A lower court found the measure unconstitutional, and the Illinois Supreme Court is considering the case.

Rauner said he wants "significant" cuts in Medicaid, though he didn't give a specific dollar amount. He also called for an "aggressive" review of eligibility for enrollees in the health insurance program for low-income and disabled people.

The governor also proposed increasing spending for K-12 education by about $300 million but cutting funding for higher education. And he proposed cutting state aid to local governments.

This Field Of Otherworldly Sand Spires Was Carved By Wind

Wed, 2015-02-18 15:20
A blizzard may have thwarted photographer Joshua Nowicki’s Valentine’s Day plans with his wife, but it didn’t stop him from venturing out with his camera and accidentally stumbling upon these otherworldly plains of sand spires on Lake Michigan's shore.

Courtesy Joshua Nowicki.

Nowicki, who lives in St. Joseph, Michigan, postponed his Saturday dinner date due to the weather conditions. Instead, his wife encouraged him to go to Silver Beach County Park, where he found the small mounds that strong winds had carved into bulbous, almost futuristic shapes.

"I am fascinated by the way that the lake and lake shore are constantly transformed by the water, ice and wind,” Nowicki said in an email to The Huffington Post.

Courtesy Joshua Nowicki.

Nowicki set out Saturday night to see how the weather had affected the photogenic St. Joseph lighthouse, which in past years has built up jagged, dramatic coats of ice formed by waves crashing onto the pier. But the lake around the pier had frozen solid, so there had been no more buildup since Nowicki last saw the lighthouse. His trip looked like a bust.

As Nowicki walked home, however, he began to see the sand formations. The tallest reached a foot in height, and the largest patch extended about 30 square feet, he said.

Courtesy Joshua Nowicki.

He laid on the ground to take eye-level photos and continued until it got dark. The next morning, many of the structures had eroded, and by Monday, Nowicki said, they had dried out. Only small piles of sand remained.

Nowicki’s photographs have been shared online far and wide, with some comparing the formations to the more permanent and much larger hoodoo rock spires in Utah. Those who've seen the images seem to be fascinated by the strange phenomenon; while Nowicki said he has seen a similar occurrence on the beach before, most people likely never will. But if his photographs inspire others to explore nature in winter, they might see something equally unique: as nature photographers who relish extreme winter weather know, braving the cold can open up a new world.

“It is truly amazing,” Nowicki said about working in winter. “Every day I find something new that catches my attention.”

Courtesy Joshua Nowicki.

Courtesy Joshua Nowicki.

Courtesy Joshua Nowicki.

Three Companies That Have Moved Out of Illinois

Wed, 2015-02-18 14:39
A lot of Illinoisans, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, have come out in favor of beefing up Illinois' business climate in order to in turn improve the finances of the state and of individual Illinoisans. He and others say that companies which employee large numbers of Illinoisans have to feel comfortable calling Illinois home in order to create jobs, stimulate the economy, help drive up wages and improve innovation in the state.

As proof, many have pointed to companies that have already left Illinois, some looking for better tax options in other states or countries.

Here are three companies that have left Illinois, taking jobs and potential tax revenue with them:

Jelly Belly

The candy company was founded in 1869 in Belleville, Ill. Their candies were manufactured in North Chicago. Their headquarters moved to California after World War I, according to and is now in Fairfield, Calif.

According to the company's website, Jelly Belly's signature sweet was a particular favorite of then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, when he wrote in 1973: "We can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing the jar of jelly beans."

Food Warming Equipment Company

This company does just what it says it does-manufactures equipment that keeps food warm for in large-scale situations such as prisons, schools, hospitals and restaurants. The company, which is more than 60 years old, was headquartered in Crystal Lake, Ill. before moving to Portland, Tenn.

Kenall Manufacturing

The commercial lighting manufacturer was founded in 1963 by Ken Hawkins. The company created the "first impact and vandal resistant lighting products." The company moved to Kenosha, Wisc. in December 2014 from its Gurnee, Ill. headquarters, taking hundreds of jobs with them.

From Crain's Chicago Business:

Randy Hernandez, Kenall's executive vice president of operations, said the firm had to move to accommodate its growth, and was drawn to Kenosha in part because of a strong incentive deal it will receive from the state of Wisconsin.

"That package was clearly more aggressive," than Illinois' offer, Mr. Hernandez said, declining to discuss specifics.

Check out four more companies that got the heck outta Illinois at Reboot Illinois, including a beloved burger joint and your neighborhood office supply store.

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

NEXT ARTICLE: State of the State video highlights: Rauner wants Dem help to take on unions, trial lawyers

17 Of The Most Sought-After Craft Beers In America, And How To Find Them

Wed, 2015-02-18 14:37
For a certain type of craft beer geek (hop-loving, competitive and possibly residing in California), this time of year means one thing: Pliny the Younger. The legendary Russian River Brewing Co. releases its most acclaimed beer -- a more intense version of its flagship Pliny the Elder -- at the beginning of every February. And every year, thousands of aficionados drive to Santa Rosa, California, to wait in line for hours to get a taste of what they consider to be one of the finest IPAs on the planet.

That sounds a little crazy. And it is. But it's not unique. In fact, well over a dozen limited-edition American craft beers attract similar levels of devotion. All of these beers make regular appearances on lists of the best beers in America. So they're delicious, without a doubt.

But in order to instigate the kind of mass fervor that leads people to line up for hours, or plan a special trip to a brewery in the middle of Indiana, a beer has to be more than good. It has to be rare. None are quite as hard to find as, say, a bottle of 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. But in each case, demand far outstrips supply -- even though these beers often cost as much as fine wines. Breweries have responded to this excess demand in a variety of ways, making it difficult to figure out how to get your hands on some of the most acclaimed beers in America.

That's where HuffPost Taste comes in. Here are 17 of the most sought after beers in America -- and how you can find them yourself. One final note: Some of the explanations mention that the beer in question is available at any good store that sells beer by that same brewery. If you're not familiar with that brewery, and aren't sure whether you can buy it in your state, the best place to check is the wonderful site SeekABrew, which tracks breweries' distribution across the country.

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A Lesson From Black History: 'Have Faith and Stay Positive'

Wed, 2015-02-18 14:28
If you grew up in Chicago in the 1960s and early 1970s, like I did, you knew who Addie Wyatt was.

And if you saw her walking serenely down the street, you never would have pegged her as a meatpacker. But that's exactly how she began her career: as a meatpacker in an Armour and Co. cannery during World War II. The following year she joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America but soon left the assembly line to become a full-time union organizer.

From there she blazed a historic trail.

Wyatt became active in the labor movement at a time when neither women nor people of color were welcomed with open arms. But she refused to allow herself to be marginalized, and she rose through the ranks to become the first African-American woman to hold senior office in an American labor union. She used her influence to change the labor movement from within, opening doors for women and people of color and insisting that their voices be heard.

But she didn't stop there. Wyatt dedicated her life to seeking justice, whether it be for women, for minorities or for working people. She was a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women. She worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and marched in Selma and in Washington. She was appointed by Eleanor Roosevelt to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. In 1975 she was named one of Time's women of the year.

And all the while she remained dedicated to her hometown of Chicago, where she was a local civil rights leader, organizer and minister. It was in Chicago that she mentored a young up-and-comer named Barack Obama.

Yet when asked what she did for a living, she had a simple answer: "community action."

I had stars in my eyes when I eventually met her, during my first job right out of college. Working with her and learning from her was an experience I will always treasure.

One of my favorite stories about her gives a glimpse into how she approached her work and the world. It was 1985, and she was the guest on a radio show.  The topic was the emerging power of working women.  After leaving the studio in downtown Chicago, she, another associate and I found ourselves locked out of the building on a deserted side street. This was long before cellphones or Uber, and there were no cabs in sight. The three were of us were headed in different directions (two of us catching planes at different airports), it was getting cold and dark, and I was getting anxious about our next move. Addie turned to me, smiled so warmly and said, "Have faith and stay positive." And then -- and I am not making this up -- almost as if on cue, three cabs drove up, one after the other. My colleague and I were speechless. Addie was unfazed.

Have faith and stay positive -- it could have been a mantra for Addie Wyatt's entire life. When faced with seemingly insurmountable hurdles, she never turned away. Instead, she found a way to overcome obstacles and pave a smoother path for those who followed.

I have the honor of serving as the chair of the National Selection Committee for the U.S. Department of Labor's Hall of Honor, and it was a thrill to induct her in 2012.  The Hall of Honor highlights people who have made a unique and lasting contribution to American work, workers and workplaces. Addie was certainly deserving of the induction, and I smile and think of her whenever I pass the display.

This Black History Month, we honor Addie Wyatt for her strength, her perseverance, her intellect and her heart. She taught generations of workers and their allies to have faith and stay positive.  You didn't have to know her to follow that advice.

Carl Fillichio is the Labor Department's Senior Advisor for Communications and Public Affairs. He is also Chairman of the department's Labor Hall of Honor Selection Committee.

When They Lost State Funding, This Chicago-Based Youth Program Decided To Reach Even Higher

Wed, 2015-02-18 13:43
On a Tuesday late last month on Chicago’s South Side, the staff of Donda’s House, a unique artist development program for at-risk youth that was co-founded by Kanye West, gathered around a table to discuss an upcoming application period. They were ready to launch their young program’s fourth semester.

Two days later, they — along with administrators of about 30 other youth employment and development programs across the state of Illinois — received an email informing them that the grants they’d been awarded through the Illinois Department of Human Services under previous Gov. Pat Quinn (D) had been completely nullified, effective immediately.

The funds -- about $8 million in total -- were gone. That includes $10,000 that was earmarked for Donda's House's spring semester through a grant for "out of school" initiatives at The Ark, a community center at St. Sabina Church where Donda's House programs are held. The letters from the state instructed organizations to “cease any and all operations" supported by the rescinded grants; a spokesman for incoming Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) blamed an "inherited budget hole" for the need to yank funding.

Donnie Smith, the executive director of Donda’s House, was devastated -- and worried about funding for the rest of the year, too.

“This isn’t like [a grant] that was supposed to be raised. Essentially the money was taken away and moved somewhere else and the agencies didn’t receive a phone call, no meeting, no notice,” Smith told The Huffington Post. “The contracts had been signed.”

Undeterred, however, the group is moving forward with its application process for the spring semester. Last week, they launched an ambitious Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign -- the goal is $100,000 in 60 days -- aimed at replenishing the funding they were expecting from the state and securing future programming as well.

Donda's House's Indiegogo video for its crowdfunding campaign.

Smith was one of three co-founders of Donda’s House, along with her Grammy-winning rapper husband Che “Rhymefest” Smith, who serves as the program’s creative director. Rap superstar West, who was raised on Chicago’s South Side, also helped found the organization and remains on its board of directors. It's named after his mother, Donda West.

Launched in August of 2013, the program accepts applications each semester from 14- to 24-year-olds in the immediate Chicago area who are interested in working in the arts, particularly the music industry. Each semester, they receive over 500 applications, almost entirely from low-income, minority youth, for what had been just 30 available spots in the program. Beginning last fall, they were able to expand their program to accept 60 applicants per semester thanks to a new partnership with the After School Matters initiative, but availability is still falling far short of demand.

The 12-week program — titled “Got Bars” — is intensive, meeting three times a week. The curriculum consists of classes in creative writing, studio recording and health and wellness. The program also demystifies how the music business works, such as how a song becomes available on iTunes or Spotify and how ASCAP licenses songs. It also offers a hands-on look at the industry through behind-the-scenes opportunities at concerts, such as the Dave Chapelle-headlined Aaah! Fest in Chicago and Jay-Z’s Made in America festival in Philadelphia last year.

The program also brings in industry superstars like rapper Big Sean and producer No I.D. to speak with the students about how they found success.

Smith explained that the program aims to offer access similar to what's available to youth interested in athletics, who are sometimes scouted at high school sporting events and offered academic scholarships. Young people who are more creatively-oriented, she pointed out, don’t have the same opportunities.

“The impact we’re having is essentially creating that pipeline and that infrastructure for young people who are creative but don’t have the resources to get them from point A to point B, point B being college, employment and any one of those things,” Smith said.

K-Ron Harbin told HuffPost his favorite part of the program was bonding with fellow participants, who became like a second family to him.

The lessons in confidence and networking sunk in for 24-year-old K-Ron Harbin, who completed the program last spring.

Living in the suburb of Bellwood, Harbin commuted two hours via bus and train both ways to take part in classes, which he credits for convincing him not to give up his rap aspirations. Raised in a single-parent home with three siblings on the West Side of Chicago, he stayed in high school and graduated, then attended Southern Illinois University for three years before dropping out.

“A year ago, I was ready to quit, ready to hang it up, which is sad because it was the only thing I ever wanted to do, even in college,” Harbin told HuffPost. “I didn’t feel like a lot of the stuff we were doing [in college classes] fit me. Getting into the program gave me the extra boost and put the batteries in my pack. It took the world I was dreaming about and put it within my fingertips’ reach. All of us have limited resources, but together we have a lot.”

Harbin is currently working on an EP and a clothing business under his brand Dreamseekas, while he also holds down a job as a restaurant server to pay the bills.

As for Smith, she says she and her colleagues, none of whom work full-time on Donda’s House, are “pulling out all our resources” to get the funding to launch the spring semester next month.

Their aspirations are, too, only limited by the question of funding. Some day, Smith would like to build a physical headquarters and expand the program to young people interested in film, fashion, acting and improv; they’ve already partnered with the famed Second City comedy troupe to offer workshops. Smith also wants to work with Big Sean, who was raised in Detroit, to start a similar program in the Motor City.

Such programs, Smith says, can have a lasting impact on the communities the program serves. And she notes they already have.

“We’ve been able to get young people who dropped out of high school re-enrolled. We’ve gotten young people to stop being involved in gangs. You name it, we’ve seen the positive impact,” Smith said. “It’s disappointing that the individuals who make those decisions don’t have to deal directly with the consequences of those decisions.”

The Illinois Department of Human Services did not immediately respond to The Huffington Post's request for comment.

The Girl Scouts Cookie Oven Lets You Feed Your Obsession Year Round

Wed, 2015-02-18 13:40
Have you ever experienced Girl Scouts Cookie withdrawal symptoms during the offseason? There may be a remedy.

A new functional toy called the Girl Scouts Cookie Oven lets you make your own Girl Scouts cookies in the comfort of your own home. According to the Wicked Cool Toys press release, the oven will hit mass market retailers starting in Fall 2015. Cookie coveters will have the opportunity to bake classics like Thin Mints, Trefoils, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coconut Caramel, Chocolate Chip, Sugar, Oatmeal and PB Sandwich.

The toy works similarly to an Easy Bake Oven, with a kid-safe heat source and a viewing window so bakers can watch their cookies rise. The oven retails for $59.99 and assorted retail packs range from $6.99 to $14.99. A standard box of Girl Scouts Cookies typically costs about $5, so consumers will have to decide if year-round cookie access is a worthy investment.

H/T Toyland

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Would Someone on This Train Please Tell Me I'm Hot?

Wed, 2015-02-18 12:40
It takes very little to improve my mood during the dark, uneventful days of winter. Being recognized on social media always does the trick.

I get positively giddy when someone "likes" my column on Facebook; a new LinkedIn request puts a broad smile on my face, even as I prepare to encase it in a scarf and fire up the snow blower for the umpteenth time. I can't help it, and I'm not alone; studies have concluded social media fuels our narcissistic tendencies. If a little ego-boosting will tide me over until the snow melts, so be it.

So, while riding the Chicago "L" one morning, I asked a total stranger to take a photo of me as I read a book. My goal was to get it posted on one of Instagram's most popular boards.


Currently boasting more than 250,000 followers, the board's creator encourages the cyber community to snap pictures of who they think are good looking men digesting the printed word and then send them to a gmail address. The photos, taken on subway cars, subsequently appear on Instagram along with comments that could have easily been lifted from Fifty Shades of Grey.

One comment gushed: "Just caught a glimpse of this elusive beauty reading Moby Dick in the crowded waters of the L train. There may be other fish in the sea but this white whale has me hooked."

And another: "I'm sure he's reading a collection of post-war Russian short stories, but really thinking of how he made love to his French girlfriend this morning and the gluten free toast they shared after."

Oh, what a review like that could do for a guy's self-confidence! Far more than gaining two new Twitter followers, that's for sure.

First I had to select attire. Business suit or a more grunge look? Top coat or bomber jacket? Wear headphones and let the Instagram community ponder what intellectual podcast I'm listening to as I read? Or cover my ears with a stylish Russian wool Astrakhan cap?

Then there was the choice of reading material. A John Grisham novel? Nah, too mainstream. The Economist? Too intellectual. People magazine? Too stupid. The Bible? Too controversial. I wanted the comments to be flattering, not argumentative.

I settled on a black Hugo Boss suit, sans tie, unbuttoned wool coat and a hardcover copy of Jobs, Walter Isaacson's biography of the late Apple CEO. I'd assume the role of business titan Christian Grey, despite having 20 years on him, and hope the comments would reflect my persona.

This corporate hottie holds the key to my iHeart. What I wouldn't do to be the only entry on his playlist.

Hey, it could happen.

Then it was time to assume the reading-while-commuting position, something foreign to me since I rarely read on subway cars and never while standing up. I find myself staring at those who do, wondering how it's possible to concentrate on the written word while the ground lurches underfoot as you stand shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers who sneeze, hack and basically broadcast the fact that they are in various stages of the influenza virus. "Must be a REALLY good book," I think to myself.

I emailed the photo, fired up my iPhone, opened the Instagram app and hit "refresh."

Three days later, I was still refreshing. No photo, no comments, not even a polite "thanks but no thanks" response from the email recipient. Just more snow outside my door. Apparently, I can't compete with the "sexy stud (who) owns the 4 train with the same confidence he probably exudes defending the zone at his pick-up hockey games."

"For Pete's sake, just upload the photo directly to the board if it will make you feel better," my wife said. "I'll even post the first comment."

"And what would you say?" I asked.

How about "Forget Jobs. This middle aged pile of pathos would be better off perusing a self-help tome firmly stating that 'hot' is not a descriptive word for 52 year olds and his train left the station years ago."

"How about you just click 'like' instead?"

Iconic Sites That Helped Make Black History

Wed, 2015-02-18 11:24
By Gogobot Editor's Choice

From the former slaves and freedom fighters of the past to modern-day music legends and politicians, U.S. history has been influenced by many notable African-American figures who have left their mark on places around the country. This Black History Month, check out some of the most iconic historic sites to celebrate their contributions, and then, when you are ready to start exploring, plan your trip on Gogobot.

Washington, D.C.
Photo: Lincoln Memorial by: Vince Alongi flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

In the nation's capital it's hard to walk a few feet without bumping into a site important to black history. The National Mall is the site of March on Washington of 1963 (as well as the Million Man March of 1995) calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans, and the Lincoln Memorial is where Martin Luther King Jr., after the March on Washington, delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. For a little extra nerdy cred, check out the Willard Hotel, where MLK and his advisors prepped for the speech in the lobby. Other important sites in Washington include the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the hilltop home of the famed abolitionist; Howard University, one of the country's premier historically black colleges, with notable alumni like Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice; and Ben's Chili Bowl, a seemingly inconspicuous hot dog and chili joint that once fed both black activists and police officers maintaining order during riots and was thrust into the national spotlight when Bill Cosby hosted a press conference there to celebrate the success of The Cosby Show as the first African-American show to reach the number-one spot on television.


Photo: Bronzeville by: puroticorico flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

In Chicago many sites important to black history can be found in the Bronzeville district. During the first part of the Great Migration, from 1910 to 1920, many African Americans moved north and settled in Chicago. The area of Bronzeville in South Chicago saw an influx of thousands of African Americans, who created what would become known as a "Black Metropolis." Many notable names came from this neighborhood, including Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize; Ida B. Wells, a writer and co-organizer of the NAACP; and famed R&B singers Sam Cooke and Lou Ralls. There are also a number of important buildings here, including the Overton Hygienic Building, once the headquarters of the largest producer of American-American cosmetics; the Sunset Cafe (now a hardware store), one of the most important jazz clubs in the country in the 1910s and 1920s, hosting Louis Armstrong; and the Wabash Avenue YMCA, which is credited as the place where the commemoration of black culture began -- a sentiment that would eventually become Black History Month.


Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site by: Ken Lund flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

Many of Atlanta's most historic places are located in the Sweet Auburn district, which is centered around Auburn Avenue and got its name for being home to many affluent African Americans. The area contains a number of important sites, among them the Rucker Building, the first black-owned business building in the city; the headquarters of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, which was founded in 1905 and is today the second-largest black-owned insurance company in the country; and the original building of the Atlanta World Daily, the first major (and most successful) black daily of the 20th century. This neighborhood is also the area where MLK grew up. You can visit his home at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site; his former school, the Booker T. Washington High School; and his church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Photo: Beale Street by: Numinosity (Gary J Wood) flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

There is a lot of black history on Memphis' Beale Street. Sure, today it may seem like a tourist trap, but it's not hard to dig past the souvenir shops and signs advertising cheap beer to discover the fascinating past. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area began developing quickly, and many of the new clubs, restaurants, and shops were black-owned businesses. It was also here that a trumpet player named W.C. Handy, now considered the father of the blues, moved his band in 1909 and created what came to be known as Memphis blues, transforming rural music from the Mississippi Delta into the contemporary popular blues style we know today. Since then, many a big name in music has graced the venues that line Beale Street, from Louis Armstrong to B.B. King.

The State of New York
Photo: Harlem by: striatic flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

The home of Harriet Tubman, a former slave who is best known for her work helping other slaves escape via the Underground Railroad, is located in Auburn, New York, just east of Syracuse. It is a great place to learn about her important contributions to everything from abolition to the Civil War to women's suffrage. Head to New York City for much more black history, including the Plymouth Church, once a stop on the Underground Railroad; the Weeksville Hunterfly Road Historic Houses, the site of a community of freed slaves founded in 1838; and Harlem, a neighborhood full of important history in its churches, jazz clubs, theaters, restaurants, and homes (including one that belonged to poet and Harlem Renaissance leader Langston Hughes). New York City is also one of the best cities to see the impact of modern-day African-American moguls like hip-hop legend Jay Z, who owns the 40/40 Club in Manhattan.

There are lots of other iconic spots around the U.S. to celebrate Black History Month. Keep discovering more with the History Buffs Tribe.

Gogobot's mission is to connect you with advice and reviews from travelers like you, so you can get the most out of every adventure. Join the family on web, iOS or Android

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in 1965. It really took place in 1963. The post has been updated accordingly.

Snowbound in the Big Apple? Try a Bite of Your Favorite Warren Beatty Flicks

Wed, 2015-02-18 10:36
Snowbound in the Big Apple? Try a bite of your favorite Warren Beatty flicks. Get out your DVD collection or surf Netflix. Here are mine. Agree or disagree. What are yours?

Reds (1981). An epic three-hour drama with intermissions. Music by Stephen Sondheim. Shows why communism/socialism never caught on in the USA. As someone who majored in Political Science and minored in Drama at Dartmouth and Vassar, it's not only the politics of the film but the drama that intrigues. It has the most romantic close-up of a kiss/embrace ever between Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. That embrace graces the movie poster, but it is even better on screen. Beatty won the Academy Award for Best Director. A surprise Henry Miller cameo appearance, the author most known for his once banned book, Tropic of Cancer , discusses artistic freedom as himself, a witness.

Splendor in the Grass (1961). Directed by Elia Kazan. A film for parents, grandparents, teens. Beatty makes his film debut opposite Natalie Wood, receiving her first Best Actress nomination. The moral issues still relevant today, if not more so in this age of AIDS. Ohio native, comedienne trailblazer Phyllis Diller and Sandy Dennis of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Up the Down Staircase, making her film debut alongside Beatty's.

Dick Tracy (1990). Three Academy Award wins, including Best Song, composed by Stephen Sondheim, sung by Madonna. Producer/Director Beatty, who plays Dick Tracy, brought out the best in Madonna, her finest film acting. The ending unmasked, quite startling, worth price of the pic. Rounding out all-star cast is Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Mira's father. The look of the sets, vibrant primary colors, make it seem as if the actors have just stepped off the pages of the comic strip. Beatty is said to have learned to read at age four as his dad read the strip aloud to him.

Love Affair (1994), released after Beatty married Annette Bening, starring both. Art imitates life in this one. Charming remake of a remake of a remake. First up in black-and-white, were Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, followed by a change of title to An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, then Nora Ephron's homage atop the Empire State Building with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Holding the record with four Oscar wins, Katharine Hepburn at age 86 in her final movie role, a doting aunt's swan song, ducking nothing.

Town & Country (2001). Opening scene Natassja Kinski in the forefront sans serpent, her back to the camera, showing off her musical tattoos while playing the cello for the in-bed Beatty. Two of my nephews signed up for cello lessons shortly thereafter. Andie MacDowell of Hallmark's Cedar Cove, Emmy winner Gary Shandling, Academy Award winning Diane Keaton, Dharma and Greg's Jenna Elfman, Laugh-In's Goldie Hawn, former NRA president Charlton Heston, true-to-form toting a rifle, all turn in first-rate performances as Warren Beatty gets his comeuppance, up on the rooftop!

These are my Warren Beatty favorite flick picks. What are yours?

Lonna Saunders may be reached at

A Wake-Up Call for American Millennials: What Chapel Hill Should Teach Us About Citizenship

Wed, 2015-02-18 10:11
And I want them to see what the true essence of Deah, Yusor and Razan was. And it was optimism, it was hope, it was love, it was wanting to help anyone and everyone in their local communities and communities abroad...They all had so much to offer and I want to make sure we continue that legacy for them in their name, in their honor, and that all of us as Americans collectively not let their deaths go in vain.

These were the powerful words that Dr. Suzanne Barakat -- mourning the death of her brother Deah Barakat, one of the three victims of the Chapel Hill shootings of February 10, 2015 -- offered in her solemn interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. The execution-style shooting of the three American Muslim students rattled us to the core. For a minute, let us pretend that the conversation about whether this was a hate-crime (it most likely was) or not (but it most likely was) is off the table (also, check your privilege when you come to sit at said table). In Deah, his newly-wed wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her younger sister Razan, we had three young, bright, community-raised and volunteerism-oriented Americans who were murdered in cold blood. Yusef Al-Jarani, one of our fellow co-organizers of the candlelight vigil we held in Chicago in tandem with other cities, stated it perfectly: "these were some almost cartoonishly good people. As Cooper himself eulogized last week, this was not just a loss for the tight-knit American Muslim community; rather, this was a loss for our entire nation."

This is also a wake-up call if there ever was one. Deah, Yusor and Razan are not to be simply lionized as exceptions to put on a pedestal for us to mourn and then forget as the news cycle drowns their memory out and as we bounce reactionarily from one tragedy and hashtag to another. They are to be viewed as the standard and standard-bearers of what it means to be citizens, both in a global and local sense. They raised funds to help Syrian refugees. They volunteered to help the homeless attain dental care across North Carolina. And so much more. They came from a community which encourages this type of outwardly thinking and dedication to service. What struck us with their deaths (and we're still in shock) was just how much they reminded us of people we knew from our own respective communities. And that's the point -- they were just like me and you. As in, just as they felt uninhibited in their desire to serve others, we too bear the onus of privilege and opportunity to carry the torch that they wielded so beautifully. When we write Facebook statuses such as "Today, we are all Dean, we are all Yusor, we are all Razan" -- we had better honor that with the commitment to service and excellence that Dean, Yusor and Razan recognized to be so universal and crucial to the fulfillment of the very thing that we seem to drag around forgetfully: our sense of citizenship.

Citizenship is the tie that binds and what bound those of us who came together last week in mourning nationwide. When Yusor spoke to North Carolina Public Radio this past summer, she commented on how accessible citizenship was to her: "And that's the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn't matter where you come from. There's so many different people from so many different places and backgrounds and religions -- but here we're all one, one culture. And it's beautiful to see people of different areas interacting, and being family. Being, you know, one community." We were one community last week in Chapel Hill, in Chicago and anywhere where we responded to this hateful (and certainly) bigoted action by lighting a candle and coming together with our fellow human being.

But what about the morning after? What will we be then?

Will we millennials be "one community" when there isn't a hashtag de jour to capture our attention? What are the chances that we will be mindful of the plight of others when the mainstream media is painfully slow in bringing those stories to the forefront? Will ad hoc coalitions crystallize only when we're in crisis mode? Or will we have the bonds of solidarity in place beforehand, ready to protect one another, ready to proactively address what ails or isolates our communities, and solidly in place to maintain an atmosphere of inclusion, altruism, love and trust? This is what we need to ask ourselves in the wake of this tragedy. We cannot afford to sputter through what lays ahead in a reactionary, "deer in the headlights" fashion.

True power is what happens when the collective buys in, acts as one unit, one human body. Does hate-speech and bigotry stand a chance against an active and engaged citizenry -- one that holds the principle of togetherness front and center? If your answer is "No", then you're not looking hard enough: there were legions of people like Deah, Yusor and Razan out there -- from all backgrounds, Muslims, atheists or otherwise -- carrying candles sputtering in the cold, shaken to the core because three of their own were taken from them. Just as those candles fought to defy the Chicago weather, we defy the hatred out there by answering the call to unity and service.

An "Ode" to the Appointed Chicago School Board Members

Wed, 2015-02-18 09:26
Let's just get the following truths about the Chicago School Board out of the way:

  • It is appointed by the mayor and not elected by the people of Chicago.

  • It is the only school board in the entire state of Illinois that is not elected.

  • It closed the most schools in the history of the United States.

  • It allows our neighborhood schools to be criminally underfunded.

  • It has opened excessive amounts of new charter schools and allowed them to take public school money even though they do no better and often worse than public schools.

  • It allows banks to make millions off our students through toxic loans that the Board agreed to and refuses to renegotiate on.

  • It allows our kids to be in the most militarized school system in the country. As if our streets weren't already violent enough, let's give the military access to all of our kids as well. Yes, that seems logical.

  • It has board members on it like Quazzo who uses her role to cut deals and give CPS contracts to her friends.

Let's move on to things we maybe don't know about this board.

They are very afraid of losing their power. Yes, they will claim that they are just "volunteers" on the school board, who are dedicated to helping all students. They act is if they are volunteering to serve on this board, because no one else wants the responsibility. Well, news flash: David Vitale, Jesse Ruiz, Carlos Azcoitia, Henry Bienen, Mahalia Hines, Deborah Quazzo, and Andrea Zopp...Your appointed days are numbered.

Chicago will get an elected school board in the near future. Those of you on the school board are just essentially clinging to the "good ol' days" when you could do what you want and not have much scrutiny.

The scrutiny is here, school board. But good for you; you do have some options:

1. You can fight tooth and nail for your "volunteer" positions. This is the path you seem to have chosen, unfortunately.

2. The better option: You can quit and then encourage your dear friend, Rahm Emanuel, to realize an elected board is coming, whether any of you like it or not.

The truth is, regardless of whomever ends up being our next mayor in a few weeks (please, please, please, Chicagoans let it be Garcia or Fioretti) the days of the appointed school board are over.

Sadly, history has had far too many people clinging to power in fear and not letting democracy actually be carried out. These people who clung to power and refused to even give democracy a chance are now often referred to in an unflattering light in the history books I use with my students. And, yes, school board members, you might be sitting there on your high and mighty throne thinking things like: "I don't care if people disagree with my decisions, because I am doing what is best for the kids," blah, blah, blah.

How can you do what is best for the kids, if you won't even allow their parents to have a say in what is best for them? By not letting parents or anyone else in this city vote for the people on the school board, you are playing the role of someone who thinks they know what is best for all of us. This action is attached to historical words, like: paternalistic, racist, or privileged, to name just a few.

The model you are following is one used by people who colonized other countries and forced the people in those colonized places to believe religions, creeds and values that were not their own. This was all done with the idea that, "We know what is best for you, because we are better than you." Don't you see it, school board? This is the role you are playing.

You DON'T know what is best for the people of Chicago. Only the voters do, but herein lies the problem... you won't let the people vote!

There will be a movement to oust you. It is coming -- actually, it has already started. Alderman in Chicago are taking notice, parents and the community have already noticed and are speaking out. Count your days, because they are becoming fewer.

Sure, it will be embarrassing briefly if you just stepped down from your "volunteer" role.

But believe me, it will be even more embarrassing when you are forced off your throne by democracy.

And democracy is coming.

A City of Tribes

Wed, 2015-02-18 08:25
As much as I typically disagree with the Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, his description of Chicago as a "City of Tribes" is apt. I grew up in a small town, Woodstock, Ill., that was mostly homogenous and people had differences, but the commonalities ruled the day.

In Chicago, you can easily identify with five or more groups, whether you like it or not. Your race, ethnicity, income, neighborhood, school and block. I live in an area where I can associate with three different neighborhoods, each having their own festival. In the neighborhood where I work, personal identities can fracture 10 different ways, from the street to the block.

Cities are busy places, with so many people in such close spaces it's bound to become complex. In a digital age people in rural places are beginning to fragment, too. We can spend most of our lives listening to those with who we agree, without ever having to suffer the atrocity of defending our beliefs.

This is the death of democracy. We can blame forces outside of our grasp, real or imagined, from the Koch brothers to the Illuminati, but the blame lies closer to home, as does the answer.

Democracy is defined as a government by the people. We are the democracy. As soon as we abdicate the power to phantoms and phonies, we are to blame.

In Chicago, a city of tribes, we are easily divided. John Kass often cries foul when claiming those he disagrees with use the race card, but everyone holds a hand of cards. Some cards have higher values than others and politicians use that to their advantage playing one hand and one tribe against another.

Chicago isn't different from other urban centers, and even most segregated areas. We are the northern industrial-mirror-sister-city of the South.

So what can we do? Assemble. Gather. Come together. When you're considered a radical for standing in a group voicing an opinion, then you have a choice to stand or lie down. There is no middle ground.

In Chicago, we're rebuilding democracy from the ground up. In May we'll have our first Chicago Education Assembly. We are currently in the midst of trying to assemble all the groups, organizations, communities and tribes. We have some core beliefs, mainly that the people rule, not the leaders. It's a radical notion, but one that is needed. At one of our recent meetings two of the mayoral candidates joined us, not to pontificate, but to listen.

Driving home I noticed a sign for a candidate challenging the local alderman. I cringed, wondering what would happen to that local business daring to stand up, speak out, when the incumbent wins. This is indicative of the problem. We want our leaders to be strongmen. We are ashamed when they are perceived as weak. Listening, compromising, negotiating, apologizing aren't viewed as strengths, even though we expect adults and mature children to do these things. We want someone to rule unequivocally; anything less is a weakness, and we secretly fear it is a reflection of ourselves. We tell each other that Chicago is a tough town and needs a tough leader, then we wonder why we aren't heard.

Instead of taking a chance on someone that might help us build a community, we vote for the divisions and the tribes and we support the very ideas that pull apart our notion of who we are as a community.

The good news is that we don't need to be bullied, divided and oppressed into choosing one idea over another. Imagine a community in which the citizens gather, discuss and argue ideas. Imagine a community without borders, without tribes, in which the people assemble to debate ideas about education and other topics. The leaders listen to our debate and then decide. They don't win by drowning out the sound of their opponents with millions of dollars in ads and mailers. Idealistic, yes. But what else is there?

This idea of an assembly, a place where we don't hide behind a computer in the comfort of our own homes and voice beliefs and ideas that frustrate your "friends", but a place where we look at our neighbors and or opponents face-to-face and learn how to navigate our differences to understand ideas that we don't normally encounter.

When we, the people of the tribes come together in an assembly, progress, and the elimination of a tribal society, is closer than we think. The Chicago Education Assembly is our attempt to do this. Imagine being a part of this movement. We are ready for this, I hope you are, too.

Love Letters: Chicago

Wed, 2015-02-18 07:07
Born and raised in Chicago's northwest suburbs, Chef Edward Kim moved to New York to attend New York University, where he earned a B.A. in political science with the intention of becoming an attorney. Instead, he enrolled in Pasadena's Le Cordon Bleu, where he rekindled his passion for food and cooking, and graduated with a culinary degree. After culinary school, Chef Kim honed his skills in various New York and Los Angeles kitchens. In 2011, Chef Kim -- with the help of his wife, Jenny Kim, sister, Vicki Kim, and friend, Nate Chung -- opened his first restaurant, Ruxbin, in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Two years later, Chef Kim and his partners opened their second concept, Mott St, a more casual restaurant that showcases family-style fare in a relaxed environment.

Dear West Town (Chicago),

I, like so many other suburbanites in Illinois, have always claimed you as my own -- though, growing up on the outskirts of your cityscape, the reality was comparable to that of a nerdy AV kid longing for the head cheerleader.

You were so much cooler than I, more cultured and experienced. I remember visiting you as a teenager, sneaking out in my parent's car, with a nervous sense of excitement. Looking at us back then, we would never have been mistaken for partners; I was sheepish and dorky, you were urban and chic. Despite being 'out of my league', I knew that I loved you. I was the Florentino to your Fermina, and I needed to experience the rest of the world, first, to be worthy of your affection.

After living in New York and Los Angeles, I became cultured independently of you. I learned how to cook, and appreciate the gift of a hard nights work. I came to appreciate you, with a great distance between us. Having learned those lessons, I felt it was time to return. We could now become partners with a healthier relationship, one of give and take, rather than me clinging to you out dependence and desperation.

I love how you are urban and cultured, yet at the same time, underneath that chic veneer, your roots are undeniably, deeply, Midwestern. People matter, people care, and you can see that in the simple way we greet our neighbors -- helping one another shovel sidewalks when it snows. I love that you are ever-changing, and your seasons are as unpredictable as your emotions. Those seasonal changes greatly influences me as a cook. You are my muse.

Love requires reciprocity, and although I take my fair share, my happiest moments are often the ones in which I have been able to give a little back to you. When I drive through your streets and I see Mott St. & Ruxbin, and the many other successful restaurants hustling and bustling in the dark of the night, taking 'a once blighted corner' and restoring you back to the chic, glory that I first fell in love with, well, there are few things that could make me happier in life.

When I'm sick, you take me to Argyle and feed me Pho. When I'm looking for inspiration, you open your farmers markets and ask me to pause and enjoy the local bounty, if even for just a moment. When I'm hungry after work, you're always up for some late night Chinese, or a quick run down Ashland for carne asada. I love the excitement and youth that you nurture at Well's High School, and how you push me to give back by participating in their developmental programs. The fact that you're always just a phone call away with a deep dish pizza in hand, puts a boyish grin on my face. All of these qualities add up to a city, and a town, that I am deeply in love with. It is in no small part because of you, that I am so lucky to cook what I want, and do what I love.

Thank you Chicago, and thank you West Town, for supporting me, and believing in me; for allowing me to grow my working family, and a small family of own.

Edward Kim

Jeb Bush's Foreign Policy Plan: More Military Spending Will 'Encourage Peace'

Wed, 2015-02-18 06:00
WASHINGTON -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will lay out a vision of American foreign policy on Wednesday aimed at pushing his nascent 2016 presidential campaign out of the shadow of his father and brother, two former presidents who waged overseas wars.

"I love my father and my brother … But I am my own man –- and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences," Bush will say in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, according to excerpts provided to reporters late Tuesday night.

In his first major foreign policy address, the likely 2016 Republican front-runner will make the case for increased military spending so America can "project power and enforce peaceful stability in far-off areas of the globe." He will also criticize President Barack Obama's foreign policy, calling it "inconsistent and indecisive."

"Having a military that is equal to any threat ... makes it less likely that we will need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way," Bush plans to tell attendees, adding that he believes "fundamentally, that weakness invites war… and strength encourages peace."

The idea that a bigger U.S. military would act as a bigger deterrent to potential foes is one that reached its apex during the Cold War, but has been repeatedly challenged in the 21st century by the rise of global terrorism and sectarian conflicts.

The Obama administration is currently working to devise responses to a number of unconventional threats to global security. Chief among them are the rise of the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East, and the Russian-backed separatists waging guerrilla war in Ukraine.

From his speech, it appears that Bush would have America play a greater role than it already does in these conflicts. "America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world –- our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places," Bush will say. "We have no reason to apologize for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace and human freedom."

This vision of America's role in the world directly contradicts the view held by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, another 2016 potential candidate, that the U.S. should avoid involvement in foreign conflicts unless they pose a direct threat to American lives.

But even as Bush stressed that he would devise his own way forward, plenty of his foreign policies invite comparisons, not contradictions, with those of his neoconservative brother, George W.Bush, and his realist father, George H.W. Bush.
One reason for this could be that Jeb Bush has consulted many of the same advisers his father and brother relied on to help them craft foreign policy while each was in office. The advisers represent a spectrum of conservative viewpoints, from the pragmatic James Baker, former secretary of state in the George H.W. Bush administration, to the fiercely ideological Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy secretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration.

Wolfowitz and Jeb Bush have held similar foreign policy ideas since at least 1997, when they were both signatories to a set of principles devised by the conservative Project for the New American Century, which were described by the group as a "Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity." Other signatories include former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

How A Single, Simple Guideline Could Help You Lose Weight

Tue, 2015-02-17 20:01
For some super-motivated people, counting calories, calculating macronutrient proportions or weighing food can help in their quest to lose weight. But for everyone else, it can be hard to keep juggling the cups and weighing scales and calculators for too long. If you fall into the latter category, researchers say that there’s only one thing to keep in mind: Eat more fiber.

When compared to the American Heart Association’s dietary recommendations, which include several common-sense pieces of advice like “Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt” and "Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars,” the simple advice to eat 30 grams of fiber a day resulted in almost as much weight loss as the AHA’s guidelines over the course of the year. The study was published online Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The finding could be a boon for people who need to lose weight for medical reasons but feel too overwhelmed to completely overhaul their lifestyle all at once, explained lead researcher Dr. Yunsheng Ma, M.D., Ph.D. in the study. Foods that are high in fiber (meaning indigestible dietary fiber found in plant-based foods) help make you feel full for longer. Ma also proposed that high-fiber diets increase the need to chew, which in turn reduces hunger. Encouraging people to eat more fiber is also a shorthand way to point to foods that are healthiest for us, wrote Ma.

"Our simple message of increasing fiber includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also whole grain foods, legumes, and nuts,” wrote Ma in an email to HuffPost Healthy Living, adding that these foods also tend to be less expensive than low-fiber foods, like meat and dairy.

A medium-sized apple has about 4.4 grams of fiber and one cup of dark leafy greens like swiss chard also has about four grams. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women eat about 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should eat 38, but Americans only eat an average of 15 grams per day, according to the Mayo Clinic.

For the year-long study, Ma recruited 240 overweight people who had at least one symptom of metabolic syndrome, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure or high blood sugar. The participants were then randomly assigned to follow either the high-fiber diet or the AHA guidelines, which Ma defined as "restrictive" because it mostly focuses on what people should limit in order to lose weight. For instance, the AHA guidelines include cutting down on calories, salt, sugar and saturated fat, among other recommendations.

The fiber diet, on the other hand, focused on a single addition to the diet: a goal of 30 grams of fiber, which can be found in a range of foods.

After 12 months, those who had followed the AHA guidelines had lost an average of about six pounds, while those on the high-fiber diet lost an average of 4.6 pounds.

Despite the fact that the AHA group lost more weight, Ma argued that his results support the notion that a simple and more “permissive” kind of diet, which emphasizes what foods you can eat, as opposed to a complicated diet that frames its rules in terms of what's restricted (like the AHA guidelines), could be easier to follow and still produce decent results.

Both groups also managed to decreased their blood pressure levels and their insulin resistance. However, Ma noted that two participants developed diabetes during the course of the experiment, one in the AHA group and one in the high-fiber group, which isn’t surprising considering Ma’s recruitment criteria describe a high-risk population: overweight adults with metabolic syndrome who did not have diabetes.

Obesity affects more than one-third of American adults and is linked to about one in five deaths in the U.S. In addition to socioeconomic factors that prevent access to healthy foods, there is also some indication that people find healthy eating too difficult, or they have a skewed vision of what “healthy” means.

A nationally representative survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council Foundation in 2012 found that more people believed it was easier to do their taxes than it was to figure out how to eat healthier. The same survey also found that 76 percent agree that “ever-changing nutritional guidance make it hard to know what to believe.”

"The exact amount of information to deliver in a dietary intervention remains an elusive question,” wrote Ma at the end of his study. "The challenge is to identify the ideal amount of information to change behavior without overwhelming the participant." Maybe fiber is a good first step.

Nicotine Addiction Pill Offers Hope For Smokers Who Can't Quit Cold Turkey

Tue, 2015-02-17 16:10

By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) - A nicotine addiction pill can help smokers quit gradually when they can't go cold turkey, a study finds, suggesting that it may be time to revisit practice guidelines that focus primarily on immediate cessation.

Smokers who took the pill, sold as Chantix in the U.S. and Champix elsewhere, were much more likely to quit after cutting back on cigarettes than smokers who didn't use the drug, the study found.

"This allows us to reach a much broader population of smokers who aren't willing to quit abruptly or set a quit date, and it shows that people can quit without going cold turkey," said lead study author Dr. Jon Ebbert, a professor in primary care and internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "This is very strong support for changing clinical practice to include gradual reduction aided by medication."

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And tobacco kills one in 10 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Quitting can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder. Ten years after quitting, the risk of lung cancer drops by half, according to the CDC.

To see if Chantix, which is manufactured by Pfizer, could help smokers quit without going cold turkey, Ebbert and colleagues randomly assigned 1,510 people at 61 centers in 10 countries to receive either the drug or a placebo for 24 weeks.

They asked study participants to reduce cigarette use by 50 percent by the fourth week, and by 75 percent by the eight week, with the goal of quitting by week 12.

By the last ten weeks of treatment, weeks 15 to 24, the group taking the pill had significantly higher abstinence rates than the group on placebo.

This held true even after treatment stopped. For weeks 21 through 52 of the study, 27 percent of the people who had previously taken the drug successfully avoided smoking, compared with less than 10 percent of those who received the placebo.

"This is the first study of its kind to enroll a group of smokers who are not traditionally enrolled in clinical trials because they are not ready to quit," said Dr. Caryn Lerman, professor of psychiatry and deputy director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

"It offers compelling evidence that gradual reduction should be considered to facilitate quitting," she said.

But even though the approach helped some hard-to-reach smokers, the majority of them still failed to quit, noted Lerman, who wasn't involved in the study. Other treatments, such as nicotine patches and gum, can also help some smokers cut back gradually, she said.

While the study shows that Chantix, which is known generically as varenicline, can be effective for some smokers, the group taking the pill also experienced more side effects such as nausea, abnormal dreams, insomnia, constipation, vomiting, and weight gain.

Previous research has linked Chantix to side effects including suicidal thoughts, erratic behavior and drowsiness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration placed a black box warning - its most severe and restrictive warning - on the product in 2009, highlighting the drug's adverse neuropsychological effects.

People with a history of major depressive or anxiety disorder, suicidal behavior, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, or psychosis were excluded from the study, published in the American Medical Association's journal JAMA.

SOURCE: JAMA, online February 17, 2015.

9 Ways Random Acts of Kindness Can Heal a Lonely Heart

Tue, 2015-02-17 15:16

When I think about the Monday nights in the summer of 2014, my insides soar. Each Monday was spent doing a different random act of kindness around New York City. On two of the evenings, a group from my church and I gave out free balloons to about a hundred people we encountered. The biggest carefree-attitude-causer ever is carrying more balloons than you can physically hold. Giving that feeling away to others string by string only increases the delight.

While planning this weekly kindness group I came across proverb 21:21 from the Bible. One version says, "Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind finds life itself -- glorious life!" I didn't admit it or even really know it at the time, but I needed a life like the proverb promised I would find if I pursued kindness. My Monday nights before last summer were a blur of dinner, appointments, workouts, subway rides, and social media. I believe the mundane can be meaningful, but before the random acts of kindness group, my life was only blissfully ordinary some of the time. Much of the time, I was bored and lonely. It wasn't because I didn't have things to do or didn't have people around. It just felt like my daily life lacked meaning, and my relationships didn't have the depth I hoped for.

As down as I felt some days, I knew there was more out there for me and for all of us. I would say these little prayers for inspiration on what to do. I got this sense that changing my solitude and discontent would involve doing something for others, however small that would be. One by one I would hear the Holy Spirit's voice. Compliment that woman. Bring a pot of chili to work today. Every time I listened to these little God ideas, I felt a surge of joy from reaching out in newfound ways.

Personal satisfaction and serving others does go hand-in-hand. The general hopelessness about relationships and life I previously felt was like a sickness in my soul. Doing random acts of kindness is a giddy remedy I would recommend to anyone for these reasons:

1. Kindness offers one of life's greatest adventures.
If your social life lacks the meaning and excitement you crave, get a group of people together and do an over-the-top act of kindness. Plan something extravagant for the people in your life or city. Remember that in order for anything to become an adventure, it has to involve a risk and sacrifice. By doing random acts of kindness, I risked what people thought of me. You have no idea how people will respond to you when you approach them with an out-of-the blue gesture. I risked facing judgment and indifference for the chance to feel love and connection.

All adventures have doubt and discomfort. When the cooler full of free popsicles is too heavy to carry on the subway, do you stop what you are doing out of frustration? When the reality of Tuesday morning kicks in at 8 p.m. on Monday night, and you are still trying to find a knife to cut lemons with so you can make free lemonade for strangers, do you chalk this whole endeavor up to pure silliness and get back to your regularly-scheduled life scrolling through Instagam before bed ASAP? Not a chance. You press on, especially if you have people who are taking risks with you. The best adventures are lived with others.

In a previous life, I could check out whenever I wanted to stay in control. That's not possible during a random act of kindness. You are there to engage with people as meaningfully as possible. You are not able to act nonchalant when you are trying to explain to a passing jogger in Battery Park that you don't know them but you baked them a gluten-free muffin. Showing love means accepting that it might not be returned or even accepted. I used to do avoid doing things that might make me seem weird, but doing random acts of kindness taught me to embrace a moment of awkwardness in the name of making myself and others feel a little lighter; to do something unusual for the sake of adventure.

(Pictured above is my friend's dog, Cookie Smooth and one of the sweetest little boys out there)

2. If you want lighthearted joy in your life, you have to become it yourself.
If you are always up to something kind, you can feel that anticipatory flood of endorphins more often. Carry ribbon and fun sharpies in your purse. Pick up dozens of flowers on your way to work. Buy a bunch of brightly-colored gift bags at the discount store. Just stop to feel a burst of happiness however you can. Even scrolling through your bank statement can be fun. Rent. Straight face. Tuition. Sad face. Party City. Happy face. Also, as a general rule, if puppies and children show up to your weekly meetings, whatever group you're in is on the right path.

3. Eager hearts are all around.
My past is full of attempts to convince unwilling passengers on adventures. When a new friend and I were trying to figure out what to do one night, I texted her, "I know this sounds crazy but do you want to set up hot cider and pass it out to strangers?" I don't remember what she said exactly but it was something to the effect of, "UMMMM YES!!!!" Her enthusiasm signaled that she was beyond game. Not only was she totally down for a kindness adventure, she was flexible and inventive too. We realized we didn't have the supplies for hot cider so we opted to bake cookies instead. I thought about not sending that text because of how similar proposals didn't work out with other friends in the past, but I wanted to keep trying. My friend's eagerness ended up blessing me with restored belief that my people were out there. We didn't know it yet but that her one "yes" became the foundation for the summer community group, leading to so many more random acts of kindness memories together.

4. With generosity and authenticity comes fulfilling relationships.

I wanted to keep experiencing the thrill I felt on that first random acts of kindness outing, but it was months before I planned another one. I felt awkward for wanting something other than the norm when it came to what I did for fun. An accusing voice of insecurity rang in my head: Shouldn't I try to be like other urban 20-somethings with a social life of brunching and going to happy hour? How limiting that voice was. Our social lives are our own to fill with what matters to us. I relish good food and appreciate conversation, yet connecting over kindness was so much more fun for me. I loved coming up with the ideas and carrying it out with friends, knowing that we were capable of making someone's day together.

Two women from my church ultimately encouraged me to turn my passion for kindness into a community group, so I signed up to lead one simply called Random Acts of Kindness. I learned never to hesitate doing something you love. Running with what seems like a silly little idea is worth it because it can evolve powerfully. In December of 2013 myself and one other person baked about 100 cookies for residents in the Bronx. By December of 2014 we baked close to 1,000 cookies with 12 people for subway passengers in Times Square.

By moving forward with who I was and what I wanted to do, I got more than just willing passengers. I made friends with people I can live out my destiny with.

5. Rejection and resistance ultimately give kindness more strength.
One story of a rejected random act really touched me. A coworker had bought a hot coffee for a homeless man on a cold day who ended up dumping it out right in front of her. Nothing says thanks for restoring faith in humanity like a giant splat on the ground. Maybe he prefers tea? Her story made me laugh but also feel uncomfortable. Ugh. Was I encouraging people to do worthless things? I thought back to all the hundreds of New Yorkers who assumed we were selling something and said no thank you to what we wanted to give. The problem is that even the best intentions are overlooked, dismissed or even scoffed at. What I found beautiful was my coworker extending a hand, saying, "Here. This is for you." What I found inspiring was her sense of humor and her open mind. She could have made all sorts of assumptions about that man, and some of them might of been true in the moment, but she didn't see another person through the lens of bitterness. She saw him through hopeful eyes. What matters is that she gave him this choice: Will you consider allowing another human being to love you even through a cup of coffee? Even if we can't accept acts of kindness because perhaps we are hurting inside, we all still deserve the experience of being given the choice.

6. People are kind.
After handing a gift bag full of treats to a man in Central Park he explained that he felt like a stranger had just given him a present. I didn't want to point out that he was right and that did just happen. Along Fifth Avenue next to Central Park, he called boisterously to his buddy working in an ice cream truck across the street. "Yo! Let these girls order whatever they want because one kind act deserves another!" I of course got vanilla with rainbow sprinkles (because sprinkles are AMAZING). It was the happiest ice cream cup I've ever had. Immediate reciprocation was not expected, and I remember ordering sprinkles in a fit of laughter as if the only way to let out the electricity I felt inside was through the universal sound of joy.

7. There are few things more important than people and how we treat them.
Two elderly women ask you to take their picture holding balloons. A little girl beams so big and opens her eyes so wide when you hand her a flower. A young man backtracks his steps to offer a sincere thank you for writing the words in the inspirational card he just received. Their faces stay with you for a long time. You exchange beauty and love at the supernatural level and you are changed positively as a result. You feel things deeper. The music from the guys playing guitar in Washington Square Park sounds brighter. The appreciation for a coworker who let us borrow a table to set up a lemonade stand is deep. The shake-my-head notion turns to a muffled grin when you find out some teenage boys ended up using their free muffins to throw at people. We all make this life interesting and meaningful. We all matter. Every. Last. One. Of. Us.

8. Human beings are beautiful, including you.
The 20-something female on her way home from work with her head down. You see her. You identify with her. You don't know her or what her life is like but you really notice her and you have a note that says, "You are beautiful" on it, and when you give it to her, she says thank you in a surprised yet hushed tone that says she needed that. I needed that too. By reassuring her, I felt more secure too. The insecurity behind loneliness can dissolve when you lift someone else up.

9. When you give away your life, you find it.
This point is not from me. I plagiarized Jesus, who said this in Matthew 10:39. I wanted badly to hold onto my life, especially in moments where I was challenged. As I planned the group, I felt guilty for giving away items like balloons when some people needed housing, food, education and so much more. I feared my actions would seem frivolous considering the larger issues we face as a society. I work in journalism! Shouldn't I be devoting this energy where it can be better served based on the information I can gather? But there I was with free balloons feeling like an excited toddler. As the need in the world expands, it's easy to harden emotionally but that must be fought in addition to all the world's woes. I fought a hardened heart in the softest way I could imagine and I'm glad. The random acts of kindness gave me courage to do more. Not only did I find a life, but I'm learning to give it away every chance I get before it all passes us by, like a giant pile of balloons floating up to the sky.

Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Chicago-Area Imam Mohammad Abdullah Saleem Expose Debate Among Illinois Muslims

Tue, 2015-02-17 14:49
ELGIN, Ill. — She ordinarily did not wear a veil. But it was required at the Islamic school where she worked, and she remembers being surprised when the head of the school, a conservative imam, suggested that she remove it.

When the imam, Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, came into her office, she said, he would sometimes touch her cheek or put an arm around her shoulder. Mr. Saleem was revered in her close-knit community, and she did not object at first. But simply being alone together represented a forbidden intimacy, and looking back, she said those first gestures should have been more alarming.

“It’s not something that gets done,” the 23-year-old woman said recently. “Men and women don’t even shake hands.”